By Samuel Stolton.
On Friday December 15th 2017, the Italian government issued a European
Arrest Warrant for the extradition of a 36-year-old Serbian man detained in Cantavieja, a small town in the province of Teruel in Spain.
Norbert Feher shall be facing charges after admitting to the murders of two Spanish civil guard officers, Victor Romero and Victor Jesus Caballero, and local farmer, Jose Luis Iranzo. Forensic units have confirmed that Norbert Feher was also known on the continent as Igor Vaclavic.
Feher had left a trail of blood over Europe that eventually led to his capture. Personally, his story of carnage first reached me in June of this year, in a rural trattoria on the outskirts of Bologna, in the Emilia Romagna region of northeast Italy.
“You know about Igor, right? You know he’s still at large?” Matteo looked up at me from his plate of tagliatelle al brodo. Steam clouded his glasses. He removed them to look me directly in the eye.
The following week my brother and I were to embark on the Via Degli Dei, a historic five-day trek over the Apennines and through the forestland between Bologna and Florence. Across the region, it had been rumored that a mysterious fugitive wanted for a double homicide and a plethora of other crimes had been hiding out in the hills along the way. They called him ‘Igor.’
On 1st April 2017, a man entered the ‘Il Gallo’ bar in Riccardina di Budrio, a bucolic hamlet in the Bolognese countryside. He was dressed in full military attire with a shotgun over his shoulder. Attempting to rob the establishment, he was forced to the ground and disarmed by proprietor Davide Fabbri. The attacker eventually overpowered Fabbri and after dragging him to a back room, killed him.
A week later, on April 8th 2017, 70-year-old park ranger Valerio Verri and his colleague, Marco Ravaglia, were shot during a routine stop and search in Portomaggiore, Ferrara. Verri died and Ravaglia survived, albeit with serious gunshot wounds. Police chased the assailant through country roads, before he abandoned his stolen van in Molinella and fled into the marshlands and dense forestry of Emilia Romangna.
A huge manhunt for ‘Igor’ ensued. Paramilitary forces were drafted in, country farmhouses in remote areas were raided, sniffer dogs patrolled the woodlands and cutting-edge technology was used to try and locate Igor’s whereabouts. He became anathema to the Italian media. He was dubbed ‘Igor the Russian’ and ‘Rambo.’ The police issued numerous statements telling the public to remain vigilant. They believed Igor to be armed and dangerous.
The late spring months passed with trepidation. Tales abounded about Igor’s true identity. People spoke of a Serbian war criminal who escaped to Italy after the Bosnian war, they talked of an exile from the Russian mafia or a homeless Romanian downed to the depths of insanity. A sense of unease enveloped the province of Bologna and its vicinities. Igor remained at large.
My brother and I set off for our four-day trek in early June, with Igor sill on the loose. Our first night was spent at a farmhouse in Sasso Marconi, a tranquil town nestled in the Bolognese hills. We spent the evening with the owner sitting on the terrace drinking cherry liqueur. Before retiring for the evening, the owner double locked a barn containing a tractor and some old farming utensils. He turned around to face us. “You know about Igor?” he said.
Needless to say, we passed the experience of the Via Degli Dei without ever having been confronted by Igor. The summer came and went and many in Bologna assumed him to have escaped abroad, with some in the Italian media suggesting he had gone to France, Austria or even South America. The mystery of his whereabouts had all but been consigned to the recesses of history, indexed into the great encyclopedia of global conspiracy theories. That was, until last week.
The two murdered Spanish civil guard officers, Victor Romero and Victor Jesus Caballero, had been working as special unit officers in the region of Grenada after a number of reports of farmyard thefts in the area. In their dying breaths, the two officers managed to phone through for reinforcements, who eventually located and arrested Feher. He was caught with two firearms and approximately forty bullets.
It is possible that the full extent of Fuher’s crimes may not yet be known. Spanish newspaper La Razòn has reported that the Department of Criminology of the Civil Guard may be investigating further into other unsolved mysteries across the Grenada region over the past twelve months. In particular the mysterious disappearance of Marc Hernandez, 23, and Paula Mas, 21, from the swamplands of Susqueda in August.
Back in Italy, the police force believes that Feher may have stolen a boat in order to flee Italy and reach the Spanish coast. He had probably been foraging fruit, vegetables, and eggs during the time he had been on the run, the ANSA news agency reports.
There has been a collective sigh of relief after Feher’s capture. At a press conference in Bologna last week, chief prosecutor Giuseppe Amato described the capture as “exceptional.” The Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti, thanked police and security forces for their “commitment, professionalism, and willingness to never give up.” He further praised the collaborative work between Italian and Spanish authorities as well as the investigative research taken out by Bologna’s Public Prosecuting Office.
The Spanish authorities have received Italy’s European Arrest Warrant, but Feher is unlikely to be extradited until he has faced charges for the murders carried out in Spain, for which he has admitted to. He is yet to answer for the accusations brought against him in the murders of Davide Fabbri and Valerio Verri.
After Igor’s detainment, the imperturbable and warmly pastoral overtones have returned to the Emilian countryside. Rural communities are again able to sink into the reposeful rhythms of everyday life, and the trails of the Via Degli Dei can once more be treaded in tranquillity, undisturbed by the troubling concern as to the true identity of Bologna’s springtime killer.