Roberto Calvi

Jump to: Overview

Forensic Casebook

Offence: Murder or Suicide
Victim: Roberto Calvi
Suspect(s): Various

On the morning of 18 June 1982, sixty-two-year-old Italian Banker Roberto Calvi was found hanging from scaffolding under Blackfriars Bridge in London. Bricks and lumps of concrete were recovered from the pockets and inside the crotch of Calvi’s trousers, and from the pockets of his jacket.


The first coroner’s inquest into Calvi’s death recorded a verdict of suicide. There were no injuries to suggest that he had been assaulted prior to his death, and no injection marks were observed to indicate the possible administration of an incapacitating drug.

However, Calvi was a devout Catholic and his family were convinced that he would not have taken his own life, and therefore must have been murdered. The Calvi family secured the services of George Carman, QC to represent them. When a second inquest was held a year later it recorded an open verdict, which indicated that the court had been unable to determine the exact cause of Calvi’s death. Calvi’s family continued to maintain that his death had been a murder.

Roberto Calvi, dubbed “God’s Banker”, was the chairman of an Italian bank with close ties to the Vatican in Rome. Within days of his arrival in London, the bank had collapsed amid allegations of illegal transactions that had led to him being fined and given a suspended sentence the previous year. There were also suggestions of links to organised crime and membership of an illegal Masonic lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P2, who interestingly referred to themselves as i frati neri (“the black friars”).

Forensic Access became involved in the case in 1992 after Calvi’s family hired the services of New York-based investigation company Kroll Associates. Commissioned by Kroll’s London investigator Jeff Katz, Angela Gallop (Group Chair of Forensic Access) and her team were asked to carry out a forensic reinvestigation to determine the true nature of Calvi’s death.

After reading all the original reports, together with colleagues Clive Candy and Mike Isaacs, Angela revisited the scene and examined all the physical exhibits that were still available at the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory (MPFSL). Items of particular interest included the stones and bricks that had been found on Calvi’s body, the rope that had been tied around his neck, and the suit and shoes he had been wearing at the time of his death.

Having assumed when Calvi’s body was discovered that he had committed suicide, the police are thought to have untied rather than cut the rope by which he was suspended, thereby destroying potentially useful evidence – including any that might have been trapped inside the knot from whoever tied it.

Calvi had been staying at a flat in Chelsea after arriving in England a few days before his death, and the two suitcases that had been found there had been returned to Italy. Because of this, Angela also travelled to Milan to inspect some of the clothing and other items that they contained. She was under strict instruction not to take any samples from the items or carry out any tests, and so all she could do was observe them as closely as possible.

From the tide marks and water damage on Calvi’s clothes, and from knowing the ebb and flow of the tide that night, it was possible to say that Calvi had probably been suspended from the scaffolding sometime between 1.50 and 2.45 a.m.

Attention then turned to how he might have got there. What then ensued was a series of imaginative experiments, testing aspects of the various potential routes by which Calvi could have arrived in the position in which his body was found. There appeared to have been two main routes Calvi could have taken if he’d committed suicide, and two different routes by which his body could have been transported if he’d been murdered.

Using a number of pairs of shoes and other items of clothing that had belonged to Calvi but were unrelated to his death, Angela and her team set about designing and then conducting a series of experiments and reconstructions. They were looking for the kinds of traces you could expect to find in the four different scenarios. The traces, or lack thereof, were then compared to what had actually been found, or what the team could still look for on Calvi’s clothes and shoes.

Russell Stockdale, who was roughly similar in size and stature to Calvi, was involved in recreating some of the circumstances surrounding Calvi’s death. Helpfully, the company that had erected the scaffolding under the bridge in 1982 had kept it. Part of the scaffolding was then re-assembled for the purposes of some of the experiments.

In one of the experiments, Russell – wearing spare pairs of Calvi’s shoes, trousers and one of his jackets –  transversed the length of two poles of the scaffolding, which – if he’d accessed the scaffolding via the ladder next to it, was the minimum distance Calvi would have had to walk on them to get to where he was subsequently found. Angela and her team discovered that the soles of the shoes had become roughened and picked up tiny fragments of rust, and green and yellow paint (known as trace evidence).

Indeed, some fragments of green paint had been recovered from the sole of one of the shoes worn by Calvi at the time of his death. But when Clive Candy examined a sample of the fragments, he found they were different from the paint on the scaffolding. Thus, there was actually nothing to link them to the scaffolding poles at all.

Other tests were also conducted in relation to the damage on Calvi’s shoes, which was originally attributed to walking over rough ground on the nearby building site where he was thought to have picked up the stones. What Clive discovered was that climbing down the ladder either onto the foreshore near Blackfriars Bridge, or directly onto the scaffolding, caused very little damage to the soles of the shoes.  In addition to this, the damage that you would expect to be caused by walking at low tide along the foreshore was completely different from the sort of damage that was actually observed.

Attention then turned to the two most likely ‘murder routes’. One of them would have involved Calvi, perhaps either dead or drugged, being carried down the ladder onto the scaffolding, or being lowered over the parapet wall to someone waiting on the scaffolding to receive him and tie the rope around his neck. In the other, he would have had to have been transported to the bridge in a boat.

Ultimately, what the investigation seemed to prove was that it was almost inconceivable for a man of Calvi’s age and physical condition, and weighed down by assorted stones and half bricks, to have walked along the foreshore to reach the scaffolding and then climbed all the way up it to where the rope was attached or, alternatively, to have climbed down the ladder and along the scaffolding unaided, especially without any signs to suggest that he had done so.

This meant that the most likely scenario was that Calvi had been lowered or – the possibility that was more likely still – transported by boat to the site under the bridge where he was found hanging. This finally established that he must have been murdered and had not committed suicide as originally suspected. It was a conclusion that brought some small comfort to his family and was accepted both in the UK and subsequently by the Italian courts.

Five people went on trial in 2005 for the murder of Roberto Calvi. They were Sardinian banker Franceso di Carlo and his former girlfriend Manuela Kleinszig, businessman Ernesto Diotallevi, Mafia boss Giuseppe Calo, and Silvano Vittor, Calvi’s bodyguard. In 2007, the courts acquitted all five defendants due to lack of evidence. To this day, there have been no convictions for the murder of Roberto Calvi.

Professor Angela Gallop and the team are currently working on a number of high profile cold case investigations. To find out more about our services visit our forensic services page or call 01235 774870.