ROME — It’s hard to imagine exactly what the circumstances could have possibly been in which American Ashley Ann Olsen was killed. The body of the 35-year-old Florida native was found last Saturday by her artist boyfriend in the small studio apartment she rented in central Florence. She was nude except for her socks. Her neck was covered with lesions and bruises. Police recovered a USB cable, several black plastic ties, and a handful of necklaces as part of their cache of forensic evidence.
For four days, forensic police scoured hours of surveillance tape from the neighborhood where Olsen lived, interviewed dozens of her friends and neighbors, and interrogated her boyfriend at length. They eventually settled on the theory that the American hooked up with Cheik Tidiane Diaw, a 27-year-old undocumented immigrant from Senegal, at a seedy nightclub. Apparently, they were right.
Officials say they confirmed his involvement when Diaw’s DNA was found in a condom and on a cigarette in Olsen’s apartment. “They had consensual sex,” lead prosecutor Giuseppe Creazzo said matter-of-factly at a press conference Thursday morning, before laying out his theory that Olsen was knocked out somehow when she hit her head, and Diaw likely unintentionally strangled her when he tried to revive her. She had two fractures in her cranium and multiple lesions on her neck. “They weren’t exactly lucid,” he said, though he said he would wait until the toxicology reports were in to elaborate.
Creazzo also ruled out earlier theories investigators floated about a “sex game gone wrong.” “There are no traces of an erotic game,” he said, implying that sex that could potentially cause a cranial fracture, if that’s what happened, was somehow normal.
Diaw may choose to enlighten investigators to exactly how it happened that Olsen died, but it may be much harder to sort out why they ended up together in the first place. Was it a case of revenge sex? Olsen wasn’t known to pick up men, her friends told police.
Granted, Olsen and her boyfriend did have a fight, but they hadn’t apparently broken up. And by the reaction and grief her boyfriend exhibited, by giving mouth-to-mouth to her corpse in an attempt to bring her back to life, there appeared to still be feelings, at least from his side.
Or was it more a Mr. Goodbar case, referring to the 1970s movie in which Theresa Dunn, a well-behaved schoolteacher, seeks out increasingly risky sexual experiences to combat boredom. If that is the case, it certainly didn’t end well for Ms. Dunn, either.
Investigators said Olsen and Diaw were seen by several witnesses chatting at the Montecarla nightclub, a famed hookup spot for Florentines. They were also reportedly caught on surveillance tape walking together in the direction from the club toward Olsen’s house. No direct cameras were pointed at Olsen’s door, and the camera at the club entrance was out of order, but it would appear they entered her apartment together, with her opening the door willingly.
The Montecarla features what amount to private areas with large bedlike couches and seating spaces and plenty of jungle décor. It has been closed at least once in the last year after charges that it abetted the sale of cocaine. Olsen’s friends say they left her there around 3 a.m. Friday. Creazzo says she was killed a few hours after that.
No official transcript of Diaw’s interrogation has been released, but local press have quoted investigators saying that Diaw apparently partially confessed when confronted with the evidence of his DNA in Olsen’s apartment, pleading that he hadn’t meant to kill her and that he didn’t know she was dead when he left. Other reports have stated that Diaw said he pushed her, which is how she cracked her skull, and then tried to revive her by grabbing her necklace. Theories abound, but nothing has been confirmed so far.
Whatever happened, and with what intent, Diaw most certainly compromised any sympathy he might have otherwise garnered by the fact that he snatched her cellphone when he left and replaced her SIM card with his own, using the dead woman’s phone until his arrest, according to police.
His status as an undocumented immigrant will also do little to help him, since entering Italy illegally is also a crime. If he came by boat during the recent wave of migration to Europe, he should have been fingerprinted and processed, but apparently he was not. His brother, however, is living legally in the country.
What happens next depends entirely on what Diaw and his yet-to-be determined legal team decide to do. He could try to enter a plea bargain and opt for a fast-track trial that would be held behind closed doors and would save Olsen’s family from what must surely be an unimaginably difficult time as they hear allegations of their daughter and sister’s behavior, without the benefit or comfort of ever hearing her own side of the story. Or he could fight the charges and drag this sad story through a public trial, which would only prolong the misery of this tragic event for everyone.