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Entries in Tommaso Buscetta (4)

Thursday
Dec192013

Unsung Heroes, Unstrung Hooligans

A beating by the Mafia didn’t change the mind of one stubborn shopkeeper


by Carl Russo

OUR FASCINATION with the Mafia is in part a leer at the organization’s endless capacity to apply brute force in creative ways. To wit, last month’s story of a screaming victim tossed to ravenous pigs. But we’re also drawn to Mafia stories for the old good/evil dichotomy, Davids versus Goliaths armed to the teeth and cruel.

Giovanni BruscaOne news story with classical overtones is set in Noce, a traffic-snarled quarter of Palermo known as a Mafia stronghold since the late nineteenth century. A series of police crackdowns between October 2012 and March 2013 rid the local business community of pesky extortioners—for a few months, anyway. Cosa Nostra abhors a power vacuum: a new set of “tax collectors” soon descended on Noce merchants, demanding the pizzo—“protection” payments.

Those who hesitated to pay were duly punished, among them an artisanal carpenter who lost his Alfa Romeo to arson and was shot in the leg. Reporters noted that the new Mafia leader behind the attacks, 37-year-old Giuseppe Castelluccio, was also a carpenter. That irony grew darker with another reprisal against a holdout merchant, this time involving a blunt tool essential to the craft trade. But let’s take it back to last summer

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Thursday
May172012

Hotel Mafioso

by Bluto Ray

The Mafia, it can be argued, begins and ends in prison. Creation myths abound about the criminal organization as a widespread social phenomenon, the most mystical and romantic tales believed by many self-justifying “men of honor” over the ages. The reality is no less colorful: a motley crowd was cast into Sicily’s dank jail cells during the tumultuous nineteenth century—street toughs and town bosses, revolutionaries and soldiers of lost causes—creating a peculiar Petri dish of hybrid criminal culture.

Gaspare PisciottaNumerous violent uprisings jolted the island after Ferdinand III consolidated the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1816. The royal descendant of the Spanish branch of Bourbons (who changed his name to Ferdinand I of Sicily) was viewed as only the latest of conquerors by a people who had known oppressive foreign occupation for millennia. Fittingly, Ferdinand’s most lasting legacy is a massive stone fortress in Palermo that has served as a prison since 1837. Originally called La Vicaria, its current name evokes the notoriety of Sing Sing or Alcatraz to Italians: Ucciardone Prison.

Though the Bourbon regime fell in 1860 after Garibaldi’s forces raided Sicily and Naples, thus pulling the two kingdoms into the country we know today as Italy, Sicily remained a powder keg politically. Revolutionaries split into pro-unity and Sicilian autonomist camps, with Bourbon loyalists conspiring at the edges. Battles in the streets of Palermo broke out in a lawless bandit-ridden landscape. An autonomist rebellion in 1866 waged against government soldiers erupted both outside and inside the walls of Ucciardone, where imprisoned rebels battled the guards. It was, according to the city’s prefect at the time, a Mafia-led uprising.

Click to see the photosMafia. The buzzword of the 1860s that encapsulated both the tough-guy swagger of dandified hoodlums and the secret “brotherhoods” that provided stronger community protection than a brutal or distant government. The term spread beyond Sicily with the smash success of a stage play debuted in 1863 called I mafiusi di la Vicaria. The plot concerns the Sicilian patriotism shared by a revolutionary lawyer and his mafiosi cellmates in Ucciardone. The theme resonated with audiences; the prison populations of Sicily and Naples were known to be surrogate states run by the underworld bosses housed within.

James Fentress’ crucial history, Rebels and Mafiosi, characterizes the period’s strange bedfellows:

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Saturday
Apr282012

My Latitanza

by Bluto Ray

Time Off for Good Behavior Dept.: This blurb is a little sneak for my mammoth piece on the prisons of the Cosa Nostra, coming in a few weeks. You see, I’ll be “latitante,” a fugitive from the blogosphere, the object of whispered rumors and imagined sightings at illicit betting rooms in Palermo.

Actually, I’ll be out in the field through mid-May, but I’ll be back with photos of a few prisons all too familiar to the Mafia. If successful—for one should never attempt to take pictures of a maximum-security penitentiary in Italy—I’ll present the new images along with my shot of the notorious Ucciardone Prison, which you may have seen in an earlier post.

A list of the personalities covered in the upcoming essay, titled “Hotel Mafioso,” should, I hope, entice avid Mafia observers to return: Gerlando Alberti, Gaetano Badalamenti, Tommaso Buscetta, Vito Cascio Ferro, Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Falcone, Salvatore Giuliano, Luciano Leggio, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe Marchese, Cesare Mori, Gaspare Mutolo, Gaspare Pisciotta, Totò Riina and more.

If those names just flitter past like the credits of an old spaghetti western, then come back for the stories; they’ll depict 150 years of Mafia life under lock and key. But here’s one more teaser: Which of the characters listed above created this Sicilian-themed painting in his secret studio? The winner will receive a goat’s head.

Buon primo maggio a tutti!

 

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Thursday
Jun092011

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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