by Bluto Ray
One day in that terrible Palermo summer of 1992, already darkened by the recent killing of top anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, two magistrates entered upon a scene that deepened their despair. There at his desk in the Prosecutor’s Office sat their colleague, Judge Paolo Borsellino, head in hands, crying repeatedly, “A friend has betrayed me.”
It was disturbing behavior for the heroic public servant who, as Falcone’s right-hand investigator in Italy’s famous maxi-trials, had helped clap the irons on nineteen powerful Mafia bosses for good. Borsellino’s breakdown came from more than just the exhaustion of working day and night to find his partner’s killers. He had been telling everyone: “I’m racing against time. I’m looking directly at the Mafia. I have so much work to do, so much work...”
His work was cut short a few days later. On July 19, Borsellino drove from his villa in a nearby suburb to a modern apartment complex in downtown Palermo, led and followed by the two other cars of his bodyguard team. The judge was coming to fetch his mother for an appointment at her cardiologist’s office. The doctor, a family friend, was unable to make the house call because someone had set fire to his car the night before.
The convoy entered the cul-de-sac of Via Mariano D’Amelio where its three drivers went into their familiar defensive positions. Borsellino parked and stepped from his Fiat Croma, lit a cigarette and smiled enigmatically as the men moved to surround him. They were well-practiced in the “human turtle” formation used to move the judge through public spaces.
At that instant, a great fireball exploded, piercing the quiet Sunday evening and flinging the cars into the air. A column of thick black smoke obscured the men’s severed limbs jettisoned several stories high. People rushed to the scene to discover the horror of the latest Mafia attack: Paolo Borsellino and five of his escorts blown up less than two months after Judge Falcone met the same fiery fate.
Antonio Vullo, the lone surviving bodyguard, recalled the event in a televised documentary:
”We arrived in Via D'Amelio. I was taken aback because I saw so many parked cars. Knowing that this was the home of his mother, we were a little worried. The judge pulled up directly, parked his car right in the middle of the roadway, and I arranged the members of the escort to make a clearing in front of the building. I moved the car another five or six meters and I was hit by a hot cloud. My car was lifted up and thrown for some meters. I felt crushed inside and tossed around. I immediately saw a colleague's body torn apart by the explosion. I didn't know what to do and I started to run. Then I saw shreds of flesh. I was standing on the foot of a colleague."
Vullo’s initial worry was justified. The cars that the agents found parked along Via D’Amelio should have been cleared before Borsellino’s arrival. One, a Fiat 126 abandoned the day before, was packed with more than two hundred pounds of TNT. Had the compound detonated before Borsellino stepped out of his armored vehicle, he might have survived as Vullo had.
But the judge’s personal effects remained on the back seat. In addition to keys, cigarettes and a still-wet pair of swimming trunks was a leather briefcase, intact if a bit singed, containing court papers and a red notebook.
Everyone in Borsellino’s sphere knew about the red notebook. He was forever filling its pages with investigative details and memoirs in his race against the clock. His wife Agnese had seen him pack it into his briefcase before leaving the villa that day. But shortly after the bombing, it vanished.
Among the first to have arrived at the chaotic scene was Borsellino’s fellow magistrate from the maxi-trial days, Giuseppe Ayala. Now a senator, Ayala testified in 1998 that he and a uniformed policeman discovered the briefcase in the Croma and, together, they removed the red notebook. When the officer attempted to hand it to Ayala, he claimed to have refused it.
Ayala changed his version of events three times over the years and was contradicted by Captain Giovanni Arcangioli, the policeman in Ayala’s recollection. Other witnesses reported differing accounts of the notebook. Added to the mystery was the presence of a stranger, caught on film, wandering amid the smoking wreckage and charred corpses.
A movement of activists—the Agende Rosse (“Red Notebooks”), founded by Salvatore Borsellino, the judge’s brother—has grown around the issue of the missing item as it relates to the death plot. The coalition was encouraged by numerous revelations that emerged from inquiries into an alleged pact between the state and the Mafia—now referred to as the trattativa (“negotiation”).
Borsellino’s widow told a court in 2009 that her husband “learned a few days before that Cosa Nostra wanted to kill him.” She spoke of his mistrust of a pair of Carabiniere Special Forces agents, Colonel Mario Mori and Captain Giuseppe De Donno.
Those men and scores more—from the highest politicians to the lowliest mafiosi—have become fixtures in a series of trials over the trattativa. The labyrinthine proceedings have brought about several prosecutions, sentences, appeals and acquittals. But the entire affair can be reduced to a single burning question: Were Falcone and Borsellino killed because representatives of the Italian government reneged on a deal they had made with the Mafia?
Il Fatto Quotidiano
Anello, L’altra storia
Bongiovanni & Baldo, Gli ultimi giorni di Paolo Borsellino
Deaglio, Il vile agguato
Rizza & Lo Bianco, L’agenda rossa di Paolo Borsellino
Beppe Grillo's blog