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Entries in Girolamo Li Causi (2)

Monday
Jul112011

Night Terrors

by Bluto Ray

Sixty-four years have passed since the May Day massacre at Portella della Ginestra, yet the events of that dark moment in Sicily’s history remain mired in confusion. Were the cold-blooded murders of eleven men, women and children at a rural labor festival committed by the bandit Salvatore Giuliano, by the Mafia, or by some other dark entity? And were high-placed political figures pulling the strings? The story is meat for a thousand conspiracy theorists.*

Salvatore GiuilianoGiuliano claimed that he had sent a squadron of hired men to Portella to kidnap his political nemesis, Girolamo Li Causi, the communist leader who opposed separatism. (The bandit king had been recently recruited by a monarchist-backed group that sought the island’s annexation by the US.) But as Li Causi had been a no-show, his men called off the abduction and left Portella before the killing began, according to Giuliano.

In the aftermath of that fateful holiday of 1947, the police rounded up dozens of Mafia suspects, only to release them for their uncannily airtight alibis. Suspicions, at any rate, were starting to fall on Guiliano after two of his henchmen were arrested; each admitted some knowledge of the slaughter. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing the outlaws--including Giuliano--in the vicinity. The police found it politically convenient to pin the blame on the bandits. Some of the inspectors, however, smelled the influence of untouchable Mafia bosses.

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Sunday
Feb132011

Big and Little Wars

by Bluto Ray

A tiny dot on the map of Sicily called Villalba was a locus of Mafia activity thanks, in no small part, to the American Allied occupation of the island during World War II. With the Fascists in retreat, local Mafia bosses--effectively stifled under Mussolini--were being tapped by US commanders to fill the power vacuum and restore order. In rural Villalba the mayoral post was given to Calogero Vizzini, known to the peasants who kissed his hands as Don Calò.

Don Calogero VizziniThis barely-literate, cartoon-like mafioso with rubber features, fedora, and balloon pants hiked over his enormous belly had nevertheless been the territory’s most skilled powerbroker since the early twentieth century. The archetypal estate boss, who deftly manipulated the black markets in both world wars, was legitimized by a family of Catholic priests entrenched in local politics.

Though accused of dozens of murders and lesser crimes, Don Calò was reliably cleared with clergy support. (Part of his sizable fortune came from a land sale he brokered for a Parisian nobleman and a local bank run by his uncle, a priest. Don Calò kept five hundred acres as commission.) He was equally at ease cutting deals with industrialists in London or providing marital counsel to neighbors in Villalba, where he was respected, loved and feared

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