by Bluto Ray
A soothing silence blankets the agricultural heartland in the northern reaches of Caltanissetta Province. Country roads, deserted but for the occasional slow-moving truck, amble past endless fields of wheat and grapevines. The towns along the way are modest and unremarkable, belying the richest commercial region of Sicily. These small concentrations of block houses look alike and, in the case of Valledolmo and the neighboring Vallelunga Pratameno, even sound alike.
But where there is money on the island there is Mafia--with its attending violence. On February 23, 1988, 41-year-old Gandolfo Panepinto was standing in front of the garage, near his home, where he worked on his neighbors’ automobiles. Two armed men appeared suddenly and opened fire. Panepinto died on the spot, filled with bullets from a pistol and a rifle. The killers and their motive remained a mystery for years. How had a small-town mechanic become a Mafia target?
In Sicily, appearances frequently deceive. A laborer might take an entrepreneurial interest in the local underworld, as Panepinto did. He had a criminal history and had just returned to Valledolmo after a court-imposed exile in the mainland city of Lecce. He wasted no time in setting up an extortion racket. His gang used the traditional method of property vandalism to intimidate local businesses who would not pay.