Feud between elderly men turns deadly: 'Either I'm going to kill him, or he's going to kill me'

Michael Di Berardino's widow Gemma with relatives on Tuesday.
Joe Armao/Brisbane Times

Michael Di Berardino's widow Gemma with relatives on Tuesday.

It started almost half a century ago, most likely with a ball over the fence that was sliced in half and thrown back.

Then came the rubbish – including chicken bones – and water, all chucked over the high wooden fence separating the two homes in Melbourne, Australia.

The roses lining the front fence between Numbers 30 and 32 Joffre Street, Reservoir, were poisoned.

Michael Di Berardino, seen here with his wife Gemma, "lived big", a grandson said.
Joe Armao/Brisbane Times

Michael Di Berardino, seen here with his wife Gemma, "lived big", a grandson said.

Then came threats, abuse, spitting, and allegations of two assaults – one with a crowbar and the other a pole – on two different neighbours, with the most recent one occurring just two weeks ago.

READ MORE: Man, 83, dies on footpath after fight with neighbour, 90

This was no ordinary beef between two grumpy old men – to 83-year-old Michael di Berardino, Eugenio Prenesti, 91, seemed like the neighbour from hell.

These roses were, allegedly, poisoned.
Joe Armao/Brisbane Times

These roses were, allegedly, poisoned.

And on Monday, the decades-long dispute took a deadly turn.

About 1pm, di Berardino was seen chasing after Prenesti with a pipe down the street.

The sight wasn't particularly unusual; the long-running dispute between men, which started when they became neighbours some 47 years ago, was well-known in the street.

Eugenio Prenesti, 91, with local MP Robin Scott, the Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Eugenio Prenesti, 91, with local MP Robin Scott, the Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

Reservoir is traditionally a battler's heartland in Melbourne's north. The residents of leafy Joffre Street are mostly Italian migrants. Both di Berardino and Prenesti hailed from Reggio Calabria in Italy's south.

Ad Feedback

Shortly after the two arguing men were separated by a neighbour on Monday afternoon, di Berardino was found slumped, unconscious on the footpath.

An autopsy on Tuesday afternoon revealed di Berardino died in circumstances that were not suspicious. His family believe he may have suffered a heart attack.

The scene in Joffre St, Melbourne, on Monday afternoon.
Pat Scala/Brisbane Times

The scene in Joffre St, Melbourne, on Monday afternoon.

Despite this, they say di Berardino would still be alive if authorities had stepped in sooner.

di Berardino's wife Gemma heard the sound of her husband's car about 1pm on Monday.

She walked outside their brick veneer home to find the vehicle in the driveway with the driver's door open.

She looked right, nothing, then she looked left and saw di Berardino face-down on the footpath outside number 28.

"I just see my husband lying there, chest on concrete, hands under his body, legs crossed like this and I cried, screamed," she said.

"I scream, I scream. I go inside and called an ambulance."

When paramedics turned him over to try to resuscitate him, Mrs di Berardino said her husband had a bump on his head and blood coming out of his mouth.

A neighbour had seen di Berardino chasing Prenesti up the street. The neighbour said di Berardino had a pole in his hand, but there are differing accounts of whether it was plastic or aluminium.

The neighbour separated the two men and left, leaving Prenesti on one side of the road and di Berardino on the other.

Between 15 and 30 minutes later, emergency services were at the scene.

Despite the autopsy's finding, the family said their neighbour's behaviour contributed to di Berardino's death.

They had been let down by authorities with "countless" reports and intervention orders changing nothing, they said.

"It took for my grandfather to die for something to happen," grandson Michael di Berardino said.

Prenesti, who has lived alone since the death of his wife some years ago, took refuge at his son's house on Tuesday.

When approached by television news reporters for comment, Prenesti lashed out, slapping a female Channel 9 reporter across the face and spitting at a male Channel 10 reporter.

Back at the di Berardino house, in their immaculate backyard with di Berardino's beloved tomato plants lining the back fence, his family remembered a man who they said was the "life of the party".

"He lived big," his grandson said.

"He was the first one on the dance floor and the last one off it."

Even though other neighbours were driven out of the suburb by the insidious drama, the di Berardino family never wanted to leave, Michael said.

"You know how many memories we have in this backyard? In this house? Why should we move?" his grandson said.

He said his grandfather knew the long-running dispute was coming to a head after a neighbour across the road was assaulted with a metal pole two weeks ago.

"He said: 'Either I'm going to kill him, or he's going to kill me'."

 - Brisbane Times

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback