By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
They called them gli scappati “the runaways,” hiding in Venezuela or finding refuge in Miami, drifting through New York, even in the lemon orchards of Monreale. Where they really ended up was New Jersey. At least the ones that were the major targets. The chosen ones that survived the matanza, the slaughter that opened the great Mafia war of the early 1980s in Sicily.
To be an Inzerillo was a stigmata in the eyes of the Corleonesi, the mob that was taking over the honored society. Short and squat of stature, Salvatore Riina, u curtu, their boss, had laid down his command:
“Not so much as a seed must be left of these Inzerillos.”
And so they killed them. Destroying the bloodline of the Passo di Ragano Family.
After the family head, Salvatore, known everywhere as Totuccio, leaves the apartment of his goomah in early May 1981, just meters short of his armored Alfa Romeo Aletta 2000, he is slaughtered (right) on Via Brunelleschi, and then, they go after everyone. Two months later, they murder his son, Giuseppe, seventeen.
The boy had sworn to avenge the death of his father, so they cut off his right arm, making it hard for him to do anything before being strangled to death.
Santo, one of four brothers of Salvatore, disappears into the darkness of lupara bianca, missing and not coming back. He and his uncle, Calogero Di Maggio, attend a meeting of the Mafia cupola, its ruling body, held in a farmhouse near San Giuseppe Jato and join the list of vanished. The murderers killed over twenty Inzerillos and their related families, which included uncles, cousins, nephews, sons.
Decimating lives, destroying families, creating nightmares; a purge that scours away enemies but in doing so, creates a generational Armageddon. A memento mori confirming the fragility of Mafia life. The tragedy that transcends time. A complex labyrinth of relationships where biological families submit themselves to Mafia families. Where nobody ever forgets anyone or anything. Above all, where blood washes blood. Even unto the states of America.
Like a thread running through a Cosa Nostra version of the Bayeux Tapestry, linking the lost and found, the good, bad, and very ugly. The vengeance trail. The manifestation of deadly sins. Greed and envy and fear being the triggers in this narrative of death and destruction.
Riina, in his climb to power, set his sights on decimating the Parlamitans, the Mafia clans that had not sided with him, especially two of the biggest-Santa Maria di Gelsù and Passo di Ragano. Apart from their size, and dominance, and their close connections, Riina had it in for these two for his own special form of reprisal.
Stefano Bontate who ran the Church family, along with his pal, Inzerillo, who controlled things a few kilometers to the north, near Uditore, in Passo di Rigano, enjoyed the massive wealth generated by the heroin trafficking that grew like wild-fire in the 1970s. While they were making a killing, most of the other clans, without the links with America, the major market, had to watch greedily from the sidelines. The Inzerillos were connected into the Gambino Family of New York, a criminal supply chain in waiting connecting a market that seemingly could never be satisfied.
Bontate had the chemists and the drug factories scattered around Sicily.
Up in the hills of Corleone, watching and brooding, u curtu (left), the short one, waited. Jealous and greedy for the riches he was missing out on. He knew his enemies in Palermo thought of him as a country peasant, u viddanu, not worthy of the heroin deals and the rivers of money flowing from them.
He was the poor relative, getting the crumbs from their feasts. And just as important, these two crime families were powerful enough, especially if they joined forces, to stand in the way of his hegemonic ambitions to use the Corleonesi as his hammer to beat The Mafia into submission. Make it bigger than the state. Have everything in his hands.
But more than this, he also knew that Bontate and Inzerillo were plotting to murder him, so he beat them to it.
In America, Inzerillos have already settled there as early as the 1950s. Family ties linked them into the Gambinos of Sicily who migrated into the Eastern Seaboard, entering illegally in 1962.
A police report issued in Palermo in 1980 highlighted that “the four Mafia families (Gambino, Spatola, Inzerillo and Di Maggio) constituted a compact and homogeneous group, operating in Palermo and in the USA, a group… whose leader was the late Carlo Gambino. The latter, according to the report, had kinship ties with the Inzerillo brothers, Giuseppe, Pietro and Antonio, and naturally, with all their many children, as well as with Tommaso Gambino and his sons Giovanni, Giuseppe, and Rosario.”
Giuseppe (Joe), Rosario (Sal) and Giovanni (John) (right) form a crew based in and around Cherry Hill in Camden County, New Jersey. They open pizza restaurants and move deeply into the drug trafficking business.
Rosario will become a suspect in one of America’s biggest ever drug trafficking investigations and subsequent trials know as The Pizza Connection. John’s legitimate business grows to over 200 pizzerias, turning over more than $200 million annually.
- READ: Blood and Money.
He is involved with Italian, Michele Sindona, one of the world’s largest international bankers, who wheels and deals his way through a forest of intrigue involving banks across the world, politics in Italy, the Vatican and all its myriad chicaneries, and for that extra spice in life, organizing money laundering for the mob.
The Cherry Hill Gambinos are cousins to the Inzerillos, as well as the Gambinos of New York, America’s biggest Mafia clan. For good measure, they have genealogical links to the Spatola and Di Maggio families with more cousins who are Mafia connected and heavy into the drug trafficking business back in the old country.
In the dynamics of power, greed and the dexterity to amass immense wealth, opportunity governs the escalation of change. For two men in America, terminal change will be a consequence of all of this.
Antonino Inzerillo is the uncle of Totuccio and the alleged capo, or skipper of the New York Gambinos South Jersey crew, along with John Gambino. His nephew, Pietro, is the brother of the slain Mafia boss in Sicily. They are both, according to the Senate Committee Hearing on Organized Crime in America, 1983, heavily involved in drug trafficking.
They are also both marked for death.
It’s a complex story. Based almost entirely on information from government informants, with a little genuine law enforcement nonce thrown in for good measure.
Shakespeare, the master of treachery as a theatrical art construction, used betrayal as both a form and an action to illustrate how fragile human relationships evolve under certain situations. In the world of American Cosa Nostra as in its heritage Sicilian Mafia roots, the politics of evil always trump the rationality of decent human behavior. Those that inhabit this world live with betrayal and treachery as bedfellows.
Details conforming the double murders will come from direct courtroom testimony, informants in Sicily and America and Italian police wire taps on known Mafiosi carried out in Palermo.
The killings will be officially authorized by the provincial commission of the Mafia in a meeting held in July 1981, in a villa on the coast at Trapetto, near Alcamo. Riina is first among equals but doesn’t always get his own way. They agreed to pardon gli scappati in return for the heads of Pietro and Nino. But the runaways have to stay just that, and never return to Sicily. A permanent exile, and one that needs arbitration and control.
The bosses select Rosario Naimo (right), called Saruzza, to do this job, which will auger well for law enforcement in the years ahead. A veteran Mafioso, he moves between families and countries as he makes his bones in the honored society, ending up in San Lorenzo.
As in any Mafia killing, the Judas goat is someone the victims know and trust. How much more trust can you have than in family?
For Pietro Inzerillo, his own road to Golgotha ends in a parking lot in New Jersey.
Police are called to the Hilton Hotel at Mount Laurel on January 14, 1982, following a telephone call claiming a vehicle in the hotel car park contained a bomb. After confirming the car was safe, the police ring the owners, based on the plate number. It is a new Mercury Cougar, registered at Joe’s Pizza Restaurant in South Philadelphia. The place is owned by Erasmus Gambino, a soldier in the Cherry Hill mob, who sends two men the next day to collect it. When Ernesto Sicilia opens the car, he sees a pistol on the passenger-side floor, and when he opens the trunk, there is a body curled inside.
When police arrive, for the second time, they discover the corpse is handcuffed, behind, frozen solid. An autopsy reveals they had shot the victim six times with a 9mm pistol. The wounds were two in the neck, one in the center of the throat, and three in the head. A five-dollar bill was stuffed in the mouth and two one-dollar bills in the genital area.
A classic Mafia calling call for those whose greed exceeds their reach and wanted to eat too much and are less than a man.
As his wife, Urso Giacomo Inzerillo, waits for her husband in their Home at 6 Logan Drive, in Cherry Hill, the police identify the body found at the Hilton. He is Pietro (Peter) Inzerillo, a white male, 31 years old, 170 cm, weight 75 kilos, place of birth, Palermo, Sicily. He was involved in two construction companies and Genova Pizzeria in Audubon, all in New Jersey.
He is the younger brother of Salvatore, and is now added to the completed death list of Riina.
His cousin Tomasso u musconi Inzerillo will be one of the prime suspects in a family at war. Another drug trafficker, shipping from Mexico through the Dominican Republic into America he is the nephew of Nino Inzerillo.
Almost certainly by this point in time, uncle Antonino is gone. We don't know dates or times, but we can construct his murder from the words of informants and the spoken voice of Mafia leaders, caught by government recordings. And unlike his nephew’s killer, someone will pay the piper, although it will take thirty-two years to bring closure in a court of law for a family somewhere in America.
On February 2, 1982, Anna Gambino Inzerillo, sister of John Gambino, reports her husband, Nino, missing. She had last seen him on 19 October, the previous year at their home 3, Cornrow Road in Delran Township, New Jersey. Why she waited three months is a mystery.
There is another Salvatore in this story, albeit a minor one. The mob knew him as Sammy Bull, last name Gravano. In courtroom testimony, the number three man under John Gotti, leading the Gambinos of New York after having its sitting boss, Paul Castellano, is murdered in 1985, claimed that John Gambino had been the lead actor in the last curtain call on Nino Inzerillo. The hit went down in Brooklyn, Gravano claimed.
Nino goes to a deli on Avenue U in Gravesend, South Brooklyn, which is owned by Filippo Casamento (right), part of the Boccadifalo Mafia Family, to the west of Palermo City. A long established drug trafficker, he had been indicted in 1973 in New Jersey for pushing drugs from the Pizza Palace in Piacona. Sentenced to seventeen years, he was out in seven.
He used his business Eagle Cheese Company and Casamento Salumeria, which he founded in 1968, as a front for his illegal activities. Provolone and mozzarella went out the front and heroin and cocaine out the back. By 1970, law enforcement estimated he was moving a ton of drugs each year. In June 1987, they had sentenced him to 30 years for his part in The Pizza Connection trial.
Waiting there with Casamento are several men, including, its alleged, Rosario Naimo along with Frank Di Ciccio and Joe Watts, of the New York Gambinos, John Gambino of Cherry Hill, and at least two other men. Killers using guns fitted with silencers shoot Nino dead, and then they make his body disappear.
In 2006, the DIA, Italy’s anti-mafia task force, bug the home of Antonino Rotolo on Via Michelangelo, up in the hills above Palermo. Law enforcement tracked down and arrested Bernardo Provenzano, the acting Boss of all Bosses, standing in for Salvatore Riina, who had been arrested and imprisoned for life in 1993, in April of this year after decades on the run. Rotolo and Salvatore Lo Piccolo, boss of Tomasso Natale Family, along with Provenzano, had been the de facto heads managing the Mafia and making key decisions.
- READ: Secrets and Lies
On one of dozens of conversations recorded in a small cabin near the house, Rotolo (left), who is boss of the Pagliarelli Family, is talking to Giuseppe Sansone, (a soldier in the Uditore Mafia, a wealthy building contractor and a close friend of Riina,) in an apparent strange and senseless mumbo-jumbo language. In the world of the Mafia, people use words not only to communicate but also to imply meaning or the lack of meaning.
As they rarely send written instructions,* messaging by mouth is fundamental to the Mafia. Semiotics, the science of signs, is a natural part of their lifestyle. Words and their composition within any sentence can confuse an outsider.
- READ: The Sound of Silence.
This excerpt confirms for the first time to investigators in Sicily, just who is doing what to whom:
Rotolo: He made him the base for Totuccio's brother, (Tomasso,) to save himself, so you see what a man, ah in America... they made him switch or rather, he went over to the side of the corleonesi.
Then there's another thing: but can we trust this? He took his father's brother,(Nino, brought him to him and drowned him and shot his cousin (Pietro). can we trust him?
Rotolo is saying that Francesco, brother of the slain Salvatore, and his cousin Tomasso, conspired in the murders of the two men to whom they were both related by family ties. Of both kinds.
There will be other conversations from other Mafioso that help build a picture of the events in New York and New Jersey, and then, entering stage right, emerges Rosario Naimo, a man of many parts.
The New Jersey Commission of Investigation, in its annual report, 1989, claimed he was head of the Sicilian Mafia operating in America. Strangely, he became part of the New York Lucchese Family, rather than the Gambinos. And, of course, he dealt in drugs and was a significant connection between the Mafia of Sicily and the Medellín Cartel.
After fifteen years on the run, following a serious medical event in 2010, he becomes a government informant, and as part of his testimony, he confirms the murders of the two Inzerillos in America. He places Casamento at the killing scene, claiming he nudged Nino into the murder room where two killers do their job. He also points the finger at Tomasso Inzerillo, who also marked for death, trades his life for that of his uncle.
Naimo was no stranger to setting up targets in the mob. He was allegedly linked to the murder of Eustachio Giammona, a Sicilian born made man in the Lucchese Family who was shot-gunned to death in June 1988 while in his Toyota in Brooklyn.
By the early 2000s, the Inzerillos and their associates started drifting back into Sicily. One of the first is Francesco, then Tomasso, Rosario, then Giuseppe, son of the brother Santo. The disappeared one. Rosario was one of the last to come back after spending over fifty years in America, a significant part of it in and out of prison.
They reopened the family home at 345 Via Castellana for Giovanni; the son born in New York. He returns in 2000 and is one of many arrested during Operation Old Bridge in 2008 in a joint task force involving Italian and American law enforcement.
Ironically, the man who is his godfather is Casamento, who will go on trial in Palermo in 2013 for the murders of Giovanni’s brother and his uncle. Everyone knows Casamento, as Tizzio who the court will find guilty of killing Nino in January 2014 but will acquit of the other charge. They discharge Rosario Naimo as a collaborator of justice and excuse him from the murder charges of Giovanni's brother and uncle. They acquitted both of killing Pietro Inzerillo. That one stays a mystery. Kind of.
Filippo Casamento is eighty-eight years old.
At this time, John Gambino is in prison in America, serving out a fifteen-year sentence on charges of racketeering. Francesco and Tomasso Inzerillo are back in Palermo, doing what they have always done, running on the wrong side of the law. Francesco and his wife Olympia Caruso, according to their tax returns, have little to no money, but have access to loans from well-known banks. Tomasso and his wife run a business out of the Inzerillo family home compound in Passo Di Rigano. Family ties are back in business.
Their future will not be bright.
The return of the Inzerillos and their associates creates a tsunami among the Palermo clans, and their presence almost trigger's a third Mafia war. Law and order prevail; there are lots and lots of arrests, including Tomasso and Francesco, and the prisons fill up with mobsters. Court cases, verdicts and appeals will go on forever.
It has never been explained why Riina hated the Inzerillos to the extent he wanted them all destroyed. The Bontates, with a family twice as large numerically, was a much bigger threat, and yet once the boss and his close associates were eliminated, biological family members were left in peace.
The Bible is filled with examples of betrayal, beginning with Adam and ending with God.
Riina’s scorched earth policy against the Inzerillos will generate treachery on a scale which fills the years with mourning, haunting those who survive, endlessly. Totuccio is betrayed, then his son Giuseppe and his brothers Santo and Pietro, and then uncle Nino and many more.
And for what? In the end, Riina dies in a prison hospital after almost a quarter of a century behind bars, and almost everyone else, not stopping, go straight to jail.
If it is true that there are truths in hell and lies in paradise, being a Mafioso and wondering which is which, is not for the faint-hearted.
* The exception to this is the use of pizzini, literally, little messages. Senior mob bosses such as Bernardo Provenzano, Matteo Messina Denaro, and Salvatore Lo Piccolo sent coded messages on small papers folded for easy concealment, to each other and contacts during the period up to the arrest of Provenzano.
My thanks to Fabien Rossat, host at: https://unehistoiredecrimeorganise.blogspot.com/
for pointing me to a place I had forgotten about.
Quotation recorded in court document, Palermo, Trial No 2474/05. Antonino Rotolo +5. 20 June 2006.
Courier Post. Camden New Jersey, February 20, 1983.
Bolzoni, Attilio and D’Avanzo, Giuseppe. The Boss of Bosses. Orion Books, London, 2015.
Rapporto Squadra Mobile, Palermo August 2008.
L Éspresso. August 22, 1964.
Corriere della Sera. February 7, 2008.
La Repubblica. October 29, 2010.
Sterling, Claire. The Mafia. London. HarperCollins, 1980.
Live Sicilia. October 17, 2012.
Live Sicilia. January 27, 2014.
La Repubblica. February 7, 2008.
Stille, Alexander. Excellent Cadavers. London. Jonathon Cape Ltd, 1995.
Bolzoni, Attilo. White Shotgun. Milano. Libri. S.p.A. 2008.
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