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Sunday
Apr062014

Last Days of the Lo Piccolos, part 1

The rise and fall of a father-and-son Mafia team

by Carl Russo

[This two-part article is a prequel to the chapters about the Lo Piccolo crime family in my book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide.

Salvatore Lo PiccoloGASPARE PULIZZI WAS DIGGING at a plate of tortellini with sea bass when a car pulled up to his house. Inside the vehicle were two men, one freshly killed, and Pulizzi was told he’d been assigned to bury the corpse by the bosses responsible for the murder: Salvatore Lo Piccolo and his son Sandro.

The dead man was racketeer Giovanni Bonanno, the son of tough Palermo gangster Armando Bonanno, who had disappeared when Giovanni was just a teen. Now it was Giovanni's turn to vanish, into the soil of a makeshift Mafia graveyard by the freeway a few miles west of Palermo. Pulizzi, following orders, stepped into the car.

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Saturday
Mar082014

Tales from the Crypt

Why are coffins stealing the headlines in Sicily? (Short answer: who knows?)

by Carl Russo

Detail of a tombstone in PalermoWHAT’S UP WITH SICILIAN COFFINS this year? You just can’t keep ‘em down. It started with an article in La Repubblica last month about a finely crafted pine box that showed up at a wedding, in 2012, as a cruel gag gift. The bride also received a sinister message on her answering machine: “This coffin is not for your husband but for you and your entire malarazza”—a colossal dis of her family.

A trial bringing harassment charges to two men and a woman, former friends of the couple, began on January 30. Although the targets of the prank have decided not to sue, they issued the following (under)statement: “We’re not interested in money, but these are things you just don’t do.” The couple has left Sicily permanently. It was a truly sick joke, but at least the coffin was empty.

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Friday
Feb072014

Sacred and Profane: The Heavens Open Above a Mafia Stronghold

The Sistine Chapel of Sicily is restored after 46 years in the dark, and Riina sings (by accident)

by Carl Russo

Totò RiinaTRAVELERS FOLLOWING the itineraries of my new book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, might be surprised to encounter something beautiful in Castelvetrano, a city darkened by its criminal history. Notorious as the place where the bandit Salvatore Giuliano was gunned down, and now the home base of fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, the Castelvetranesi can be proud of one thing: they’ve got the Sistine Chapel of Sicily.

Beginning today, the first time since the great quake of 1968 forced its closure, worshippers and wanderers alike may behold one of the finest spectacles the Late Renaissance has to offer: a sixteenth-century masterpiece by Antonino Ferraro of Giuliana, Sicily.

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Wednesday
Jan152014

Mean Cuisine: Why Mafia, Meat and Murder Go Together

Take the gun, try the cannoli

by Carl Russo

Salvatore InzerilloMAFIA BOSSES WORK BEST on a full stomach, notes Michael Day in Sunday’s The Independent. He brings up a banquet held six years ago in Palermo’s Zen district, a traditional Mafia stronghold. An excerpt from my new book describes that gathering of Sicilian bosses at the Villa Pensabene:

 

As lookouts circled the premises on scooters, fifteen mobsters strolled in, a mixture of old blood and new. A Sicilian antipasto of chickpea fritters and oysters whetted their appetites for the daylong champagne luncheon.

The business agenda was full that day: infiltrating jobs at the city’s new soccer stadium, vengeance for past offenses and, most important, forming a new Mafia Commission now that godfathers Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore Lo Piccolo had been arrested.

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Wednesday
Jan012014

In With the New

January 2014 book release: The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

by Carl Russo

THE DARKEST DAYS of winter behind us, we’re revived by a faith that the new year will be better than the last. Yeah, good luck with that.

But hark! What soulful cry drifts over Mediterranean waves, a seductive song resounding across millennia, beseeching us to come ever nearer? A Siren, serenading us with her ancient, haunting melody. Sure, it just might be the wailing of a police cruiser in Palermo, running down street soldiers of the neighborhood Mafia gang. But it’s too late, we’re mesmerized—Sicily beckons, and Mount Etna roars with approval.

Fantasy aside, there’s no better time to ask Sicily to give up her secrets, and not just because airfare wars have reduced the price of European plane tickets to the cost of pizza for two. February is the perfect month to visit. The thaw below the peaks will be well under way. This is a picture I took last February, not far from the city of Caltanissetta.

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Wednesday
Dec252013

Santa's Got a Brand New Bag

Saint Nick vs. the Sicilian Mob: A True Story

by Carl Russo

‘TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, when all through the malls,
The local extortioner was making his calls.

Mafia Exposed’s favorite yuletide tale has its origins, according to historians, in the ancient settlement of Misterbianco, a suburb of Catania, circa 2010 A.D. It’s an old chestnut about the jolly fat man working pro bono in front of a housewares store during the holiday shopping crunch.

Santa Claus spent his days handing out candy to the good little children at the mall, waiting to catch the naughtiest boy on his list, Salvatore Politini, a “tax collector” for the Santapaola clan.

The secret Santa was, in fact, an undercover agent of the Carabiniere, Italy’s militarized police. The squad placed cameras around the store that for more than a decade had been forced to pay the mob 260 euros a month.

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