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Driven by Drugs and Fear, An American Model Kills Her Tormenting Italian Playboy

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Terry Broome, a lithe brunette from South Carolina, arrived in Milan in April 1984, intending to give fashion modeling “one last shot.” She didn’t mind giving sexual favors to a few rich Italian playboys, nor did she mind scoring some cocaine—a bad habit she had picked up during a try at modeling in New York. But Francesco D’Alessio, the arrogant son of a wealthy horse breeder, was too much for her to handle. After she spurned his advances, D’Alessio hounded her at parties and nightspots, taunting her with lewd gestures and demands for sexual submission. Finally, after D’Alessio humiliated her in front of another playboy who had given her jewelry, Terry decided she had had enough.

Around 5:30 the next morning, strung out on Valium, cocaine and vodka, she showed up on D’Alessio’s doorstep. Surprised and delighted, D’Alessio first treated her to some more coke. Then, even though he already had another American model as a visitor, D’Alessio made crude sexual advances toward Terry. When she rebuffed him, he said, “Maybe one man is not enough for you,” and offered to call over some friends. At that point Terry pulled out a .38 cal. Smith and Wesson revolver and fired. They wrestled for the gun, which erupted three more times, leaving D’Alessio, 40, dying on the floor, a bullet wound in his chest, another in his brain.

In a crowded Milan courtroom last month, Broome, 28, admitted she was guilty of murder. “Yes, I killed Francesco D’Alessio,” she said, in a soft voice tinged with a slight Southern accent. “But I didn’t mean to. I just meant to frighten him.”

Italians lapped up the salacious tidbits revealed in court during the two-week trial to determine whether the crime was premeditated. Amid revelations of easy sex and stupefying drug use among the fashion scene’s hangers-on—”leech types,” Terry called her former pals—no one loomed as a more extreme example of the sour side of la dolce vita than the murder victim.

A large (6’4″), handsome man, D’Alessio was a dedicated pleasure seeker whose boyish charm had devolved over the years into ugly machismo. Abandoned by his mother when he was 2, D’Alessio grew up in the care of his stern father, Carlo, whose success as a breeder earned him the moniker “King of the Horses.” Growing up around the track, D’Alessio became a winning gambler. “Francesco knew everybody,” says Princess Ines Theodoli Torlonla, a close friend, “He played bridge with Omar Sharif. He went to the races with [French film star] Alain Delon.” But by the time he met Terry, D’Alessio was a heavy user of cocaine, and his life was in turmoil. He had been separated for a year from his wife, Cheryl Stevens, a model from Florida who was living with their young daughters, Valentina and Carla. “Francesco was saying he’d wasted his life,” Cheryl says. “He said, ‘I can’t get girls anymore. I’m not lucky at cards as I used to be. I can’t play tennis as well. Maybe my life is over.’ ”

When he targeted Terry, he targeted the wrong girl, not because she was strong, but because she was just as desperate as he was. One of five children of Air Force Sgt. Bill Broome and Alice Thompson, Terry was raised in a blur of military bases around the United States. She says there were frequent incidents of family violence. Terry’s sister, Donna, 27, says their father “expected his kids to obey like his soldiers and not ask why.”

Terry explained in a court-ordered psychiatric report that she was “terrified” by her father: “I never knew from one minute to the other what might happen. He was always beating my mother and dragging us around. He threw us from wall to wall and punched us like we were big men.” Once, when Terry skipped school, he cornered her in the kitchen. “He cut my hair off,” she recalled. “I thought he was going to knife me with the scissors, until my mother stopped him.”

Terry ran away from home at 15 and was raped by two members of a motorcycle gang while hitchhiking in South Carolina. “When they were finished, it was like, ‘There is the bus station, and people can help you,’ ” she says. “I was hysterical and needed to tell somebody about what happened. One nice man said, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to help you.’ We went to his car to get some money, and he tried to rape me. But I got away.”

At 18, Terry married a high school sweetheart, but the union lasted less than a year. Meanwhile, Donna had been discovered and was working as a teen model in New York. Joining Donna in 1978, Terry landed a contract with Eileen Ford’s prestigious modeling agency. Her career did not take off. Soon she found herself just tagging around, little more than a groupie, more and more dependent on cocaine. “It was not just a drug problem,” she says. “I had also developed an alcohol problem. I was drinking maybe a bottle of Scotch a day. I remember at one point I opened my refrigerator and I had no food, only liquor and cocaine. It’s amazing I’m still alive.” In 1980 Terry tried to commit suicide. (In jail in 1985 she tried again, slashing her wrists with a sharp piece of plastic.)

In an effort to break her addiction, Terry rejoined her family in Columbia, S.C. in 1981. “My mother helped me a lot with trying to live a clean life,” Terry says. “But people from New York would telephone, and one time I went up to the city for a week and I was back to using cocaine again.” Donna, meanwhile, had moved to Milan, where she found a boyfriend, a financier who was part-owner of a modeling agency. She encouraged her sister to join her and give modeling another try.

Terry landed at the Milan airport toting her life savings, $1,000 in cash. On her way to the bank the next day, a pickpocket snatched her bulging wallet. “From that moment,” Donna says, “it was all downhill.”

Modeling jobs failed to materialize, but there were plenty of distractions. Insurance executive Claudio Caccia, now 38, liked hanging out with the fashion crowd. He invited Terry to a small party one weekend at the country villa of his friend Carlo Cabassi, now 41, a real estate speculator whose elder brother is a well-known developer. While shooting billiards Terry saw a stuporous figure lying on the floor erotically massaging his crotch. She reported her shocking discovery to other guests. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, that’s just Francesco. He always does that,’ ” Terry says.

Later that evening, after they had shared some cocaine, Cabassi, an imaginative host, invited Terry and her date to join him in a ménage à trois. D’Alessio, apparently tiring of his indecent solitaire, demanded to be included, but Cabassi refused him. The next morning, D’Alessio confronted Terry with a demand for equal time. She declined, and from that moment on, according to Terry, he waged a campaign of sexual harassment against her.

In their insulated world, Terry and D’Alessio crossed paths at parties and nightclubs; as she later testified, about “20 to 25 times” during the next six weeks. Each time he would rub his crotch and spout obscenities at her. Behind her back he spread tales of her promiscuity and alleged lesbianism.

All of this helped accelerate Terry’s renewed slide into drug dependency. “She was sleeping all day with the blinds closed,” Donna says. “I could see that deep inside she was scared of what the future would hold. She didn’t want to go home and have people think she was a failure.” But in June Terry moved in with Giorgio Rotti, now 33, a jeweler, and began to feel hopeful again. “It seemed he gave her something every day,” Donna says. “First it was a necklace, then a watch and a ring. He took her to meet his family, which in Italy is pretty serious. And she was saying, ‘I can’t believe this. I’m so happy.’ ”

Terry says that Rotti also gave her coke, plenty of it. On June 26, 1984, 10 weeks after her arrival in Milan, Terry and Rotti met Donna and her boyfriend at Caffe Roma. Emerging from the ladies’ room, the sisters spied D’Alessio. Terry, high on vodka, coke and Valium, panicked. “She wanted to leave right away,” Donna says. “She knew he would start making fun of her, and it drove her up the wall.”

The group moved on to Club Nepentha, but D’Alessio showed up there as well. As Terry tried to ignore him, he hovered behind her chair. “How come when the girls are with Rotti they don’t want to [have sex with] me anymore?” he complained.

Rotti did nothing to defend her honor. Later that night, however, Terry says, he told her to give him back his necklace and ring. “My thoughts were that [the chance of] marriage had gone up in smoke,” Terry says. Unable to sleep, she tried some crossword puzzles but quickly grew restless. “I went to the hall closet to look for an electronic game, and I came across [Rotti’s] revolver,” she said during an interrogation. “I was irritated. I thought about Francesco, and I was simply tired of the fact that he would have been able to disgust me again in my life. I took the gun and I put it in a brown bag.”

After the murder Terry was arrested in Zurich, where she had fled with Rotti’s help. At the trial D’Alessio’s father, Carlo, told reporters his son had been a victim. “If I had known he was hanging out with this bunch of unfortunates, I would have put chains on his ankles and dragged him home,” he said, referring to Caccia, Cabassi and Rotti, whom the Italian press dubbed “the three little pigs.” (Caccia was convicted of false testimony, Rotti of complicity and drug violations, and Cabassi of drug violations. All received short suspended sentences.) As for Terry, reflecting the view of many Latin men, Carlo D’Alessio remarked: “Is it possible she felt so offended if someone, like my son did, proposed to go to bed? She’s not the Queen of England.”

Terry doesn’t dispute that. “I am not a saint,” she admits. When she was jailed after the shooting, her fellow inmates welcomed her with a “Viva La Terry!” banner. She leaves feminist interpretations to others. “People were saying on TVI should go free because he was a terrible person,” she says. “But I am not a judge. Even a judge cannot take another person’s life [in cold blood].”

Imprisoned since her arrest, Terry now begins a 14-year sentence for second-degree (unpremeditated) murder. Oddly enough, though she plans to appeal the decision, she is not impatient for her freedom. Well-tanned and drug-free, she enjoys the surprisingly varied prison cuisine and the modest schedule of activities. Her closest companions are jailed Italian terrorists, with whom she makes ceramics to raise money for the families of their victims. “I’ve met better people in prison than I met outside,” she says, no hint of irony in her voice. “Even if I were to stay in prison a long time, it would be better for me than how I was before.”