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Entries in Placido Rizzotto (6)

Friday
Mar222013

More Letters from Sicily

by Carl Russo

Below are more excerpts of emails sent to the funders of my Sicilian Mafia photo shoot, which concluded March 2. Where are all the photos? I'm saving them for the book, of course!

Ninetta BagarellaFEBRUARY 23: It took me four trips to Corleone over the years to get every photo I need, and the collection is now complete. Only in the last year did I find home addresses for godfathers Luciano Leggio and his protege, Totò Riina. Totò's sister still lives in the Riina house, but she has never been a problem. Getting the house of Riina's wife, Ninetta Bagarella—that's been intimidating.

She was born into the Mafia in this house and became the first woman to be convicted of Mafia association. Her husband Totò "the Beast", her eldest son and her brother are all behind bars. But with with the youngest son out of prison (living north) and a daughter who married a mafioso in town, I didn't want to let any menfolk catch me taking pictures of the house….

By my luck, I chose Saturday morning, the time the old women beat their rugs on their balconies and waddle off to the market. I waited for one to finish her errands—too short to be Ninetta—then powered up my tiny backup camera in my pocket and walked down that alley. I got to #24 and took three automatic shots of varying exposures. No screams, no guys yelling "O! O!"….

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Sunday
Feb032013

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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Friday
Mar302012

Valley of Bones

by Bluto Ray

The Occupy Wall Street meme of late 2011 found a vociferous welcome in Sicily last January as workers occupied highways and byways for five long days. The mass blockade—a general strike of truckers, farmers, craftsmen, shepherds, breeders, and students—was devised to cause maximum disturbance to island commerce. The Pitchforks ("i Forconi"), as the protesters call themselves, pitched a fit over high fuel prices, road tolls, and income taxes. The most bilious rage was reserved for Mario Monti, the interim prime minister of Italy, who seeks to enforce austerity with a whack of his Goldman Sachs tentacle.

Placido RizzottoJust as the occasional stabbing at an American OWS encampment is met with howls of conservatives eager to paint the 99-Percenters as violent anarchists, the Pitchforks have faced an image problem with the arrest of alleged Mafia-connected protesters. The regional president of the country’s largest trade and services association, Confindustria, was quick to cast aspersions on the movement:

 

"We have evidence that, in many demonstrations of blockades that are creating such difficulty in Sicily, there were proponents of the Mafia. This doesn't mean that the Mafia is inside the demonstrations, but we are worried about a real uneasiness in the people of the island; that things are controlled by persons without credibility and with dubious pasts, by infiltrations of organized crime and by other phenomena that only end up increasing a general rebelliousness that doesn't resolve problems."

 

Click to see the locationsGiven that much of Sicilian commerce, notably trucking and the building trades, is yoked by the Mafia, it is no stretch to imagine that crime bosses would embrace any pushback to economic change. Political parties from left to right, many standing to lose power with Monti’s sledgehammer economics, have tossed in their support of the strikes. But, in fact, the rank-and-file Pitchforks have loudly condemned the gridlocked policies of all corrupt elites—elected or mafiosi.

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Friday
Apr222011

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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Sunday
Mar202011

Mafia Party

by Bluto Ray

A devil’s triangle of Church, State and Mafia existed in Camporeale, a rural town outside Palermo, founded, as the name implies, on old royal grounds. The territory’s capomafia, Vanni Sacco, slipped back into power with Sicily’s political reshuffle following the Second World War. Though lacking blue blood, the shrewd and haughty boss descended from an old elite family of the area. Sacco kept a despotic grip on the affairs of Camporeale with the frequent help of the regional archbishop, Ernesto Eugenio Filippi, a scheming mafioso in his own right.

Calogero CangelosiA naive young parish priest named Vincenzo Ferranti learned a difficult lesson about the hidden power structure of his diocese. Entrusted with the souls of Camporeale’s eight thousand citizens, he railed against Sacco from the pulpit. The public denunciations appeared to be political: Father Ferranti opposed anyone outside the Christian Democratic party, and Sacco was a Liberal. But the priest was trying to block Mafia influence in his church. For this sin, the door of the rectory was shot up by submachine guns as he lay in bed inside.

Terrified, Ferranti fled with a young supporter to the gilded palace of Archbishop Filippi in Monreale. After calming the priest, Monsignor Filippi arranged a lunch with Sacco, brokering a truce with generous terms for the boss. Before long, a crowd was summoned to the piazza of Camporeale by a band playing religious hymns. A convertible automobile drove up the town's main street as in a procession. In it was the fearsome Sacco Vanni; seated next to him was a humiliated and chastened Father Ferranti. In accordance with the agreement, the new church bell was christened with the name of Sacco’s daughter, Giovanna.

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Saturday
Mar052011

Hero Without a Body

by Bluto Ray

Chalk up another disappointment for Sicilians in the unpunished murder of Placido Rizzotto. A pile of bones believed to be the remains of the trade unionist failed to produce a DNA match with the exhumed body of his father when tested last October. Regardless, the annual gathering to commemorate Rizzotto will take place, as it has every March since his death in 1948, in the central piazza of Corleone. Eulogies will be delivered on the very spot where he took on the Mafia singlehandedly.

Placido RizzottoThough he belongs to a tradition of peasant activists assassinated for challenging the Mafia’s feudal estate system--thirty-five were killed before him--Rizzotto was one of the most authentic and homegrown men of the bunch. The third-grade dropout did not arrive at an ideology through books but by observation and experience. His mafioso father Carmelo was an estate boss who was thrown into prison for nearly five years, leaving the young Placido in charge of a brother, five younger sisters and the family cows before reaching his twelfth birthday. His bed was a mat of straw.

Rizzotto’s political education grew after he was drafted as a Fascist soldier to fight in the Venetian region of northern Italy. After Mussolini’s fortune reversed in 1943, Rizzotto joined the partisans fighting Nazis in the region. He returned to Corleone two years later with a new view of the Mafia’s power monopoly. His perspective could find traction in today’s political debates:

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