Vitor Moura, a psychical researcher who sometimes contributes to the comment threads on this blog, recently asked me about a case he'd heard of that allegedly took place in Italy back in 1950. Here is how the case was presented in one of Vitor's sources:
Doctor Giuseppi Stoppolini was the professor of psychology at University of Camerino in Italy. He was a favorite with the student body because he also taught classes on the occult. In early September 1950, they were discussing mediums. The professor introduced local medium Maria Bocca. She slipped into a trance in front of fascinated students and began passing along information that seemed to be from deceased relatives of the student body. Suddenly, Maria became frantic. Another who was nearly hysterical replaced her voice. The drop-in communicator announced, "I was born Rosa Manichelli. When I died, I was Rosa Spandoni, but my husband has died since then, too. We are both in the cemetery at Castel-Raimondo a few miles from Camerino. I am asking only that you help others, because the same thing can happen to them. Two days after the death certificate was signed, I was taken to the cemetery in a deep coma and buried alive!" Maria collapsed and the communicator was gone. Understandably, the students were in awe.
On September 13, 1950, the students accompanied by the professor, the medium, a photographer, two workmen, a pathologist from the Camerino Board of Health and two government officials gathered around the grave of poor Rosa Spandoni for the exhumation. If what Maria had told everyone were true, it would offer fantastic proof of the survival phenomenon. When the lid was removed, they were met with a gruesome sight. The skeleton inside was leaning to the left instead of flat on its back. The left arm was bent up and fingers jammed into the mouth and throat cavity. The knees were bent as if to open the lid and there were tale tell scratch marks on the inside of the coffin lid. She had been buried alive. The pathologist issued a public statement about the incident, expressing amazement as to how Maria Bocca had obtained the information.
As you can see, the case - if it could be verified - would be a very interesting one. Vitor contacted someone in Camerino, who gave this reply:
it's not so easy to answer you about professor Stoppoloni and the case you wrote us…
Here in Camerino some people is ready to swear that all it's true: but they are not direct witness.
My personal opinion, as a curios [sic] and a skeptic, is that the story you re[a]d was written by his fellows, without any rational analysis. Yes, Stoppoloni really existed, he was a teacher here in our University, he was interested in paranormal, but it's not true that there was a study course about occult and Stoppoloni wasn't professor in psychology but in veterinary! About the story of Rosa Manichelli: it reminds me some Edgar Allan Poe's tales…
I'm ready to answer all your other questions, if I can…
There is little information available on the Internet, but Vitor did find out that the case was covered in an old issue of Fate magazine. He asked me to purchase the back issue from a dealer offering it on Amazon. I did, and below I reproduce the entire contents of the article. (Normally I would not post the full article out of respect for copyright issues, but in this case I doubt anyone is going to care about a magazine article from 55 years ago.)
As you will see, the Fate article differs in certain respects from the version of the story that has circulated on the Web.
"The Return of Rosa Menichelli"
By Edmond P. Gibson
Fate magazine, January 1954 ( issue # 46; vol.7, no. 1)
During the late summer of 1950 a small group of psychical researchers in Camerino, inspired by the interest of Dr. Giuseppe Stoppoloni, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Camerino, a physician and a psychologist of some note, conducted an experimental séance with the Italian psychic, Mario Bocca. At this séance an entity in a somewhat confused state endeavored to communicate. With some difficulty the personality managed to register the following facts:
Her name was Rosa Menichelli.
She had been born and had lived in the nearby town of Castel-Raimondo.
She had died in the town of Camerino and was buried in the Camerino cemetery.
She had been buried alive and she begged that her remains be exhumed and the truth of her horrible ordeal and death be made known.
Camerino is an ancient town of about 4,500 inhabitants located about 40 miles southwest of Ancona, in the Central Appenine mountains near the east coast of Italy. The town is situated on a plateau, partially encircled by mountains, not far from the north branch of the Fiastrone river. Camerino boasts an ancient bishopric established in the third century A.D., a cathedral built upon the foundations of a temple of Jupiter, a university of European renown and a history that goes back several centuries before Christ. Camerino was one of the provincial towns that went to Rome's aid in the wars with the Etruscans. Camerino cannot be called modern in any sense -- the nearest railroad station is at Castel-Raimondo, six miles away.
Professor Stoppoloni was impressed by the statements made by the communicator and applied for a permit from the local authorities to have the body of Rosa Menichelli Spadoni (her married name) exhumed.
Permission was readily granted the professor by the local authorities, mainly because the time for the use of a cemetery grave in Italy is limited by law and the time limit on the grave occupied by the body of Mrs. Rosa Menichelli Spadoni had expired. After the expiration date on the grave the body is removed at the convenience of the custodian of the cemetery and usually placed in a common burial pit. Professor Stoppoloni examined the local burial records carefully and found that Mrs. Spadoni had died at the Civil Hospital of Camerino on September 4, 1939, at the age of 38 years. The cause of death was given as puerpureal infection and subsequent heart involvement. The body was interred on September 6, 1939, in grave 10, Line No. 47.
At the insistence of Professor Stoppoloni and, finally, with the cooperation of local authorities the grave was opened on September 13, 1950, in the presence of the professor, Dr. Matteo Marcello, of the Camerino Board of Health, Dr. Alfredo Pesche, various officials representing the Italian Republic, the grave diggers and the photographer, S. Manfrini, all from the town of Camerino.
The coffin was found to be badly worm-eaten and decomposed. All eyes were on it when the diggers removed the broken lid. The skeleton lay on its back, with the skull turned to its left. The left arm was flexed with the wrist bones directed toward the mouth, the finger bones and some of the bones of the hand were in the mouth and throat cavity and bore evidence of having been bitten. The fingers were clenched, as if in a frenzy, between the upper and lower jaws. The ends of the ring finger and the middle finger extended into the throat. On the ring finger was a wedding ring, rather badly corroded. The hair was disarranged and looked as if it might have been seized and torn by the dying woman in her desperate attempt to gain freedom. The knees were bent as if in an attempt to force the coffin lid.
The discovery of this burial of a living person confirmed every detail of the communication from Rosa Menichelli Spadoni made at the séance and it profoundly shocked all the witnesses of the exhumation. Mrs. Spadoni had left a husband and four children.
The evidence of the grave confirmed the séance statement.
The evidence of the grave confirmed the séance statement.She had not died in the Camerino Hospital. Probably she had been in a coma or state of catalepsy when certified as dead and had survived for two days in that state, to awaken in her coffin -- sealed from the outside world.
Professor Stoppoloni inaugurated a campaign in Italy to enforce more careful examination of the dead before burial. In Italy embalming is not generally practiced in the small towns and villages. The Professor states that the accidental burial of living persons through carelessness still occurs in Italy and in other portions of Europe. He quotes recent statistics, based upon exhumations in France, which would indicate that one out of every 500 persons in France is buried alive. In England, even at the end of the 19th century, he estimates that 2700 persons per year were buried alive. In some old cemeteries in the rural sections of the United States which were moved and examined the figure runs as high as one out of 50 burials. Professor Stoppoloni quotes these figures from the burial compilations of the French Statistician Hiet; his records are filed with the Counselor-General of Senna.
Professor Stoppoloni's campaign brought immediate support from many newspapers in Italy. Some of them reported the story of Rosa Menichelli and the exhumation, together with the spiritualistic prelude which initiated the inquiry. Other journals reported the exhumation and its findings without mentioning the séance which brought about the inquiry.
Following the exhumation another séance was held on September 16, 1950, and the communicating personality of Rosa Menichelli Spadoni again asserted itself through the mediumship of Mario Bocca. Rosa thanked the circle of investigators for what had been done and for what was being done toward the prevention of future tragedies such as hers. She requested that they continue, redoubling their efforts to this end.
The communicator appeared confused when first questioned about her family. She said, "I don't remember anything. I don't know if I was married." Then her memory seemed to clear and she said, "Now I remember very well. My husband has remarried. My daughter is now engaged to be married. I wish happiness to them all!"
Professor Stoppoloni's campaign to prevent burial of the living appears to be gaining ground in Italy. Rosa Menichelli's communication has caused a change in burial practices that may save many lives, prematurely snuffed out in the past in the horrors of the grave.
[Sidebar with portrait photo:] Dr. Giuseppe Stoppoloni
Dr. Stoppoloni is Professor of Anatomy at the University of Camerino, Italy, a physician and a psychologist of considerable repute. He has long been interested in psychical research and personally has investigated many unusual cases, of which that of Rosa Menichelli is typical. He is a member or officer of numerous scientific societies and institutions in Italy and has received many honorary titles and awards.
[Pages 28-31; emphases in original]
Now, how reliable is this article? That's hard to say. Fate magazine is hardly a peer-reviewed journal; it's a mix of serious articles and sensationalism. The author of this piece, Edmond P. Gibson, contributed two other articles in the same issue, on unrelated topics ("Haunted House in Tokyo" and "Case of the Ancient Greek Ghost"), so he appears to have been a journeyman writer rather than an original investigator. From the way the article is written, it would seem that Stoppoloni served as Gibson's source, but this is never explicitly stated, and it's possible that Gibson merely relied on newspaper reports.
Note that the objections lodged by Mr. Blasetti are countered, to some extent, by the Fate story. Gibson's article never claims that Stoppoloni taught a course in psychic phenomena or that the séance was held in a classroom. Thus the objection that Stoppolini could not have held a séance as part of a class seems irrelevant. Gibson describes Stoppolini as a professor of anatomy who was also "a psychologist of considerable repute"; Mr. Blasetti says that Stoppolini "wasn't a professor in psychology but in veterinary." I'm not sure if there's a contradiction here - "anatomy" and "veterinary" could refer to the same subject matter, and Stoppolini could have been a psychologist without serving as a professor of psychology.
Also note that most of the Internet versions of this story give the medium's name as Maria Bocca, but according to Gibson, the medium was Mario Bocca. Furthermore, according to Gibson the dead woman's maiden name was Menichelli, and her married name was Spadoni - in contrast to the Internet version quoted above, which gives the names as Manichelli and Spandoni. The Internet account also gives Stoppoloni's first name as Guiseppi, rather than Guiseppe, and his last name as Stoppolini; and it says Rosa was buried at Castel-Raimondo, while Gibson says she was buried in Camerino. The Internet version also presents the initial séance rather differently, and has Rosa (characterized as a "drop-in communicator") giving more information, including her married name and the duration of her coma.
Incidentally, some other Internet versions claim that furor over people being buried alive led to the downfall of the Italian government, a doubtful assertion. Nothing in Gibson's story suggests this outcome.
The bottom line is that the case is intriguing but so far lacks verification. Certainly, if it could be confirmed, it would be one of the more persuasive cases on record, and certainly among the most dramatic. But almost sixty years after the fact, it may not be possible to obtain any further details. And I have to wonder why Stoppoloni wouldn't have written up the case for The Journal of Psychical Research or another peer-reviewed publication. Surely, if the case were genuine, he would have seen its importance.
So the matter remains unresolved. But at the very least, it does make a good ghost story, don't you think?