From the best selling author of Red Herrings & White Elephants, Pop Goes the Weasel, Ten Minute Mysteries and many more...
The Mysterious Death of God’s Own Banker - Did Roberto Calvi, head of a bank with close connections to the Vatican, take his own life or was there a more sinister reason why he was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge?
Early in the morning of 18 June 1982, in a scene redolent of a real-life Da Vinci Code, the body of Roberto Calvi, chairman of one of Italy’s most influential financial establishments, the Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanging from scaffolding under London’s Blackfriars Bridge by a passing postman.
Calvi’s pockets were full of stones and, bizarrely, a brick had been pushed into the zip of his trousers. The smartly dressed banker was carrying nearly £10,000 in cash in three different currencies in his jacket pocket – lire, Swiss francs and pounds sterling. The man who provided banking facilities for the Vatican, earning him the media nickname of ‘God’s Banker’, had, apparently taken his own life.
It seemed pretty clear to most people that he had committed suicide, but had he? Others were far more doubtful, especially on discovering that Calvi was supposed to have been in Milan at the time. Indeed his passport was back there, and he had made no plans to travel to London at all.
Milan was where Roberto Calvi had been born, on 13 April 1920, just as Europe was recovering from the aftermath of the Great War. It was at the end of the Second World War that Calvi joined the Banco Ambrosiano, becoming gradually promoted within the organization and, in the mid 1960s, acquiring the patronage of an important shareholder, Sicilian-born Michele Sindona, known to his associates as ‘the Shark’.
Sindona had begun his working life as a tax accountant, but he soon switched to less law-abiding pursuits and began to assist his Sicilian associates in their smuggling operations. When he moved to Milan, he quickly impressed Mafia bosses with his tax-avoidance skills and in 1957 started work with the Gambino family by managing their growing profits from heroin smuggling.
By the end of the first year, Sindona had not only actually bought his first bank, but he had also become firm friends with Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, who was among those who grew to rely upon the Sicilian’s financial acumen, profiting considerably from it.