Italy's "St. Valentine's Beast" captured in France

ROME Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:16am EST

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ROME (Reuters) - A serial killer known as the "St. Valentine's Beast" who went on the run after being allowed out of prison to visit his mother three days ago was captured in France on Friday, Italy's interior minister said.

Police launched a manhunt after Bartolomeo Gagliano fled jail on Tuesday after being granted a good behavior pass, hijacking the car of a baker and forcing the man to drive him to Genoa, 170 km (105 miles) from the border with France.

Police cautioned that the fugitive was "armed and dangerous" and told the public to alert authorities if he was seen. French police arrested Gagliano in Menton, just over the Italian border, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Twitter.

The 55-year-old man, who the courts have declared is mentally ill, earned his nickname in February 1989 when he killed his third victim on Valentine's Day after breaking out of a psychiatric hospital.

In 1983, he escaped from a separate institution where he had been confined for murdering a woman and then held a family hostage and was recaptured only after a shoot-out with police.

Because he was let out on leave despite previous escapes ending in violence, Justice Minister Annamaria Cancellieri was asked to testify before parliament on Friday, before Gagliano was captured.

"I don't doubt that the affair has alarmed the public... I intend to take charge of discovering what happened," Cancellieri told parliament, saying she would lead a "fact-finding inquiry".

She denied reports that the prison director was not aware of Gagliano's criminal history when the pass was issued.

(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary, editing by Steve Scherer and Mike Collett-White)

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