By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
If you stroll through the gardens of Villa Bonanno, in Piazza Vittoria, Palermo, late in the afternoon as the sun is slowly sinking over Tunisia, the towering palms and beautiful walkways that seem to meander forever can quietly seduce you. Everywhere, the smell of a city drowning in the scent of citrus and the festering decay of neglect. It’s easy to get lost in thought and ignore the properties that crowd down from each side, especially the three-story white building, trimmed in a biscuit color, on the south-east side of the park.
It’s arched-entrance way carries the banner, Questura di Palermo Squadra Mobile. It used to be a monastery five hundred years ago.
Now it houses cops of the elite Flying Squad who hunt the criminals of Sicily’s biggest city. To the left of the entry is a plaque commemorating one of them. His name, Giorgio Giuliano, although everyone called him Boris, his cognomen.
You look at the images of him, taken some forty years ago in Sicily. They are mostly black and white.
Like all photographs, they only show the one-dimensional resemblance; you can’t pick up his suppleness, the way he moved; his head shifting back and forth, the eyes taking in everything around him; the energy that seems to surround him.
Larry Smith, the author of Iwo Jima, claims that photographs are emotive journalism, drawn from an intuitive re-action, telling a story without words. If you look at photos of Boris, you can recognize this at the edges of the shadows, the patina holding the likeness together.
These impressions reveal a lot, but don’t tell us for example, how he spoke English with a Cockney accent, something he acquired when he worked in Frith Street in Soho, the West End of London, as a waiter at a restaurant that served veal made from horse-meat because it was hard to get the right stuff, with all the shortages following the second world war.
After he finished his degree at a university in Sicily, he went to England and lived there, illegally for two years, keeping the wolf from the door by serving up portions of nags to people who thought it was grain-fed calf, in this seedy, bustling, inner-city suburb of Britain’s biggest city.
I wonder if he knew that a fellow countryman and namesake, Carlo Giuliano, the famous jeweler of Edwardian England, worked in Frith Street, out of a shop at number thirteen, forty years before. Intersections. Figures moving through time and history, not always crossing paths, but part of the same amazing jigsaw that fits together around all of our lives. The endless motion of the eddy of life. Small streams and then rivers, flowing endlessly, somewhere.
As Boris brushed up on his English while serving food to eager customers in London’s west-end, back in Corleone, in the heartland of the Sicilian Mafia, a twelve-year-old boy called Leoluca was growing up with his two older brothers, Calogero and Giuseppe, learning the ropes from his father, Salvatore Bagarella, a seasoned Mafioso, developing skills with guns and knives, getting primed for the big days that lay ahead of him. Ready to sew and reap in the killing fields of Sicily in a war that would turn towns and cities into something more like the wastelands of Syria that the bucolic island it had always seemed to be.
A quarter of a century later, the paths of this young boy and this London waiter would cross in an ineffable moment in time that would stop the clock on how Italy related to its never-ending nemesis-the Mafia.
Whereas in the past, Cosa Nostra used to kill only their own, beginning in 1970, the Mafia started assassinating prosecutors, judges and others who were fighting them, and so began producing the never-ending Cadavere Eccellente, ‘excellent cadavers,’ as the famous Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia called the murdered officials of the state.
Boris Giuliano would become the first senior member of the modern-day Publica Sicurezza, the civilian police of Italy, to fall victim to this purge that would continue until the early 1990s. Not the very first police officer to die at the hands of the Mafia, in 1979, murdered simply because he was doing too good a job.
That awful distinction belongs to a sergeant, the same age as Boris; a man called Filadelfo Aparo, gunned down in a hail of bullets by a four-man hit team, in Piazzale Anelli, in the Santa-Rosalia neighborhood of Palermo on January 11. Sergeant Aparo was part of Giuliano’s squad, dying six months before his boss. (1)
Like Boris, Aparo was getting too close for comfort. His killers called him ‘The Hound,’ and they had brought him to heel.
Just why Giuliano is the target of the same group of men who had Aparo killed, and how he found himself, alone and unprotected, at the moment of his death, is a story that speaks much about the power of the Mafia in Sicily and its complex relationship with a state that it not so much fought as lived in harmony with. (2)
Coming up summer, it gets hot and humid in Palermo; the temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the moisture level up in the 90s.
July 20th, 1979 was no exception.
He’s showered and shaved and dressed by eight o’clock.
I picture him, below average height and lean, the dark hair hanging limp over his forehead, the droopy mustache, and the heavy bags under the eyes. He looked like a man carrying too large a burden; someone who has seen more grief than anyone should have to handle.
He clips his pistol onto his left hip, because he’s left-handed, sliding his jacket on, checking one last time in the mirror. I see him brushing the coat back, the lightweight, white linen one he favors in the summer heat, going for the gun. In the force they call him "The Sheriff" because he’s so fast getting the pistol out and ready. He’s also a crack marksman. Handy thing to be in a city full of crazy killers.
Then the telephone.
He answers and listens. I imagine him again, nodding his head.
‘Che bello!’ he says, I think. ‘This is great. This could be a good day.’
He checks his watch. It’s early; he’s not meant to be at the cafe until closer to 8.30 when his bodyguard will arrive to pick him up in the Alfa. No problem. He’ll get an extra ristretto, maybe check the newspapers: the Giornale di Sicilia, or yesterday’s L’Ora; meet this person with the information.
It could be a good day. Maybe things were moving at last. He’s glad his wife Maria and their three children have gone on vacation, back to Catania province, for the hot summer months. He won’t have to worry about their safety if things get moving. There’s trouble brewing across this part of Sicily. The wolves are loose, maybe they’re sensing the blood waiting to be spilled.
It’s a short walk, perhaps two hundred meters, from his apartment in Via Alfieri to the coffee shop. First, he stops and chats to the building doorman, the manager, handing him a check for the month’s rent.
The Bar Lux sits north, a block away, at the bottom end of Via Francesco Paolo Di Biasi, in the Libertá neighborhood. The road, as usual, packed with parked cars, people out shopping already this early Saturday morning; some standing on the corner of Via Ugo, smoking, talking, arms going like windmills, voices echoing off the buildings crowding the streets.
Boris goes into the café, nodding at the twenty people already there, and orders his short black and a cornetto, the horn-shaped pastry he liked to start the day with, and opens up a copy of the morning newspaper. He stands there, leaning on the bar counter, deep into the news, never notices the man with the pale face and shaking hands, who comes in through the door.
Short and stocky, dark hair and complexion normally swarthy, this morning, his blood is pumping, adrenaline heaving, draining the color from his features. In his shaking hand, he holds a gun.
It would not be a good day for the police officer. An awful day for a telephone call. (3)
Giorgio Boris Giuliano was born in Piazza Armerina, in October 1930. A small commune near Enna, it lies almost in the middle of the island of Sicily. His family moved to Messina where he grew up, studied at university and graduated in law in 1956.
Following a brief period working for a manufacturing company in Milan, he joined the state police in 1962. After his induction training course, the agency post him to Palermo where he applied to join Squadra Mobile, the Flying Squad, moving into the Homicide Section. (4)
He would stay here in until the day he died. Fighting planet Mafia.
Pietro Grasso, former president of the Senate, spoke on the fortieth anniversary of Boris Giuliano's death, writing on Facebook: “I always remember him with deep affection and admiration. He was a very skilled investigator and a policeman appreciated by colleagues and citizens; a man with great insights. Even today he is an example for men and women in uniform engaged in the fight against organized crime.”
His first major investigation was the Ciaculli Massacre. A mob war that went bad, resulting in the deaths of seven soldiers and police officers, killed by a car bomb on the last day of June 1963, planted near the home of Michele Greco, a Mafioso with roots that went back forever. From there, it was as though Boris had got on a travelator and just had to keep going. Case after case. Crime after crime.
On June 19, 1975, he graduated from the 101st session at Quantico, Virginia, the training center of the FBI. He was, and still is, the only Italian police officer chosen to attend this course. He would meet and make friends with many agents of the FBI and the DEA, including Tom Tripodi a famous former FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) officer who was the drug agency’s top link into Italy and the first to go undercover in Sicily, against the Mafia.
Together, beginning in September 1978, they would work a narcotics inquiry, code-name “Operation Caesar.” that would eventually develop into The Pizza Connection, covering the biggest ever drug trafficking operation between Sicily and America.
It would also become the death of Commissioner Giuliano.
Its roots lay back in 1962 with the murder of Calcedonio Di Pisa, the Mafia boss of the Noce neighborhood in Palermo. A dandy who would dress in purple silk shirts and camel-haired coats, and had close links into the Bonanno Mafia family of Williamsburg, New York, he’s gunned down in a city square in the Ziza district the day after Xmas. It was all about heroin and the huge profits the mob could see waiting for them.
By August 1965, Giuliano and other investigators were tracking a complex drug trafficking operation developing from this period, which resulted in the arrest and trial of Mafia suspects in Sicily, mainland Italy and America.
Illustrious names appear on the charge sheets:
Francesco Coppola, Diego Plaja, Giuseppe Magaddino in New York and his father, Gaspare, in Sicily; the mysterious and illusive Santo Sorge and even Giuseppe Genco Russo, allegedly, the number one boss on the island. Plaja, a huge, obese waddle of a man, and the boss of Castellammare, had a daughter who married Giuseppe Magaddino.
A family within a family. The way Cosa Nostra maintains its bloodline.
Of the many stories of Giuliano’s life on the squad, there is a singular one, symptomatic of the problems police faced dealing with the wall of silence that "men of respect" lived by.
Boris had been asked to go and interrogate the old mafia boss Genco Russo in prison for an altogether banal affair: a large cattle rustling operation that had taken place in Russo’s domain, Mussomeli in the Province of Caltanissetta. He can't say no, so he goes to the Ucciardone Prison in Palermo, reluctantly. He knows he won't dig a spider out of the hole.
As soon as the cell door opens, the prisoner, nearly blind from a cataract, already knows who his visitor is. He doesn't need to look at him: "Good morning, Inspector." And Giuliano says: “Buongiorno, zù Peppi. Ci avissi a fari nu paru 'i dumanni supra a alcune mucche.” (I need to ask you some questions about certain cows.)
The answer is acerbic: " E ssu le mucche? (what are cows?)" Genco Russo denies the existence of cattle. And Giuliano just needs to say goodbye and leave: "Thanks, zù Peppi and goodbye." (5)
Giuliano personally arrests one of the suspects, Frank Garafola, one time under boss to Joe Bonanno in New York, now retired back in Sicily and still breaking the law in his golden years. When confronted by his safe filled with money he claimed no knowledge of how it came to be there.
After many trials, all the defendants are eventually acquitted. The drug dealing carried on, however, as more and more Mafia families moved from traditional criminal schemes into the more lucrative field of importing raw opium, and through secret factories across the island, converting it into heroin for the endless appetite of North America.
By 1978, Gaetano Badalamenti (right), boss of Cinisi, was leading one of the world’s most prolific drug cartels. It helped that he had a brother, Emanuele, who lived in Monroe, Michigan, running various business operations, including a pizza restaurant chain. (6)
Formed in Naples, in 1974, the cartel embraced everyone who mattered-the Grecos, Bontates, Inzerillos, Luciano Leggio through his proconsul, Salvatore Riina, running the house for his boss in prison since 1974, and tied in with the Campania version of the Mafia, the Camorra, and Mafia crime families in the USA, especially the Bonannos and Gambinos. By 1979 Sicily had up to nine heroin laboratories hidden across the island, each capable of producing up to one ton of product a month.
In one of his many reports to his superiors, Giuliano claimed the Mafia had reentered the international drug traffic with all the logistics it needed, piggybacking on its old network of tobacco smuggling which it kept it alive following the end of the Second World War. (7)
A year after his FBI graduation, on October 20, 1976, Boris is promoted to head of the Squadra Mobile, taking over from Bruno Contrada who moved first to Criminalpol, the central directorate of the criminal police, and then to SISDE, the Italian secret service.
In 1992, arrested and charged with complicity in mafia association, in 2007 the courts sentenced him to ten years in prison. Information from Mafia informants linked Contrada to Rosario Riccobono, the boss of Mondello, and others, claiming he passed information to his mob associates tipping them off about forthcoming law enforcement investigations. (8)
Contrada’s case, one of the most complex and convoluted involving the Mafia and law enforcement, is causing ripples to this day as he still protests his innocence, aged almost ninety.
In 1969, as head of the Homicide Section of the Flying Squad, Giuliano is lead investigator in another mass killing, this one known as the Viale Lazio Massacre.
A shoot-out in a building contractor’s office on the north-west-side of the city. In the first week of December, it resulted in the death of Calogero Bagarella, the elder brother of Leoluca. One of the deadliest killers in the Corleone Family, his brother, would take his place and, over the years, would surpass anything his sibling had done.
The ambush and assassination of Judge Pietro Scaglione in May 1971 would present Boris Giuliano with the first of many examples of the killing of notable people. Excellent corpses as the media would refer to them, they would come to fill the streets and countryside of Sicily as a new breed of Mafiosi emerged, scouring everything in their path.
The 1970s is filled with cases for him to investigate. A decade bookmarked by the killing of two well-known journalists in Sicily.
In September 1970, crusading reporter Mauro De Mauro disappears. It would be twenty years before investigators confirmed his murder- kidnapped, strangled and buried- by Emanuele D’Agostino, Mimmo Teresi, Stefano Giaconia and Bernardo Provenzano.
His murder was part of a convoluted series of events linking into the very security of Italy itself, A person of influence in the Senate did not want the secrets out. Giuliano admitted this in a report, claiming “there was someone at the ministry in Rome who did not want anyone to get to the bottom of the De Mauro investigation.” (9)
There was the brutal assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Giuseppe Russo of the carabinieri (military police) investigation branch, and his friend the schoolteacher, Filippo Costa, in August 1977, in the forest of Ficuzza, just a twenty minutes drive from Corleone.
A thorn in the side of Riina, Russo was enjoying a holiday break with his family, when out for an evening stroll, he was gunned down by a group of men, including Riina and his godson, Giovanni Brusca. He kept it in the family, with his brother-in-law, Leoluca Bagarella, along as back-up.
Then the big one. The link that connected so many loose ends and started Boris Giuliano down a road to his own very special kismet.
Giuseppe Di Cristina is a powerful Mafia chief from Riesi in the province of Caltanissetta on the south side of Sicily. His father and grandfather headed the clan for generations, and then Di Cristina assumed the role of capo in 1961 at twenty-six. One of the youngest mob bosses ever. By 1978, he’s scared out of his pants by something he knows as Il Corleonesi. No one in Italy’s law enforcement knew who they were, but the Don of Riesi did. And they were after him.
In desperation, he became a pentiti, an informant. The first mob boss in Sicily to turn into a collaborator with the judiciary since the 19th century.
He spills the beans to Captain Pettinato of the carabinieri, in a cottage somewhere in the countryside near Riesi. This was April 16, 1978.
Less than a month later, Di Cristini is history. He was, in Mafia terminology, “laid down.”
Shot dead by two men on Via Leonardo di Vinci in Palermo, during early morning rush-hour traffic chaos on May 5th. Boris Giuliano is one of the first police officers on the scene.
In the victim’s wallet, he finds bank checks made out for hundreds of millions of lire to a mysterious bank connected to Michele Sindona, one of Italy’s richest men. He’s under investigation by a lawyer called Giorgio Ambrosoli hired by The Bank of Sicily to determine what Sindona is doing to the banking world. At home and abroad.
There was also the private telephone numbers of Nino and Ignazio Salvo, Sicily’s two richest men, the island’s certified tax-collectors.
The Mafia issued and passed checks without concern. No one, least of all the banks, bothered themselves with the huge amounts of money traveling from Sicily in and out of accounts belonging to men of honor or their associates. Finding suspects with drugs on them was almost impossible. Boris Giuliano realized the way into the maze was to follow the money trail. He was the first Sicilian police officer to do this. He blazed a trail that would be followed, in years to come, by illustrious judges like Giovanni Falcone.
A year after Di Cristina’s murder, Commissioner Giuliano travels to Milan to interview Ambrosoli. They compare notes. By then, Boris knows it’s all about the money pouring in from drug trafficking. On July 12th, 1979, the lawyer is shot dead outside his home, returning from work. By a hit man brought in from America.
It’s like Elmore Leonard writing a movie script. Except it’s real-life.
Eight days later, Boris Giuliano is dead.
Earlier in that year on January 26, 1979, he’s called to another murder scene.
This one features Mario Francese, an investigative journalist and legal specialist for Giornale di Sicilia, the island’s leading daily newspaper. Gunned down near his home in Viale Campania in the Liberta district. Like De Mauro, his murder will lie unexplained for many years until investigations reveal the Mafia kill Francese because he was getting too close to the Corleonesi and their part in the assassination of Colonel Russo.
Attilio Bolzoni, a renowned Mafia expert, once said, “Palermo doesn’t think much about the dead. It’s a city of gravestones, bunches of flowers, little affairs at crossroads. They shoot at each other a lot.”
He doesn’t mention the memorializing of Palermo’s dead by plaques and shrines that fill the city from end to end. On buildings and walls, remembrance trees and parks, constant reminders, linking years of Mafia killings connecting every district and community, square and high street, in a landscape colored red by blood and black by despair. They all give voice to silenced demands for justice coming from the past (10)
In a city between the heavens and the flames as its mayor, Leoluca Orlando once described it, there is so much to commemorate, and for all the wrong reasons.
The head of the Flying Squad will have at least two plaques to honor him. One where he worked and one where he died. His murder was the inevitable consequence of discovering the connection between Palermo and the American heroin trade. And between the money-laundering of the Mafia and the banker, Michele Sidona. Boris Giuliano was becoming too big a danger to ignore.
The end for him, will begin on a luggage conveyor which ironically, is at Punta Raisi airport in the domain of mafioso Gaetano Badalamenti in Cinisi, a small town north of Palermo which he ruled with the traditional iron fist. He had become immensely wealthy from his management of labor and materials as the airport was constructed using Mafia connections, and then his control over it as the major drug conduit in and out of Sicily.
However, sometime in 1978, the Corleonesi use some infraction not only to have him removed as head of the Commission, but expelled, laid down, as they describe, it from the Mafia itself. He leaves the island and moves to the Americas. (11)
The vacuum he creates in Sicily’s drug trafficking landscape is filled by Salvatore Riina and his allies. This will be the catalyst for the events that lead Boris Giuliano to that fateful morning coffee stop at the Bar Lux.
In Junes 1979, a young reporter at L’Ora, a Palermitan daily newspaper, met the Vice-Questore when he visited the office. One of the senior reporters said to the young man, “Boris Giuliano is an extraordinary policeman, because he is very different from the others. He does his job extremely well, but above all his a normal man, one who is always on the side of decent people. It’s his instincts that make him nervous, he knows something terrible is about to happen here in Palermo.” (12)
It was. And it did.
‘And I saw and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him…..’ - Book of Revelations
End of part one | Continue reading part two
1) The murder of Filadelfo Aparo remains unsolved. Although Giuseppe Ferrante, a 23-year-old street vendor, is convicted for his part in the ambush and killing, the court based his conviction on circumstantial evidence. He died in prison before his appeals expired and the law fully resolved the case.
2) “ If other state bodies had supported Giuliano’s intelligent investigative commitment, probably the organizational structures of the mafia would not be so enormously strengthened and many brutal killings, including that of Giuliano himself, would not have been consummated…..he appeared in the eyes of the Mafia familes at that time like the only investigator capable of creating serious problems for them »
Judge Paolo Borsellino wrote this in the papers of the indictment of the first maxi-trial in 1986. Another hero isolated by the state, the judge was murdered by the Mafia in 1992. Probably, for all the same reasons.
3) The telephone call Boris Giuliano received that morning leading him to visit the cafe early, where he would be alone and unprotected, was made by someone following a meeting of the Mafia commission, or ruling body, confirming his murder, possibly held at a club called Il Castello in San Nicola Lárena. Thirty kilometers south of Palermo, they would gather there in the afternoon when it was closed to the public to lay down their policy of slash, burn, kill, extort and above all, control.
It belonged to another capo (boss) called Francesco Di Carlo. He is unique in that he is the only Sicilian Mafia boss to die of COVID-19. In of all places, Paris.
The men involved in that meeting were Salvatore Riina, Bernardo Provenzano, Michele Greco, Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe Calo, Bernardo Brusca and Antonino Geraci. All will be found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for their part in the murder of the head of the Flying Squad.
4) Squadra Mobile is a division of the Italian State Police and operates in all of Italy’s major cities. In Palermo, it is divided into nine units, number one allocated to fighting the mafia.
5) ref Il Dubbio. 21 January 2021
7) Ordinaza di Rinvio a Giudizo, maxitrial, Page1888.
8) The list of Mafiosi who informed against Contrada is long, and includes Tommaso Buscetta, Rosario Spatola, Gaspare Mutolo, Francesco Marino Mannoia, Salvatore Cancemi. Maurizio Pirrone and Giuseppe Marchese, the brother-in-law of Leoluca Bagarella. Besides Riccobono. Prosecutors accuse Contrada of also working with Stefano Bontate, the boss of numerically, the biggest Mafia clan in Sicily.
9) La Repubblica. June 18, 2005.
10) Adamo, Sergio. Voice of the Forgotten. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.
11) Style, Alexander. Excellent Cadavers. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.
12) A Palermitan Diary. Attilio Bolzoni. 2014
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