Her body was discovered on Saturday after Olsen’s Italian boyfriend asked her landlady to open her apartment because she wasn’t responding to his calls, the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reported. Both the victim’s boyfriend and friends are said to have spoken to investigators at length.
No suspects have yet been named by police and an autopsy is due to be carried out to confirm how Olsen was killed. Her phone and computer have been seized by investigators as they try to piece together her last movements, Italian media said.
Olsen used her Instagram account to suggest she was receiving unwanted attention, although from the nature of the posts it wasn’t clear if she was joking about pictures taken by friends. In one photo she wrote “I have a #stalker” with an image of her walking her dog, while another of her shopping in Santo Spirito’s popular market includes the hashtags “#fuckoff #creeper”. Foreign women, particularly blondes, often attract attention from men on the streets of Florence and other Italian cities.
A spokesperson for the US embassy in Rome was not immediately available to comment on the investigation.
The investigation into Olsen’s death has already raised comparisons with the murder of Meredith Kercher, a British student found dead in her apartment in Perugia in 2007. Originally from Summer Haven, Florida, Olsen moved to Florence in 2012 and was living in the vibrant Santo Spirito neighbourhood when she was killed. The area is well known for its bohemian atmosphere, which attracts a tight-knit community of international artists, as well as its lively bar scene.
The murder has sent shockwaves through the neighbourhood. “Of course I remember her. I also remember that she came here with a friend and an English guy, he’s also an artist. She was very nice. I can’t believe that they would have done her harm,” a local bar owner told La Nazione newspaper.
“The idea that all of this could have happened in our neighbourhood, where we only worry about noise during the night, fills me with horror and bitterness,” said a shop owner on Via Santa Monaca, where Olsen lived.
Florence itself is hugely attractive to young Americans, who visit the Renaissance city to take part in university exchange programmes. Olsen’s father works as an art teacher in the city and his daughter moved to Italy to be close to him, Italian news agency Ansa said.
Olsen appeared to be living la dolce vita and often posted photographs online of her adventures with her dog, a beagle named Scout. Under the motto “Live free or die”, her Instagram account is filled with pictures of Olsen enjoying the Tuscan countryside, sitting on the steps of Santo Spirito’s main square, with comments on daily life in Florence.
Last summer, she flew to her family home in Florida, before returning to Italy and visiting the Tuscan island of Elba with her partner. The couple have also travelled to Berlin together.
Friends and other expats expressed hope that the case wouldn’t end up repeating the flawed, flip-flopping investigation into the high-profile murder case of Meredith Kercher. Kercher suffered multiple stab wounds in the attack, just weeks after moving to the hilltop Umbrian city to study.
Kercher’s US flatmate, Amanda Knox, was originally convicted of murder along with her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. A lengthy legal process saw the duo acquitted and then convicted again, before Italy’s highest court threw out the guilty verdicts in March 2015.
The final decision was put down to “stunning flaws” in the investigation that led to Knox’s and Sollecito’s convictions, with judges arguing that there was not enough evidence to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. A third person, Rudy Guede, is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence over his part in Kercher’s murder, after being convicted on the basis that he had accomplices.
“I would hope for [Olsen’s] sake that this investigation is more clear,” Georgette Jupe, who writes the Girl in Florence blog, told the Associated Press. Social media groups for expats in Florence expressed the same sentiment, with several people posting comments about the parallel to the Kercher investigation, which was harshly criticised in both the US and British media.
Jupe said Olsen was involved in fashion and had moved a few years ago to Florence. “She always with her dog, always sitting on steps of Santo Spirito with friends,” Jupe said.