A Killing in Palermo: A Triangle of Death

9237163884?profile=originalBy Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.

A triangle of death existed, connecting two towns and the biggest city in Sicily. It contained events that stretched over six years, cost the lives of two police officers and confirmed something that all researchers into the Mafia have always known:

Trouble in all its manifestations is the Mafia’s muse.

Attilio Bolzoni thought he resembled a South American Indian. Tall, sleek, jet-black hair brushed back off a face smooth like a model. (1)

He was in the dock of the Palermo Court House, on trial with two others for killing a police officer.

They attacked him at after midnight. He was carrying his young daughter, a sleeping four-year-old, when they shot him in the back, six times. Surrounded by people, celebrating the biggest religious festival the town held each year, the Santissimo Crocifisso, paying homage to Monreale’s patron saint, which was held each year from 1st to May 3rd and attracted thousands of people.

And on this day, three Mafia hit men.

9237163679?profile=originalEmanuele Basile (left) was a captain in the carabinieri, the Italian military police. He arrived in Sicily in January 1977 and is initially based in Palermo, assigned to the investigative unit working under Colonel Giuseppe Russo. They subsequently transfer him to Monreale, a few miles to the west of Palermo City. Arriving in September, he had taken up the drug line of inquiry that was also being followed by Boris Giuliano, Palermo’s Flying Squad chief, who will be executed while having a morning coffee in June two years later. By the Mafia.

Basile worked closely with magistrate Paolo Borsellino, an up-and-coming investigator in the judicial system, tracking Mafia drug traffickers based in and around the Altofonte clan, seven miles south of Monreale. Giuliano had also been tracing them in the weeks preceding his murder.

A notorious Mafia family, home to Francesco Di Carlo, inducted into the local cosca in 1966, who would become boss before his expulsion from the Mafia and eventually, a major government informant, and Mario Santo Matteo, who helped kill Judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992. His punishment for turning into a government witness was that his twelve-year-old son, Giuseppe, was kidnapped and murdered by his fellow mobsters.

There was a lot of badness in this rural community, most of it Mafia. The family was part of the mandamento, or district, (normally a group of three clans) under the control of San Giuseppe Jato, which was in deep with the Corleone clan operating under the control of Salvatore Riina, who was making his play to become the boss of bosses in Sicily.

Basile will investigate Mafia-linked deaths that had occurred in or near Altofonte, and in February 1980, he laid charges of drug trafficking against Leoluca Bagarella, a close associate of Riina’s as well as his brother-in-law. The courts would subsequently prove that Bagarella was the killer of Boris Giuliano. Basile also arrested Bernardo Brusca, the boss of the San Giuseppe Jato clan, and exposed the criminal activities of Antonino Gioe, Francesco Di Carlo and Nini Marchese. (2)

In the weeks that followed, the captain slowly understands the function of Salvatore Riina as not only the regent of the Corleone family but also his place as the potential leader of The Corleonesi, a corporation of Mafia families from across Sicily. He came to realize in deciphering the cosche nebula that Altofonte was a planet of importance in this universe of deadly stars (3)

In his last report to Borsellino, dated April 16, 1980, Captain Basile listed names of suspected Mafia drug dealers and evidence and hypothesis that linked Riina, Altofonte and drug trafficking and at least seventeen murders in two years as integral links to criminal conspiracy within the triangle of Palermo, Monreale and Altofonte.

He also discovered a link to Giacomo Riina, Salvatore’s older brother, based in Medicina, Bologna, on mainland Italy, as a conduit for laundered money from drug dealing in Sicily. (4) Working with him was Giuseppe Leggio, a relative of the jailed infamous boss, Luciano Leggio, a man referred to as u sciancato. the butcher of Corleone.

Just like Boris Giuliano, Emanuele Basile was getting too close to the people who pulled the strings.

1980 and 1981 saw a tectonic shift in the Mafia of Sicily. Riina and his killers were moving their pieces on a murderous chess board that would change the face of organized crime in Sicily. Forever.

By the time they killed Captain Basile, they had already set in motions murders that would lay the groundwork for their success in The Third Mafia War.

In August 1977, their fire-team murdered Colonel Giuseppe Russo, who had led a Palermo-based anti-mafia squad within the carabinieri for seven years. Along with a friend, they shot Russo dead one evening while on holiday in the woods of Ficuzza, near Corleone.

One morning in May 1978, Bagarella and an accomplice kill Giuseppe Di Cristina, the Mafia boss of Riesi, in the province of Caltanissetta in the south of Sicily. He was visiting Palermo, and they gunned him down as he was waiting at a bus stop.

He had already spilled the beans about Riina and the storm about to brew among the Mafia clans, to the carabinieri. But no action had been taken. Except by Riina, who knew everything that was going on. And knew how to stop it.

In September of the same year, they murdered Giuseppe Calderone, the boss of Catania on the east coast of Sicily, and Riina cemented relationships with the man who arranged it, and then took over the family, Nitto Santapaolo. With allies on the east and south and west of the island, the Corleone boss was ready to make his move. Before he would do that, one of his first priorities was to get rid of the bothersome Basile and the problems he was causing.

Straddling Mount Caputo, Monreale overlooks the Conca d’oro, the sweeping fertile plain that has produced citrus fruit for hundreds of years and been a major economic driver for the area. The town dates back almost a thousand years and is home to a cathedral of international fame. The Mafia has also plagued it as long as anyone can remember.

Following the end of the celebrations, Basile and his wife Silvana Musanti leave the Town Hall, crossing Piazza Inghilleri, walking towards Via Pietro Novelli, which will lead them to the carabinieri barracks.

9237162690?profile=originalPhoto: Place where Basile was shot.

Pushing their way through the crowds thronging the square watching and listening to the fireworks display that ends the festivities, as they reach the start of the street, three men push their way past people and shoot Emanuele in the back with.38 revolvers. One bullet hits Silvana, although miraculously, it goes through her purse, and reflects off a silver-plated diary. The killers are so close, gunpowder is found on the bare arms of daughter Barbara. The gunmen disappear into the mass of people and into the night, driving off in an Autobianchi A112.

Pietro Vallone, a sixteen-year-old student, sees the murder and identified one gunman, although this evidence would not become known until three years later. He was in fact threatened by one of the gun-wielding assassins he claimed was Giuseppe Madonia. (5)

Another teenage boy, Tonino Cassara, witnesses the killing and helps Silvana pull her child from under the body of her father who is lying in a lake of blood.

Rushed to Palermo’s Regional Civic Hospital, doctors tried frantically to save Captain Basile, but he died at two that morning from his wounds.

If a metaphor is like a story, we tell to make sense of something we don’t understand, the reality of the sequence of events following the attack on Basile takes it to a whole new level.

Rarely, if ever, are Mafia killers caught in the act. Thirty minutes after they felled their target, carabinieri officers who had flooded the area found the three men. Muddied and stumbling around in a citrus grove, barely a mile away from Monreale near the road to Boccadifalco.

9237164053?profile=originalPhoto: Sicilian citrus grove

They claim they had been visiting the area to meet up with women, but refused any details, claiming their lovers were all married. The cops said, “Yeah, right.” And locked them up.

Years later, Giovanni Brusca confessed to having been part of the team-procuring the getaway car, weapons, arranging the surveillance-but claimed because of the link to his father, arrested earlier that year by Captain Basile, the Mafia pulled him off the shooting-team.

The murder of a carabiniere police officer by the Mafia was not the first and would not be the last. Three years and one month later, Captain Mario D‘Aleo, the same age as Basile, who had taken over his duties, is gunned down by a Mafia fire team of five men, as he he is dropped off at his home in Via Scobar, in Uditore. The gunmen also kill his driver and his bodyguard.

The three men arrested in connection with Basile’s murder go on trial in Palermo on October 7, 1981.

9237163884?profile=originalPhoto: Madonia, Puccio and Bonanno (L to R)

They are Vincenzo Puccio, aged twenty-six, Giuseppe Madonia, thirty-four, and the oldest, at thirty-nine, Armando Bonanno. They are known members of three different Mafia clans. Madonia’s father, Francesco, is a powerful head of Cosa Nostra. One of the closet allies of Salvatore Riina.

Like the infamous Notarbartolo trials of the early 20h Century, theirs would also drag on forever, almost twelve years. By the time the last sentence was confirmed, only one killer was alive.

Their first court case ends in a mistrial. The court then acquitted them in 1983, by a judge, Salvatore Giardina, who claimed there were too many clues pointing to their guilt, although sentenced to be banished to Sardinia for an indefinite sentence. Evidence later from a Mafia informant shows both trial judges were corrupt and mobsters threatened jurors. After two weeks on the island, the three disappear. Re-tried in October 1984, in their absence, the court sentences them to life in prison. After appeal, it overturned by the Court of Cassasation, Italy’s highest appeal court lead by its president, Corrado Carnevale. (6)

The Mafia then assassinated one judge who found them guilty. Some judges presiding over their trials were themselves investigated for mafia association. The honest ones spent their working and private lives in a state of constant fear of attacks on them by the criminals they were prosecuting who roamed free as they isolated themselves in their own form of prison, watched around the clock by armed bodyguards.

And so it goes on, year after year. Trial. Appeal. Ad infinitum. The eighth trial, held twelve years after the murder, confirmed the guilt of the killers. It also by this time included Salvatore Riina and Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe’s father, as co-defendants. By the time this scandalous trail of court appearances is over, there is 93 pounds in weight, of documents testifying to the ineptitude and corruption of Sicily’s judicial system.

During the inquiry, over the years, prosecutos discovered that one gun used in the attack on Captain Basile was is the same weapon that killed Natale Mondo, a detective in Palermo’s Flying Squad, in January 1988, shot dead outside his wife’s retail toy shop in Arnella by two men on a Vespa scooter.

The law caught up with Vincenzo Puccio in 1986 and then Madonia in July 1987. Asleep in his parent’s condominium in Via Cimbali, located a mere four minutes from Ucciardone Prison, where father and son will spend a lot of time in their careers as criminals.

In May 1989, the Marchese brothers, Nino and Peppe batter Puccio to death in his prison cell in Ucciardone,. It was a crime of unprecedented status within the rigid boundaries of Cosa Nostra protocol: two men of honor murdering their boss in prison, respected as a place of neutrality for all mafiosi.

The victim had been stupid enough to tell the wrong people how much he lusted after Salvatore Riina’s position as overlord of Sicily. His aspirations were short-lived via a cast-iron grill wielded by his killers.

The authorities believed Armando Bonanno was on the run during these years and trials. Which he was until January 1988. Then he truly disappeared. For good. Informants subsequently confirmed Salvatore Lo Piccolo killed him. (10) He would become a heavy force in the Sicilian Mafia, close to Bernardo Provenzano as he assumed the big boss title following the 1993 arrest of Salvatore Riina.

Bonanno, who had an “official” job at the Palermo Municipal slaughterhouse on Via Macello, was renowned within the mob as a “good” killer and a staunch mafioso. He was, however, not that good in the politics of Cosa Nostra.

The head of the homonymous district, San Lorenzo, Gaetano Carollo had been murdered in Liscate, a commune near Milan on mainland Italy in June 1987, and it seems Bonanno was making a play to take over the family. Someone obviously did not want this to happen. Imprisoned Francesco Madonia had decided his son, Antonino, would take the spot. Hard to argue with the big boss. (7)

As the three killers languished in Ucciardone Prison, in Palermo awaiting their first trial, a new tragedy was playing out down by the waterfront in the marketplace selling fruit and vegetables. One that would be linked into the Basile murder through one of the arrested.

Someone once described Palermo as an architectural curry: chunks of Norman style served up with an Arabic sauce, seasoned with Baroque splendor, stirred with art nouveau Liberty style then with a pinch of Fascist design added. (8)

A place as disfigured as it is sensual. It is home to Edilizia Perricolante a department of local government in the only city in Italy dedicated solely to collapsing properties. A metaphor for the disintegrating social structure that existed in uneasy harmony with the buildings falling down through misuse and neglect all over the city.

Nowhere more clearly than in the teeming fruit and vegetable district bordering Aquasanta, the major port of Palermo. Long a Mafia enclave, it was a place that heaved with activity, day and night. The market had been moved there from Zen in the western suburbs in 1956, and its relocation caused many problems among the Mafia clans that wanted to share the spoils. The first Mafia War started here, because of this, and took down many people, in and out of the brotherhood.

On these crowded streets, a month after the Mafia murdered Captain Basile, a drama unfolds that will link his killing with the murder of another carabiniere, who will not die for another six years, even though his death is foretold in the first weeks of summer, 1980.

For eleven centuries Palermo has featured street markets as part of its social and economic landscape. The fruit and vegetable market on the fringes of Albergheria which had caused so much heart-burn for the Mafia in the late 1950s, is crowded as usual on June 17.

Two carabinieri officers on duty in the area are called here to investigate a suspect robbery in progress. They confront a gang of armed men attempting to rob the cash-desk and a fire-fight breaks out. One of the police officers shoots and kills a bad guy, the rest, as bad guys often do, run away through the crowds of shoppers and market workers.

9237164075?profile=originalThe police officer is a young auxiliary cop called Rosario Pietro Giaccone (right), a mere nineteen years old, serving his first year, working that day under the supervision of a senior officer. They are based at carabinieri Station Falde, three minutes away. And that seemed to be that, except it never is in these stories.

Six years later, on November 17, 1986, as Giaccone, off-duty, is driving through Albergheria, someone suddenly blocks his car on via Giovanni Verga and three men shoot him, firing at least fifteen rounds, killing him instantly.

His murder is never solved, although in 1993, an inquiry confirms through the Court of Palermo that the Mafia carried the killing out. The man Giaccone had shot dead in the produce market years before was Aurelio Bonanno, the nephew of Armando. In 1986, still on the run.

Police identify one gun used in the attack through bullet-tracing as the same one that killed Captain Basile six years before the murder of Giaccone, and police officer Mondo, fifteen months after this young officer’s death. It is also confirmed by the testimony of government informant Gaspare Mutolo (9)

Almost certainly Armando Bonanno is behind the murder of the young carabiniere and may well have been a shooter, but unless this is confirmed from within the ranks of Cosa Nostra, we will never know.

In the triangle of death, the circle is complete, or as perfect as it ever will be in a place like Palermo Province.

If Yiddish author Isaac Baskeris Singer was right, “The dead don’t go anywhere for every man is a cemetery. When a day passes, it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.”

The one about the Mafia of Sicily seems without end.

1) A Parlermitan Diary http://www.sicilianrenaissance.info/en/pubblicazioni/020800b.pdf

2) Gio will die in mysterious circumstances while in Rebibbia Prison in 1993 and Di Carlo, his cousin, will be the first Mafia boss to die from Covid-19 while in hospital in Paris in April 2020. Antonino Marchese of the Corso-dei-mille Family of Palermo, would spend most of his life locked away in a prison, somewhere in Italy.

3) Whenever contingent events prevent or make a normal election of a family head impossible the Mafia commission, a collegiate body set up some time in the late 1950s, will appoint a regent who will manage a family pro tempore until a normal election process is held by the family soldiers.

4) It’s also claimed he is an uncle (mafiesottocasa, com) or a second cousin (wiki-tree, Justin Cascio.)

5) Vallone’s testimony is confirmed to be spot-on because of something he knew that no one else did. One man who rushed to assist the fallen Basile is called Giammaria Bacchiddu, who had just resigned from the Monreale carabinieri. He left the area and disappeared. Never mentioned in any police report or trial documents. That Vallone could recall him and his name, proved beyond doubt the veracity of his statements: Abbate +706 Maxi-Trial documents, pages 3361-3378.

6) Corrado Carnevale was nicknamed l’ammazzasentenze (the sentence-slayer) because of the many convictions of Mafiosi he overturned on appeal. During the Maxi Trial in the mid-1980s, Carnevale was the president of the first criminal section of the Court of Cassasation, however because he was suspected of colluding with the Mafia, he was not appointed as prosecutor during the final decision on the Maxi Trial, and he was replaced with judge Arnaldo Valente.

Carnevale was suspended from his magisterial duties in March 1993. On 29 June 2001, he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for external competition in mafia association but was acquitted by the Supreme Court of Cassasation on 30 October 2002.-Wikizero.com

7) In one of the endless ironies that fill the pages of Sicily’s Mafia history, Armando Bonanno’s son, Giovanni, will follow his father down the same road to hell.

Gaspare Pulizzi, a soldier in the clan of Tommaso Natale, became a government informant and confessed to helping in the killing and burial of of Giovanni in January 2006. The body was hidden in waste-ground in Villagrazia di Carini, a southern suburb of metro Palermo. At thirty-five, Giovanni was the boss of San Lorenzo, the same family his father had contested and which led to his disappearance eighteen years before.

Giovanni had left his home that night. Driving off into the darkness on his Vespa scooter. He died at the hands of Nino Rotolo and Nino Cina because Cosa Nostra is an entity governed not by physics, but the worst of human nature: greed, envy, jealousy and hatred. The stuff nightmares are made of. Especially when mixed with killers without conscience.

8) Palermo, the survivor. Kamin Mohammadi. https://www.kamin.co.uk

9) La Repubblica January 30, 1993. Mutolo’s testimony before the Court of Palermo.

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