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One of the most remarkable cases in the history of psychical experiences, one which has never been solved,occurred in January, 1939.
The European press rang with it at the time, and the details concerning it have been enshrined in text-books on psychical phenomena by the leading Continental experts in that elusive field of modern research.
Catanzaro, capital of the Province of Calabria, is built on the slopes of a rocky hill, some six miles inland from the shores of the Gulf of Squillace, at the southern extremity of Italy. It has a population of about 50,000 inhabitants, and is a centre on which roads converge from the many farming districts reaching far inland from the coast.
One of these roads crosses a bridge over a shallow stream before entering the town; and under that bridge, on the morning of 13th February, 1936, was found the dead body of a young man of about twenty, named Giuseppe Veraldi. He was lying in the bed of the river, his head badly gashed where it had hit the rocks.
Since there was no evidence of foul play, the police reported that the death was due to a suicide. Pepe’s family was dumbfounded by the verdict, as they knew of no reason for Pepe to take his own life.
Three years after Pepe’s death a teenaged girl named Maria Talarico was walking under the bridge in the area where Pepe’s body had been found. Without warning she passed out for no apparent reason. After she regained consciousness she was taken to her home. Maria’s voice was much deeper and sounded as if it was coming from a man. When asked to give her name, Maria said that she was Pepe Veraldi.
Taken home by a farmer who had happened to be passing in his cart, she recovered consciousness on the way; but, as soon as she entered the door of the house, she said to her mother in the deep, resonant voice of a full-grown man: "You are not my mother. My mother lives in the wooden cottage, and her name is Catarina Veraldi. I am Pepe." Pepe was a familiar contraction of Giuseppe's name; and Maria's voice was that of Giuseppe Veraldi!
Neighbours quickly gathered.
All thought Maria possessed by the devil; and her conduct certainly seemed to confirm that opinion. Still speaking in Giuseppe's somewhat harsh voice, she demanded that her "mother" be sent for, although her real mother sat looking at her through streaming tears. Maria, however, ignored her; and whilst waiting for Mrs Veraldi to come insisted that a bottle of wine be brought, some cigarettes, and a pack of cards, inviting those around her to join in a game to fill in the time.
Given a pencil and paper, and asked to write her name, she wrote: "I am Giuseppe Veraldi." It was in Giuseppe's own handwriting!
Drinking and smoking, she addressed the men there as Toto, Elio, Rosario and Damiano, although such names belonged to none who were present. All recognised them, however, as the names of the dead man's one-time boon companions. Of the four of them, Toto had emigrated to Argentina, in South America, soon after Giuseppe's death.
At last Mrs Veraldi arrived. Maria, stopping the card-playing, said to her in what the astounded woman recognised as her son's voice: "My friends murdered me. They threw me into the river-bed; and then, as I lay there, they battered my head with an iron bar and tried to make the whole thing look like suicide."
Having made her statement, she got up, and before anyone could make a move she almost threw herself out the door, ran to the bridge, climbed the parapet, and fell into the river-bed. When the others, who had quickly followed her, arrived, she was lying in the exact position in which Giuseppe had been found, and was crying out in his voice: "Leave me alone. Why are you hitting me?"
The dead man's mother cried out: "Pepe, cease tormenting that poor girl. Go away from her." At once Maria returned to her normal state. Shakily, she stood up. When she spoke, it was in her own voice. They led her home. She had no recollection of anything that had happened from the moment she had first fallen unconscious on the bridge when crossing it with her grandmother.
Nine years later Mrs Veraldi received a letter from one of her late son’s former friends, Luigi “Toto” Marchete. He had left Italy and moved to Argentina shortly after Pepe’s death. In the letter Luigi admitted that he and three other friends had murdered Pepe because of his association with a woman Luigi had cared for. The letter went on to name the other conspirators, who were the exact names Maria had mentioned while possessed by Pepe.
One of the men mentioned in Luigi’s letter had already died by this time, and since Luigi was in a country that did not honor extradition, he was safe from prosecution. However, the other two men were arrested, tried and sent to jail for their role in Pepe’s death.
When the news of these extraordinary developments was published, not only Catanzaro, but every town in Europe whose papers gave headlines to the incredible story was set talking again.
Every detail described by Maria Talarico in her abnormal trance-like state had been confirmed.
It could not have been a case of merely natural clairvoyance. Maria was a normal, healthy, matter-of-fact peasant girl, who had never shown any signs of psychic tendencies or powers.
Nor could any merely natural clairvoyance be reconciled with her being suddenly thrown into a trance and afflicted with a complete change of personality, which suddenly ceased at a word of command from the dead man's mother.
Since Maria Talarico had never met Pepe, his friends or Mrs. Veraldi before she fell into a “trance,” no one has ever been able to unravel the mystery of her possession. The enigma has continued to baffle researchers.