By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
This is a story about a crime that never exists which triggered another beyond belief in a place saturated with a history of death and betrayal. About a man who organized his own funeral without knowing it and the youth who helped to kill him so he could become a different man. Three innocent people dead because of a mistaken belief. Another, not so innocent, becomes simply a figure of chance. Like thieves in the night, killers will steal their lives.
Locked away in a cell in a prison, forever isolated and controlled by the government through its iron laws, including the infamous Article 41-bis,* Salvatore Riina, the Mafia super boss, is still killing people.
Brought to heel in January 1993, sentenced to multiple prison terms, he would die in captivity, albeit a hospital ward, from cancer, in 2017. Less than two years after his capture, he almost certainly signed off on multiple murders in the small and endlessly dangerous town of Corleone. It’s almost impossible to believe they would have taken place without his permission. Born and raised there, he stayed its capo throughout his life of crime after taking over from Luciano Leggio in 1974.
Nothing would have even rustled there without his permission, especially after his wife and children moved back, taking up residence in the old family home on via Scosone.
The killings which rocked the town in 1995 could only have happened with his approval. That his eldest son, Giovanni and his brother-in-law, Leoluca Bagarella, were part of the murder plot only reinforces how much he and his family dominated the town.
It is a cold, late January afternoon when the first victim dies, shot dead in his clothing shop on via Bentivegna, a major thoroughfare in the town, and one that has seen its share of killings.
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Giuseppe Giammona (right) is standing, talking to his girlfriend, Tania, when two masked men walk into the shop and shoot him multiple times, killing him instantly. One uses a.38 revolver, the other a.357 Magnum. There are no other witnesses. The terrified young woman can offer no description of the killers; they had pushed her to the ground behind the counter while they carried out the murder. The motive confuses the investigators. The killers steal nothing; the victim has no police record, and above all, this is the first violent crime, which here, almost always means Mafia, in the town for many years. The last mob killing is in January 1978, when they hit Ugo Triolo, a magistrate.
Through the years of the Mafia War of the 1980s, Corleone, once referred to as “Dodge City” because of the numbers of murders it witnessed through the 1950s and 1960s, remains a strange, tranquil oasis for the chaos that washes across Palermo Province. Riina would orchestrate death and destruction on Mafia clans everywhere but in his home town.
Then, for the family Giammona, awful turned to really bad.
A month later, Giuseppe’s sister, Giovanna (left), is with her husband in their white Fiat station wagon. Francesco Saporito is driving along via Crispi in Corleone. She is holding their youngest child, Antonino, a boy of two, and their other son, Giustino, four, lies asleep in the back. They had been on their way to a pizza place for dinner with friends. It’s Saturday evening, time to relax and enjoy life, try to forget about the unthinkable stuff that happened only a few weeks before.
A Fiat Punto overtakes their car and forces it to a halt. Two men, faces covered by balaclavas, leap from the car, firing into the other vehicle. They killed both husband and wife, the husband instantly, Giovanna, to die later in the hospital. Miraculously, both children are unharmed, although the baby son, shielded by his mother, they find covered in her blood. The killers abandon their car outside the town, leaving the balaclavas, and two empty magazines for a Kalashnikov rifle behind.
In their haste, they forget to set fire to the vehicle, even though they had left petrol-soaked papers in the car for this purpose.
Months of investigation turn up nothing. Why these three people were targets remains a mystery for years until Mafia informants disclose bits of information that add up slowly to a story of unbelievable horror.
It’s all a big mistake. Killings based on hysterical assumption and the deadly fear that men of the Mafia live with their whole lives.
Although Salvatore Riina spent twenty-three years on the run from the law, he married and had children, including two sons, Giovanni and Giuseppe. John would be the problem here. After they captured his father in January 1993, he came under the guidance of Leoluca Bagarella, whose sister, Antoinette, was Riina’s wife. Almost certainly a psychopath and nihilist and a deadly killer, Luca was in charge of the military wing of Riina’s Mafia kingdom. Someone who would never hesitate to kill problems rather than use reason or logic to resolve a situation.
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Giovanni is nineteen when he believes he is being followed, shadowed by at least two men. He is sure a white station wagon is trailing him in the town, then he sees the driver talking to another man on a street corner. They are after him, to kidnap and hold to ransom. That is what he comes to believe. He tells his uncle, Leoluca Bagarella, whose natural reaction is “Break their horns,” kill them. He takes over, checks out the two, and soon has a team prepared from his killers in the families that have supported Don Riina from the late 1970s.
Uncle Leoluchino carries out some research on the men his nephew is worried about. One, a construction labourer, Saporito has family links to Pino Leggio, a prominent Corleonesi Mafioso who had disappeared during a fierce tribal war in the area around Bagheria in the late 1980s. He represented a faction that was anti-Riina. That was enough to convince Bagarella.
He gathers his killers at a farmhouse in the countryside of Giambascio, near the small town of San Giuseppe Jato, a Mafia sanctuary, the apex of a triangle from Corleone to Palermo. A polygon of uncertainty, crime and confusion for generations of Sicilians wearied by the weight of Mafia presence. The boss's men are always ready to work. Heavy lifting (murder) their specialty.
This farmhouse will find its place in Mafia history for two reasons:
A group of Mafiosi masquerading as police officers kidnapped Nicola Di Matteo, aged 12, on the afternoon of 23 November 1993. Lead by Giovanni Brusca, then a fugitive and boss of San Giuseppe Jato, who helped organized the crime, they strangled and then dissolved his body in acid on 11 January 1996 on these premises, after a captivity that lasted over two years. This was to avenge the collaboration of his father, Santino Di Matteo, who had become a government informant.
Part of the Altofonte Mafia clan, a small mountain town near Palermo, he had been a killer for Riina and had been part of the team that laid explosives, blowing up Judge Falcone, his wife and bodyguards, in 1992. Turning and exposing so many secrets, he had to be stopped. Except he wasn't, and his son paid the penalty for his father’s contrition.
Then, in early 1996, a Carabinieri special unit raids the farmhouse and discovers a massive cache of weapons hidden there. Among them are hundreds of pistols, revolvers, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, Soviet-made missile launchers, anti-tank mines, 400 kilos of explosives. It is one of the biggest weapon stores ever found in Sicily, linked to the Mafia.
After arming up in the farmhouse, the gang of killers is ready. Kitted out with revolvers, pistols, a shotgun, a sub-machine gun and a Kalashnikov, the troop set off for Corleone in a convoy of cars. Bagarella and Giovanni Brusca, along with his brother Enzo, and Vincenzo Chiodo and Giuseppe Monticciolo and finally, Vincenzo “Vito” Vitale, make up the killing team.
Enzo Brusca and Vito Vitale will be the shooters on the first target. They drive into town in a red Peugeot. Enzo is the brother of Giovanni, the capo of the family of San Giuseppe Jato. Salvatore Vitale is the boss of the Mafia of Partinico, a small mountain town near Palermo. They are two deadly assassins in an industry of murder in the first degree. The ones who kill the husband and wife a month later are Bagarella along with Vitale again. Each time, the shooters are masked and wear surgical gloves. There are no apprentices in this business. Everyone is a pro.
Liane Moriarty once said, “Not all mysteries are meant to be solved. Not all secrets are meant to be told.”
The murders in a small town, early in 1995, would probably have remained unsolved and a secret forever, except for pentisimo, the act of repentance, the get-out-of-jail-card that would become de rigueur among Sicily’s Mafiosi who were facing the law’s ever increasing pressure and attention following the massacre of the judges in 1992.
After their arrests on unrelated crimes, Giuseppe Monticciolo, Vincenzo Chiodo and Enzo Brusca, all part of the San Jato Mafia clan, begin revealing details of the triple murders. Another man to step forward is Tony Calvarusso, the aide-de-camp to Bagarella, a man who held many of the secrets close to his heart. From their testimony, prosecutors build their case.
Three months after the murders in Via Crispi, Bagarella is after another victim. This will be Giovanni Riina's first hands-on experience, Bagarella’s last.
Antonio Di Carlo, the son of the Mafia boss of Canicatti, in the province of Agrigento, delivers two drums of acid for the removal of victims' bodies, one of which will be the child Di Matteo. At the farmhouse in Giambascio on June 22, he meets up with Bagarella and his crew, this time including young Giovanni who had turned nineteen in the February. What Di Carlo does not know is that he is disappearing soon, using the same acid he has just delivered.
Having arranged the multiple murders in Corleone, based purely on the mistaken supposition of the young Riina, Bagarella is now about to murder another man for similar reasons. Rumors had reached him that Di Carlo was cooperating with the Carabinieri, and that, for Bagarella, was all the justification he needed. All his working life as a Mafioso, he has been obsessed with the theory of conspiracy. Plotting, intrigue, secrets and lies fed his insatiable desire for violence and control through a force of strength.
Giovanni has his eyes opened. They bring him into Cosa Nostra. He is combinato, a made man.
Authorities arrested Leoluca Bagarella two days later as he drives through Palermo. He will spend his life in prison. Forever.
In June 1996, the Carabinieri comes to the terrace house on the steep, dark and narrow street, number 24 Via Scorsone the home of Antoinette, wife of Salvatore, also called “Toto” and “U Curtu” and “la Belva”, and arrest Giovanni Riina, her son. The law will eventually sentence him to life in prison for his part in the killings of 1995. In 2018, they changed the street name. It is now via Terranova, dedicated to a judge murdered by Riina’s orders in 1979.
The penitents get their time in court and some get their sentences reduced. From the time of Buscetta, it is how investigators and magistrates go after the Mafia. Give a little and take a little.
The dead souls of Corleone haunt the town like an endless mist. They fill the local cemetery in via Guardia with victims and killers, sometimes buried close to each other. It is as though it has become the “Spoon River” of the town. An epigraphic reminder of all the long-lost days endured in a form of self-imposed silence.**
In January 2013, eighteen years after the senseless murders, Lea Savona, the mayor, publicly apologizes to the victims of the Mafia’s vendettas, bombings, and killings on behalf of the town. To the Mafia, she pleaded, “I ask you to leave this land and abandon the struggle.”
The great irony is that the town is better known as a place of fiction rather than fact because of the success of the three “Godfather” movies. Millions know Don Vito Corleone, played by the actor Marlon Brando. Outside of Italy, Salvatore Riina is almost unknown, except for scholars and historians, and mob buffs.
The Giammona and Saporita families, however, will never forget him and his son, Giovanni.
The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
* Article 41-bis in Italian law is the Prison Administration Act, also known as carcere duro ("hard prison regime"), is a provision that allows the Minister of Justice or the Minister of the Interior to suspend certain prison regulations and impose practically a complete isolation upon a prisoner.
** A 1915 anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, conveying the lives of the residents of a fictional town in Illinois and conveying through his prose the inevitability of death.
Los Angeles Times. February 27, 1995. Mafia-Style Violence Flares in Home of The Godfather.
AP News. February 2, 1995. Mafia murders Couple.
Independent. February 27, 1995. Guns Blaze in Corleone.
Https//vittimafia.it January 28, 1995.
Corliere.it February 24, 2012.
la Repubblica. October 5, 2001. Two Murders.Life imprisonment for Riina’s son.
la Repubblica. January 31, 2002.
Unita.news. Arrestato il figlio di Riina.
The Guardian. March 14, 2002. Freed Mafia Grass a Marked Man.
La Repubblica. June 13, 1996.
Bolzoni, Attilio and Davanzo, Giuseppe, Boss of Bosses. London. Orion, 2016.
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