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Entries in Totò Riina (29)

Sunday
Mar012015

Sicily’s Scarface: Is This Retired Cop a Former Mafia Hit Man?

Numerous witnesses place a man “with the face of a monster” at the scene of notorious Mafia crimes. Most agree he worked on behalf of Italian Secret Services.

by Carl Russo

Giovanni AielloACROSS FROM PALERMO’S palm and plane-shrouded Piazza della Vittoria lie the headquarters of Sicily’s state police department, accessible to authorized personnel through an arched entrance in a stately old villa. This genteel setting can turn in an instant to a scene of pandemonium following the arrest of a Mafia boss; squadrons of police cars, sirens screaming and lights strobing, descend upon the station like a military blitz. Crowds of citizens who’ve heard the news gather to cheer as one or another godfather of notoriety is frogmarched through the archway by his hooded captors.

It was during a moment of quiet at the department, in early 2014, when a 48-year-old Sicilian woman approached the armed guards stationed just inside the archway. Her ordinary appearance belied her pedigree as Mafia royalty. She was Giovanna Galatolo, daughter of a dynastic clan that controlled Palermo’s lucrative produce market for more than half a century. Her father, brothers, uncles and cousins were integral pieces of a killing machine that eradicated a slew of police officials and judges back when when capomafia Totò Riina ran the Sicilian mob, a generation ago. Now Giovanna was ready to betray her family to the police. “My life is my own,” she told a magistrate. “They can’t control me.”

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Wednesday
Oct012014

Mafia Boss Totò Riina: Still Crazy After All These Years

Despite the Sicilian godfather’s threats, security is still a joke

by Carl Russo

Nino Di Matteo“WHEN HE GETS OUT, shoot him! Pom! Pam!” That’s Totò Riina reliving the killing of Salvatore Inzerillo, just one of many rivals whose assassination he ordered during his reign as the Sicilian Mafia’s supreme commander. This provocative sound bite comes from the latest batch of transcripts of conversations Riina had with boss Alberto Lorusso, secretly recorded in a prison cell a year ago.

As more excerpts of the Riina-Lorusso tapes are released to the public—their words fill thirteen hundred pages—it is clear that the capomafia’s homicidal impulse is as fresh as it was in 1992, when his campaign to exterminate the officials pursuing him culminated in the blowing up of top anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, followed by a series of bombings of Italian landmarks that claimed twenty-two lives.

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Saturday
Mar082014

Tales from the Crypt

Why are coffins stealing the headlines in Sicily? (Short answer: who knows?)

by Carl Russo

Detail of a tombstone in PalermoWHAT’S UP WITH SICILIAN COFFINS this year? You just can’t keep ‘em down. It started with an article in La Repubblica last month about a finely crafted pine box that showed up at a wedding, in 2012, as a cruel gag gift. The bride also received a sinister message on her answering machine: “This coffin is not for your husband but for you and your entire malarazza”—a colossal dis of her family.

A trial bringing harassment charges to two men and a woman, former friends of the couple, began on January 30. Although the targets of the prank have decided not to sue, they issued the following (under)statement: “We’re not interested in money, but these are things you just don’t do.” The couple has left Sicily permanently. It was a truly sick joke, but at least the coffin was empty.

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Friday
Feb072014

Sacred and Profane: The Heavens Open Above a Mafia Stronghold

The Sistine Chapel of Sicily is restored after 46 years in the dark, and Riina sings (by accident)

by Carl Russo

Totò RiinaTRAVELERS FOLLOWING the itineraries of my new book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, might be surprised to encounter something beautiful in Castelvetrano, a city darkened by its criminal history. Notorious as the place where the bandit Salvatore Giuliano was gunned down, and now the home base of fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, the Castelvetranesi can be proud of one thing: they’ve got the Sistine Chapel of Sicily.

Beginning today, the first time since the great quake of 1968 forced its closure, worshippers and wanderers alike may behold one of the finest spectacles the Late Renaissance has to offer: a sixteenth-century masterpiece by Antonino Ferraro of Giuliana, Sicily.

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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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Saturday
Oct052013

Klieg Light in the Piazza

by Carl Russo

MY LOCAL VIDEO STORE has something Netflix doesn’t: a beautifully rendered bootleg DVD of The Day of the Owl (a.k.a. Il Giorno della Civetta, a.k.a. Mafia; 1968). I’ve waited years to see this filmed version of Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia’s greatest work. Considered the first accurate depiction of the Mafia in fiction, the crime novel was a hot controversy when it was published in 1961—years before the existence of the criminal organization was officially acknowledged in Italy.

Leonardo SciasciaThe film has all the trappings of a sixties international co-production: a widescreen format, slightly garish Technicolor, a dub job of varying accents and an international cast. The Hollywood name attached to the project was Lee J. Cobb, the great heavy who plays untouchable godfather Don Mariano Arena. His American-accented baritone is the only original voice you hear in this English-language version of the film. (I’d like to see and hear the Italian version as well, but then I’d lose Cobb’s essence.)

Claudia Cardinale plays the wife of a disappeared Mafia lackey. Fending for herself, she expresses fear, rage and dignity at once with a furrowing of her brow. (The sixties icon, born of Sicilian parents in Tunisia, commanded the screen five years earlier as the demure Angelica in a more famous coproduction, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, based on Tomasi di Lampedusa’s celebrated Sicilian novel).

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