Carlo Gesualdo: Getting Away With Murder

by Prof. Robert Greenberg

Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza (1560-1613), was one of the richest men in Italy and among the most original composers of his time.He was also a very, very bad man.He murdered his older brother in order to inherit the family fortune and titles.He murdered his wife Maria and her lover the Duke of Andria when he learned of their affair.(These murders were particularly gruesome; the court report reads like something from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Details so salacious are irresistible, so of course I will quote that report at length during my Scandalous Overtures expose!) It is likely that Gesualdo also murdered his infant son by Maria because he doubted the boy’s paternity. It is also likely that Gesualdo had his father-in-law killed (that would be Maria’s father) when he learned of his intention to seek revenge.

For now, let us turn to Gesualdo’s very public murders of his wife and her lover.After the deed was done and after the bodies were sufficiently mutilated, he had them hung upside-down outside his palace in Naples for everyone to see.The murders and subsequent court inquest were THE Italian media events of 1590.Eager to cash in on the events, scads of Neapolitan poets – including the great Torquato Tasso – wrote about the murders.

And Gesualdo?I wish I could tell you that he was beaten with knouts and then tossed in the hoosegow, there to waste away watching reruns of Petticoat Junction as punishment, but I cannot. As a nobleman, his status and wealth gave him immunity from prosecution.However, Gesualdo was not immune from revenge, so he hired a company of bodyguards and beat a hasty retreat to the city of Ferrara, about 390 miles north of Naples.

Sickening.Barbaric.A travesty of justice, we rightly cry out.Such a thing could never, ever happen in our enlightened age of truth, justice, and the American way.


Late in the evening on June 12, 1994 O. J. Simpson butchered his estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.He hired the best attorneys his fame and money could buy; including Johnnie Cochran (“If the glove don’t fit you can’t convict!”), Robert Kardashian, Alan Dershowitz, Robert Shapiro, and F. Lee Bailey.(That’s quite a lineup; certainly better than the defensive squad Simpson teamed with on the Buffalo Bills.)His legal bill came to somewhere between three and six million dollars.But Simpson got what he paid for, and on October 3, 1995 the jury found Simpson not guilty.

On May 4, 2001 the actor Robert Blake – best known for his TV portrayal of an undercover cop named Tony Baretta (“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”) – put a bullet through the head of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, while she sat waiting for him in his car.On March 16, 2005 a jury found Blake not guilty.

Like Carlo Gesualdo, both Orenthal James Simpson and Michael James Vincenzo Gubitosi (a.k.a. “Robert Blake”) got away with murder because they had money and fame.

Like Carlo Gesualdo, Simpson and Blake were subsequently immune from criminal prosecution, but they were not immune from revenge.For both Simpson and Blake that revenge took the form of wrongful death suits filed in civil court.On February 5, 1997, a jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman.The Juice was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the Goldman family.On November 18, 2005 a jury found Blake liable for the wrongful death of Bonnie Lee Bakley.Ordered to pay her surviving children $30 million, Blake declared bankruptcy just over two months later.

No such financial punishment was meted out to Carlo Gesualdo for the murders he committed.But that doesn’t mean that he got away with his crimes scot-free; oh, no.In his later years, his guilt and self-loathing reached such a pitch that he. . . well, to find out what happened tune into the latest episode of “Scandalous Overtures”!

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