The photograph has been appearing for over thirty years. It is one of the most iconic and yet at the same time, distorted images of what the Sicilian Mafia is about: Control by force. It is almost always headed a Mafia killing in Corleone. This is the misrepresentation. The act of violence occurred, in fact, in a suburb of Palermo.
It has appeared in magazines and newspapers, in many books on the subject of the Mafia, and on numerous internet sites. Petra Reski used it on the cover of her book, The Honoured Society, to brilliantly draw attention to her compelling and insightful examination of Italy and its almost unsolvable problems with organized crime.
The photograph was taken by Franco Zecchin, then a thirty-year-old news reporter and photographer working, for L'Ora, the Communist, Palermo based daily newspaper. His black and white images of a troubled Sicily, including his coverage of Mafia-related subjects, became internationally famous over the years he practiced his craft.
He had moved to Palermo in 1975 and joined forces with social activist and photographer, Letizia Battaglia, who would become his life-long partner. She is likewise famous for her black and white Mafia images.
The twenty years following Zecchin's arrival in Sicily would give both of them, more than enough work in the Mafia arena. Street killings occurred weekly, sometimes daily in and around Palermo. The Years of Lead kept them both working overtime.
He attended his first Mafia killing, that of Benedetto D'Atola, which he himself did not record, on July 9th, 1976, and between then and 1993, he and Battaglia photographed hundreds of Mafia murders. Zecchin remembered his first killing vividly. The chaos in the Zisa quarter late that afternoon as police arrived and departed the scene. Officers measuring and taking notes; the scientific teams, the police photographers, the judge and the coroner in tight discussion and the relatives screaming everywhere; people crowding around the body, sprawled out on its back, staring at the sky with lifeless eyes, blood pooling from the body.
Zecchin took this other photograph himself, sometime on Friday, November 15th, 1983.
And this is what the image represents: The murder of an innocent man to satisfy the obsessive and psychotic desires of another man determined to imprint his mark on what was, at the time, perhaps the most powerful organized crime confederation in the world, Sicily's Cosa Nostra.
This other man was Salvatore “Toto” Riina, head of the cosca or clan of the Corleone Mafia and perhaps, the Boss of Bosses, or close to it, of the Mafia across the island. The victim was 78-year-old Benedetto Grado, filling in time before he died. But not this way.
The photograph, supremely composed, shows us in the foreground, a widening pool of blood leading back to a body sprawled on a road, covered by a white sheet and seemingly attached to an umbrella, which leads to a black Coppola, the traditional Sicilian peasant's cap, which in turn guides us back to the blood pool. Behind the body, kneels a woman in black, her hands clasped in her lap. To her left, about two meters away, another woman stands, leaning against a lofty, mortared wall. She is also dressed in black, her arms folded, a look of tired resignation on her face. Next to her, sitting on a high-backed chair is an older, stout woman, again glad all in black. Her hands are clasped, the left one holding what looks to be a white handkerchief. Her face registers disbelief. She is the wife and mother; the two other women are her daughters. The bloodied corpse at their feet, the husband, and father. Amazingly, Zecchin has been able to create his image so that the daughter standing against the wall, Rosalia, aged 36, has her face mirrored in the pool of blood. She has turned away from the reflection, as though by forcing herself from the mimetic relationship, she can somehow, break the connection.
The three women are dressed in black because they are in mourning. Not for the body at their feet but for a son and brother, and a husband, Antonino, murdered by the Mafia, two years before. It is his wife, Vincenza who kneels next to her father-in-law. Her husband went down to the Corleonesi, Riina's gang of killers, in October 1981.
The image is impossible to ignore. It is in perfect focus and the exposure is faultless. It reaches out and grabs attention with a ferocity that is almost numbing in its intensity. Zecchin had been photographing the Mafia dead for seven years, and it shows in his complete control of the subject.
It is inconceivable, as Dominique Angeloro says, to view his work without being gripped by an intense sentiment of anti-violence. However, the real achievement of Zecchin's art is that its politics is not parceled as a message. Rather, they come to the viewer as a sensory experience and one that stays with you long after you've left the image behind.
The bodies were falling in and around Palermo, sometimes at the rate of twelve a week. A Palermo magistrate said during this period, “this was not a war, but the scientific extermination of the weak by the strong.” Someone estimated Benedetto Grado was victim 126 since the great Mafia War had started. It was an estimate based on optimistic expectation. Not reality. His murder was already one of hundreds. The killing rate would perhaps exceed a thousand by the end of the 1980s.
This was Sicily as the Mafia saw it. A land mortgaged to death and despair with no let up on the premiums in sight.
How and why Benedetto Grado came to be sprawled on a dusty street, in a rural district of south-west Palermo, dead from multiple gunshot wounds, tells us much about man's inhumanity to man, and even more about the complex morality of lawlessness that is the backbone of Cosa Nostra.
In simplistic terms, he died because he was who he was, and through his familial links to another, his destiny was determined by Riina, someone steeped in the legend and tradition of Cosa Nostra; a man who let nothing get in the way of his ambition to unite all of Sicily's Mafia clans under his personal banner.
The old man, Benedetto Grado, died through his link to his nephew, a man called Salvatore Contorno -photo right, a soldier in the Bontate Mafia clan. Riina wanted him dead, but somehow, his killers, and there were plenty, couldn't seem to pin the target down. Five of them came after him one day as he was driving through the Brancaccio quarter of Palermo. Even though one was armed with a Kalashnikov, he fought them off with only a .38 revolver. He lived to fight another day. The doctor who treated his wounds wasn't so lucky.
So Toto (the familial diminutive of Salvatore) did what he always did when the going got tough: he killed or tried to kill everybody and anybody who was connected in some way to the prime target. Frank Herbert's aphorism, “It is not that power corrupts, but that it is a magnet to the corruptible,” could have been written with Riina in mind.
Toto always said, “The best forgiveness is vendetta.”
It was called The Strategy of the Kin. Go for the cluster. Go for everyone connected. And so they'd killed Antonino two years before. Vincenza never got to bury her husband. He was put to death by the Lucchese brothers and the Prestifilippo brothers and Pino Greco. And his body went somewhere. Lupara Bianca, they call it. White Shotgun. Strangled and dissolved in acid and poured down a drain. Or dropped in a hole somewhere in the killing fields of Palermo. Death by disappearance. An exquisite form of torture for those left behind. Never really knowing but always knowing. The killers were laughing as they went about their job. It was always a laugh. Like going for a stroll. Day after day.
Giuseppe Marchese who was there told the magistrates at the Fifth Penal Session of the Palermo Tribunal how Antonino Grado died. It was a bunch of fun killing people. It always made their day.
Life was such a delight when you had a rope or a gun.
For the family, it only got worse. On the 9th January 1982, another Antonino Grado, this one a cousin and another member of the Bontate clan, was at work in Palermo, early in the morning, at the scenery warehouse of Palermo's Teatro Massino, (the biggest opera house in Italy) which was located at 2 Via Riccardo Wagner, Two men, armed with 9mm pistols entered and pursued him through the building. Racing to his desk, he tried to retrieve a .357 magnum pistol he kept stashed there, but while struggling to open the drawer, the killers shot him dead.
Professor Morin at Gabinetto Regionale di Polizia Scientifica in Palermo, later confirmed the guns used to kill him were the same weapons that killed Michele Teresi and Paolo Francesco the day before and Giovanni Fresco later the same day. These three men were linked into both Gaetano Grado, the son of Benedetto, and Salvatore Contorno, his cousin. More collateral damage in the quest for the elusive target. There would be more than thirty dead. Friends, relatives, associates. Any degree of separation to Grado or Contorno would likely be a short cut to a bad death.
Gaetano Grado was one of five brothers, all tied into the Mafia family of Stefano Bontate. They were into drugs in a big way from 1978 until 1981. Ran a heroin refinery near Milan, sourcing their raw materials from Syrian trafficker Wakkas Salah Al Dia, who was part of a Turkish organized crime ring with close ties to the Sicilian Mafia. They also moved heroin into Sicily, through Palermo, for onward shipment into the USA. By the early 1980s, Sicily had become one of the heroin-processing capitals of the world.
Riina hated Bontate and his closest friend Salvatore Inzerillo, who headed up a clan in Passo di Rigano. Riina, known to his men as Zio Tottucio, would kill them both and all who sailed with them over the bloody months of 1981. And then, in the years ahead, kept on killing all and everyone he could find who had any kind of link into them.
Including Benedetto Grado.
The father was a day laborer in the fields of the Conca d'Oro. He also worked sometimes as a supervisor in a market garden. His last known criminal act was in 1934. For that, he was sent into exile on the island of Lampedusa, where today, almost daily, hundreds of illegal immigrants wash up dead and alive seeking asylum or a grave where somebody cares.
At 8:00 am when he died, on that Friday morning, he was walking along the quiet, country lane, Via Falsomiele. He was wearing the coat of his dead son, Antonino, as a dark colored Opel Kadett came along the road and slowed down, so the passenger could lean out and shoot the old man five times with a .38 revolver. Someone said he was so old one bullet would have been enough. The shell of his figure collapsed like a paper-bag blown over by the winter's wind, his elderly body exsanguinating into the dust. The shock and amazement in the last seconds of his life must have been palatable as he looked down the barrel of the weapon. It was as though the killer was saying, “I have written your name on the bullets so you know the last thing on my mind.”
In the car were the killers, Pietro Algieri driving, and Giuseppe Calascibetta who wielded the gun.
This was according to the testimony of Francesco Marino Mannoia, one of the first Corleonesi pentiti, or informants. He claimed the killing of Grado was handed down to the new boss of the old Bontate clan, thirty-seven year old, Ignazio Pullara, who had in turn set up a commando of Algieri, Calascibetta and Emanuele Mazzola to carry out the hit.
In a nearby church, friends and relatives of Salvatore Zarcone were organizing his funeral. They heard the gunshots. The man they were preparing to bury had been shot by Gaetano Grado, Benedetto's son, on November 12th. Sassolina as he was called, had been encouraged to join forces with the Grados, but Gaetano believed he had shifted his allegiance to the Corleonesi, so killed him. Just to be sure. In the Mafia, it's always better to be sure. Nothing fixes the problem quite like a .38 bullet.
Apart from those who killed him, the two most significant men in the life of Benedetto Grado were his nephew, Salvatore Contorno. And his son, Gaetano - photo right.
The son was born in 1943. He killed his first victim when he was just sixteen. He said of that inaugural hit, “I was a bit nervous. Later on, it just became something normal for me to do.” He and his siblings, Vincenzo, Salvatore, Giacomo, and Antonino become part of the Mafia cosca of Santa Maria di Jesù, controlled by the Bontate family. The family area butts onto the Villagrazia domain, controlled by Salvatore Inzerillo, and the leaders of the two clans are close friends. Their friendship will be a killer-literally.
The Grados are into smuggling cigarettes, drug trafficking, construction and eventually, money laundering. Although only two of the brothers get inducted into the Mafia in the 1970s, (Gaetano is not one of them,) they become respected and admired by their peers. Gaetano is a big spender down in the city, often seen enjoying the nightlife of Palermo.
When he is only thirty, he murders five men.
He went out for lunch with his lawyer on August 4th, 1973. The restaurant of choice was Spano, the one on stilts, on the waterfront, on the Via Messina Marine, in Palermo. The one used by the famous Mafia conclave after the 1957 Hotel des Palmes meeting. Their meal is interrupted by five obstreperous young men, who are in a party of about twenty at a table, shouting and yahoo-ing. The manager and waiter try to calm things down. The waiter turns to Grado for help asking him to mediate, calm the hot-heads down.
When Grado intervenes, one of the youths, Paolo Morana, flashed two guns at his belt, shouting at his friend, Alfredo Dispensa, and calling out offensive words at Grado, who simply smiles, and says, “Look son, these two guns: I'll shove one in your mouth and the other up your ass.” He turns away to rejoin the lawyer and continue lunch.
He then makes a telephone call to his close friend, Pietro Vernego, a man who one day will be accused of 100 murders, and become one of the biggest heroin dealers in Italy. They organize to have the five louts murdered. Within days, two of them, including Dispensa, are strangled in a deserted quarry and their bodies buried where the new motorway 90 is under construction, near the church of San Ciro Maredolce in Brancaccio, and the other three are shot dead outside a fish shop on Via Gustavo Roccella, in Palermo. The mystery of their deaths would remain just that until Grado became a pentito in 2000 and disclosed information that re-opened a cold case that had lain dormant for almost thirty years.
Grado is no slouch when it comes to the tough stuff. He is elected by the Mafia Commission to be one of the gunmen who will form a team of five that will raid an office in Palermo City in December 1969 and kill Michele Cavataio, the boss of Aquasanta, and three of his men. In the years to come, Grado will murder at least 14, including Michele Graviano, the head of the Brancaccio Cosa Nostra family. He shoots him dead on January 7th, 1982.
Following the murders of Bontate and Inzerillo, Grado and his brothers, along with their families, moved to Spain and set up a base near Benidorm. They purchased an hotel and various commercial buildings, and a palatial villa at Rocas Blancas developed their drug running business and laundered money through Swiss and Lichtenstein banks. Something drives Grado to return to Sicily in the late 1980s and he begins a personal vendetta against the Corleonesi.
He creates a small, commando, a killing team, made up of Agostino D'Agati, Gabriel Giglio and Giuseppe Di Peri, along with Salvatore Contoro.
In March 1989 in Bagheria, they kill Salvatore Messicati Vitale, the boss of Villabate who is blown off his Vespa by five blasts from luparas, the ubiquitous shotguns, used by shepherds in the hills, and Mafiosi in the towns. A year later in Casteldaccia, it's the turn of Francesco Baiamonte in March, and then a month later, Antonio Aspetti, and in May, in Palermo, Domenico Russo is killed in Brancaccio. This last one was seemingly an act of revenge against a businessman, a trader in wines and spirits, who had allegedly embezzled money from Stefano Bontate. Salvatore Contorno allegedly shoots him, dead, early on the morning of May 9th in Via Conte Federico as he goes to open his retail shop. Another mark against Russo was that he had been close to Michele Graviano, of the Brancaccio cosca.
Two weeks later, both Grado and Contorno are arrested by the Palermo Flying Squad in a seaside villa in San Nicola L'Arena, thirty kilometres south of the city. The police are amazed to discover in the house a small arsenal of rifles, pistols, machine-guns, boxes of ammunition, two-way radios and police uniforms.
The law is also surprised to catch Contorno. They thought he was still in America where he had gone to live with his family as part of America's witness protection program following his act of pentimento back in 1986, and his confession to Judge Giovanni Falcone. Contorno had, in fact, come back to Sicily in October 1988 to earn some cash and help his cousin, Gaetano Grado, kill some people. The police are amazed to find Contorno back in Sicily, the one place on the planet where he should logically have never returned to if he valued his life.
Grado is prosecuted and sentenced to a long prison term. In 2000, he becomes another pentito to add to the long and growing list of Mafia informers.
Salvatore Contorno's aunt, Maria Antonina, is married to Benedetto Grado. This is his link into the story. The Contorno and Grado families are closely bound through social and criminal ties.
Born in Palermo, May 28th 1946, Contorno leaves school at thirteen and works in the family business, before setting up as a butcher, wholesale and retail, opening a cold-room and shop in Corso dei Mille in the Brancaccio district. His father, Antonino, and his older brother are both Mafiosi, and he naturally gravitates into this world. A tall, morose-looking, stocky man, with long hair, he is strong and ferociously brave. He comes to the notice of Stefano Bontate, and they become friends, often hunting wild animals in the countryside around Palermo.
Supplementing his butchery business, Contorno is into cigarette smuggling, swindling, kidnapping, receiving and trading stolen property and like so many of his peers, drug trafficking.
The underboss of the family, Girolamo “Mimmi” Teresi sponsors him, and he is inducted in the Santa Maria di Gesù Mafia clan in 1975: the transfer into the Mafia, not the entering of an association, more the becoming of something bigger than life itself. Becoming Stessa Cosa, the same thing.
The night before his ceremony one of the family's soldiers takes him to the scene of a mob killing. As the victim forced to kneel in the dust of a Sicilian village, is shot in the back of the head and collapses before his eyes, the soldier says to Contorno, “This is how you die.”
He doesn't even blink.
Contorno becomes one of ten men chosen as the personal bodyguards of Stefano Bontate. He becomes well-known throughout the Mafia underworld and earns the reputation as “the best man of honor in Palermo.” A man with a splendid reputation. He remembers when involved with other men of honor: “There was not a lot of chatter, In circles like ours where the less said sounds the better, half a sentence is sufficient.”
Bontate thinks so highly of Contorno that on two occasions, in 1974 and 1979, he takes him to meetings held in Naples, at the farm of the infamous Camorristi brothers, Angelo, Ciro and Lorenzo Nuvoletto, in Marono di Naples where he meets such Mafiosi notables as Federico Riina, Tommaso Spadora, Salvatore La Nunzia, Giuseppe Calo and the Calderone brothers, Giuseppe, and Antonino.
It's about cigarette smuggling, one of Cosa Nostra's big earners before babania (heroin) came along.
Everyone admires Contorno. Except the police. After one arrest too many, he is convicted of Mafia membership and is served a prison sentence, and then is sent into exile, to Venice, from 1976 until 1979. On his return to Palermo, he realizes there is a wind of change blowing strongly from the southeast. From the lair of the Corleonesi. And it's a wind that will do nothing for the fortunes of the Mafia families he is associated with. They are destined to become the losers in the carnage that will come.
First it is Bontate on his birthday, April 23rd, in 1981. The Corleonesi ambush him while he is driving his bullet-proof car, a Giulietta 2000. He's stopped at traffic lights and has the window open. The radio playing, as he nods his head to the music.
Pino Greco, the Corleonesi's El Mariachi, pulls up alongside, takes advantage of the open window, and blows him to pieces with his trusty Kalashnikov. On May 11th, the same weapon does the same damage, this time to Salvatore Inzerillo, leaving him sprawled in the street, sieved like a colander outside his girlfriend’s apartment. His head looks like someone's stepped on it. Heavily.
Bontate had to die as he was the head of the most powerful Mafia clan on the island and the only one big enough and strong enough to represent a serious obstacle to Riina's hegemonic designs. The Corelonesi had been working on a plan for ten years to isolate and eliminate him without any negative repercussions. The Inzerillo killing two weeks after Bontate's ensured that there would be no revenge extracted or attempted by other Mafiosi sympathetic to the victims in what was to be the most savage confrontation ever seen in the Mafia of Sicily.
It's all on in what will become to be called the Second Mafia War. Although in the early stages, it's less a war, more of a one-sided wipe-out.
Contorno narrowly avoids his own demise, by refusing to accompany Mimi Teresi and a group of men who head off for a meeting on May 27th, 1981, with the newly appointed family boss, Ignanzio Pullera. The four men go for a visit into the country, to the farm of Nino Sorci, (a wealthy and long- established drug dealer, who had been close at one time to American gangster Lucky Luciano,) who had guaranteed their safety, for a mangiata, a peacemaking, and become disappeared.
On June 25th, the Corleonesi come after him, big time. The word was out all over Palermo. “Get Contorno.”
He and his eleven-year-old cousin, Giuseppe Figliatta, along with Contorno's son, had been to visit Contorno's parents at their apartment on Via Ciaculli. Driving back to their safe house along Via Emiro Giafar, in a Fiat 127, about 7:30 pm, as they reached the bridge over the railway lines, they are ambushed by Pino Greco and his killers. A BMW saloon comes up on one side, and two men on a Honda 1000cc motor-bike enfilade him from the other side. The attack squad is Pino Greco, riding pillion, armed with his trusty Kalashnikov behind Giuseppe Lucchese, with Filippo Lucchese, Mario Prestifilippo and Salvatore Marchese in the car. It is the same commando squad that killed Bontate and Inzerillo. The motorbike and the BMW had been stolen in Palermo in April.
The police find 22 shell casings in the street along with the ruptured Fiat with at least 20 bullet holes in the body and windows of the vehicle.
Although Contorno is armed only with a .38 caliber revolver, he fights off the attack and the three in the Fiat 127 escape, on foot into the maze of streets that is the slums of Brancaccio.
Following the flawed attempt on his life, he becomes known in the Palermo underworld as Coriolana della Floresta, abbreviated to Curiano. The name refers to a central character in a popular novel by Luigi Natole, Beati Paoli, which many believe is the first book written about the Mafia. Coriolana is a whiz at getting out of tight spots. A Palermo police report confirms that Contorno is a man with an intuitive, animal-like instinct, an ability to sense danger and incredibly quick reflexes which explain how he has survived so many attempts on his life.
Contorno's face is badly cut by the shattered car windows. He is allegedly cared for by a doctor, Sebastiano Bosio. Nine months later, Contorno is in Rome, where he has gone to track down and kill Pippo Calo, the boss of the Palermo Porto Nuova family, who he believes is one of the men responsible for the killing of Bontate. By then, Doctor Bosio is dead. Contorno will lose 35 relatives and friends and associates over the years, as the Corleonesi take out their frustration on anyone and everyone connected to him.
Bosio is head of vascular surgery at Palermo's Civic Hospital. He is 52, married with two young daughters. At dusk, the evening of November 6th 1981, he and his wife, Rosalba Patania, are leaving his office in Via Simone Cuccia, when two young men dressed in jeans and sweaters walk up to them and shoot the doctor four times. He is dead as he hits the pavement. They shoot him twice as he stands, and just to make sure, twice more when he falls down. The men escape in a white Fiat 127 driven by a third man.
For thirty years it was thought he was killed by the Corleonesi for tending to Contorno, but evidence in a court case in 2014 indicates that the killers, almost certainly Antonio and Giuseppe Madonia, may have carried out the execution for all sorts of other reasons. Contorno would, in fact, deny being treated by the doctor. His cousin Gaetano Grado had apparently created the story of Bosio's involvement.
Antonio Madonia is known in the Mafia as u Dutturi, the Doctor because he had studied and was a cultured person. Ironically they chose a man called the doctor to kill the doctor.
On March 23rd, 1982, Contorno is arrested in Rome, hiding out in a farm. While held in prison in Pisa, he learns there is a huge bounty being offered throughout the Italian prison system for anyone who can kill him, and he hands himself over to the governor and declares he will become a state witness. He works with Commisario Ninni Cassarà, Police Chief from Palermo, who is so impressed by the level of knowledge that pours from this informant, he calls him il mio fonte di Primo Luce, my source of First Light.
Back in Palermo, Contorno and Tomasso Buscetta join forces, working with Judge Giovanni Falcone and his dedicated team of anti-Mafia lawyers, helping to prepare the prosecution of the Maxi-Trial, the biggest, 452 defendants, and the longest, over two years, starting October 1985, criminal trial ever held in Sicily.
Contorno personally identifies 158 members of Cosa Nostra and his evidence results in the arrest of 162 on charges ranging from drug trafficking to murder.
When someone asks him why he turned, he stated: “I have decided to collaborate because Cosa Nostra is a band of cowards and murderers.”
While he is giving evidence in Sicily, another major trial involving the Sicilian Mafia begins in New York in February 1986. It will also seemingly run forever, but, in fact, last for almost two years, and becomes known as The Pizza Connection. It is about drug trafficking on a Brobdingnagian scale, and Contorno is encouraged to travel to America, with his family, become a witness for the prosecution, and then enter the American Witness Protection Program. (The Italian version had not yet been created.) All of which happens.
And then, in 1989 he is back in Sicily, killing people. Between then and 2004 he will move back and forth between the Italian protection services, prison, and safe houses on the mainland. And then disappears into obscurity.
In November/December 2009, Megazone Documentaries, a subsidiary of Greek Mega TV, presented a television two part series about his cousin, on Mega Channel.
It is titled, “Gaetano Grado: Natural Born Mafioso.”
In the program, he says on one occasion, “We didn't care about the law. For us it didn’t exist, the Italian law, the Italian government didn’t exist. There was our law and that was it. I was never afraid because a proper Sicilian is born with death inside him. I never felt afraid. For me, to live or to die was always the same thing. The most important thing is to die with dignity. If death comes, what can I do? I hope to pull the trigger and witness many "feasts" (funerals) of my enemies. Forgive me for my language but if they’d come to kill me now, I’d spit on their face.”
In October 2012, while in Rebibbia Prison, Rome, giving evidence in the trial against Senator Marcello Dell' Utri he swears under oath, that Mafia drug money was moved to Milan to invest in companies owned by Silvio Berlusconi. He claimed a “river of billions of Lira” flooded into the hands of Vittorio Mangano, a Palermitan Mafioso who worked for Berlusconi, and through him to Dell 'Utri then onto Berlusconi.
Grado now lives under police protection, somewhere in Italy. He is 73 years of age with a lifetime of memories and no doubt some regrets. In February 1995, his only son, Marcello, aged 23, was shot dead early in the morning, on the Piazza Palmerino, in inner-city Palermo. It was yet another warning from his enemies up in the hills.
In 1992, Rosalia, the daughter of Benedetto Grado, is crossing the road over the River Oreto on her way into the city. At the end of the bridge on the northern side, fronting the Agipp gas station are two huge billboards. One of them is showing the photo of her father's death scene. Although in garish color. It's an advertisement for Benetton. Promoting their summer ranges. She is horrified, She cannot understand how her father's death has anything to do with the sale of sweaters. She claims the family will sue Benetton for damages. The picture is there for everyone to see and offends the family. It's nine years since she knelt by the body of her father-in-law. The poster brings it all back.
One night in September 2011, Giuseppe Calascibetta - photo left, who had risen to be head of the old Bontate family, and had been released from prison in 2007, goes out to buy a loaf of bread. As he stops near his home at number 16 Via Bagnera, in the Belmonte Chiavelli quarter of Palermo, he is killed as he sits behind the wheel, of his Ligier Microcar, waiting for the electronic gate to his drive to open. Multiple shots to the head and the chest. Close range. Through the open window of the car. Police investigators believe he knew his killer and had opened the window to talk to him. Ironically, he dies only a few hundred meters from the killing scene of Benedetto Grado, almost thirty years before.
As they say in Italy: Cambiano i suonatori ma la musica è sempre quella: The melody's changed, but the song remains the same.
Like any photographic image, the one of Benedetto Grado's death scene is an indication of more than just the subject that has attracted the photographer. In Sicily, people live a life where fear is traded in exchange for respect; where a look is worth more than a thousand words, and where murder is used as an instrument for exercising control over those who oppose them. We mustn’t limit ourselves to observe only the foreground of a photograph, we need to look also at what is depicted at the edges.
Franco Zecchin set up his camera that day in Via Falsomiele and claimed forever an image that recorded not just violent death, and the stunned grief and the hopelessness of its victims, but the beginning of a story that would stretch over the next thirty years, taking us out of the edges of the imagery into the netherworld and depths of something so abstruse, as to be almost empyrean in its complexities and implications. An endless variation on a theme so dense, as to be well-nigh inconceivable.
Intractable conflicts involving a huge cast of players using multiple programs to achieve various and different objectives over an extended period of time. Acts of criminality on a grand scale. Murders in every shape and form committed against every level of society. The bad guys and the good guys, with always the emphasis on the bad. A dark energy of evil never seen before or since, in somewhere that was never a place for the timid. In a land where its citizens have learned at great cost, never to trust outsiders and have found ways to invalidate written laws as though they never existed. A country where murderous crime has always sat like a heavy meal. An indigestion of killing. A place that spawned the synergy that developed the source of the power that brought Zecchin that cold November day to point his camera and shoot.
The Mafia of Sicily. Who always seem to be killing someone, somewhere, for some reason.
Acknowledgment: I would like to thank CG known on Mafia Forums as Puparo for helping me sort out a conundrum that had me foxed.
You can read more of Thom L. Jones stories at his Mob Corner at Gangsters Inc.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy reading:
- Give a Man a Gun: The story of Carmine DiBiase
- In search of the Corleonesi: How the Mafia changed forever
- A Chicago Mob Story: The Man who boved being a Gangster
- A mean street in Queens: To kill a cop
- The Man Who Stole the French Connection
- Joe Barboza: Boston Barbarian
Copyright © Thom L. Jones 2015