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Saturday
Jun142014

Famiglia Territory: Stille vs. Dickie?

Is there a sibling rivalry over Blood Brothers?

by Carl Russo

John DickieAS AN AMERICAN, I find it hard to get amped up about World Cup 2014. But I have a fantasy bout going between two of my favorite Mafia experts. This weekend’s mob must-read is one great crime writer’s review of another’s book. Alexander Stille (Excellent Cadavers) takes a soft swipe at John Dickie (Cosa Nostra) over his latest book, Blood Brotherhoods: A History of Italy’s Three Mafias. In tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review, Stille writes,

Dickie, in his attempt to give coherence to so much material, makes overly grand claims about the essential unity of Italy’s various crime groups. If he had shortened his book by 20 percent, reduced the rhetorical temperature by 20 degrees and scaled back some of his more ambitious assertions, one would be left with an extremely valuable history of Italian organized crime.

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Saturday
Jun072014

Stop, Thief! A Major Newspaper Steals My Photograph

I regularly credit La Repubblica. Where’s the love?

by Carl Russo

Michele GrecoLA REPUBBLICA, one of Italy's leading national newspapers, stole my photograph for an article about cemetery tourism in that country. Take a look at my image below of Mafia godfather Michele “the Pope” Greco’s gravesite then see how it appears in La Repubblica. Some two-bit photo editor cropped out my blog’s logo! This copyrighted image also appears in my book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide.

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Sunday
Jun012014

Last Days of the Lo Piccolos, part 2

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. Read part one.]

Sandro Lo PiccoloA STRAIGHT LINE can be drawn across metropolitan Palermo starting in the gloomy slums of the San Lorenzo district and ending at the sunny fishing village of Sferracavallo—a cross-section of the Lo Piccolos’ dominion. The delinquent young men recruited from the projects made willing foot soldiers in the rackets that financed Salvatore and Sandro’s extravagant lifestyle.

Everyone along the line paid the Lo Piccolos the pizzo, and not just the small shopkeepers. Protection payments were collected from construction companies, gas stations and discotheques. Drug profits from the bosses’ network of traffickers were laundered through gaming rooms, supermarkets and even state railroad expansion.

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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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