‘The King Who Never Was’ Explained: Who Were Vittorio Emanuele & Dirk Hamer?


The King Who Never Was is a new Netflix documentary miniseries that focuses on Prince Vittorio Emanuele de Savoy, the only son of Umberto II, the last King of Italy. While the series, at times, focuses on the life of the central man, most of it revolves around the scandalous death of a young German boy, Dirk Hamer, which was, in all probability, caused by Vittorio Emanuele himself. For me personally, the contents of The King Who Never Was are not really that interesting, and to add to it, the confusing perspective of the show, from that of the prime accused himself makes it quite a forgettable watch.

Spoilers Alert

Who Is Vittorio Emanuele?

The King Who Never Was begins with a brief introduction to the Savoy family before returning to Vittorio Emanuele’s life later on in the second episode. Vittorio Emanuele is the grandson of Victor Emmanuel III, the notorious King of Italy, under whose regime and support the country saw the rise of Fascism led by dictator Benito Mussolini. As history would have it, Emmanuel III abdicated in May 1946, following which his son Umberto II ascended the throne. Since times were changing and the country was preparing for life following WWII, an institutional referendum was called for, asking the citizens to vote whether Italy would continue as a monarchy or be changed into a democracy. As the majority voted in favor of democracy, Umberto II and his entire family, the Savoys, were exiled from the country, and they eventually settled on the southern coast of the continent.

Vittorio Emanuele was only a boy when his father and family were exiled from Italy, and he naturally had a wish to return to his homeland. As an adult, Vittorio seemingly began life as an exiled crown prince, still living on the enormous wealth that his family had, until he met Marina Doria. Hailed equally for her charming looks and her extraordinary skill as a water skier, Marina Doria was a fairly well-known name in her native Switzerland. Vittorio used to regularly visit the country and, on one occasion, came across Marina. The two eventually fell in love and wanted to marry, but the Savoy family was not agreeable to such a union. According to the exiled King Umberto II, his only son most definitely had to marry someone from the royal aristocracy, and Marina certainly did not have such blue blood. To them, Marina Doria was nothing more than just an attractive athlete, not worthy of being their daughter-in-law.

It was at this juncture that Vittorio decided to go against the will of his family and finally step out of the shadow of their royal wealth. As he himself admits in the documentary series, this gave him an important opportunity to work for his own livelihood. The man moved to Iran and started working as a banker and salesman for a number of Italian companies dealing in the country. “The King Who Never Was” also draws attention to the fact that Iran served as a hotbed of suspicious and shady business dealings during this time in the 1960s and 1970s. There were often instances when Italian companies would officially sell weapons and items to Iran, and these products would eventually end up in other countries where Italy could not officially do business. After going to Tehran as part of business dealings for a helicopter manufacturing company named Augusta, Vittorio became good friends with the Shah of Iran. Vittorio eventually saw through a sale of 40 Augusta helicopters to the Shah, and this deal brought him a great fortune as well. Soon, Vittorio and Marina got married in Iran, and the ceremony was presided over by the Shah himself. The couple then settled on the French island of Corsica.

Who Was Dirk Hamer, And What Happened To Him?

The identity of Dirk Hamer and his involvement in the life of Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy are soon introduced in “The King Who Never Was,” going back to the year 1978. In August 1978, Dirk Hamer joined a large group of youngsters vacationing on and around the island of Corsica. Dirk was not directly friends with any of the youngsters, and instead, it was through his elder sister Birgit that he joined the group. A young and attractive woman who had also been professionally modeling at the time, Birgit was invited by two of the men in the group to sail over to the nearby island of Cavallo, and she was accompanied by Dirk, who was nineteen at the time. Sailing over to Cavallo in three separate boats, the group saw Vittorio Emanuele and his family at the restaurant on the island. It was well known that the Savoys were living in Corsica, and it was, therefore, not too strange to see them.

However, Vittorio’s attitude towards the youngsters seemed to be unpleasant from the very beginning, as he and his family felt disturbed because of the loud noise of the gathering at the restaurant. The youngsters had earlier even taken the small dinghy tied to Vittorio’s boat in order to get to the shore, and this may not have been well received by the exiled prince. The youngsters had to spend the night over at Cavallo due to bad weather, and they made use of the dinghy once again. As some of them took shelter at some friends’ houses on the island, the rest went to sleep on board the three boats, which were all moored near the place. After returning home, Vittorio apparently discovered that his dinghy was missing, and so he went back to Cavallo late into the night, and believing the island to have its fair share of troubles, the man carried a rifle along with him.

According to the witnesses who were present on the boats that night, Vittorio started shouting at the youngsters and threatening to cause them harm, stating that it was his island that they were on. Along with these verbal threats, Vittorio then also pointed his rifle at the boats, specifically at one of the young men named Nicky Pende. As Nicky realized the danger that they were possibly in, Vittorio fired the rifle twice, and the young man had to throw Vittorio into the water, along with himself. With these two loud gunshots heard by everyone around, people from the nearby boats started firing flare guns into the sky to see what had happened and also to warn others. During all this time, Dirk Hamer was sleeping in a bunk bed on one of the boats, and while the ruckus did not seem to wake him, the second bullet fired by Vittorio tragically shattered the boat’s window and directly hit Dirk in the belly. The injured man was rushed to the hospital as soon as possible, while Vittorio Emanuele was taken into custody by the police.

Dirk Hamer had to go through nineteen serious surgeries over the course of the next three months, and there was a high chance of him not being able to walk ever again in his life. However, the young man tragically lost his life on the 7th of December, ending his long struggle to survive the sudden and negligent attack. Ever since his injury, the Hamer family had been determined to bring the perpetrator to justice, and they were quite vocal about their effort. On the other side, Vittorio was already in custody and had even written a letter in which he admitted his civil liability for having mistakenly shot Dirk. The investigations conducted included going over to the scene of the incident and also searching through the three boats of the youngsters. One of the coast guard officials actually found a handgun aboard the boat, and believing that the weapon smelled like it had been recently fired, he took the gun away with him. By October, no conclusive proof against Vittorio could actually be found, and the man was granted provisional release from prison. But the eventual death of Dirk once again brought a crisis to Vittorio, and he faced the chance of being given a prison sentence of twenty years.

But Vittorio Emanuele was from a royal family and, very obviously, had a great deal of influence and privilege. There were already a number of reports that Vittorio was using his contacts and soft power to interfere with the investigation and also postpone the trial procedure. Journalists who had initially reported on the incident were also seemingly stopped by the Savoy family. There were even claims from the Savoys that the Hamers were demanding an exorbitant amount of money as a sort of settlement deal. When questioned by interviewers at the time, the Hamers stated that they had initially demanded an amount of money for Dirk’s livelihood if he survived but were no longer demanding it after the loss of their son. It was then the sister, Birgit, who took it upon herself to fight for her brother’s justice, as she was gradually starting to realize that her parents might have other monetary expectations.

It was Birgit’s efforts that finally resulted in a court trial being held against Vittorio at the Assize Court of Paris, with a set of jury members taking the ultimate decision in the matter. As Vittorio Emanuele and his lawyers presented their case, the man claimed that he was certain his bullet did not hurt and later on killed Dirk Hamer. Vittorio stated that there had been multiple other gunshots fired that night and that one of the later ones must have hit the young man. By this time, Vittorio’s handwritten letter, in which he accepted his guilt in having mistakenly shot a man, had vanished from the embassy where it had been stored. Although the witnesses state in the documentary that these sounds were definitely because of the flare guns, very few of these witnesses were actually brought to court at the time. The handgun that had been found on the youngsters’ boats by the coast guard was also claimed to have been the weapon used against Dirk. Marina, who had throughout been by her husband’s side, claimed that the doctor who had first treated Dirk after the accident had claimed that he had been shot from point-blank range, which could not have been possible if Vittorio’s shot had hit him. A number of distinguished members of society, all friends and supporters of Vittorio, also testified in court, stating how good a man the defendant was.

Was Vittorio The Real Reason Behind Dirk Hamer’s Death?

Despite the glaring obviousness of the entire matter, the jurors in the Assize Court case found Vittorio Emanuele not guilty of the unintentional murder of Dirk Hamer. The man was only found guilty of illegally possessing the rifle that he had fired, for which he was sentenced to five months on parole, and Vittorio essentially walked free. To Brigit and countless other followers of the case, this was just an instance of how the extremely influential and rich got away with zero accountability for their actions. Vittorio Emanuele had also been a member of the powerful but illegal Masonic P2 lodge, which clearly provided him with a lot of support through the entire procedure.

Following the acquittal, there were more pleasantries in Vittorio Emanuele’s life, as he was finally allowed to return to his homeland, Italy, in 2002, along with his family. After finally settling in the country, he was apparently regaining the old respect and honor when, in 2006, he was arrested by the Italian authorities on charges of corruption, smuggling, and sex trafficking. Although he had to spend only a few days in prison because of these charges, as he was later acquitted of them all, Vittorio shockingly made a strange, boastful confession to some of his prison mates. Unaware that he was being taped, the man shamelessly stated how he was definitely guilty of having killed Dirk Hamer but had intelligently fooled the French authorities and had walked away free. This tape, initially just an audio file, was used to bring up the matter once again, and of course, each member of the Savoy family stated with full confidence that nothing like this tape actually existed.

This matter, too, was successfully covered up by the royal family until, some years later, Brigit Hamer got access to a videotape of the same with the help of her team of lawyers and journalists. Not only had Vittorio been taped confessing to the crime, but he had also been recorded doing so on the video cameras inside the prison. This made it clear that the man had indeed been responsible for the death of young Dirk, but unfortunately, nothing could be done about it. The criminal case that had already been settled could not be reopened according to French law, and Vittorio Emanuele continues to live as a free man. The video was however made public by the press in Italy, and despite the Savoy family’s legal action against the news channel and Brigit Hamer, the court dismissed their claim and allowed for the video to be aired. Although it was not the perfect end that Brigit Hamer had been hoping for, the unmasking of the perpetrator in front of public eyes is a win that she has decided to be content with.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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