Part One - Part Two - Part Three
By Thom L. Jones
Following Leggio’s acquittal in the second trial, although he was subject to re-arrest to face other outstanding charges, the Attorney General in Palermo, Scaglione himself, had ruled this could only take place in Corleone. As he had no intention of ever returning there, Leggio’s freedom seemed guaranteed. He entered a number of private clinics on the mainland, ending up in Rome, and when it was time to leave, a Cadillac, supplied by Frank Coppola turned up to drive him off.
Leaving the Romana di Bracci clinic, he made a visit to a lawyer.
Journalist Mario Francese, in an article published in Giornale di Sicilia on March 10th, 1974, claimed that Leggio went to the law office of Salvatore Albano, in Rome, where he had drawn up a special power of attorney in favour of his older sister, Maria Antonina, allowing her almost a free hand in administering his estate and assets.
The notorious lawyer and Leggio had worked together since the 1960s. Albano also represented Frank Coppola and Giulio Andreotti, the most famous of Italian politicians, who was arrested and tried twice for complicity in cases regarding the Mafia.
Leggio surfaced a few weeks later at Cinisi near Palermo, living under the protection of Don Tano Badalamenti, the capo of the local cosca. He had courted a woman from Corleone when he was young, a woman whose family was close to that of Leggio’s. So, they had been connected through both of their families-biological and crime-for a number of years.
After a period of some weeks, Leggio then moved east across the island to the province of Catania, where he stayed in hiding in a two story villa in Via Morgioni in the hills above San Giovani La Punta. The house he rented was only a short distance from the local carabinieri barracks. As in Corleone, four years before, he seemed to enjoy the risk or perhaps the challenge of living almost under the noses of the very people charge with his capture and arrest.
He was joined there for a time, by Riina along with Bernardo Provenzano who was also on the run from the law. The Calderone brothers, head of the Catania cosca, organized papers for Leggio and Provenzano, in the names of Antonio and Giuseppe Farrugia. Leggio was using this identity when he was finally caught by the police in Milan, three years later. Although he was thirty-seven at this time, Provenzano could not drive, and had to commute between Catania and Palermo by train.
Ironically, the two men claimed to be butchers by profession. They were probably two of the three biggest, in the history of the Mafia.
In July 1971, two months after he probably shot Judge Scaglione, the short, stocky man with the limp, moved across to the mainland and settled in Milan. Pippo Calderone the capo of the local Mafia family in Catania, was under police surveillance, and it was certain that eventually they would have tracked him to the house in San Giovanni. It was time for Leggio to move on.
In this period, he was operating his crime family through both Riina and Provenzano, two killers who were every bit as ruthless and deadly as he was. In a meeting with the two men in Catania, he had made the decision to appoint Riina as his regent, to arbitrate on his behalf when he was unable to attend commission meetings.
By this time, the Mafia commission, perhaps set up sometime following a mob meeting at the Hotel des Palmes in Palermo in 1957, and made up of the representatives of the major families on the island, had laid down an edict that kidnappings were out of bounds.
It’s more than probable in fact that in Palermo at least, going back to the end of the 19th century, there had been some formalized system to control continuity between the various cosche, a governing body of some description. This was according to evidence presented at the Court of Catanzaro.
In January 1897, the eight Mafia families of the Palermo region convened in a meeting headed by Malaspina cosca boss, Francesco Siino. Unresolved matters lead to an inter-family war that went on until 1900. Siino became one of the causalities and was shot and wounded.
Ermanno Sangiorgi, the Palermo chief of police, persuaded Siino to become a pentito, only the second Mafioso in Sicily to have turned informant, after Salvatore D’Amico, a member of the Stuppaggheri sect of Monreale. He was the first ever to disclose intimate details of the organization, naming structure, ranks from boss down to soldier and his testimony generated an investigation resulting in the arrest and trial of 19 members of the clan. For his help in unveiling the secret society, he was murdered in Bagheria, in 1878.
Irrespective of when and how the commission started, its members decided that people who were rich enough to justify the risks in terms of kidnappings, were also often politically placed in positions of power that caused the act to be counter-productive to the political strategy of the Mafia. But kidnappings were a great source of income for the Corleonesi, now badly lacking funds. They had financed a number of costly trials, and lawyer’s fees and the usual bribes had dug deep into their reserves.
So Luciano Leggio got involved in kidnappings on the Continent.
Between 1961 and 1972, 372 known Mafiosi moved to Milan, or operated between the largest city in Italy and Sicily. He was one of them.
From the time he moved to the mainland in 1971 and his arrest there in Milan, in 1974, information on his movements and activities is fragmented and at times, vague. Almost all of it comes to us from informants. There is evidence that through a nominee, Antonio Quartararo, that he purchased a citrus grove, Vaccarizzo, in Catania and had constructed a two-story, 400 square metre house, which had a built-in storage cell, intended to hold kidnap victims.
When he first arrived in Milan he stayed at Via Steniti 6, living under the protection of Francis Turatello, aka Faccia d'Angelo-Angel Face-a member of the ‘New Camorra’ in Naples. Turatello’s name goes down in mob history as surely the only one who was murdered in prison (in 1981) and then disemboweled by his killer, Catania Mafioso Antonino Faro, who proceeded to eat his liver. Faro a five-times killer by the age of 28, killed Turatello under the orders of Camorrista Pasquale Barra, who in turn was following the orders of the ‘New Camorra’ boss Rafaele Cutolo. The murder created a major rift between Sicily and Naples as not only was Turatello the godson of Frank Coppola, he was personally appointed by Leggio to supervise the Corleone’s drug business in Milan.
In 1971, Leggio held a council meeting at his apartment with Tommaso Buscetta, Gaetano Badalmenti and Geraldo Albertini. On the agenda were a number of items, including the development of the family’s drug-trafficking business.
Other meetings with mob associates were held regularly in a restaurant and wine bar he co-owned in the Via Giambellino. Later in the year he held another sit-down meeting, this time attended by Salvatore Riina, Vincenzo Arena, Giuseppe Taormina and Salvatore Gambino. This was mainly about setting territorial boundaries in the kidnapping business he was developing. There were more meetings, including one attended by Riina, Salvatore Enea, the Bono brothers, Gerlando Alberti, Francesco Scaglione and Vincent Arena. These meetings were tracked through the use of informants, by Colonel Giuseppe Russo, a carabinieri specialist in organized crime, who would be murdered by the Mafia in 1977, while holidaying with his wife and child in the resort of Ficuzza, near Corleone.
Leggio, Turatello, and other Catania mobsters, formed a gang based upon, and referred to by law enforcement, as Anonima Sequestri literally ‘Anonymous Kidnappers.’ Originally a Sardinian phenomenon, it had been transported to the mainland and adopted by Camorra gangsters. The Naples based version of the Sicilian Mafia may well have begun in Sardinia, in a prison in Cagliari, a port on the island, in 1200, and imported into Naples at some later time.
Lombardy became the kidnapping capital of Italy. Between 1969 and 1999 there were 672 kidnappings registered by the police in the country and 158 took place in and around Milan.
One of the most famous Leggio helped to architect was the abduction of the young John Paul Getty III in 1973. He was held for months in Calabria, before his tightwad grandfather coughed up the $3 million ransom after he got an ear in the mail.
By this time, Leggio had been convicted by the court of appeals in Bari, in Calabria, for not committing a murder.
In the strange and perverse Italian judicial system, in December 1970, he was convicted-in abstenia-of murdering Doctor Michele Navarra back in 1958. There had been no new evidence introduced to inculpate him, but he was found guilty because no crimes of the Mafia type had been committed in Corleone since his arrest in 1964.
He was given a life sentence because ‘Leggio’s sinister personality had been clear in the proceedings (the trial), and the fact that he is a Capo beyond any reasonable doubt.’
In fact, the only tangible evidence that linked him to the killing was a reflector that broke off the Alfa 1900 during the shoot-out, and was found at the scene by investigators. And even this was suspect, as there was a strong possibility that the original fragments had been replaced to throw doubt on the court exhibit.
The Supreme Court of Italy upheld the verdict. It was a finding based on shifting sands and broken mirrors, but it was the only way the judiciary could figure out how to lock down Leggio, a man who had evaded the law for over twenty years.
Everybody knew he did it, no one knew how he did it, so they convicted him for being in effect the man who probably did it. It was a pretty shonky deal by any legal parameter, and illustrated just how low the law had sunk in its desperation to get its man.
The Court of Appeals in Bari had acquitted Liggio of various homicides, but sentenced him to life for the murder of his former chief, Michele Navarra, recorded in the Antimafia Commission, Relazione sull'indagine riguardante casi di singoli Mafiosi, pp. 105-130; Antimafia Commission, Relazione conclusiva, VI legislature, doc. XXIII, n. 2 (Roma, 1976), pp. 110-117
But convicting him and grounding him where two very different matters. He entered into some of the best years of his life in the early 1970s, taking a string of bewildering alias’s-at one time he held eleven different passports-in names like Pablo Villa, Sebastiano Tarola, Antonio Tazio, Calogero Polla, Baron Osvaldo Fattori, Antoni Paranzan and Michele Di Terlizzi, among others.
From some time in 1971 until September 1973, Leggio’s address was Via Cremosana 4, an apartment which belonged to a close associate, Nello Pernice. Nello, known as ‘The Negro’ because he had been born in Addis Abbaba, was a career criminal and alleged hit-man for the mob. He had been ‘made’ into the Mafia by Leggio, when they were both incarcerated at Ucciardone Prison in Palermo.
Leggio roamed Europe, setting up an expanding criminal empire based on theft, embezzlement, gambling, extortion in the construction industry, and kidnapping on a grand scale. He travelled widely, without any problems from police or custom authorities. Marco Nese an Italian journalist, tracked Leggio down on one occasion and photographed him in a Swiss restaurant.
Here, Leggio met up again with Gerlando Alberti, a member of the Porta Nuova Mafia family in Palermo, and along for the ride were Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore ‘L‘ingegnere’ Greco, one of the most enigmatic Mafiosi of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, to dine in the Park Hotel in Geneva, in May 1972.
It’s quite possible he even visited America during this period of his life based in northern Italy.
Nicholas Pileggi, the well-known author, claimed in an article he wrote in 1973 on the drug trade that a group of senior New York Mafiosi, all well-known to law enforcement, held a meeting late in 1972 in the home of a Gambino crime family capo Johnny D‘Alessio, on Staten Island. Leggio was noted as being one of the seven or eight men, including Funzie Teiri, head of the Genovese Family, Aniello Dellacroce, number two man in the Gambino Family, and Alphonse Persico brother of Carmine, boss of the Colombo’s, who attended, along with Francesco Salamone, who interestingly, was listed as the president of a company in Milan linked into Leggio and other mobsters. The Italian Financial Police believed this was a front for mob money laundering.
In Milan, Leggio went generally by the name of Antonino Farruggia, the one he had used in Catania. He claimed to be an importer of wines, and ran a large wine store called Vinicola Borroni in the Viale Umbria, and the wine bar on the Via Giambellino, through his nominee, Pernice.
He had, at some time, formed a relationship with a woman called Lucia Parazana (right), a Yugoslav refugee, who worked as a nurse, (the same occupation held by Leoluchina Soressi back in Corleone!) and they moved, in September 1973, into a top floor apartment of an upmarket apartment building at Via Ripamonti 166 in the Vigentino district, about two miles from the centre of Milan.
On April 5th 1973, Angelo Mangano, the police officer who had seemingly arrested Leggio in 1964, was attacked outside his home in Via di Tor Tre Teste in the eastern suburb of Casilino in Rome, along with his driver, Domenico Casella. Although both of them were shot repeatedly by three men, and badly injured, they survived.
According to informants, the attackers were Michele Zazza, the infamous Camorrista, and his nephew Ciro Mazzarella along with Leggio. Enrico Bellavia in his book Un Uomo D’Onore claims that Angelo Nuvoletta was also one of the attackers. Bellavia relates that Leggio, Provenzano, Riina and Francesco Di Carlo, the boss of the Altofonte cosca held a meeting at which the attack was planned. Di Carlo subsequently became a pentiti and offered up this information. It may have been pay-back time for Leggio, having perhaps long held a venomous hatred for the police officer who had helped arrest him in 1964, back in Corleone.
Fourteen shots were fired at the two men by the assassins, who had driven up in a yellow Alfa 2000 with Milan plates.
‘Cornuto,’ one of them shouted. ‘You’re finished being a spy,’ and then the gunmen opened up. Investigators were puzzled by two things. Firstly, Mangano’s wife had received a telephone call only the previous day, threatening his life, which should have meant he was being extra cautious. Secondly, they wondered why a self-proclaimed top marksman in the state police, did not even return a shot!
Mangano (right) later claimed he had been shot because he was about to unearth the killers of Judge Scaglione and other serious crimes linked into Leggio.
Sometime in June, 1973 Leggio became the perpetrator of a particularly nasty quartet of murders.
Damiano Caruso, was a soldier in the Mafia family of Giuseppe Di Cristina, in south-east Sicily, although he himself lived in Villabate. The family don of Reisi had been an informer for the carabinieri and claimed among other things that Leggio had a fire-team- gruppi di fuoco- of 14 assassins, who were prepared to kill anyone, anywhere, on his orders.
Caruso found himself in Milan. Escaping from internal exile he came to northern Italy to meet up with many of the Mafioso who had settled here, looking for opportunities. Caruso had been one of the squad that killed Michele Cavataio in what came to be known as ‘The Viale Lazio Massacre,’ in December 1969. Along with Bernardo Provenzano, another member of the team, he was wounded.
He was sent to New York to recuperate. There, he had gotten into trouble with Carlo Gambino who was then one of the most powerful mob bosses in America, and was banished back to Sicily. Caruso was a man, according to Antonino Calderone, who had unlimited courage and a huge amount of ferocity in his nature. However, he had no idea when to shut up and listen to others who had more knowledge than he had. He did whatever he wanted to, regardless of the consequences, and this would be his undoing. He once tried to kill a parliamentary deputy, hitting him with an axe, doing more damage to himself when he missed his swing, slashing his own leg.
His boss, Di Cristina, ordered him on one occasion to kill a Mafioso called Candido Ciuni in the small bar the man ran on the Via Maqueda in Palermo. Caruso attacked the man in October 1970, stabbing him, though not finishing the job off properly.
A week later, on Tuesday 27th, while the wounded man lay in the Civic Hospital recovering, Caruso, Raffaele and Pasquale Bovi, Pietro Ciotta and Gioacchino Marrone, walked into the building, dressed as doctors. They disabled the duty doorman, Salvatore Saglio, ran up the stairs to the second floor and in room six, machine-gunned the injured man to death, in front of his screaming wife, Antonina Orlando, who desperately tried to stop it by rugby tacking one of the gunmen. It was unique in mob killings in Sicily: shooting the victim a second time, as he recovered from the first attack.
Ciuni (right) who was 44 at the time of his death, came from Ravenusa, a small town near Riesi, the fiefdom of Di Cristina, and his family had been involved in a feud with the family of the Mafia boss since 1946. He had also publicly voiced his dissent in the killing of Vitto Gattuso, who had been shot-gunned to death while walking hand-in-hand with his small son as punishment for an infringement against Di Cristina.
Ironically, and somewhat amazingly, in view of the events, there is a proverb in the town of Ravenusa that recalls:
‘First they stab you and send you to hospital where they fatten you up and then kill you.’
Leggio believed Caruso had been responsible for the death of a young man he was fond of, Nino Guarano. Nicknamed ‘Big Heart’ he had been part of a plot to de-throne Di Cristina, and when Caruso found out, he killed him.
In addition, Caruso had robbed a jeweller in Palermo who was under the protection of Salvatore Riina, as well as stealing goods from a warehouse owned by another man of honour. Enough aggravation to get you killed by Leggio, who organized for Nello Pernice, to have Caruso removed. In typical Leggio style, one mere death wasn’t enough to satisfy his passion for murder. When Caruso’s woman came calling looking for him, Leggio murdered her, and then for good measure, raped this woman’s fifteen year old daughter before disposing of her.
To round it off, a cousin had travelled to Milan endeavouring to track down Caruso, and in a fit of pique, Leggio killed him as well. This information was passed onto the authorities by Antonino Calderone.
The kidnapping of wealthy industrialist Pietro Torrielli in December of 1972, set the whistles and bells going in the office of Judge Giuliano Turone, the deputy anti-Mafia prosecutor of Lombardy. The huge ransom of 1.5 billion lire was an indication that the kidnappers were probably part of a sophisticated ring. Following the release of Torrielli, the Guardia di Finanza (Financial Police) followed a long and torturous paper trail of documents, bank checks, money orders and telegrams that all seemed to lead to one Senor Antonio, whose name kept coming up on wiretaps the police had set up across Milan. All of their intelligence pointed to the fact that Senor Antonio was Luciano Leggio. On May 13th, 1974, a wiretap on his own phone altered the police to the fact that he was soon leaving the city on an ‘extended visit.’
Plans were laid, and at 6:00 am on the morning of May 16th, the Financial Police mounted a massive containment exercise. Ten trucks containing 47 police officers arrived in the Vigentino district, sealing off all possible escape routes around the apartment at Via Ripamonti. At 6:30 am Colonel Vissicchio and Major Lombardi in charge of the arrest, accompanied by a dozen officers, climbed to the top floor of the building and hammered on the apartment door. It was opened by Leggio in pyjamas and slippers.
In the background the police could hear a baby crying. It was Paolo, Leggio’s one year old son. The most wanted and perhaps feared man in the whole of Italy surrendered peacefully. The police found a revolver in his bedroom along with books on philosophy and history. It was almost an exact replica of his arrest in Corleone ten years before!
Tommaso Buscetta when he gave evidence following his decision to become an informer against the Mafia, inferred that Riina had betrayed his boss in order to gain control of the Corleonesi.
In an ironic twist, it’s quite possible that twenty years later, Riina after 23 years 6 months and 8 days on the run, was arrested himself because of the betrayal of one of his men, Baldassare Di Maggio.
Destined to spend the rest of his life in various prisons across Italy, and finally into the isolation of Badu e Corros penitentiary in Nuoro on the island of Sardinia, at the age of forty-nine, for Luciano Leggio (right), his life of freedom was over. But that did not stop him from running his crime family. Riina and Provenzano operated as his proxy on the cupola, with Riina gradually assuming more and more power over the Corleonesi’s affairs.
Leggio sat in his prison cells across Italy, moving his killers like pawns across the chessboard of Sicily, picking up judges and prosecutors and journalist and politicians. And knocking them down one by one as it suited his agenda.
Over the next twelve years, he was constantly moving between prisons and courthouses.
ON July 29th 1974, he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in connection with the 114 Trial.
In November 1974, along with 31 other men, he was tried for the crimes committed by Anonima Sequestri.
In 1975 he was arraigned before Judge Terranova and his conviction for the murder of Dr. Navarra in 1958 was re-confirmed.
He was tried in connection with the kidnapping of Luigi Rossi di Montelera, in 1976.
In 1977 he was indicted on the evidence of Leonardo Vitale, the pentiti from the Alterallo cosca, near Palermo, who pre-empted Buscetta and Contoro as the most significant Mafia informant of the 20th century, although the authorities had no real idea who and what they were dealing with, and simply had him shipped to a mental hospital for seven years.
Leggio featured at a court of appeals hearing in 1978 at Palermo, when he and Benedetto La Cara argued their cases against their 1974 sentences.
In 1982 he was tried in Reggio Calabria in connection with the killing of Judge Terranova and acquitted.
In November 1985 he was back in Reggio Calabria, where he appeared to be having an affair with a buxom, 41 year old blonde from Perugia, called Maria Pia Davena, although their meetings were always in prison cells or courthouse interview rooms.
There were hearings regarding the murder of Judge Terranova in April 1986, moved from Calabria to Palermo, in order to have him handy for the forthcoming Maxi-trial.
The Genoese police officer in charge of logistics at the trial held in Sicily, in Palermo, in a special bunker-style courthouse built onto the Ucciardone prison, would not even mention Leggio’s name in the security of his own quarters.
‘Leggio,’ he explained to anthropologists John and Peter Schneider, ‘could bury any of us.’
Although he exerted his hold over some of his interests, there never was, according to Judge Giovanni Falcone, a grande vecchio-powerful old man, of the Mafia, who pulled the strings from the very top. The judge considered this concept an idea of great intellectual crudity.
As Leggio and everyone who followed him knew, the real power lay in the Palazzo Chigi and the Montecitorio, in Rome, the heart in the body of political Italy.
In one of his many trials or court hearings in the 1970s, Leggio defended his lifestyle by quoting almost word for word the Mafia definition as laid down by the famous 19th Palermitan doctor and ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè:
Mafia is neither a sect nor an association, it has no regulations or statutes. The Mafioso is not a thief or a criminal……..Mafia is the awareness of one’s own individual strength…….The Mafioso is someone who always wants to give and receive respect. If someone offends him, he does not turn to the law.
Throughout part of his years of isolation, Leggio used a Catholic priest, Agostino Coppola, to carry messages from him to his subordinates in the Mafia. The grandson of the old don, Frank Coppola, he was, like a number of the men of the cloth in Sicily, a Mafioso himself, made into the Partinico cosca in 1969. This was confirmed to the authorities by Antonino Calderone. A man of some considerable power within the church, Coppola at one time, administered the assets of the diocese of Monreale and was the parish priest of Carini for a number of years.
Coppola’s brothers, Giacomo and Domenico were Mafioso who controlled the land west of Carini towards Paterna, an area which included the Zucco Estate an area of 147 hectares and a number of buildings, including a castle. Giuseppe Russo the carabinieri colonel murdered by the Mafia in 1977, was convinced that the priest Coppola had arranged to hide Leggio on this estate for a number of months
The priest had acted for Leggio’s kidnapping unit on at least one occasion when he was the emissary between the gang and the family of the young engineer, Luciano Cassina, kidnapped in August 1972 and held in captivity for six months until released on payment of a ransom of over one billion lira. For this little escapade, the priest was indicted in 1976 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Eventually suspended and then dismissed from the church, he married into the Caruana family, the greatest drug dealers the Sicilian mob has ever known. He was the priest who in fact married Salvatore Riina and his life-long love, Antonietta Bagarella, on April 16th, 1974 either in a villa near Cinisi, or at a little church in the San Lorenzo district of Palermo, according to which source is consulted.
In 1977, prison officials at the penitentiary in Lodi in the province of Lombardy, Northern Italy, discovered a plot to spring Leggio, apparently engineered by the Mafia, and the prisoner was immediately moved to another high security facility.
Between 1979 and 1980 when he was incarcerated at Ucciardone in Palermo, another conspiracy to break him out of prison was uncovered, and he was again transferred.
Leggio’s incarceration in prison was a lot more comfortable than a lot of his peers. Before he was sent to Badu e Corros in Sardinia, he had his meals delivered from an outside restaurant, and paid another inmate to act as his food taster, to make sure he wasn’t poisoned. At one prison he had as his protector and guard Antonino Faro, the Catania Mafioso and homicidal cannibal killer.
As the years passed, Leggio grew fleshy and even sleeker in his appearance, but always kept himself smart and well-groomed. He had boxes of long, fat Toscanello Tuscany cigars delivered each week, and would sport a huge diamond and gold ring to impress his guests.
He would spend his time writing poetry and reading, studying the pre-Socratic philosophers and later serious writers such as Dostoevsky.
He filled his days painting, producing over 400 pictures, strong vibrant images of Corleone and the surrounding countryside, either from his memory or from postcards sent to him by friends and relatives. One of his lawyers, Pierro Arru, said Leggio‘s inspiration came from Vincent Van Gough.
Some less than kind commentators, suggested that the paintings were in fact done by other inmates, one in particular, Gaspare Mutolo, who had shared a cell with Leggio for a period of time, claimed he painted more than half of the work that was eventually put on display, and Leggio simply added his signature to them. ‘Leggio’ he claimed, ‘couldn’t paint a daisy.’ Whatever, the works of art attracted thousands of curious sight-seers when they went on exhibition.
His first collection of fifty-five paintings was displayed at the Marino Gallery on the Via Dante in Palermo in January 1988, organized by another of his lawyers, Salvatore Traina. The showing opened on Saturday 2nd, and by the following Tuesday, forty had already been sold. The proceeds of the sales, organized by his ageing sister, Maria-Antonina, back in Corleone, would go towards providing a dialysis machine in the hospital there. Some of his works were to sell for as high US$30,000. Soon, art galleries in New York, Spain and Germany were clamouring to get their hands on them.
In 1992, the governor of the prison applied for an injunction to prevent Leggio sending out anymore of his paintings on the grounds that they contained secret signals to his mob associates. Leggio’s lawyer fought the action, but the Italian supreme court found in favour of the prison authorities.
Early in 1986, Leggio was moved from his current prison back to Palermo as a defendant in another major organized crime investigation that became known as the Mafia maxi-trial.
The biggest legal event of its kind, ever held in Sicily, it ran from February 1986 until December 1987. 464 defendants, including 4 women, faced charges, that along with their names, filled 400 pages of the court documents than ran to 8607 pages. There were 200 defence lawyers in court along with two full sets of judges and jurors to last the course.
There were over 100 prisoners who appeared in the special courthouse on February 10th. One hundred and thirteen were out on bail awaiting a later trial and 115 under indictment were at large, including Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. By December 1987, the trial was over, having sentenced over 300 of the accused on a variety of charges from murder to associating with the Mafia. Leggio, secured in his own private cage during the hearings, treated the court with contempt and disdain.
‘How could I do these things I’m accused of?’ he said. ‘I have been in prison for the last twelve years. Do you wish to call my jailer to confirm that I have not been out. It is impossible that I have committed crimes.’
He had indeed been in prison during the steamroller rise of the Corleonesi’s to power within the brotherhood. During the blooding of the second Mafia war in the early 1980s when perhaps a thousand or more were killed, according to Judge Giovanni Falcone, he had been confined. He was incarcerated when he helped organized the take over of the heroin trafficking into America. The Mafia had murdered a former mayor of Palermo, eleven senior police officers, four judges, six public prosecutors, two famous journalists and four politicians. The dead were everywhere. It’s more than conceivable that none of these things happened without his approval and consent, and during all of this time, he was in prison.
He was cleared of all counts, on this, his last trial. As usual, the judiciary couldn’t really come to terms with a man who was really a monster.
On Monday, November 15th 1993, he collapsed in his prison cell at the high security prison in Sardinia. He had been here for nine years.
Penitentiary Guard, Antonino Pampitta, discovered him in a routine cell-check at 8:35 am. lying on his bed, his mouth open, gasping for breath, his eyes dilated In his final years, Leggio suffered from many ailments-asthma, prostate and liver problems, along with rheumatism and bladder dysfunctions, and his endless bone problems. Three doctors worked on him, trying to keep him alive. Taken to the San Francesco Hospital on the Via Mannironi in Nuoro, he went peacefully before the ambulance arrived, as his heart turned to jelly and died on him and his kidneys and bladder finally gave in to the struggle. He was sixty-eight years old.
The official cause of death was myocardial infarction.
Dying quietly in bed was an option he had offered few of his enemies.
His lawyer, Francesco Azzena had been appealing his sentence, on the grounds of his numerous health problems, and the fact that he had in total, served 25 years in prison.
Angelo Puggioni, the owner of a well-known furniture store in Nuoro- Dania Arredamenti- had guaranteed Leggio a position as an interior designer, should his release be facilitated.
The image of Luciano Leggio, one of the most virulent Mafioso of all times, effusively offering clients advice on their selection of drapes and soft furnishings, is one to be conjured with long into the night.
After a postmortem, just to make sure he had died a natural death , his body was shipped by air to Sicily, arriving into Punta Raisi, Palermo airport at 1:30 pm on the 17th of November.
The coffin was collected by an old, blue Mercedes hearse, and escorted by two police jeeps, the convey made its way south, through Montelepre, the haunt of the bandit Giuliano fifty years before, then across and through San Giuseppe Jato, the heartland of the Mafia for over 100 years, and into Corleone.
The hearse brought the body to the tiny church of San Rosalia in the Piazza Giuseppe Vasi. Here, parish priest Girolamo Leggio, first cousin to the dead man, performed the burial service. This and the internment, were attended by only some immediate family-his sister Carmella and cousin Giovanna Palazzo along with her husband, Francesco Zito. Maria Antonina (right) the sister who administered his estate and had been charged with allocating the proceeds of Leggio’s paintings into philanthropic endeavours, stayed at home with brother Carmelo, who had been part of Leggio’s original gang.
At the cemetery on the Via Marqueda, TV camera crews and newspaper reporters filled out the available spaces. There was a strong police presence in and around the area, and many tourists, unaware of the proceedings taking place, were re-routed away from Corleone that day as the law closed down the area with roadblocks on all the main roads into the town. The streets were deserted, the shops closed down for the day. The town rested still and quiet, as though waiting for the consummation of a curse long overdue.
Leggio’s partner from Milan did not attend the funeral services as neither did his son, 19 year old Paolo, who according to the media, had disowned his father. Leochina Sorisi now married and living in Genoa, wanted nothing to do with the ceremony. The only one from that period at the cemetery was a man in a grey overcoat who claimed to have been Sorisi’s cousin, and had been around during those days in 1964. He wanted, as he told a reporter, ‘to see the end of the story.’
This may have been Ludovico Benigno, who had been one of the men seen with Placido Rizzotto before he was kidnapped and murdered, all those years before.
At five minutes after four in the afternoon, the sky overcast through the fiery glow of the setting sun and a wind blowing in over the Rocca Busambra shrouded in dark clouds, dusting dried flowers from graves across the cemetery, the coffin was interred in the red, granite family vault, alongside his brother Giralamo who had been buried there in 1967. There is no name or picture on the tomb to indicate Luciano Leggio is buried here. Two wreaths, one from his sisters and brother one simply marked ‘from the grandchildren,’ are laid in place, and it is over.
La Primula Rossa now lies forever, in this graveyard, only twenty five paces from the grave of Dr. Michele Navarra. Somewhere here, in this burial ground, it is rumoured, lie the remains of Calogero Bagarella, interred in secret after he was killed in the shoot-out at the Via Lazio, in 1969.
‘Leggio was one of the most important chiefs of the Cosa Nostra,’ said Luciano Violante, chairman of the anti-Mafia Committee in the Italian Parliament. A fitting epitaph, a back-handed compliment, or perhaps a sad commentary on a wasted life.
On January 29th 1994, a ceremony was held in the town of Corleone to rename Piazza Vittorio Emanuel III. After months of wrangling amongst council members, it was agreed to call the square ‘Piazza Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellini’ as a permanent tribute to the two judges murdered two years previously, by the Mafia.
Hundreds of people gathered that morning in the square overshadowed by the local carabinieri barracks, where sixty-eight years earlier, Carmelo Rizzotto had been one of the dozens of suspected Mafia criminals rounded up before being deported to the Palermo prison.
The re-naming was pushed through by mayor Giuseppe Cipriani who said, ‘There is more to Corleone than the Mafia.’ Sisters of the murdered judges carried out the unveiling ceremony.
Ironically, the superintendent in charge of monuments for the city, was called Meli, the same name as Antonino Meli, the 68 year old judge from Caltanissetta , appointed by Rome in 1988 as chief prosecutor in Palermo to head up the anti-Mafia Co-ordinating Group, replacing Falcone and effectively putting back efforts to defeat the Mafia by years. Also, the stonemason hired to create the granite street signs for the square was called Liggio!
Maybe degrees of separation, as conceived by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in 1929; coincidence, an alignment of random points, the long arm of fate, kismet, chance; all sorts of threads run through the story of Luciano Leggio, linking together a tapestry of energy rather than fabric.
It had been a long and winding road for him and the Sicilian Mafia, a road that had taken him and his criminal clan from a rustic-based enterprise into a tangled urban world of deceit, treachery and mayhem on a scale never seen before in Italy.
Anton Blok said, ‘Before there was the Mafia; now there is politics.’
It may be somewhat simplistic to infer that the Mafia changed its spots simply because it became involved in the machinations of the state. However, there is little doubt that all along, Cosa Nostra’s most exhilarating and profound attraction to its members, was and is, its complete and utter insouciance to the law. Its members could do anything they wanted, safe in the unconditional knowledge that they were protected by their own special coda. It was a short step from indifference to the law towards indifference to the state. It did however, require a quantum leap in the mob’s philosophy regarding killing as a means to an end.
The Little King of Corleone may also have qualified for a unique if somewhat macabre appellation, as one of the greatest mass murderer of his time. His tally was probably somewhere between one to five hundred, many at his own hand, but most at his direction.
He left as his legacy, the two killing machines he had nurtured and encouraged- his avatars-Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano (left), who eventually both came to represent him on the Mafia’s commission-its board of governors, creating a new precedent within the Sicilian Mafia that under certain circumstance, there could be more than one capo leading a family.
Riina (right) who became know as ‘The Beast,’ and rightly so, was eventually brought to bay in 1993, and caged forever. Provenzano, called ‘The Tractor,’ because he ran everything down in his path, kept going for another thirteen years until he was finally brought to justice in April 2006. It was reported that the townspeople of Corleone were so delighted that he had at last been brought down, they re-named a street after the date he was captured-11 Aprile.
Their successor as the supreme boss of Cosa Nostra is supposed to be Matteo Messina Denaro, a man of forty-eight. A Porsche-loving, computer savvy, Latin speaking, playboy-killer, known affectionately by his peers as ‘Mathew Money,’ and who once bragged: ‘I filled a cemetery all by myself,’ he seems to be as equally evasive, and difficult to catch as Luciano Leggio was. And like Leggio, he suffers from a permanent and debilitating disease, although his is myopia.
He is the capo of Castelvetrano, the same place where the bandit Salvatore Giuliano was murdered in 1950. Nothing is set in concrete however, and time will tell if he is in fact the man who has taken over from Provenzana. His story is still to be told.
In 2005, talking with Gabriella Ebano, the Sicilian author and photographer, Pina Rizzotto, recalled the effect her brother’s murder had on the family. How she and her parents and sisters went with the procession to the Rocca Busambra, on December 14th 1949, and on that cold and misty morning, had witnessed his remains being reclaimed from the deep cave that was used as a burial ground by the local Mafia.
How her mother, Rosina screamed in anguish and her father, Carmelo, stood with tears streaming down his face, as her brother’s head and items of his clothing were brought out by carabinieri sergeant, Orlando Notari, who had been lowered into the 35 metre chasm.
Although Placido had been adopted by Rosina, his own mother Giovanna Moschitta, Carmelo’s first wife, dying of the Spanish Flu in 1918, when he was just a baby, he was always been considered by the Rizzotto’s as their eldest boy and treasured son.
Every night for 57 years, Pina said she had offered a prayer for him. Her sister Salvatrice developed heart problems, and another sister Concetta, six months pregnant, lost her baby because of the stress they went through when their brother disappeared. The whole family was torn apart, and never put together again.
As the investigation dragged its slow way through the courts and appeals, her brother’s remains lay boxed as evidence, 6007/63, and were never returned to the family even though they made application on five different occasions between 1952 and 1963. Her parents and all her five siblings died without being able to bury their brother and son, and in due course the remains of Placido Rizzotto disappeared into the labyrinth of the Italian bureaucracy. In 2005, Francis Forgione, president of the anti-Mafia Commission, promised there would be a major government investigation to find and return the box. It was thought to be either stored somewhere in the courthouse building in Palermo or at the Court of Cassation in Rome. Things grind exceedingly slow in Italian bureaucracy.
In August 2008, human remains were found in a sinkhole on the Rocca Busambra.
In March 2010, Carmelo Rizzotto was exhumed, and DNA samples were taken to match to these remains. The RIS (Reparto Investigazioni Scientifiche) of the CID branch of the carabinieri carried out the tests in Messina. Also, found in the cave, was the skeleton of a farm animal which could indicate that after killing Rizzotto, Leggio had the body carried to the mountain by a mule, which was subsequently shot, and left with the trade unionist’s remains.
The tests however, were negative, as disclosed towards the end of November 2010.
After 62 years, the search for closure is still important to the members of Placido Rizzotto’s family, the trade union he represented, and in fact the state of Italy.
It has not gone unnoticed that the bodies of Michele Navarra, Luciano Leggio and other Mafiosi who contributed to the murder of the young trade unionist have been buried with full civil and religious accord, whilst their young victim has still not been laid to rest.
In Placido Rizzotto we see the true face of the victims of the Sicilian Mafia, and their families, representing the thousands of similar stories which lie untold across a hundred years of enforced violence, generated in order to satisfy the ambitions of those who worshipped false myths and pagan gods and destroyed everything that stood in their way. Men, who Corrado Stajano claimed, were a ghastly tangle of terror, vice, brutality and death.
Renate Siebert in her achingly beautiful account of life and death in the Mafia, from a woman’s perspective, ‘a journey into Hades,’ as she describes it, hopes that women’s sensibility will help bring about the demise of a phenomenon that represents a negation of what is considered one of the higher achievements of civilization, the right of man, denied individuals through terrorism executed at every social level in Sicily.
James Lee Burke notes in his book ‘The Glass Rainbow’: ‘If there is any human tragedy, there is only one, and it occurs when we forget who we are and remain silent while a stranger takes up residence in our skin.’
Surely no one is born malevolent and debased? Genetic disposition and social pressures create the schismatic shift in personality that eventually erupts as a psychosomatic earthquake, damaging everything and everyone around the fault line of that person’s presence.
Then again, Anthony Burgess in his dystopian novella, ‘Clockwork Orange,’ explored the theme that perhaps we are all born evil, or at least can become perverted along the way.
Luciano Leggio came into the world a baby, innocent as all are, until these changes occurred in him and turned him into the epitome of malevolence and abomination.
Mark Twain believed everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anyone. If that is the case, Luciano Leggio’s moon was surely always in perpetual eclipse.
Aristotle spoke of hamartia, the tragic flaw of man. While the modern popular rendering of hamartia is broadly imprecise and often misleading, it lends itself perfectly to the concept that in Leggio’s case, it may well have been simply that he was Sicilian, and as a result, his destiny was predestined.
It is hard to find the verbs or adjectives that do justice to the nature of this man: evil, controlling, frightening, unpredictable, pernicious, deadly, capricious, cruel, predatory, aberrant, mendacious are just some that come to mind. They hint at his nature, but hardly scratch the surface of the person.
He killed for fun, as a game, out of sheer malice, according to Antonino Calderone.
Maybe this is all we really need to know about La Primula Rossa.
If we all have our own dark dreams that keep us awake in the small hours of the morning, Luciano Leggio was surely Sicily’s, until Salvatore Riina came along to live up to his nickname ‘The Beast,’ and start the whole, heartbreaking cycle over again.
Paolo Borsellino, the judge murdered by Cosa Nostra in 1992, said:
‘People are dying all around me. If we deny the Mafia their existence they vanish like a nightmare.’
He was wrong of course. It seems more than likely, they never will.
Nine years later in August 2001, Pietro Lunardi, a minister of the state under the government of Silvio Berlusconi, admitted this when he claimed: ‘We have to live with the Mafia. They have always been and will always be.’
Giovanni Falcone wrote about the permanent sense of mortality that engulfs the life of a Mafioso:
……the constant risk of death, the low value placed on the lives of
others, but also on one’s own, force them to live continually on the alert. We
are often amazed by the incredible quantity of details that besiege the
memories of the men of Cosa Nostra. But when one lives, as they do, in
expectation of the worst, one is forced to gather even the smallest crumbs.
Nothing is useless. Nothing is a product of chance. The certainty of the
closeness of death – in a moment, a week, a year – infects them with a
constant sense of the utter precariousness of their lives.
Could it be that Leggio lived by his own, unethical, self-interested code of behaviour because he knew how circumscribed his life was? Surrounded by men who would kill each other without cause or conscience, all operating within an element characterised by random or formulated sudden violence. Men who, as Renate Siebert pointed out, operated in an activity obsessed by death, and were in contrast to the hagiographic image they liked to portray-rebels, negative heroes and defenders of a historical tradition- instead, contrivers of violence and assassination, which spoke more of cowardice and manipulation than any patina of honour.
It’s possible that in the end, Leggio quite simply adopted Machiavelli’s guiding principle that the end justifies the means, and applied this philosophy as an excuse for his lifestyle.
Whatever it was that tripped him over from peasant boy to peasant boy-killer, Luciano Leggio created a journey for himself that could only ever lead to one of two destinations: death or imprisonment.
I leave the final words to the late, and great, English author, Norman Lewis who wrote one of the finest books ever on the Mafia, called The Honoured Society. He had been in Sicily during World War Two as part of the military occupying forces, and returned in the 1960s to travel across the island and research this social criminal phenomena that was evolving, yet again in the post-war years. Another phoenix arising, just like it had before, following the assault on its seemingly invincible being by Cesare Mori in the late 1920s.
He talks about a small town near Palermo, but his observations could easily apply to Corleone or any of another hundred small places across western Sicily.
‘The Mafiosi of Tommaso Natale are Bedouins in double-breasted suits and gaudy pullovers, with nomad faces and eyes still screwed up from searching the depths of hallucinatory landscapes for their straying beasts. Without realizing it, they have killed each other as far back as anyone can remember, and still kill each other, not so much out of bloodthirsty sentiment, but from economic necessity. There has never been enough to go around.’
Francis Ford Coppola himself, could not have created a more evocative image.
These are of some of the sources I used in preparing the story:
Alongi, Giuseppe. El Maffia. Palermo: Sellerio Editor. 1977.
Arlachi, Pino. La mafia imprenditrice. Bologna: 1983.
Arlachi, Pino. Men of Dishonour. New York: 1993
Bardoni, Avril. Man of Respect. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, spa. 1988.
Biagi, Enzo. Il boss è solo. Milan: Mondadoris 1990.
Blok, Anton. The Mafia of a Sicilian Village. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.
Dalla Chiesa, C. Michele Navarra e la mafia del corleonese. Palermo: La Zisa, 1990.
Dolci, Danilo. Fare prèsto (e bene) perchè si muore. Turin: Franscesco De Silva, 1954.
Falcone, Giovanni. Cose di Cosa Nostra. Milano: Rizzoli, 1991
Follain, John. A Dishonoured Society. London: Little Brown & Co. 1995.
Gambetta, Diego. La mafia siciliana. Turin: 1992.
Hess, Henner. Mafia. Rome, Bari: Laterrza and Figli Spa, 1984.
Kermoal, Jacques and Bartolomeri, Martine. La mafia se met à table: Histories e recettes de l’honorable société. Paris: Actes Sud 1986.
Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi di. Il gattopardo. Milan: Feltrinelli, 1960.
Lewis, Norman. The Honoured Society. New York: Putnam, 1964.
Lodato, Saverio. Dieci anni di Mafia. Milan: Rizzoli, 1990.
Lupo, Salvatore. Storia della Mafia. Rome: Donzelli, 1993.
Lupo, Salvatore. Story of the Mafia. New York: Columbia University Press 2009.
Nese, Marco. Nel Segno della Mafia: Rizzoli 1976.
Pantaleone, Michele. Mafia e dròga. Turin: Einaudi, 1966.
Poma, Rosario. La Mafia: Nonni e nipoli. Florence: Vallecchi, 1971.
Schneider, Jane and Peter. Culture & Political Economy in Western Sicily. New York: Academic Press, 1976.
Servadio, Gaia. Mafioso. New York: Stein and Day, 1976.
Siebert, Renate. Mafia and anti-Mafia Concepts: Universita della Calabria.
Secrets of life and death. London: Verso, 1996.
Stille, Alexander. Excellent Cadavers. London: Jonathon Cape, 1995.
Stajano, Corrado. Mafia: L’atto daccusa dei giudici di Palermo. Rome: Riuniti, 1992.
Sterling, Clair. The Mafia. London: Grafton, 1990.
Zingales, Leo. Provenzano. El Rey de Cosa Nostra. Cosenza: Pellegrini, 2001
Newspapers articles from:
Giornale di Sicilia
Corriere della Sera
Città Nuova Corleone
Extracts from the testimony of:
Tommaso Buscetta to Judge Falcone and others, July-September.
Salvatore Contoro to Judge Falcone and others, October 1984-June 1985
Testimony of Antonino Calderone to Judge Falcone and others, March 1987-
Testimony of Gaspare Mutolo, February 1993.
© Thom L. Jones. 2010
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