Italian serial killer Donato Bilancia was extremely difficult for authorities to predict; there were no apparent links between his victims since he chose them at random. Police had to rely on the eyewitness account of a surviving victim, and a police sketch to catch him.
Like many other serial killers, Donato Bilancia had a troubled childhood. According to witnesses, he wet the bed until he was 10-12 years old, and his mother would move his mattress out to their balcony so that their neighbors could see what he had done. In his early teens, his aunt would allegedly make hum undress in from of his cousins, to shame him for his undeveloped body.
Donato dropped out of High School shortly after he turned fourteen. He changed his name to Walter and worked as a mechanic, a bartender, a baker, and a delivery boy.
Police arrested Donato twice before he came of age at 21. The first arrest came after he stole a scooter in 1966. Police identified him quickly but dropped the charges shortly after. In 1971, he took a truck and attempted to sell the candy that it contained, authorities apprehended him quickly but rereleased him a second time. According to records, police did not indict him because they did not think he could tell right from wrong.
Before the Murders
In 1974, three years after his previous run-in with them, police stopped Donato, he had an illegal gun in his possession and went to jail for the first time.
Donato would be arrested half a dozen times Between 1974 and 1994 for various crimes, including robbery, unlawful imprisonment, and sexual aggression.
His older brother Michele, and nephew Davide, died in a murder-suicide in 1987; the man threw himself and his four-year-old son in front of a train. Additionally, he was part of an anti-mafia trial in 1996, the extent of his involvement in the proceedings is unknown.
Bilancia is known to have been a compulsive gambler; he was reportedly seen at casinos in Saint Vincent and Sanremo at least one-hundred times during the last seven months of his unincarcerated life. His seven-month-long murder spree began on October 15th, 1997, and ended on May 6th, when he was apprehended.
Donato’s gambling habits were well known; his first victim was a man named Giorgio Centanaro. Giorgio, considered by Donato to be a friend, lured him into a rigged card game where he lost roughly $300. Donato retaliated by strangling him, although authorities initially considered the cause of death to be a heart attack.
Nine days later, on October 24th, Donato shot and killed Maurizio and Carla Parenti. Maurizio had been the one to initiate and run the card game scam. Bilancia would later tell the police that it was these shootings that gave him a taste for murder.
On October 27th, he shot and killed jewelers Bruno and Maria Solari in their home. He followed Bruno home to rob him but killed the man and his wife because she would not stop screaming and because they would have been able to identify him. After he killed them, he stole everything they had in their safe. Interestingly, he knew that the Solari’s maid was in the house at the time, but he did not harm her.
His next victim was a money changer named Luciano Marro. He died in his office on November 13th from multiple gunshot wounds. Donato would later tell police that he intended to rob Marro, and killed the man only to keep him from providing evidence.
Donato succeeded in taking nine more lives between January 25th and April 20th of 1998, Only two of his attempted victims survived.
On January 25th, 1998, Donato killed a night-watchman named Giangiorgio Canu. When confessing, he told authorities that he committed this crime simply because he did not like the man’s profession. One of his previous arrests occurred because of a night-watchman who saw him committing a robbery and called the police.
- March 15th: Stela Truja, an Albanian prostitute, shot and killed on the street.
- March 18th: Lijudmila Zubskova, a Russian prostitute.
- March 20th: Enzo Gorni, a second money-changer.
- March 24th: Massimo Gualillo and Candido Randò, both night-watchmen.
- Both men died trying to help Lorena Castro, who survived.
- March 24th: Lorena Castro, a transexual prostitute.
- Was shot multiple times in the abdomen, but survived.
- March 29th: Evelyn Esohe Endoghaye (AKA Tessy Adobo), a Nigerian prostitute.
- April 3rd: Luisa Ciminiello, an Italian prostitute.
- Bilancia robbed her but did not kill her.
- April 12th: Elisabetta Zoppetti, an Italian nurse.
- He killed her in a train bathroom.
- April 14th: Mema Valbona, a Ukranian prostitute.
- April 18th: Maria Rubino, an Italian maid.
- He killed her in a train bathroom.
- April 20th: Guiseppe Mileto, a gas station attendant.
As mentioned in the list above, two of Bilancia’s victims survived. He did not attempt to kill Luisa Ciminiello and did not mention her when confessing his crimes.
The most crucial development in the case against Donato was the survival of Lorena Castro. According to his confession, he was forcing Lorena to perform oral sex when the two night-watchmen, Massimo Gualillo and Candido Randò, approached his car, responding to cries for help from Lorena.
He shot the first man who approached him, went to the car belonging to the second man, and shot him multiple times as well. He then went after Lorena, who was trying to escape, shooting her multiple times in the abdomen. After realizing that the two watchmen were not dead, he reloaded his gun and shot them each twice more. He then hit Lorena in the face with the butt of his weapon and, thinking she was dead, left the scene.
After Lorena survived her attack, she provided testimony to police that was crucial to the eventual capture of Donato Bilancia. She also helped a sketch artist make a composite drawing of his face, pictured below.
She also testified to her ordeal during Donato’s trial in 2001.
The real match point was the deaths of two “respectable” women, Elisabetta Zoppetti and Maria Rubino. These were the women that he murdered on trains, and their deaths sparked a public outcry for his capture.
Witnesses claimed to have seen one of the prostitute victims getting into a black Mercedes on the night of her death, and this eventually led police to Donato.
They followed him for ten days after seeing the resemblance between him and Lorena’s description. While tailing him, police recovered cigarette butts and coffee cups, and the DNA those objects provided matched samples taken from some of the crime scenes.
Police arrested Donato for nine counts of felony murder on May 6th, 1998; he confessed to those murders and eight more that were not known by the authorities.
Nearly two years later, on April 12th, 2000, Donato received a sentence of 13 life terms and an additional 20 years for the attempted murder of Lorena Castro.
According to prison officials Donato is a model prisoner, he earned a diploma in accounting after five years incarceration, and in 2017 he was studying for an additional certification.