Book Review: “Blood on the Altar” by Tobias Jones

on March 26, 2012 in Book Reviews, Serial Killers by

Potenza, Italy is located in the remote region of Basilicata (known today as Lucania). It is a region full of rich history – it is where Mussolini sent political opponents of his regime, where John Paul Getty III was hidden when he was kidnapped in the 1970s and more recently, Mel Gibson filmed the controversial “Passion of the Christ” in Lucania.

On September 12, 1993, Potenza was to become a place of controversy. Elisa Claps, then 16, set out for Mass. Upon her return she would head out to meet her family for a quiet lunch in the countryside. She would never make it to Mass, nor would she be seen again.

The last person to see Elisa would be Danilo Restivo (who would come to be known as “The Barber of Potenza” for his fetish of cutting the hair of unsuspecting women). He had a crush on Elisa, one that was not reciprocated. A strange man by all accounts, he became the prime suspect in spite of no body and no concrete evidence linking him to the crime.

Bournemouth, Dorset
Located on the south coast of England, it is also a region steeped in history – Mary Shelley is buried there, J.R.R. Tolkien holidayed in Bournemouth and it is where Robert Louis Stevenson penned The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is also where, nine years later, Heather Barnett’s mutilated body would be discovered by her children on November 12, 2002.
The murder would take place just a few months after Restivo moved from Potenza to Bournemouth, but he would not be arrested until spring of 2010, just months after Elisa Claps’ body was found in the very church where she was supposed to have been 17 years prior.

On May 27th of the same year, Danilo Restivo would finally be arrested in connection with Elisa’s murder. Throughout the trial Restivo tried to maintain his claim of innocence no matter how ridiculous he sounded on the witness stand; however, not even his lawyer seemed to believe him. In 2011, he would ultimately be convicted of murder not once, but twice, receiving life in England and thirty years in Italy.

Tobias Jones, the author of Blood on the Altar: in Search of a Serial Killer, takes the reader on a journey through history, painting beautifully detailed imagery of Italy, of a family’s nearly twenty year fight for the truth in spite of a flawed justice and papal system, and the personal relationship Jones cultivated with the Claps family.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. I am usually quick to find flaws within true crime novels, whether it be grammatical errors or timeline issues. I’m also not one to enjoy any kind of nonfiction history, but Blood on the Altar sucked me in from page one. Unlike many true crime novels, there is very little graphic description of the bodies. Do yourself a favor and read it. Every word is worth your time.

Tobias Jones currently lives in England with his wife and three children. Find out more about the author on his website: www.tobias-jones.com.

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