“It all started about a week after I got re-elected,” remembers Dennis Opron, the mayor of a small town located deep in Utah’s rural Washington County. “The local sheriff was working the night shift when he noticed a hole had been cut in the chain-link fence of a vacant lot a few blocks north of the high school. He shined his light into the lot and noticed a thin layer of rust flakes on the ground and a trail of blood leading up to an abandoned car. It was a disturbing sight, and the worst part was there was no rational way to explain what happened.”
The city asked residents if they had seen or heard anything unusual between the hours of 10 and 11 pm but no one had anything worthwhile to report, and a search of the area found nothing that shed light on the provenance of the hole in the fence or the blood. The yellow Lancia Flaminia that had been sitting on the far end of the lot for decades had its hood opened but no one was able to remember whether it had always been that way. The lot was in a sparsely populated part of town and the few people that drove past it paid no attention to what was inside.
Overgrown with weeds, the vacant lot was one of those spooky mysteries that came with living in a small town. Some of the older residents claimed to know a friend of a friend who regularly spoke to the owner but had lost contact years ago. The 67-year old bartender remembered the owner used to park the Flaminia right in front of the bar and order a whiskey on the rocks once a week, but he abruptly stopped showing up in the middle of the 1970s. When all was said and done, the only verifiable fact was that no one had opened the gate in recent memory.
The case took an interesting turn when Utah police was contacted by a private investigator in Delaware about a missing person report. A 39-year old traveling salesman named Peter Loewy was reported missing a week earlier and surveillance videos suggested he was last seen filling up his white Volvo 240 at a Chevron station in Washington County. Police searched the area for days using dogs and helicopters but found no traces of Loewy.
Journalist Santo Gandini was eager to break the case and contacted Loewy’s wife to learn more about the missing man. He carefully took notes as she described a quiet, reserved individual who loved his job because it enabled him to travel on a regular basis. When not at his office or on the road, he could generally be found in his driveway tinkering with his fleet of old Italian cars.
Gandini immediately made the connection between Lowey and the trail of blood going up to the Lancia, and the next morning the local newspaper ran an article theorizing Loewy had been attacked as he tried to get a closer look at the Lancia.
The reporter’s story was plausible but it failed to answer two big questions: Where was Loewy, and where was his Volvo? His theory was quickly discredited.
Gandini returned to the scene of the crime that very afternoon hoping to find clues. As he walked around the Flaminia, he looked at the V6 in the engine bay and saw a lock of hair sticking out from the air cleaner housing. Intrigued, he reached down to pick it up when the front-hinged hood snapped shut.
A pedestrian walking by the lot heard screams and looked up just in time to see blood trickle out of the Flaminia’s exhaust pipe. The authorities quickly arrived and found no sign of Gandini anywhere but they discovered a SD card under the car. No one could believe what they saw when the files were extracted from the card: a grainy, low-quality film most likely shot with a digital camera showed Loewy, the missing salesman, being quite literally digested by the 2.8-liter V6. It was not hard to imagine Gandini suffered the same fate, but the card’s provenance remained an unsolved mystery.
“We couldn’t get rid of the car. No one would scrap it. I even asked people from out of state but they said no because they had all heard the story,” explained Opron.
City officials suggested the car should be buried. The fire department unsuccessfully tried to set it on fire, and someone toyed with the idea of bringing in a tow truck but no one could figure out how to hook up a winch to the Flaminia without getting too close to it. Finally, a local construction company offered to put the car in quarantine by building a wall around the fence until a solution was found.
Several months later, a short woman in her 70s showed up to the police station claiming she had information about the Flaminia that had taken the lives of two men.
“My husband parked the car there because he thought it was dead,” mused the old lady, “I guess he was wrong!”
As detectives questioned her about her late husband, they learned he was an engineer with a passion for inventing the impossible and he dedicated his career to pursuing wild, science fiction-esque ideas like living cars. The Flaminia experiment had turned horribly wrong but it was not an isolated case and four other Lancias were stored in a locked garage for decades after a blue Appia consumed the family dog. The woman was well aware that the cars were dangerous but she was moving to a smaller house and needed to quickly get rid of them so she ran an ad on Craigslist and sold all four cars as-is, with no warranty, no title but with a bill of sale to an enthusiast in Santa Cruz, California, who had promised to salvage a few parts and scrap them.
The phone rang shortly after the woman left the station in a white Volvo 240.
“Detective? It’s the Santa Cruz Police Department, we’d like to ask you a few questions…”