In 1993, 16-year-old Italian girl Elisa Claps disappeared in a church. Blood on the Altar is the story of Elisa’s disappearance and her family’s relentless quest for justice and to find their beloved daughter and sister.
It is also the story of Heather Barnett – a 48-year-old mother brutally murdered in Bournemouth, England. Her death is linked to the disappearance of Elisa Claps.
The man linked to both the women – an oddball (extremely dangerous as it turns out) called Danilo Restivo (known as the ‘Barber of Potenza’ for his proclivity to snipping the hair from women while they sat on buses or at cafes) was protected by his influential family and, more alarmingly, the catholic church where Elisa was last seen with Restivo.
Journalist and author Tobias Jones’s book is fascinating – he built a relationship with the Claps family – in particular Elisa’s big brother Gildo – and communicates their appalling treatment at the hands of the Italian justice system and the catholic church. Jones is also clearly exasperated by the cover-ups and disgraceful treatment the family were given as they desperately sought the truth.
This story of Elisa and Heather alone is enough to capture any true crime reader’s interest but Blood on the Altar is much more than the telling of a crime – Jones weaves in history and travelogue about the region Basilicata where Elisa Claps was born. Jones spent several years living in Italy and was a columnist and correspondent for the Observer newspaper. His observations on Italian society give the reader a taste of how different the flow of life is there.
As a journalist, I was particularly gripped by the part where Jones (who had since moved back to England) was reading a local paper while on a visit to Dorset in 2002 (“…like any self-respecting journalist I usually pick up local papers…”) and there, in an article about the murder of Heather Barnett, was a photo of Restivo. (”I stared at the newspaper, unable to believe that a story that had started over a thousand miles away at the far end of Italy had followed me home to south-west England…”)
This story was clearly meant to be told by Jones.
Absolutely a recommended read. It’s so much more than a true crime book.
Blood on the Altar is published by Faber & Faber.
For more information on Tobias Jones go to tobias-jones.com
Here’s a short video of Jones talking about Blood on the Altar.