by Bluto Ray
Of all the ugly monuments dedicated to Mafia victims—and there are many ill-conceived tributes that dot Sicily—perhaps the homliest is found in the most beautiful of settings: the mountain hamlet of Ficuzza. The lush forests of Ferdinand III’s royal hunting grounds—now a nature preserve—open onto a grassy piazza dominated by the gold-hued palace built by the Bourbon “King of Two Sicilies.” Bordering the eastern edge of the square are the romantic two-hundred-year-old arcades where the Lieutenant Colonel of the Carabinieri, Guiseppe Russo, was gunned down in 1977, a fact made blunt by a concrete stub that bears his name.
Colonel Russo, a native of Calabria, kept his family in a little house on the piazza of lovely Ficuzza. It was a refuge from the hazards of his career as the commander of the Mafia unit in smog-shrouded Palermo. But Ficuzza is located a scant seven miles from the city of Corleone and was, during Russo’s residency, on the turf of local crime bosses Totò Riina and Bernard Provenzano. Russo had a history with these Corleonesi, having investigated their kidnappings and infiltration into public works. He even discovered Riina’s wedding invitation and a honeymoon photo in an apartment used by his wife, Ninetta.
The threats made to Russo by the Corleonesi came with the territory. His superior, General Dalla Chiesa, a marked man himself, mounted a symbolic counteroffensive by walking the streets of Corleone flanked by Russo in broad daylight. But as the bosses kept an eye on Russo, he kept tabs on them.