The CatMan

Thanks to: milano_scomparsa_o_quasi

In the months between August and October 1895, the case of the Catman, a journalistic and public order mystery, broke out in the building in Corso Garibaldi, then number 104.

The whole Corso Garibaldi neighbourhood went into a state of panic on 13 August, when news spread of a man walking on the roofs of the houses late at night, going in and out of the dormers and windows of the communal staircase, climbing from one balcony to another and disappearing into the darkness of the night.
Number 104 was made up of three U-shaped buildings, with the side facing the Corso only four storeys above ground, while the other two were five storeys high; the large inner courtyard was enclosed by a perimeter wall of the Carlo Erba pharmaceutical factory, which had access from Via Marsala.
The housewife Teresa Casati went out onto the balcony at a late hour to take a breath of air on that hot August night. From the small balcony facing the courtyard and at the corner of the low body of one of the two side wings, she looked up at the starry sky. As he gazed at the sky he noticed something strange, something that “wasn’t supposed to be there”, something abnormal. Sharpening his eyesight and adjusting to the darkness she saw that on the small balcony next to his, standing on the railing, with his back to the wall, was a figure that looked like a statue, so motionless was it.
Teresa took a step towards the left side of her little terrace, trying to figure out what the hell had put the Madam Maria, the hated neighbour, on the little balcony…
But just at that moment the statue came to life and in absolute silence made a leap to the little terrace opposite, in the corner of the courtyard, then climbed up onto the two terraces above, used the copper downpipe as a pole and disappeared onto the roof.
Teresa was so surprised that she could not even scream, she remained petrified on the small terrace and only when the shadow disappeared on the roof did she turn and run into the house, closing the shutters and windows!

Teresa ran to the room where her brother Gaetano, a big man who worked for the neighbourhood butcher, was sleeping, moving quarters of beef from one butcher’s shop to another.
Gaetano took a wooden club, lit a lamp and opened the windows but saw no one. Almost convinced that his sister was seeing things, he went back into the house, turned off the lamp and just then the ceiling above them flickered. Above them was a wooden floorboard that also served as a floor for the common attic above, which could only be accessed from the dormer windows or from a trapdoor in the common staircase.
Wood dust fell into the room where Terese and Gaetano stood, gazing fearfully at the ceiling. They could hear, in the absolute silence, the footsteps of a barefoot man, so ‘light’ it was, and the very slight swaying of the wooden boards.
Neither of them could sleep, of course, and as soon as the sun rose, they ran down the stairs to talk to the porter. There they found a small crowd of neighbours and residents of the building at number 111, the neighbours across the street, and they were all talking about that Cat Man, a Shadow Man, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, from balcony to balcony, up and down from the downpipes in absolute darkness.

A delegation went to talk to the nearby Guards of the Dazio, at Porta Garibaldi, but they said they had seen or heard nothing. Discouraged, they went to a nearby ironworks and bought latches, iron bars and new locks. The whole day saw the inhabitants of the block of flats reinforcing the shutters, putting up new latches, bars on the windows, and finally mister Molteni, the owner of the entire building, also arrived and had some workmen install bars on the dormer windows on the attic.
When darkness arrived, at number 104, all the windows were closed, as were the shutters and doors of the houses, which were usually wide open, given the tremendous heat of that summer.
No one slept, however, everyone was vigilant, hoping that the Catman would not appear… but instead, around four o’clock in the morning, there were the faintest sounds of footsteps on the roof…

The Catman was not seen by anyone, but his footsteps on the roof and in the attic were heard by many tenants. No burglaries or trespassing were reported. The following night things repeated themselves in the same way, and then again and again, for about ten days.
The inhabitants of the building were now terrified of the CatMan, who was also called the Bad Man.
Of all the tenants, only one had not panicked, the pharmacist Pietro Bassano, on the strength of the fact that he had a gun licence and a large pistol under his pillow. The man always slept with his windows wide open and never lost the habit even with the appearance of the Catman.

One night Bassano went out onto the small terrace overlooking the courtyard to smoke a cigarette and in the darkness suddenly saw the shadow of a man walking on the roof. The Catman calmly sat down on the roof tiles, near a glass canopy on the communal stairs, and remained motionless.
The pharmacist then took his gun, pointed it at the shadow and shouted to leave and never return. The Catman sprang to his feet, through the gutter and downpipes down to the boundary wall of the Carlo Erba and disappeared into the night.
It was Bassano himself who went to the police station the next morning. With the arrival of the guards, the entire Porta Garibaldi district went into a frenzy. The comrades outside the gates or in front of the shops did nothing but talk about the Catman and in no time at all, the exploits of the mysterious man became true urban legends.

The Catman had burgled dozens of flats, the Catman had raped women, old women, young people, children, the Catman had kidnapped babies, the Catman had yellow eyes and could see in the dark and was covered in black fur…
The Questura guards lurked inside the attic of the apartment building, while Carlo Erba hired four private policemen to make patrols along the perimeter wall.
Nevertheless, the sightings of the Catman on the roofs of number 104 continued for over a month and a half…

On the night of 30 September, the Quaestor of Milan decided to solve the case once and for all. He sent three groups of four agents to the attics of the three wings of the building, leaving all the dormer windows on the roof open. At the same time, he had Carlo Erba’s private guards stationed on the roof of the factory, except for one, Antonio Negroni, who was placed on the highest terrace of the factory, from which he dominated the entire neighbourhood.
And it was Negroni himself, around 10 p.m., who saw a shadow come out of a dormer window of a flat at number 104 and slip like a cat onto the roof. The shadow then entered the dormer window next door and disappeared.

Negroni said to himself, “Here we are!” and then ran down the stairs of the factory like a madman; having reached the little house of the janitor, Giuseppe Albini, he warned him of the presence of the Cat Man and told him to go and warn the policemen and alert the inhabitants of the nearby building.
Albini thus ran to the guardhouse of the factory, where a telephone and a rifle were located. He called the police headquarters and then telephoned Cavalier Cappa, formerly a Major of the Police Guards and for a couple of years head of security at Carlo Erba; then, slinging his rifle, he ran to the four private policemen and told them to follow him to number 104. Instead, Negroni returned to the terrace.

The armed Cappa lived on nearby Via Solferino and arrived in five minutes in front of the apartment building’s front door. There he met Albini and the four private policemen, all armed and without fear began to run up the stairs, toward the attic.
They opened, almost breaking it down, the attic door and with acetylene flashlights and pistols and rifles in their hands … found three plainclothes police officers there, holding their service pistols.
It was almost close to tragedy when the two groups were about to shoot each other; fortunately one officer recognized his old officer, Cappa, and the drama was averted.
Cavalier Cappa said one of their men had seen a shadow come out on the roof, but the police officers explained that it was one of their own who had gone out on patrol, to check the other two roofs and the courtyard.
Just then five more officers, armed to the teeth, appeared in the attic, sent from the Central Police Headquarters in San Fedele Square after Albini’s call…
The Catman, for the first time in a month and a half, did not show up….

However, the police decided to question all the residents of the building, one by one, and most of the residents pointed to a man, “affectionately” called the “fourth-floor idiot,” who lived in the attic of the left wing of the apartment building, almost bordering Carlo Erba. The man, a 40-year-old man with dementia, lived with an elderly mother who supported him. No one had actually seen him for years, except on very rare occasions, a very thin, almost skeletal man who appeared occasionally at the window.
Among the policemen came forward the idea that the man, after years of seclusion, just wanted to see the world outside, perhaps simply watching the stars at night, sitting on the roof of the building.
In any case, there was no evidence; the man, when questioned, showed himself totally unable to communicate, and his mother said she knew nothing and had never seen anything.
From September 30, in any case, the Cat Man disappeared altogether, never appearing again.
On October 3, however, a letter from the Kardekian Society of Milan, an offshoot of the Allan Kardek School of Theophysics in Paris, a well-known spiritualist who had died decades earlier, so fashionable in those turn-of-the-century years, arrived at the Questura.
The Milanese spiritualists said they had discovered that “The Cat Man of Porta Garibaldi is not a man, but a spirit. The cause of his proceeding comes from his being continually cursed by a person whose name we cannot reveal. This spirit will no longer manifest itself.”