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Go-Go-Going Back to Sicily

With just a few days left on my Indiegogo campaign, it is unlikely that I’ll meet my entire crowd-funding goal. But I’ve raised enough for plane tickets, so there’s no turning back. Cosa Nostra, here I come!

Click to enlargeThe book will be published, and it will contain the photos I take in this final shoot in Sicily. But it’s not too late to join the campaign and help offset expenses.

My two biggest challenges on this trip (besides money, and the unexpected) will be snowy mountain passes and trying to photograph locations in two mob-heavy cities I’ve never visited: Cannicattì & Favara.

Advance praise: “Carl Russo’s The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide is a seminal piece of work that manages to bridge the gap between John Dickie’s Cosa Nostra and Lonely Planet Sicily. Only exhaustive research and the scalpel-like observations of an Italian-American could create such a unique hybrid. The insights into The Mob are at once fascinating and lurid, made all the more appealing by the in-your-face reality of the many iconic images of the raw underbelly of Sicily. If you’ve followed the infamous tourist trails of the fictional novels, then how much more will you want to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by this odyssey into the true Mafia underworld? They say fact is stranger than fiction—take this journey with Russo and learn that it is also more perilous.” — Crozier Green, author of The Fratellanza Contract and Gladio Resurrection.

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The Old Switcheroo?

by Carl Russo

The mystery in Corleone just got weirder. When the townsfolk opened the loculus to remove the remains of Bernardino Verro for transferral to a spiffy new crypt, they found two skulls—an adult's, with a bullet hole, and a child's.

Bernardino VerroBut Verro, the Socialist mayor of the city murdered by the Mafia in 1915, had been shot four times in the head, not once. (The smaller noggin might belong to Verro's son, who died at the age of four months.)

Then somebody seemed to remember that Verro's daughter had exhumed his remains and moved them to a Palermo cemetery in 1959 without notifying police. This would seem to bolster the story of Mafia turncoat Antonino Calderone, who claimed Verro's tomb was used to dump the body of Calogero Bagarella, killed in the Viale Lazio massacre of 1969.

Click to enlargeThe cemetery of Corleone is said to be full of hidden crimes and switched bodies. Verro's new crypt sits next to a twin compartment belonging to Placido Rizzotto. It took sixty-five years to properly identify the remains of the celebrated activist—a victim of godfather Luciano Leggio's vengeance—and place him in the cemetery of Corleone.

And godfather Leggio? Rumors place his corpse in the tomb of a relative. The one person able to shed light on these enigmas, Corleone's mortician, isn't talking. He was killed in 1976.

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Day of Reckoning

Updated on Wednesday, January 2, 2013 by Registered CommenterCarl Russo

Updated on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 by Registered CommenterCarl Russo



 The new Indiegogo campaign has launched!

by Carl Russo

There is light at the end of the tunnel! The project known as Mafia Exposed will come to a tidy conclusion with a book to be published in January 2014. In a year's time, you can have your very own copy of The Sicilian Mafia: An Illustrated Travel Guide published by Strategic Media Books. 275 pages, 200 black-and-white photographs, softcover, bestseller. Come on, I gotta think big!

Temporary mock-up. Actual cover pending.Like much of this blog, the book's focus will be the western half of Sicily. The nineteenth-century origins of the Cosa Nostra. Mussolini's Fascist crackdown. The postwar return of the bosses and the slaughter of peasant activists. The Sack of Palermo. The Mafia wars. The rise of the Corleonese Mafia. Totò Riina's war on the state. The "excellent cadavers." The maxi-trials. The anti-Mafia movement. The secret State-Mafia negotiations. You crime buffs know many of the stories. Soon you'll be able to match them all to the locations.

And if that stuff is like a foreign language to new readers, well, you've got a fun read ahead with the world's first geographic history of the original Cosa Nostra.

With a July 2014 deadline, I have my work cut out for me. And I'm hoping to squeeze in one last journey to Sicily. Several Mafia locations have come to light since my last trip. Those, along with recent newsworthy events that would make the book absolutely up to date.

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Boondock Saint

by Carl Russo

A famed anti-Mafia priest gets the Scooby-Doo treatment in the animated kiddie show, “La Missione di 3P.” (After all, “anime” is Latin for “soul.” ) 3P is Padre Pino Puglisi, whose impolitic sermons against the gangsters of his outpost parish in Brancaccio earned him a fatal “rosary of gunshots,” as they say in Italy, in 1993.

As seen in the trailer below, the RAI-TV series adds hair to the ecclesiastic and casts him, appropriately, as a crime fighter. The jazzy show-tune theme has a catchy chorus anyone can translate:

Pino PuglisiIo parlo con Dio, Dio parla con me.

Pio, amico mio, Pio parla con te.”

But the production is cheap—farmed out to a Korean animation house?—and the didactic tone won’t earn too many young converts. (For junior do-gooders with A.D.D., I'd recommend the new book, Invasion of the Cockroaches: The Mafia Explained to Kids.)

Puglisi is in the spotlight on terra firma as well. His remains will be transfered to Palermo’s grand cathedral and Pope Benedict plans to beatify him in May 2013. I’m all in favor of canonizing a cleric who demonstrated bravery instead of magic tricks, but if kids actually tune in to “La Missione di 3P," we’ll have the miracle, too.

Click to see the photosI’d also like to see sainthood bestowed on another 3P, Pastor Pietro Panascia, even if he wasn’t a Roman Catholic. Panascia organized a protest in 1963 after a car bomb in Ciaculli blew up seven officers of the carabiniere. His demonstration, which he titled “An Initiative for the Respect of Human Life,” was shrugged off by Palermo Archbishop Ernesto Ruffini as “a ridiculous attempt by a speculative Protestant.”

That was the same Ruffini who considered the Mafia to be nothing more than simple Sicilian delinquency and/or a communist plot.

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News Muse 11.1.12

by Carl Russo

If you squint hard enough, you can see something good in Sicily’s kooky regional election this week. The shockingly high amount of voters who boycotted the race—57 percent sat out Sunday’s polls—can be read as a sign that the orgy is over for Silvio Berlusconi’s compromised cadre. More important for Sicilians, it shows that the Mafia can no longer deliver the votes to the party it favors.

Rosario CrocettaNow enter the victorious center-left governor, Rosario Crocetta, a tough-minded pol with the kind of anti-Mafia bona fides to put mobsters on notice. He hails from Gela, an industrial city on the southern coast so lousy with crime that it has its own homegrown mafia, La Stidda. (Language lesson: stella, “star” in Italian = stidda in Sicilian.)

As Gela’s seven-year mayor, Crocetta purged the city government and even the local carabiniere of stiddesi, closed eighty of their housing projects, and persuaded many shopkeepers to quit paying extortion fees. Soon elected to parliament, Crocetta served on the EU’s Anti-Mafia Commission.

Click to see the photosCrocetta also survived a 2008 plot involving a Lithuanian hitman hired to assassinate “that communist faggot,” according to a boss caught on tape. That he is gay excites the mainstream press which has tried to come to terms with this inversion of Italian machismo. Then again, Crocetta is no powder puff. (Compare Berlusconi’s makeup and painted-on hair. And no jokes about Palermo’s soccer colors.)

Second place in the governor’s race went to Beppo Grillo, the comic-provocateur who taunts Berlusconi publicly, calling him “the Psycho Dwarf.” (The former prime minister, tarnished by sex scandals and plagued with a big mouth, was slapped with a tax fraud conviction last week.)

Grillo’s protest vote further reveals strong disaffection in Sicily, a red state-like conservative bastion. If anything, he split the left vote and still managed to trounce the Dwarf’s candidate, Sebastiano Musumeci, who came in third.

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News Muse 10.17.12

Updated on Saturday, October 20, 2012 by Registered CommenterCarl Russo

by Carl Russo

Only the biggest Mafia stories get the Time magazine news splash, so I was surprised to read, “Italy Dismisses Entire City Government over Suspected Mafia Ties.” The forced breakup of a regional capitol city—in this case, Reggio Calabria, the toenail in the Italian boot—is news, but not of the earth-shattering variety. With a population of 185,000, Reggio (as the locals call it) isn't much bigger than Providence, Rhode Island, or Knoxville, Tennessee.

Salvatore "Totò" CuffaroOn the island of Sicily alone, forty-four municipalities have been dissolved by the Interior Ministry for reasons of Mafia infiltration since 1991. My own list of such cities covers the last five years or so: Belmonte Mazzagno, Castellammare del Golfo, Roccamena, Salemi, Siculiana, and Terme Vigliatore.

And a list of cities whose leaders were investigated and/or arrested: Carini, Misilmeri, Palagonia, Palermo, and Villabate.

The aforementioned Roccamena is a typical Sicilian town, isolated from the others by vast plains of yellow barren fields. Its peaceful tangle of streets betray a turbulent past. Peasants there fought the Mafia’s brutal estate managers for the right to work the land. Nobel Peace Prize-nominated activist Danilo Dolci staged hunger strikes over construction jobs that drew news cameras to its tiny piazza.

I went to Roccamena in 2006, months after its mayor, Giuseppe Salvatore Gambino, was arrested for Mafia association along with Bartolomeo Cascio, the capomafia of the area. Despite a pistol found in Gambino’s desk, which he denied was his, and some incriminating phone taps, the ex-mayor was eventually absolved, avoiding a stiff ten-year sentence. I managed to snap a photo of the city hall before the Chief of Police stepped out of the building to stop me.

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