Body of Missing Italian Countess Belived Found

Jan. 31, 2001 -- French and Italian police are working to identify a body believed to be that of Italian Countess Francesca Vacca Agusta, a 58-year-old widow and former model who embodied La Dolce Vita.

The naked body of a woman was found Jan. 22 on the rocks of France's southeastern coast at Cap-Benat. French police have confirmed there are indications that the body is that of the countess. Rings found on the body were engraved with her mother's wedding date, they say.

The countess' companion, Mexican Rafael Tirso Roncado Gonzales, who is believed to be her heir, told Italian police she left their luxury villa in Porofino, a resort on the Italian Riviera, on the night of Jan. 8, considerably the worse for wear from drink and muttering darkly that she would not be coming back. Roncado, 50, told police Agusta said she was going for a swim, Italian media reports said.

Italian police divers found two slippers and a bathrobe that were identified as hers.

An autopsy on the body found in France failed to reveal how the woman died, judicial sources there say. Now a dental imprint from the body is being sent to Italy in the hope of proving identification.

A Soap-Opera Life

The countess entered high society through her marriage to the heir of one of Italy's aviation pioneers, Count Agusta. The couple separated in 1985 but never divorced, leaving her the heir to a fortune when he died.

Among her close friends, Italian media say, was Benito Craxi, the scandal-ridden Italian leader who died in self-imposed exile in Tunisia last year, still trying to avoid prosecution in Italy on corruption charges. He was also suspected of hiring hit men to dispose of his opponents.

As the net closed on Craxi, the countess too fled abroad. She lived in Mexico from 1994 to 1997. She had become embroiled in a major financial scandal in 1990 and was reported to have enjoyed a high-flying lifestyle that diminished her resources.

There was a reported suicide attempt in Mexico, where her previous companion was another scandal-tainted Italian politician, socialist Maurizio Raggio. They were both accused of having helped Craxi smuggle his wealth overseas.

She returned to Italy after Craxi's death in January 2000, and was placed under house arrest in her million-dollar mansion in Portofino.

Even in death, the countess retains her mystery. Italian media have speculated she might have staged a suicide in order to start a new life. There are also reports that she may have left more than one will, complicating claims to her still considerable estate.