By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
Part One - Part Two
Through 1958 tensions rose and it was becoming increasingly obvious that Doctor Navarra and Luciano Leggio were heading for a showdown. Navarra, despite being well educated and a man of the world, did not really understand the mentality of the younger man. It is said in Sicily that a man can be as powerful as God, but if someone has the nerve to shoot him, he will die just like anyone.
The breaking point was water.
Sicily is a country that suffers extreme temperatures during the summer months, sometimes up to 100 degrees centigrade or even higher. Water is critical to the survival of the agricultural-driven economy of the western regions. Farmers obtained their water supplies from privately held artesian sources. Navarra and his associates controlled most of these wells.
In the 1950s the Belice River became part of a project created by the Consorzio di Bonifica dell ’Alto Medio Belice-an association of all landowners along the river- to create a huge dam on Piana della Scala, north-west of Corleone. The confederation covered 16000 hectares of land, three provinces, 20 towns and 35,000 owners. The multi-national General Electric Company had indicated it would be interested in being part of the development should it go ahead. This would supply water to a significant area in western Sicily including the hugely profitable fruit growing regions of the Conca D’Oro to the west of the metropolitan area of the city of Palermo.
The problems surrounding the development of the proposed dam were not confined only to Corleone, but as Salvatore Lupo pointed out in his book on the Mafia, they stretched all the way along State Highway 118 into the biggest city in Sicily.
For obvious reasons, Navarra as a major owner of artesian water supplies, was against this project, as were many of the major Mafia figures in Palermo who also controlled water rights across north-west Sicily. Leggio on the other hand, could see significant opportunities through lucrative contracts for his haulage business and in the supply of essential goods and services to the main builders and contractors who would be employed in the project.
He and his group actively supported Prince Giardinelli who chaired the confederation. He was however, overthrown in the annual election, and his place taken by a lawyer, Alberto Genzardi, who just happened to be the son-in-law of Comporeale Mafia boss, Vanni Sacco, a man close to Navarra and someone with as many vested interest in seeing the project stumble. A third of the elected officials in this election turned out to be Mafiosi, or family relatives.
The doctor and his allies effectively squashed the chance of Leggio making big money. The two men were continually at loggerheads over this.
In the early days of their relationship, Navarra had looked upon the small, stunted, lop-sided killer with some kind of affection, referring to him as cosa sua personale (his own personal thing.) Now, when talking to his associates, the doctor was so incensed with Leggio he would refer to him as a ‘jerk’ or a ‘tramp.’
After 14 years, the partnership was about due for termination. Without realizing it, Michele Navarra had according to a local saying, been waiting like a dead man on holiday, to be murdered.
Angelo Vintaloro was a loyal member of Navarra’s inner circle. A staunch supporter of the doctor and a good friend, as well as a member of the Corleone cosca. He bought an estate of 120 acres and was one of the farmers who resisted the Belice River project.
Leggio and his group began to badger Vintaloro-breaking into his sheds and destroying casks of wine, and stealing the wheat that had been harvested through the early summer. He even demanded a ransom from Vintaloro to stop the harassment, and it was this that triggered Navarra’s attempt to end the Leggio problem once and for all.
At the doctor’s orders, men under Marco Marino set up a plan to kill Leggio in July as he rode on horseback back to his farm from one of his secret abattoirs, thinking he was going to collect on his extortion plan.
The group of killers including Marino, Antonio Mangiameli, Giovanni Marino, Antonio Maiuri, Francesco Paolo Streva and others, hiding in a barn, set up an ambush outside Leggio’s place at 7:00 am one morning in July as he and a group of his men, including Francesco Leggio, Leoluca Leggio and Giuseppe Ruffino returned. From visiting one of Leggio’s illegal abbatoirs It was a dismal failure. Because of their fear of Leggio (left), the hidden gunmen opened fire too early.
Although he was wounded, shot in the hand with buckshot, he escaped through the help of one of his own killers, a goatherd called Salvatore Sottile. Another account of the ambush, according to a report published by the carabinieri, credits Leggio’s uncle setting up the hit, and ensuring no one was seriously hurt, intending to provoke a war between Leggio and Navarra. The double, triple and even quadruple-cross have always been an essential element in the psychology of the Mafia.
In August 1958, Leggio struck back.
On Saturday the 2nd Dr. Navarra had an appointment with the Mutual Farmers Fund Co-operative in Lercara Friddi. Famous for almost nothing except perhaps the birthplaces of Frank Sinatra’s paternal grandfather and that of notorious American Mafioso, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, it lies fifteen miles south-east of Corelone. He was driven there by a medical associate, Dr. Giovanni Russo. Some sources claim he was a doctor, others, a dentist. They went in the doctor’s car, a black Fiat 1100.
The meeting ended by lunchtime and the two men were motoring along State Highway 118, back to Corleone, when at approximately 12:30 pm near Porta Imbriaca, a few miles out of Prizzi, an Alfa Romeo 1900 travelling in front of them suddenly stopped. Dr. Russo rammed the back of the other car, staving in the front of his, and damaging the rear of the Alfa.
At that point, the front car emptied out a group of armed men, and according to some reports, a small, red, covered van appeared behind the Fiat filled with other gunmen. Firing a variety of automatic and semi-automatic weapons the hit-team raked the black car. The windows and windscreen were shattered and both passengers were killed instantly.
Although dozens, perhaps hundreds of shots were fired, autopsies on the two corpses showed that Russo had been hit eight times, and Navarra seven. Each body contained a variety of different calibre bullets.
When the police arrived at 3:30pm they found Dr. Russo slumped back in the driving seat and Navarra curled up, lying on his lap. Someone, perhaps Leggio, had given Navarra a final benediction, firing a lupara into his mouth, at close range.
Numerous fragments of broken, red glass, from the shattered rear lights of the Alfa, were found in the middle of the road and collected as evidence. Forensic examination of the scene, revealing 92 shell casings, confirmed that among other weapons, Breda 6.35mm and Thompson .45 calibre sub-machine guns were used in the shooting.
Police and carabinieri investigating the killings, believed that the hit team consisted of:
Luciano Leggio along with Francesco, Vincenzo, Giuseppe and Lelucca Leggio, Giacomo Riina, Giuseppe Ruffino and Bernardo Muratore. Almost certainly along for the ride would have been Salvatore Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and most likely Leoluca and Calogero Bagarella. This was the core of Leggio’s group that he had been developing over ten years.
Luciano Leggio & Giuseppe Ruffino
The killing of Navarra could be seen to be simply an act of revenge by Leggio, or a matter of self-preservation. However there was another story that went around, that in fact he had been commissioned to carry out the murder by Don Genco Russo, Zi Peppi Jencu, the omnipotent Mafia boss in Sicily, based in Mussomeli, and a leading figure in the honoured society on the island, who wanted the doctor killed for his own, particular reasons.
The ageing Don was struggling to come to terms with the new, emerging powerhouses on the island, men like Gaspare Ponente, Paolo Bontà, Gaspare Badalmenti, Salvatore Le Barbera, Pietro Torreta, and the Greco cousins- Salvatore and Michele. Navarra was allying himself with some of these and creating heartburn for the old don.
The ‘Old Mafia’ of Sicily was nothing more than a system of godfathers and clients exchanging favours, services and other advantages; a Mafia as Salvatore Lupo points out, reduced to the general category of clientelism which would gradually wane as the country modernized. Russo was trying to hold back the new wave with a finger in the proverbial dam.
He had invited Leggio to his home for dinner, and then pronouncing Navarra‘s name, kissed Leggio on the forehead, saying: ‘I give you the life of the traitor in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’
Whatever triggered the act, it set in place events which would change the face of organized crime in Sicily, forever.
In the house of Doctor Navarra, in the small square in Corleone, down from the mother church, people came and went: ’u vistu, the sympathy visit, The women cried on each other, the men looked stiff and uncomfortable. Everyone exchanged kisses and spoke in hushed voices. The king was dead, but no one knew why, or who would replace him.
Calogero Vizzini, the Mafia don of Villaba, considered one of the most influential mob bosses Sicily had produced, could see where this was all leading, even before he died in 1954.
Morto io, morto la Mafia, he told journalist Indro Montinelli, ‘When I die, the Mafia dies.’
Leonardo Messina, the pentito, or informer, said:
‘The rise of the Corleonesi is a tragedy without end.’
Leggio and his successors began a campaign of organized terror that would turn Sicily into the Lebanon of Italy. This was however, all in the future.
He was called to account by senior members of the Sicilian Mafia in Palermo, but somehow escaped the normally extreme sanctions they would have imposed on someone with the temerity to carry out an act of this magnitude without their clearance. He simply told the head of this group, Salvatore Greco, the killing was a personal matter, and walked away.
According to the testimony of Tommaso Buscetta, (Dibattimento Vo 1. P. 37) the important Mafia figure who became an informant in 1984, the underlying cause of the crisis that would come to afflict the Mafia in the years that followed, was the unauthorized killing of Doctor Navarra by Leggio. It created the cycle of murder, intrigue and betrayal which would come to epitomize the Sicilian Mafia in the latter part of the twentieth century.
It was the start of a dynamic shift in the power politics within the mob that would not only encourage, but in fact make mandatory, a scorched earth policy in their approach to dominating their criminal landscape.
Nicolo Gentile, the ‘Passepartout’ of Italian organized crime, who never seemingly crossed Leggio’s path, although according to his biography, ‘Vita de Capo Mafia,’ the Corleonesi was probably the only one in twentieth century Mafia history who didn’t, wrote:
‘There died in Sicily an honoured society, the Mafia, which had its laws, its principles, an organization that protected the weak and ……its place was taken by people without honour, who robbed without restraint and killed for pay.’
Following the doctor’s death, Leggio set about systematically destroying Navarra‘s men. They were now led by Antonino Governale with Giovanni Trumbaduri as his counsellor and a group of about twenty or thirty hard-core Navarra supporters and second string picciotti. It became known in the town as la burrasca-the war-between the Liggiani (Leggio’s group) and the Navarriani (Dr. Navarra’s clan).
Leggio would have gathered his men around and said:
Org ci rumpemu I corna a tutti-‘Now we are going to break all their heads.’
And they did.
In the months that followed, killers led by Riina and Provenzano, murdered dozens of men. They were machine-gunned to death in groups as they stood talking on street corners, kidnapped and slaughtered, their bodies dumped into ditches and wells and blown out of chairs as they sat drinking beer or coffee inside and outside trattorias. Two gunmen, dressed identically in foppish, black velvet suits, actually drew down on each other, as they crossed the main piazza -Garibaldi-in Corleone. In a scene reminiscent of a B grade western movie, they approached each other, shooting simultaneously, and killing each other.
The dead were everywhere.
The first to be killed were Marco and Giovanni Marino, and Pietro Mauri and then Carmelo Lo Bue, son of the former capo of the family. The first three went down four weeks after the two doctors, on September 6th during an evening town procession celebrating the Madonna della Catena.
In a massive shoot-out on the Via Bentivegna, a fire-team consisting of Leggio, Giovanni Ruffio, Bernardo Marino, Calogero Bagarella, Salvatore Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Franco Mancusco, launched a fierce attack. In the wild shoot-out three pedestrians were injured including 30 year old Anna Santacolomba and her two year old daughter, and the three men were killed. Bernardo Provenzano was shot in the head and wounded, next to the perfume shop owned by Mrs. Santacolomba. Staggering into the hospital, his shirt soaked in blood, he claimed he’d simply been walking down the street on his way to the cinema and someone had shot him. The doctors were far too smart to argue, patched him up, and sent him on his way.
Carmelo Lo Bue went down on October 13th.
Mauri owned the only petrol station in the town, causing major headaches until his estate could be reconciled.
Paoli Riina and Vincenzo Cortimiglia, a gunslinger as fast and deadly as Franscesco Streva, and Biaggio and Giovanni Liggio, Vincenzo the brother of Pietro Mauri, and Anonio Governale, and Salvatore Cammarata an endless list of dead.
A man interviewed by a Palermo reporter commented:
'In Corleone they shoot people everywhere, wherever they happen to be. There’s hardly a corner in the town where people were not shot to death as a moist rag. They stove in their heads and cut off their hands. They use their lupara to send the message with buckshot, and 1911 Colts to blow men’s heads off. They killed people in the squares and on the steps of churches.’
There wasn’t a corner of the town that had not experienced the ‘Red Harvest’ as Dashiell Hammet described the inexhaustible blooding of the streets, in his classic 1929 detective novel.
Bastiano Orlando, Navarra’s closest confident and right-hand man, went to Palermo to try and reconcile the problems with the big guys in the big city, and never came back-a classic bianco lupara-the white death-missing in action. He was not the only one who disappeared.
Antonino Governale, the doctor’s underboss and Giovanni Trombatura the family consigliore, or advisor, also went missing, disappearing consecutively on April 5th and 10th 1961. They were followed by Bernardo Raia on September 22nd Giovanni Delo on December 21st and Vincenzo Listi on July 21st 1962. All vanished into thin air.
When the old men dressed in black congregated on the street corners, they would spit onto the road and say:
S’u mangier, ‘they’ve done him in.’ And they had.
No one of course, saw anything. ‘Who was killed?’ asked a reporter of a woman in black, weeping as she followed her son’s coffin in a funeral procession. ‘Why?’ she asked, ‘is anyone dead?’
The scourging of the Navarra faction went on until September 10th 1963. On that day, in a lane, high up in the hills, leading to the feudo Strasatto estate, Bernardo Provenzano accompanied by Leggio, Calogero Bagarella, Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Marino, gunned down Francesco Paolo Streva, along with Biaggio Pomilla and Antonio Piraino. Streva had been Dr. Navarra’s number one killer. A fearsome man who could shoot with great accuracy, using a pistol in each hand. Legend had it he could blow out the ace in a playing card at thirty feet, left or right. An ambidextrous assassin. Perhaps the only one in Sicily. There is a saying in the heartland of the Mafia, ‘those with a capacity to kill are left at peace.’
In the end, it only helped him live an extra five years.
The myth handed down from that killing scene is that the three men had been disabled with wounds to their legs. Provenzano then walked among them, executing each man with a gunshot to the head. The corpse of Biagio Pomilla was found kneeling, as though begging for his life.
More folklore has it that following this event, Leggio would say of Provenzano:
‘Brains of a chicken, but shoots like an angel!’
There had been an earlier attempt to remove Streva.
On May 9th Leggio and two of his top shooters-Giovanni Ruffino and Calogero Bagarella, along with the Provenzano brothers-ambushed Streva and some of his men at dawn, as they walked along the narrow, rubbish-strewn Via Scorsone, a street where members of the Riina and Bagarella families lived, in squalid houses, which often stabled animals such as goats, pigs, sheep and donkeys on the ground floor beneath the cramped living quarters. Although there were pistol and shotguns fired at close quarters, non one was killed or injured on this occasion except some plastered walls and hens. The local people were used to gunshots. Here, in the San Giovanni district of Corleone, there had been many killings over the years.
In the carabinieri file392/4 and their report 3508 to the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry on the Mafia in Sicily/ Document XXIII Volume 2-6th Legislature, is a list of the parents and relatives of the dead who accused Provenzano of the crime against Streva and his associates. It ends: ‘Provenzano-wanted for murder, but untraceable.’
Streva was the last major player left in the Navarriani. Whatever resistance was left, crumbled and was blown away by a wind of change that had turned into a tsunami of fear and dismay. From 1958 until 1963 there were 153 murders in and around Corleone. On a per capita basis that would be equal to 100,000 in New York.
In America, the Mafia, when they spoke of Corleone, referred to it as ‘Tombstone’ as though it was like a town out of the Wild West, except of course, it was ten times more deadly there than life had ever been in the days of the American frontier.
In October 1958, the Communist newspaper, L’Ora, ran a full page exposé on the Mafia war in Corleone. A few days later on Sunday, 19th, at 4.52:am a huge explosion rocked the central Palermo district. Four pounds of TNT had been planted in the basement of the newspaper. A day after, a threatening letter arrived warning the paper off any further reporting in Corleone. It responded by carrying out even more investigations, digging deeper into the confusing situation that had developed in the small rural town, deep in the Sicilian countryside.
In the years to come, the generic noun Corleonesi, would come to describe men of honour who came not only from the town itself, but from an amalgamation of fifteen or so clans across the island who would group together, working as a team to unhinge the social and political stability of not only Sicily, but at times, the mainland itself. They were cunning, diabolic, clever and ferocious. A rare combination.
They became a secret and deadly parasite within the body of Cosa Nostra.
Leggio was now the undisputed king of the melancholy little town of Corleone, leading a pack of killers and hoodlums who would become infamous across Sicily as they became synonymous with savagery and butchery on a scale never ever thought of, even among the most hardened Mafiosi. They had the power of life or death over almost anyone in Sicily, and they exercised it without compunction.
Between 1944-1962, there were 2000 known homicides or disappearances, recorded in the four provinces of western Sicily controlled by the Mafia, according to Rosario Poma in his book ‘La Mafia: Nonni e nipoti.’ It was a killing field without parallel in the civilized world.
Dead men were cremated on street corners. Bodies were dumped on the doorsteps of police stations like sacks of forgotten garbage. Killers roamed the streets, shooting their victims with an air of nonchalance that was breathtaking in its insolence.
In hiding from the law, following his takeover of Navarra’s operation, Leggio spent a lot of his time in Palermo, where he sometimes moved around disguised as a police officer, a monk or a travelling tourist, be-decked in cameras. He visited medical clinics for treatment for his bone problems, shopped at the best salons, and dined in the most exquisite restaurants, where he would always order Ferrarelle bottled water with his food, his favourite meal being steak and white rice.
Dressed to kill, in linen suits, Panama hats, pinky ring, Rolex watch and gold cufflinks, he strutted through the city. He never carried money, but had someone on hand to pay the bills. He would often socialise at the famous Birreria Italia café, on the via Cavour, near the Teatro Massimo, a restaurant that had been a favourite haunt of another infamous Mafia don, Vito Cascioferro, thirty years before.
He set up a business as a shipping agent in Piana dei Colli, to the west of Palermo, outside the city limits, and had Giacomo Riina manage it, with help from his young nephew, Salvatore.
Like the Scarlet Pimpernel of literary legend, Leggio moved freely from place to place, as the police searched for him everywhere. At times, he lived with Lia, the former fiancé of Rizzotto, the man he had murdered ten years before, which would seem to have been an unusual relationship considering its pedigree. She had vowed to eat the heart of the killer when her man was murdered, but when the police came and arrested Leggio in 1964, in a house only a short walk from the Corleone police headquarters, she wept and combed his hair.
He enjoyed hobnobbing with rich and influential people, wearing the most expensive clothes and always smoking, in public at least, eight-inch cigars. He loved people to call him Il Professore, the professor, even though he had left school at the age of nine. Away from public view, he puffed away all day on America Camel cigarettes. In an article in the August 3rd 1986 edition of the Giornale di Sicilia, he claimed, ‘My life as an outlaw was spent in the salons of Palermo.’
Along with his other nick-names, perhaps he could also have been called The Deadly Dilettante!
For women in the Palermo society, there was a special thrill in being in the presence of someone like Leggio. Highly placed men had their own special reasons for establishing good relations with the little, ugly misfit from the boondocks. Such men, claimed a high-ranking Palermo police officer, were lured into Leggio’s web, ‘held together with the spittle of gold and blood.’
If nothing else, Luciano Leggio was without doubt, the outstanding Mafioso of the post war period in terms of his media profile. No one grabbed the headlines quite like La Primula Rossa.
But he was also creating money, and lots of it. He bought himself a luxurious villa, and tracts of real estate. He got into bed in the construction industry with Salvo Lima, the mayor of Palermo and his public works assessor, Vito Ciancimino (right), a one-time barber from Corleone, (he had worked as a youth in his father’ business,) and the only man who every punched Leggio in the face, and lived to remember it.
These two men helped create ‘the Sack of Palermo’ issuing over 4000 building permits in just four years, from 1959 to 1963, to only four men- a labourer, a charcoal vendor, a bricklayer and a site guard- all acting as front men for various Mafia dons in Palermo, who then used these as pass cards to literally generate fortunes beyond comprehension. Land was bought at sixty lire a square metre and sold a few weeks later for thirty thousand lire a square metre. Mafia bosses found they could make more money in a day working this scam than a year of smuggling cigarettes.
Tommaso Buscetta called Ciancimino ‘a pushy Corleonese embezzler.’
There is a Sicilian proverb:
La font della richezza è il pubblico denoro
‘The fount of riches is public money,’ and the mob, including Leggio, generated huge revenues from the purse of the city, funded in turn from Rome, as money poured into Palermo as part of the Italian state’s development aid fund for the mezzogiorno, the poor southern regions of Italy, into which was pumped billions of lire. Giovanni Gioia who became secretary of the Christian Democrat party in Palermo in 1954, acted as the Mafia link into Rome, helping coordinate the flow of money until his death in 1981.
They knocked down historic old villas, bulldozed entire streets of history, and parks that had been part of the city’s heritage for generations, so that they could erect in the empty spaces, hundreds of concrete monstrosities to house the people pouring into the city from rural Sicily, wanting to be part of the great, new wave of government funded economic expansion. During the ‘Sack of Palermo’ the city had the greatest consumption per capita of concrete in the world. As a bye-product, the ghettos created would become the new breeding ground for the piciotti, the young street thugs the Mafia needs for fresh blood. What the organization referred to as avvicinati-hanger-ons. Youths who would be watched and managed for up to twenty years by a man of honour in the neighbourhood cosca.
Someone who was part of the Mafia and who knew Dr. Navarra, Leggio, Giuseppe Di Cristina and Stefano Bontade, reminisced:
‘Then there came a time when the word millions was heard on the lips of people who five years before were counting the change from a thousand lira note (US$10 approximately). Everybody was talking loudly and nobody was listening. Palermo was like that for ten years or so. All drunk in millions. But the side effects…… it all came at a cost.’
Leonardo Sciascia had the key to the wealth and the frenzy generated by the Mafia:
‘The more wealth grows……the more our own death grows and is amplified. The rhythm of accumulation is a rhythm of death.’
When Leggio moved to Palermo from Corleone, a young carabinieri officer stationed there, sent a report to his opposite number in the city:
‘Luciano Leggio is naturally violent in character and criminal by constitution and tendency, habitually guilty of homicide, theft and extortion, odious to the people of Corleone for the mourning and evil he has spread, held in horror for the cold determination and ferocity of his character, author of countless grave acts and bloodshed, which none of his victims dares to denounce for fear of incurring his violence.
He has now seen fit to live in Palermo, seemingly extraneous to the Mafiosi there…..Actually he is extremely active among Palermo’s chiefs…..bound not so much by his friendship with them, as his ascendancy over them.’
The young officer was Mario Malausa, the same man who led the squad of six one morning in June 1963 to investigate a suspicious Alfa Romeo Giulietta parked in a country lane in the hills above Ciaculli, near Palermo. A bomb in the car exploded, killing all seven men. Three days later, 100,000 people followed the empty coffins to the funeral held at Palermo Cathedral. All that was found of the seven men were a finger, a ring and a beret, along with a shoe, and a belt and a pistol holster.
Law enforcement believed the bomb was part of the strategy of warring factions in an inter-family dispute involving factions of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Mafia in the Palermo province. It may, however, have been simply a convoluted way to remove a certain police officer who was becoming more than just an irritant, but someone very dangerous to organized crime on the island.
Leggio carried on diversifying and expanding his business, but he was too big for just Corleone; he was probably in retrospect, too big for even Sicily. He needed a greater stage upon which to act, and started to spread his operation outside the island, linking into the Calabria ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra crime families of Naples, and also establishing criminal links in Rome and Milan.
The Mafia operated in relative harmony through the late fifties and early sixties, apart from the brief period of savage warfare in Palermo that came to be known as ‘The Produce Market War’ dividing up the growing pie of smuggling cigarettes, cattle rustling, construction, drug trafficking, industry extortion and kidnapping, until it imploded under what became referred to as ‘The First Mafia War,’ culminating in the deaths of the seven police officers, killed in the car bomb explosion at Ciaculli.
This act of terrorism resulted in the first real war against the Mafia since the days of Mori, and the island was flooded with over 10,000 police. The head of the carabinieri, General Aldo De Marco, ordered his men to arrest anyone with a criminal record and if needed, torture them to see what could be discovered about the bombing. He also indicated that his men, if necessary could shoot suspects on sight. Within a few months, between July and December 1963, 2,000 Mafiosi had been arrested and imprisoned.
Between 1963 and 1970 every leading figure in the Mafia on the island found themselves either in prison, in compulsory exile or on the ‘most-wanted’ list.
The Ciaculli bombing came close to doing what Mori had almost done forty years before-destroy the Mafia. Cosa Nostra ceased to exist in the Palermo metropolitan area; it was out of business according to Antonino Calderone.
At a special meeting of the cupola, it was decided that each boss not yet arrested, would lie low or flee the country, and they did. To Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, Mexico and the United States. These became branch offices of Mafia Inc. One of the men who fled the country was Tommaso Buscetta, who one day, would come back, and turn the Sicilian Mafia on its head.
On the evening of May 14th 1964, Leggio was himself arrested at 9:30 pm in the home of 45 year old Leoluchina Sorisi, in Cortile Mangiameli at Via Orsini 6, in Corleone. She lived just down the road from the state police barracks.
‘He was captured,’ as Giuseppe Fava recounts, in his book I Sicilian, ‘at the very house where by any human logic he should never have been able to find shelter.’
When the law enforcement officials broke into the property, they found Leggio in bed. Next to him were two books: Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He was surrounded by two suitcases, medicine bottles, and a duffel bag filled with drugs, pills and syringes. There was a hand-gun, in the draw of the bed-side table, a Smith & Wesson .38, fully loaded.
There has always been confusion over just what their relationship was. Some sources claim that Leggio killed Rizzotto not as a means to a political end for Dr. Navarra, but simply because he lusted after Rizzotto’s fiance-Leoluchina. In addition, there was a rumour that circulated that he killed Rizzotto in order to satisfy the honour of the Sorisi family who believed that Placido was stringing their daughter along and avoiding marriage with her.
Rizzotto’s parents however, claimed that their son was never involved with her.
Sorisi and her sister Maria Grazia, maintained that they had sheltered Leggio out of fear-he had threatened them with injury or worse, unless they gave him sanctuary.
Renate Seibert wondered if Leoluchina was actually setting up Leggio to kill him and was simply stopped before she could carry out her plan of revenge, or that even some dialectic of passion had developed between the two.
Searching the house, the police found in the basement, a stash of illegal arms, including Breda and Thompson sub-machine guns which were believed to have been used in the killing of Dr. Navarra six years earlier.
The lead cop into the house that night was Angelo Mangano, the Commissioner of Public Safety in the town. Posted to Corleone by the chief of police in Palermo, Angelo Vicari, to track down and arrest Leggio, he had apparently received a tip-off from two of his informants, men who had been supplying him information since he had arrived in Corleone on November 15th 1963 to take up his position These men, Carlo and Alberto Ancora would eventually find fate has a way of catching up. They were murdered in May 1973.
The carabinieri were also in on the arrest, lead by Colonel Ignazio Milillo, who headed a special unit set up to track down Leggio. His own intelligence sources had confirmed that Leggio had arrived in Corleone on November 2nd 1963. There has been bitter dispute and controversy between these two law enforcement groups over the years as to which of them actually arrested Leggio. The photograph taken that night however, clearly shows Mangano leading Leggio who is supported by Biagio Melita, a sergeant in the state police, with no carabinieri in sight.
The mammasantissima of the Mafia, bleary-eyed and struggling to stand up, as though just awakened from a bad dream that he can’t escape from, staggers from the house (photo below), assisted by the men he hated most-the police.
He had been on the run from the law for sixteen years.
Many years later Leggio confirmed that he was indeed arrested by the caribinieri, and not by the state police, who took centre stage for the photographers, who had in fact been tipped-off by Mangano about the upcoming arrest!
Colonel Ignazio Milillo was made an ‘honorary citizen’ by the town of Corleone for his part in capturing Leggio. In addition, he was awarded by the Italian Head of State the Knight Officer of Merit of the Italian Republic, and given a financial reward by the Minister of the Interior for his efforts in arresting Sicily’s most wanted man.
Ten years down the track, this arrest would come back to haunt Angelo Mangano.
Leggio had been spotted in Corleone by state police units, driving in a car, on at least two occasions: once with the children of Giuseppe Ruffino, and again with Leoluchina Sorisi, dressed in her nurse’s uniform, returning to the town at dawn. On neither occasion had the police stopped the cars.
There has always been controversy and innuendo regarding the relationship between Leggio and Mangano. The state police for example knew that Ludovico Benigno, the nephew of Sorisi, had purchased an orthopaedic bed, bed-side table and television set in November, just two days after Leggio had returned to the town. It was claimed they were for an invalid, a family member, returning from America.
Beningo ironically, was one of the men who had met with Placido Rizzottto at the town square that night in March, 1948.
There has been speculation over the years that Angelo Mangano had been sent to Corleone not to capture Leggio, but to protect him or at least delay his arrest, in order to protect the interest of people such as Vito Ciancimino, Salvo Lima and Giovanni Gioai. Powerful men with powerful contacts at local and state level. Leggio seemingly had the key to a Pandora Box that was not to be opened.
Mangano received his orders from the head of the State police, Angelo Vicari, whose name comes up again as the former prefect of Palermo, in the enigmatic and confusing conundrum surrounding the bandit Salvatore Giuliano, and his violent death.
With the arrest and imprisonment of Leggio, Sicily for the second time in almost a hundred years was close to breaking its ties with the Mafia and asserting state control over law and order. The Mafia’s men of honour were in disarray. Half had fled the country following the massacre of Ciaculli, and were watching to see what would happen to the other half if justice was to prevail. It wasn‘t of course. No one really knew the true nature of the Mafia and the court system was in no way able to determine this.
Taken into custody and transferred at 2 am on May 15th into the infamous Ucciardone Prison in Palermo, Leggio finally came to court in December 1967 in what became known as ‘The Trial of 114,’ the first real attempt since the 1897 Palermo trials, to try to convict the Mafia as a corporate body.
The accused included Leggio, Tommaso Buscetta, Gateano Badalamenti (notorious for his subsequent connection in the American Pizza Trial of the 1980s), and Salvatore Catalano, a made man, who would one day become the first Sicilian ever, to help run an American Mafia clan, when he took over partial control of the Bonanno crime family of New York, and who was also indicted in the Pizza Trial. The defendants were a whose-who of the Sicilian Mafia. The hearing lasted over a year and was held in Catanzaro in Calabria in southern Italy, as Sicily was not considered safe enough for the prosecution or its witnesses. All, but ten of the accused, including Leggio were acquitted.
But presiding Judge Terranova, who had signed the order for the trial in May 1965, and a man who had spent his life fighting the Mafia, was determined to get Leggio, and had him re-arrested to face trial in nine other murders he had been implicated in. The Mafia boss hated the judge with such venom, he would literally foam at the mouth when he spoke about him.
The second trial opened in February 1969 in Bari, on the Adriatic Coast. Months later as it drew to a close, the judge received an anonymous letter, warning him and the members of the jury:
To the President of the Court of Assise, and members of the jury: You have not understood, or rather you do not want to understand, what Corleone means. You are judging honest gentlemen of Corleone, denounced through caprice by the Carabinieri and Police. We simply want to warn you that if a single gentleman from Corleone is convicted, you will be blown sky high, you will be wiped out, you will be butchered and so will every member of your family. We think we have been clear. Nobody must be convicted. Otherwise, you will be condemned to death-you and your families. A Sicilian proverb says: ‘A man warned is a man saved.’ It‘s up to you. Be wise……
Although found guilty of theft, Leggio and almost his entire cosca of 64 men, who had also been indicted, were found not guilty of the main charges. The illustrious judge spent the next seven years working for the Italian judiciary in Rome. He was transferred to Palermo in September 1979, and two days after arriving, as he left his apartment to go to work, he was assassinated by two men wielding Kalashnikov rifles, who caught him helpless in the driving seat of his car. His bodyguard, Lenin Mancusco, died by his side.
The killers were Giuseppe Madonia and Leloluca Bagarella, assisted by Giacomo Gambino and Vincenzo Pucio, according to pentiti Francesco Di Carlo and Gaspare Mutolo. The killing of the judge had been rubber-stamped by the Mafia commission at a meeting held at the Faverella estate in Ciaculli of Michele Greco, in June 1979.
Giuseppe di Cristina the boss of Reisi who became an informant, had told his carabinieri handler of Liggio’s plan to assassinate the judge almost two years before the murders took place.
The judge’s removal was conceived on instructions from Leggio, even though by this time he had been committed to prison for life. His memory was long, and his power in controlling the Mafia, even from a prison cell, was formidable. Terranova was killed because he was convinced of the importance of Leggio in the scheme of things in the Mafia hierarchy, and how his control of the Corleonesi would impact on the emerging dynamics of criminal power. He had also insulted Leggio when he was questioning him before the trials in Catanzano.
During an interrogation preparing for the trial, Leggio adopting his usual insulting manner, refused to answer questions. When in response to one of them, Leggio replied that he could not even recall his own name or his parents, Terranova instructed the clerk: ‘Write that Leggio does not know whose son he is.’
Leggio was infuriated with the implication that he was a bastard. According to the judge, he actually foamed at the mouth and would have killed Terranova on the spot. Leggio as always, never forgot, and ten years later, extracted his revenge.
It was Terranova’s wife, Giovanna Giaconia, who in an interview after her husband’s murder, referred to Leggio as ‘The Little King of Corleone.’ She also told Rosario Costa whose husband Vito Schifani was killed along with Judge Falcone in the Capaci massacre, ‘Remember, this is a state that has signed a blank cheque with the Mafia, and that this was when the war broke out for the takeover and annihilation of the magistrate’s power of jurisdiction.’
In October 1997, Giovanna brought a civil case against the instigators of her husband’s death, which including the two surviving assassins, Madonia and Bagarella, and a group of mob luminaries including Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.
After Leggio was finally released from prison on bail in 1969, he was supposed to be re-arrested by the authorities in Palermo, but instead, he moved into a private hospital in Reggio Calabria for treatment on his bladder. He then simply walked out, avoiding his guards, and did his usual disappearing act, driving off in a black Mercedes Benz provided by his old friend Frank Coppola.
Accompanied by Salvatore Riina, Leggio went to Bitonto in Puglia, then on June 18th he admitted himself into the Hospital of Santissima Annunziato in Taranto and at the end of September he was on his travels again, this time heading for Rome, checking into the Villa Margherita nursing home where he had treatment for his continuing bladder infection. And then, when he was ready, he headed off back to Sicily.
He became part of the reformed commission or ‘cupola’ which had been disbanded in 1964, along with Gaetano Badalamanti and Stefano Bontate, two bosses of Palermo clans. (The Mafia in Sicily in fact never referred to the commission as ‘cupola’ this was a media word. They talked about ‘The Region.’) One of the first things on his agenda was to arrange the elimination of another judiciary figure, the first in a long and sorry list that would stretch over the next twenty years.
The victim this time was the chief public prosecutor of Palermo, Judge Pietro Scaglione, a man with a long and controversial connection into organized crime.
He had been the examining magistrate who had investigated the mysterious death of the infamous Sicilian bandit, Salvatore Giuliano, shot dead in July 1950, perhaps by Leggio, although the killer has never been identified for certain.
Gianfranco Milillo, the carabinieri officer who hunted Leggio in the 1960s, in one of his reports, confirmed that in his opinion, the killer of Giuliano was indeed Leggio.
He had been commissioned to do the hit by Dr. Navarra who had been himself instructed into the conspiracy by the prefect of Palermo, Angelo Vicari, who had been appointed to his high public post at the age of only 40 in August 1948, and was a close friend of the Barone Valenti of Palermo, who had significant estates around Corleone. One of his top managers was Antonino Streva, a lieutenant of Leggio’s. The complex linking of these people in connection with the death of the bandit was referred to in pages 1009-1012 of the parliamentary anti-Mafia Commission of 1963.
Hunted for months by another carabinieri police officer, Colonel Ugo Luca, who it is reported did everything possible to capture the bandit alive, he was shot dead in mysterious circumstances. Many people in high places wanted the bandit erased so that he could not reveal his involvement with highly-placed political figures and compromise state security, especially in connection with the massacre at Portella delle Ginestre on May 1st 1947, when 8 peasants were killed and 33 wounded by Giuliano’s gang.
Giuliano had been protected throughout his career by the Mafia families of Monreale under Ignazio and Nino Miceli, Carlo and Vincenzo Rimi of Alcamo, Libero Manna head of the family in Castellammare, and Salvatore Celeste of San Cipirello.
Sergeant Giovanni Lo Bianco of the carabinieri had closely tracked the structure of Giuliano’s protection shield, and reported on this in September 1947.
In Jan 1950, Santo Fleres the powerful boss of Partinico was murdered, possibly by Giuliano’s gang, and Frank Coppola took over the leadership of the family. It was the transplanted American mobster who probably masterminded the downfall of Giuliano
Scaglione (right) had also been reprimanded for ‘sitting’ on a file from the carabinieri in the 1960s that implicated the same Frank Coppola, a well-known Mafioso and major drug dealer, who had been banished from America back to Italy, and three repatriated members of the New York Bonanno family who had been involved in drug trafficking and eventually acquitted after indictment and trial.
Diminutive Francesco Paolo “Frank’ Coppola (he stood a mere 5’2”) was deported from the United States as an illegal alien, in September 1948. He had fled Sicily during the Mori cleansing, claiming he had been tipped off by Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, the Sicilian born former prime minister of Italy, who in 1925 he had stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being Mafioso, because that word meant honourable, noble and generous.
Coppola in his travels across America, had linked into a number of different mob families in New York, Detroit, Kansas City and Los Angeles.
At one time, calling himself Frank Lomonde, along with Anthony ‘Tony the Pip’ Lopiparo, he had, according to some sources, managed the mob in St Louis. He numbered Charles Luciano, Carlos Marcello and ‘Dandy’ Phil Kastel amongst his many criminal associates. The FBN considered him a major narcotic trafficker, and he was also believed to be involved in prostitution rackets, gambling and hijacking. He was known in the American mob as Tre Dita ‘Three Fingers,’ having lost the ring and little fingers of his left hand in an accident when he was eighteen. He fought his deportation from America on the grounds that he was innocent of all charges, but Senator John McClellan disagreed, commenting:
‘Even though he has only three fingers, they are involved in everything.’
The day before his death, judge Scaglione had confided to a respected journalist, Mario Francese, that he had papers of a very compromising nature. He told the reporter, ‘You have no idea how difficult a judge’s job is in this city.’ It was never disclosed just what was in these documents and correspondence. Francese was himself murdered by the Mafia in 1979.
On May 5th 1971, Scaglione made his daily visit to his wife’s graveside in the Capuchin, a Palermo cemetery, on the Via Cipressi, located in the west of the city in the Calatafimi District.
Concettina Abatae had died in 1965, and the judge tried to maintain a daily vigil at her graveside. This morning as he left, he and his driver, Antonino Lo Russo, were gunned down and killed. Suffering from the effect of Pott’s disease, Leggio was unable to walk, but some sources claim, had his faithful bulldog, Toto Riina, drive him to the graveyard area, shooting the judge and his chauffeur, from his seat in the car. He was good like that Leggio, when it came to murder, up close and personal.
The authorities tried for twenty years to pin the murder on someone. Scaglione was the first judge to be murdered in post war Italy. The first of the cadaveri eccellenti
‘excellent cadavers’ or ‘illustrious corpses’ a term coined by famous Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia, and who the press came to call the police, judges, parliamentarians, journalists and members of the state assassinated in the years to come as the Corleonesi enforced their will on the Mafia and the country.
The pentito Leonardo Messina, described how they organised their rise to power:
‘They took power by slowly, slowly killing everyone. We were kind of infatuated with them because we thought that getting rid of the old bosses we would become the new bosses. Some people killed their brother, others their cousin and so on because they thought they would take their places. Instead, slowly, they gained control of the whole system. First they used us to get rid of the old bosses, then they got rid of all those who raised their heads, like Giuseppe Greco 'the Shoe', Mario Prestifilippo and Vincenzo Puccio. All that’s left are men without character, who are their puppets.’
By January 1991, the courts in Palermo agreed to close the book on the murder of Judge Scaglione. There were many suspects: Gaetano Findanatzi, the boss of the Resuttana clan, Pietro D’Accardio, Geraldo Alberti, the Mafia’s major drug dealer, Francesco Russo, Salvatore Riina, Giuseppe Calo and of course Luciano Leggio.
There are indications that the killing went down at approximately 10:45 am, as the judged was reported to have left the cemetery after 10:30 am and the first call into the police, reporting the shooting, was logged on at 10:55am. This version states that a white car cut off Lo Russo in the narrow road. Just past the Via Alcamo, the bodyguard pulled his car over to the right, to avoid a collision, into the gated entrance of a building at number 242.
The driver of the other car may have been in fact Pino Greco, (with Riina as a back-up in the rear seat,) who along with Leolucca Bagarella, was almost certainly the most deadly and prolific killer employed by the Mafia in Sicily. Next to him, was a soldier in the Porta Nuova clan along for the ride, as the shooting was going down in their domain. Pippo Calo, the boss of the family, was a close friend of Leggio’s who was allegedly in the back seat. The two dead men were found to have been killed by 9mm and .38 calibre bullets, indicating perhaps two shooters. The 65 year old prosecutor and his 41 year old driver, who was a sergeant in the prison police, had no chance, jammed into their small car and suddenly surrounded by professional killers.
Eugenio and Francesca Tripoli sitting in their apartment, heard the shots, but thought the noise was children playing in the street. There was only one witness to the carnage, an eleven year old boy. When first interviewed, he claimed the car with the killers in it was a white Fiat 850, but then later said it was black. Investigators found the windows of the judge’s car blown out, and nine shell casings on the ground.
There is a plaque, weathered by age, on the rough, brick wall of the cemetery, opposite the site of the assassination, placed by the Councillors of Palermo in honour of the judge and his bodyguard. It was to be the first of many such dedications that would start appearing all over the city in the years to come, creating an unfinished jigsaw commemorating the honoured dead slain by the Mafia: a pedagogical directory of the condemned and executed, linking up the streets of the city to the victims, so that in years to come, spectators and tourists could track their way around Palermo, body by body, in a city that would soon be oozing corpses, following a route marked by the victims whose blood had soaked into the asphalt and cobbles in such volume, it sometimes stained the roadways for days afterwards.
Antonino Lo Russo (below) was the first member of the penal police to have been murdered by the Mafia.
Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contoro, two of the more infamous, and certainly in terms of disclosures, the most enlightening pentiti, stated categorically that Leggio killed the judge. If there is little doubt who actually killed him, the reason or reasons why, are a little more vague.
Scaglione had a long career in the judiciary and was involved with many cases involving the mob. These included investigating:
The killing of notorious bandit Salvatore Guiliano in July 1950.
The mysterious death by poison four years later in Ucciardone Prison of Gaspare Pisciotta, the cousin and main lieutenant of Guiliano.
The murder of trade unionist Salvatore Carnevale.
The Portella della Ginestra, Ciaculli and Viale Lazio Massacres.
Corruption charges against Salvo Lima and Vito Ciancimino, and many more cases.
His close connection to so many people in and around the Mafia made him particularly vulnerable, due to the secrets he had acquired over the years. One in particular involved the caribinieri officer-Mario Malausa- who had been in charge of the squad sent to investigate the bomb-loaded Alfa-Romeo in Ciaculli, in 1963.
Malausa had produced a long and damming report on the involvement of the Mafia and politics in Sicily, a document which would cause massive embarrassment if it were to be publicized. He had named important people, including the mayor of Palermo, Salvo Lima, his public works assessor Vito Ciancimino, and even Judge Scaglione himself. The public prosecutor had conveniently filed it away into some dusty corner along with other important reports, including one from the American US Narcotic Bureau detailing the activities taking place between Sicilian and American Mafia families in their booming trans-Atlantic drug trafficking business.
As previously stated, it has been hypothesized by some crime historians that the Ciaculli massacre was a double-edged weapon, not only to create chaos within the Mafia and the state, but quietly on the side, to get rid of the bothersome police officer.
Another presumption for the judge’s killing postulates that he was about to give a favourable decision in a case he was hearing involving Vincenzo Rimmi, the Mafia boss of Trapani who was a sworn and bitter enemy of Leggio.
The assassination of the Chief Magistrate may well have been the first in a long series of intimidatory measures against the government of Italy by the Mafia. He was the very first member of the state to be murdered by the Mafia since the unification of Italy in 1871. However, while there have been many theories on why Scaglione was killed, as is often the case in these matters, the simplest might well be the one nearest the mark.
Leggio hated Scaglione on a personal level because the judge had sentenced one of his unmarried sisters, the eldest, Maria Antonina, into ‘internal banishment’ to the mainland. The dreaded obbligo di soggiorno. This, for a spinster woman who had never left Corleone throughout her entire life, was a decision of catastrophic dimensions. Leggio, as always, never forgot, and never forgave.
In addition, he may have been as Rene Seindal observed, simply adopting the logic that the Mafia’s most important reason for killing a state representative was that killing one taught a hundred a lesson.
A recent disclosure (October 2010) of a three page document created by Vito Ciancimino, and handed over to the authorities by his son, Massimo, suggests that the judge was murdered to prevent him from investigating the murder of L’Ora reporter, Mauro de Mauro, who had been abducted outside him home in Palermo in September 1970 and presumably murdered. His body has never been recovered.
Mauro had been about to publish a story that would have literally rocked Italy and the establishment, involving the Mafia and a plot to overthrow the government.
He had stumbled on an amazing scoop. He learned that one of his childhood friends, a blue-blooded ex-Fascist called Prince Junio Valerio Borghese, aka ‘The Black Prince,‘ was planning a coup d'etat with like-minded army officers determined to halt what they saw as Italy's drift to the left.
And De Mauro had also learned that in Sicily, where he worked for the evening paper as well as for Reuters and the national daily Il Giorno, the ‘Black Prince‘ had enlisted the support of the Cosa Nostra. When the army officers seized key institutions in Rome, he discovered, the Mafia would follow suit in Palermo, occupying state broadcaster RAI and the prefectural headquarters.
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