By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” - Henry David Thoreau
Francesco Di Carlo knew what it was about. And so did Angelo Fontana and Francesco Onorato, and Francesco Marino Mannoia, Giovanni Brusca, Nino Giuffre, Calogero Ganci, and Rosario Naimo.
Everyone, it seems, had a story to tell.
Coming in from the cold, the mafia pentiti (penitents,) the collaborators of justice, had stories to tell, information to bleed out drop by drop, each recollection, every memory, part of their rehabilitation, or more likely, a ticket to a better deal with the government. Forgive me for my murders and I’ll tell you about the ones you couldn’t solve.
Or even worse, didn’t know about.
Like the way we killed a woman, an innocent woman, her end predetermined because of her fate.
No random act of violence. Not the wrong place at the wrong time. A death that was planned and set in motion by the doctrine of Sicily’s most intractable criminal syndicate.
We murder and steal and corrupt everything around us, but don’t dare have an affair of the heart. Never cast doubt on the mafia family honor by falling in love. Especially when you marry and have a child.
In mafia-land, what has love to do with anything?
A young woman murdered in cold blood. By her father. Because the brotherhood demanded it. She was an adulteress. A sin worse than murder or thieving or extortion. In the cruel, twisted world of Sicily’s mafia, honor trumps sin, in the worst possible way.
How do you kill your own child; what would drive you to filicide, the most evil of all evils that a human can surely commit? Under the rules of mafia morality, it all makes sense.
A beautiful young girl full of life and joy and happiness, turning into an equally beautiful young woman. A mother with a child. Everything to live for, gone in seconds, because she longed for happiness. But those that wanted her dead would make sure it was short-lived.
Not only would they kill her, they would also murder her source of happiness. Two. For the price of one. No one kills quite like Cosa Nostra.
And they do it to her, in a shop that provides everything for life: a health and child-care store. If irony is the conflict between appearance and reality, nothing could highlight her tragic end in quite the same way, dazzling in its conception.
Rosalia Pipitone (right) grew up in the shadow of a life governed by social rules that made her not only confused, but isolated from the very essence of her upbringing. Her only crime was to be the daughter of the mafia.
It gets worse.
She is only eleven when her mother, Caterina Lo Pinto, dies. She had a brother, Domenico, and although Pipitone remarried again, to Rosa Cina in November 1971, her paternal aunt becomes the primary carer. The upbringing is almost monastic. She is a sister with no brothers. Although this is not Lia, the name by which everyone will call her as she grows into womanhood.
She wants the world and will defy everything in her determination to achieve her own special happiness. In her way, is u ziu nino. Uncle Nino to his mafia henchmen. Antonino Pipitone (left). Her mafioso father.
Born in October 1929, in Palermo, he grows up in a city that dates back almost 3000 years and changes from a baroque-flavored cosmopolitan center in the south of Italy, as much African as Italian, into a sprawling, concrete jungle of a place filled with tenement blocks created for the rural diaspora of the fifties and sixties.
The “Sack of Palermo” that takes place during the late 1950s and early 1960s as beautiful old buildings and complete streets are torn down and replaced by high-rise housing, driven by the greed and ambition of the mafia clans lining their endlessly deep pockets with the spoils of corrupted politicians and city bureaucrats.
Aquasanta gets its share, and this sea-side suburb, the home of Palermo’s docklands, long a mafia chapter, dating back into the nineteenth century, is governed by people like Nino Pipitone, who is a boss here. His father, Domenico, and his uncles, were mafiosi, so it almost destined him to follow the same path.
Pipitone is a staunch, dependable follower of the code, and survives a major upheaval of the family as they reorganize and fold into the Arenella and Partanna Mondello cosche under the leadership of Rosario Riccobono, a major drug trafficker within Cosa Nostra and important enough to be a member of the mafia Commission, the ruling body set up in 1957 to manage and control the activities of the various clans in Sicily. Pipitone becomes the consigliere, or counselor to the family.
He becomes the boss of Arenella after the mafia murdered Riccobono in November 1982, and Vincenzo Galatolo takes over Aquasanta. Who is who and which boss is in charge is not really important in this story It’s background. Foliage in a forest that moves with the wind.
A boss comes and goes, soldiers die, murder is part of the tapestry of life. Everyone seems to have the same name, as Sicilian tradition determines they name male children after father and grandfather. In one biological and mafia family, there could be ten Salvatores, all with the same surname. Vowels fall over themselves, confusing us with their endless, mind-numbing repetition.
The one constant is the murder machine that drives Cosa Nostra. Ordinary life is anathema to men of the mafia. They view its confusion and uncertainty through a different prism than normal people.
The names that count are Vincenzo and Angelo Galatolo. Uncle and nephew. Killers-in-law.
Angelo’s father, Giuseppe, known as Pinuzzo, is Vincenzo’s brother and a senior member of the Aquasanta clan. Born in 1944, Vincenzo, who will become boss of the district, lives at Number 7 Vicolo Pipitone, a dead-end street near the waterfront. A street with no view but much mafia history.
Generations of mafiosi have lived here, in this scruffy neighborhood, especially the Galatolos. They murdered many of their victims in this squalid alley-way. They planned big-time atrocities here.
The killing of the judiciary a number one priority.
They plot and plan the assassination of Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the Prefect of Palermo, gunned down with his wife and bodyguard in September 1982. In the same year it’s the fate of Pio La Torre, head of The Italian Communist Party. Nini Cassara, a chief in the Palermo Flying Squad, dies at their hands; these men decide Judge Rocco Chinnici’s end, huddled around a table in this street of death.
Working like beavers under the guidance and supervision of Salvatore Riina, Sicily’s major boss since the incarceration in 1974 of Luciano Leggio, mafia families gather here in Vicolo Pipitone like a murder of crows.
The killing squads mobilize for their briefings and weapons. Gruppo di fuoco, they call it. Fire Team. Men Like Pino Greco, Giuseppe Lucchese, Antonio Marchese, Mario Prestifilippo and many, many others. They would massacre and then go out wining and dining at Palermo’s finest restaurants. Almost all of them will die by the same violence they justified throughout their mafia lives.
This was the environment in which she Lia grew up.
Starting from seventeen, she studied art, and at The Accademia di Bella Arti, in Palermo, she meets a young man, Gero Cordaro, who is a year older. They have much in common, share the same free-wheeling love of life, and soon are a pair.
She loves the poems and stories of Chilean author Pablo Neruda and the music of Italian Federico Guccini, a voice of the “social” movement era, which obsessed many young people during the 1970s and 1980s.
Someone remarked about her, “She had her own inner orchestra, a rich instrumentation expressing her hopes and desires.”
In the summer of 1977, she traveled by train to Ragusa in the far south-east of Sicily and met up with Gero. She spends an idyllic week with him before returning to Palermo, knowing her father is looking for her, at least two of his men tracking her movements. But still restless, and bridling under the controlling nature of her father, left Arenella again, to be with her lover.
He is from San Giovanni Gemini, a small town in Agrigento Province, fifty miles south of Arenella. Lia spends time with his family, loving the bucolic lifestyle, far from the teeming streets of the big city. They marry when she is eighteen, and although she invites her father to the celebration, he refuses to attend.
In September 1978, with no work prospects, they return to Palermo and move in with her aunt. Nino then finds them a place of their own and organizes a job for Gero, working in one of the tax offices run by the Salvo brothers, the richest men in Sicily, In bed with Cosa Nostra.
They have a child, a son, they call Alessio, and then it all turns bad.
In the summer of 1983, Lia and Gero drift apart. Marrying young and then having a baby can do this. The plans, the dreams, the aspirations of a life drowned in the monotony of work and children. She cuts her blonde hair and dyes it black. Changes her clothing choices, moves back into the free-rolling lifestyle she had adopted before her marriage.
Lia turns to a distant cousin for solace and comfort, a young man called Simone Di Trapani. They meet and socialize, and everyone notices in a small place like Arenella. They may have become lovers, although this is never definitely established, yet evidence will emerge that they have known each other in some kind of relationship, at least four or five years before her death.
A rumor is enough to start an avalanche of gossip. Nino Pipitone becomes aware of the innuendos and demands that his daughter break off the relationship and return to her husband. She refuses. There is a major row between father and daughter. It’s alleged he spits in her face, insults her and insists she terminate the relationship. Lia, being Lia, shakes her head, and walks away. From her father, and unknowingly, from life itself.
Early in the evening of Friday, September 23, 1983, she goes shopping in Arenella, and about seven-thirty, is at the Farmababy Shop on Via Papa Sergio. A health and child-care product store, she is stocking up for the weekend, food, and other necessities for her young son. While in the store, she turns to use a pay phone on the wall.
They approach the serving counter and threaten the owners, Giovanni Lo Monaco and his wife, Rosalia Sciortino, demanding their cash. They hand over the day’s takings, 250,000 lira, about US$155.
What happens next is based on the shop owners’ testimony, which subsequent investigations determine leaves a lot of doubt. Some versions of their testimony claim the men shoot Lia in the leg and leave the shop, one returning shouting, “She recognizes me,” and then shooting her multiple times in the body. Others that this happens during the raid. Either way, none of it makes any sense: she wasn’t a threat to them, in any form. Killing her makes an armed robbery into murder with the obvious legal consequences.
It’s a pointless, unexplained reaction, unless, of course, it isn’t. Cosa Nostra do everything for a purpose. They embedded their history of violence in a culture nurtured through its labyrinthine politics.
Rushed by ambulance to Villa Sofia hospital, ten minutes away, they transfer her to Ospedale Civico, Palermo’s leading trauma unit, where she dies later that night at 10.20 pm.
In 1983, in Palermo, the mafia murdered a judge, six police officers, an apartment manager, and a building contractor. No one knows for sure how many mafiosi killed other mafiosi. Lia was the city’s 85th known murder victim for the year. Scattered like mustard seeds, there are bodies everywhere. Neighborhoods, suburbs, districts are charnel houses for death by violence. Shot down in doorways, blown up by car bombs, smeared on the streets, the ambush of murder is ubiquitous.
During the funeral for his daughter, people observed that Antonino Pipitone appeared calm, almost serene, with a faint smile across his face as if to say…... everything is under control. From the perspective of Cosa Nostra, it was.
He would live out the ends of his life in quiet medication, no doubt longing for adventure and death.
- READ: Basta! How Sicily’s Antimafia movement successfully fights Cosa Nostra
Exploits to fill his days, keep him occupied until he could close his eyes forever against the nightmare he must have endured in all those long years since that September evening.
It came for him in 2010. Nearly thirty years after the brutal murder of Lia.
Angelo Fontana, a nephew of Vincenzo Galatolo and a member of the Aquasanta clan, claimed in his testimony, “For us, killing was like going to buy bread. Inside Cosa Nostra, we knew it (her murder) was to save face, to save honor. The daughter was killed because she dishonored her father. In short, before, after, during, we always talked about this one thing.”
That they carried out no intervention to identify the robbers who had killed the daughter of a mafia boss was all the proof needed to confirm it was an inside job.
Riccobono’s wife is mugged one afternoon by a twenty-year-old street thug called Claudio Orlando. He’s traced, hunted down, killed by Fontana and the Galatolos, and his body disposed of within a few days.
Fontana confirmed who the killers were on Via Pappa Sergio- Vincenzo Galatolo and his nephew, Angelo Galatolo.
Although Lia is gone, the problem remained. Murdering her in cold blood is part one of a two-part story in the art of dealing out death to innocent people.
The day after they killed Lia, two men dressed as maintenance workers for Palermo Gas, visited a fourth-floor apartment in a building on Piazza General Cascino, It is the home of Simone Di Trapani. There is no noise, no disturbance, until his body falls out of the window, crashing down into the street below. When the police arrive, they find a note he left behind which in part reads, “I kill myself for love.”
Which of course he didn’t. His evacuation into oblivion is determined by the two Galatolos.
Ironically, as their son is being murdered across town, Simone’s parents are visiting Nino Pipitone to offer their condolences at the loss of his daughter.
Twenty-five days after the murder of Lia Pipitone, Angelo Galatolo is driving through Palermo on a Tuesday morning. Outside the Church of Don Orione on via Ammiraglia Rizzotto, a police car pulls him over. The cops knew all about Angelo. There is a warrant on him, outstanding for robbery, murder, and kidnapping. At thirty-two, he has a lengthy police file for mayhem.
Jumping out of the car, he shoots at the officers, who return fire, fatefully wounding him.
The priest attending morning mass at the church, on hearing the gunshots, rushes out to the street, finding Galatolo sprawled on the pavement leaking blood. Cradling him in his arms, he hears his last words, “Do you think the Lord will forgive me for all the evil I have done.”
Police investigation of Lia’s murder goes nowhere, and a year later, the magistrate in charge closes it as an “unsolved crime.” Ignoto. Unknown. And so it will remain for years. Palermo is a city that has played host to so many mysterious deaths over endless years. They archive this one along with all the rest. As is Simone’s.
As he grows up, Alessio is told that his mother had died in a road accident. And there it remains. Until 2003.
The police arrest Nino Pipitone and charge him with his daughter’s murder. The first sign that her death was more than a random shooting during a robbery, was when Francesco Marino Mannoia, a soldier in the Bontate family of Palermo, rolls and becomes one of the government’s most significant informants against the mafia. Over the years of his testimony, in both Italy and America, he discloses the details of Lia’s killing.
Although Pipitone goes to trial in 2004, there is not enough evidence to convince the court and they dismiss the charges. The pentiti testimony is hearsay and not strong enough.
Francesco Madonia was head of the Resuttana mandemento (3) and although in prison for the rest of his life, still ran things through his son, Antonino. Everyone called him Ninuzzu.
He summoned Pipitone and told him his father wanted the Lia problem resolved. They agreed the only way was the ultimate way. Ninuzzu then summoned Vincenzo Galatolo and told him to sort it. He did.
Gero, Lia’s estranged husband, visited Nino Pipitone sometime towards the end of summer that fateful year. He recalled in their conversation that the father has said, “She’s better dead than separated.” (4)
In July 2019, the law finally brought Vincenzo Galatolo and Ninuzzu Madonia to justice. Tried and found guilty for the murder of Rosalia Pipitone, they each receive a sentence of thirty years, to be added to all the years they are currently serving for other atrocities as mafiosi.
Francesco Del Bene, public prosecutor in Palermo had re-opened the cold case based on new and first-hand testimony from mafia informants.
According to Nino Caleca, the lawyer representing Gero, “the verdict has a value that goes beyond the convictions of Madonia and Galatolo: It means overturning the mafia mentality in a city that is still a victim of it.”
It had taken thirty-six years for justice to be served, although the real criminal had died nine years earlier. A man who was part of an organization so steeped in evil, its own members regretted being part of it.
In 2019, law enforcement records Giulio Caporrimo, the current boss of the San Lorenzo family, in his residence in Florence, where he is in exile from his mob, talking to himself. Repeatedly. In one of his “conversations,” he claims the mafia Commission, set up after 1957, to manage and control the diverse activities of the many clans across the island of Sicily, once an example to the world, has been replaced “by mud, and wretches and organized garbage. I left the garbage, because the garbage has now become organized.”
Greek philosopher Plotonus claimed that mankind is poised between the gods and the beasts. Antonino Pipitone was so far right of center, he was out of sight.
"If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life." - Pablo Neruda
Background for this story is from various websites, newspapers reports, and court documents covering mafia collaborators’ testimony and the trial of Antonino Pipitone in 2004 for the murder of his daughter. I have also drawn from a book co-written by her son (2)
1) In June 1963, a car bomb explodes on a quiet lane in Ciaculli, a countryside suburb of Palermo, killing a squad of seven police and soldiers. Michele Cavataio, the boss of Aquasanta, is believed to have been the man who organized this, In December 1969, gunmen shoot him dead in a mob attack on the Palermo office of a building contractor.
2) Palazzole, Salvo and Cordaro, Alessio, Se Muoio Sopravvivimi, Italy: Melapo, 2012.
3) At this time in Sicily, the mafia clans were grouped in units of three called madamenti. Resuttana comprised San Lorenzo, Arenella and Aquasanta, each run by its own boss, answerable to the head of the group.
4) Gero Cordaro was at one time suspected of being complicit in the killing of his wife. In the book written by his son, he claims:
“At the trial (2004) I said that I remembered little or nothing, and in fact I could only report suspicions and suppositions. I also wanted to safeguard Alessio. I had decided to raise a protective barrier and experience Lia’s death as a private matter, and at the time I acted accordingly. Then something changed. Alessio has grown up, other collaborators have added new details, I have developed a different anti-mafia conscience, and I have decided to speak.”
He also claimed, “During the trial, before my deposition, in a resentful and authoritarian tone, her father told me that he had serious health problems and therefore I would have had to declare as little as possible otherwise he would never be released from prison .”
Vincenzo Galatolo’s daughter, Giovanna, affirmed during testimony in February 2014, that she witnessed Gero talking to Nino Pipitone about this wife’s infidelity and seeking satisfaction from her father.
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