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Entries in Cesare Terranova (3)


The Pools of Palermo

by Carl Russo

Earlier this year, a court prosecutor found an old cassette in a box she hadn’t opened since her college days of the early 1980s. The tape contains the voice of a lecturer, tinged with a rural Sicilian accent, warning a group of students about drugs. His speech was not a harangue by an abstinence zealot but a dire warning about Mafia hegemony. The speaker was Rocco Chinnici, one of the world’s foremost experts of organized crime:

Rocco ChinniciThe greatest danger there is today is resignation in the tendency to view the Mafia as an unavoidable evil in our time. We need to react. We need to make young people in particular understand that the Mafia, with its manufacture and sale of drugs, has exceeded itself in the criminal power that has always been its trademark. . . . There’s a need for citizen responsibility. . . . In a city like Palermo, so much is permeated by the Mafia. And the overwhelming majority, the silent ones, the fearful, are really on the judge’s side when he does his duty.

Each year thousands of Italians march in tribute to a pair of beloved judges martyred by the Mafia in the 1990s, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Politicians make speeches and dedicate streets in their honor. Schoolchildren lay wreathes on their statues. But often overlooked is the man who hand-picked these brilliant men to work in his anti-Mafia pool: Chief Prosecutor Chinnici, who speaks from beyond the grave on that cheap cassette recorded four months before his murder, in 1983.

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An Enemy Within?

by Bluto Ray

There was nothing supernatural about Judge Falcone’s death premonition; death was all around him. When he moved up the ladder from bankruptcy cases to Mafia prosecutions in 1979, the Palace of Justice in Palermo was still recovering from the assassination of its chief examiner, Cesare Terranova. The crime came two months after the murder of police chief Boris Giuliano and was followed three months later by that of Piersanti Mattarella, the President of Sicily. Then those of chief prosecutor Gaetano Costa (August, 1980) and Palermo’s prefect, General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa (May, 1982).

Giovanni FalconeGiovanni Falcone, the “super-judge” who transformed the Italian judicial system from a passive revolving door into an aggressive prosecutor, knew he would be taken out by the Mafia and freely admitted it. Falcone’s boss, Rocco Chinnici, who succeeded Terranova until the Mafia struck him down in 1983, had the same premonition and advised him to keep a diary until his own fateful day came. Falcone took the advice then charged ahead with the greatest Mafia indictment in history, the “maxi-trial” of 1986-87, which tried 475 members of the Cosa Nostra.

As he learned, Falcone’s instinctive ability to coax confessions from powerful Mafia bosses--our knowledge of Cosa Nostra largely comes from the explosive testimony of supergrass Tommaso Buscetta--created enemies on both sides of the law. The judge had fairly shrugged off two brushes with death during prison visits: he was taken hostage at a jailhouse riot in Trapani and nearly shot in Palermo’s notorious Ucciardone. But it was the bomb planted at a rented vacation house, its location known only to a few in his circle, that profoundly rattled him.

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Whacking the Hive

by Bluto Ray

At a time when the Cosa Nostra enjoyed its greatest power--the late 1970s and early 1980s--the word “Mafia” was nowhere to be found in the Italian criminal code. Many politicians were still denying the existence of organized crime even as their colleagues were being systematically murdered. An independent-minded politician named Pio La Torre became the Mafia’s biggest enemy after he proposed a series of harsh new laws. He won in the end, even if he didn’t survive to see them enacted.

Pio La Torre

La Torre’s biography would fit into a behaviorist’s thesis that similar environmental conditions produce like personalities. Like many other young Sicilian men who embraced political activism in the postwar years, he was of hard-luck peasant stock that eked by under Mafia exploitation. He stepped in to replace the murdered Placido Rizzotto in the Corleone land reform movement, surviving at a time when dozens of other leftist leaders fell to the assassin’s bullet.

Born of illiterate parents in 1927, La Torre’s father, a former soldier, spent most of each year away from home working the citrus orchards outside of Palermo. His mother had higher hopes for young Pio and his four siblings, imploring them to get an education “so you won’t be forced to labor and die of hunger.” After receiving a law degree from the University of Palermo, he joined the Communist Youth Brigade in 1945 and took to penning hard-hitting newspaper editorials attacking the Mafia.

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