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Pietro Scaglione: The First Excellent Corpse

By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.

Cadaveri Eccellenti: Excellent, or more appropriately, eminent corpses, is a term created by the Italian author Leonardo Sciascia, to denote public or noteworthy figures killed by the Mafia in Sicily. The original victim may have been a doctor, Giuseppe Montalbano, murdered in March 1861. The last of the Nineteenth Century was Emanuele Notarbartolo in 1893.

Pietro Scaglione is generally classified as the first in the Twentieth Century. In a more liberal interpretation, developed over the years, it confirmed doctors, businessmen, reporters and police officers, politicians and magistrates fall under this category. At least twenty other victims from 1906 until, in 1971, a judge visited his wife’s grave in a cemetery in Palermo. (1)

His son, Antonio, at twenty-one an advocate himself, frequently met with his father and escort on these visits. Without exception, the security guard is invariably there.

A senior magistrate working the courts in Palermo is vulnerable. Bodyguards were de rigeur. They’re taken from the penitentiary service, not any of the conventional law enforcement agencies.

On a day in early May it’s only the judge and Antonio Lo Russo who’s standing in for the regular escort, Sebastiano D’Agostino. He’d changed the shift to arrange a meeting with his bank manager. Lucky for him. Scaglione junior has an assignment he can’t break. Lucky for the son.

The early sun dappled ambiguous shapes across the tombstones and mausoleums crowding one of the oldest churchyards in Sicily; Scaglione is bringing flowers, as he does on each visit to the burial ground. Part of the Capuchin monastery in the old neighborhood of Danissini that dates back to the sixteenth century and renowned for its catacombs. The dead beneath the dead. Preserved and frequented by visitors for centuries, it’s one of the unique traveler destinations in the world. Silvestro da Gubbio, a friar, is the original occupant, resting in a corner since 1599. Shriveled and mummified in his original clothes.

The judge had lost his wife, Concetta Abate, in 1965 to cancer. He visited the grave site most days before commencing practice as Chief Prosecutor of the Republic. A habit easy to track and someone had. For days.

From the cemetery to Scaglione’s office on the second floor of The Palace of Justice in central Palermo, it’s a brief trip by car.

One minute in, everything changes, forever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Born March 2, 1906 in Lercara Friddi, one hour drive south-east of Palermo, Scaglione (right) attended university here in Sicily’s largest city, graduating in law on December 10, 1927.

He exhibited an independence of judgment remarkable for his age during the post-Mori period and what appeared to be the extinction of the Mafia following Mussolini’s assault on the honored society. (2)

Appointed to the district court in 1934, following the conclusion of World War Two, Scaglione, now an established member of the judiciary, becomes a leading investigator into a mass killing known as the Portella della Ginestra massacre. At a May 1st gathering in 1947 near San Giuseppe Jato, several hundred farm laborers and families come under fire by a group of bandits. Thirty-eight men, women, and children die, many are injured.

A notorious outlaw, Salvatore Giuliano, and his men are the prime suspects.

In due course, thirty-five of the outlaw group stand trial, except the whole thing smells of a conspiracy between landowners and local politicians, along with the Mafia, none of whom come anywhere near the courtroom. In 1950, someone killed Giuliano in mysterious circumstances. Seventy-three years after the incident, it still haunts Sicily.

The kidnapping and murder of Placido Rizzotto, a labor union leader in Corleone in 1948, and the killing of another labor activist, Salvatore Carnevale, in 1955, in Sciarra, a small country town in provincial Palermo are just two of the many Mafias-related inquiries the magistrate investigates.

By 1959, he is a senior prosecutor and, apart from two years in Rome, remains based in Palermo throughout his career. Short and stout, with reddish hair, he spoke in a low voice and seldom displayed irritation. He sometimes adopted a laissez-faire approach to the routine administration side of his job, which comes to haunt him later in his career.

In June 1963, a car bomb detonates in Ciaculli, a Mafia stronghold that lies to the east of Palermo City, killing seven law enforcement officers and soldiers dispatched to defuse it. Although Judge Scaglione, by now, Chief Public Prosecutor, and his investigators spent months on the case, they indicted no one for the crime, and it remains yet, a classic “misterie d’Italia,” an Italian mystery.

It’s believed Michele Cavataio, the Mafia leader of the Acquasanta quarter of Palermo, was behind the bomb. It was part of an ongoing conflict between various Palermo gangs disputing claim to the lucrative fruit and vegetable market in the capital and control of the burgeoning drug industry. The officer in charge of the responding police unit was carabiniere Lieutenant Mario Malausa.

Days before his death, he’d compiled a comprehensive report on the Mafia clans of the city and their interlocking relationship with local politicians and sent it to Judge Scaglione, who filed it away. From this time on, stories began circulating that the magistrate was treading a dangerous line between investigating and conspiring with Cosa Nostra.

Two years afterwards, in 1965, further speculation developed, this time revolving around a man called Francesco Coppola. After many years as a racketeer in America, in Detroit and St Louis, he’s deported to Sicily in 1948 where he became promptly, knee-deep in criminal activities, including counterfeiting and narcotic trafficking.

He’s linked into a complex investigation with an assortment of other repatriated Mafiosi, part of New York’s Bonanno Family, including Giovanni Bonventre, Francesco Garofalo, and Giuseppe Magaddino. The process stalled. More rumors emerged that Judge Scaglione was “sitting” on it, and the court released the defendants for lack of evidence.

In other operations, he will look into the interests of Vito Ciancimino, former mayor of Palermo, who occupied the post in 1970 for a bare seven days, a notable force behind the enormous construction activity that rejuvenates the city from historic and romantic into a babel of concrete high-rise apartments while lining the pockets of all the Mafia families who supplied and dominated every aspect of its transformation.

Besides the one time barber’s son from Corleone, Scaglione digs into the muddy political interests of Salvatore Lima, another Palermo mayor, with connections into Rome. It’s rumored Lima is a mafioso. And an associate of an upcoming Corleone gangster called Salvatore Riina.

And there was Luciano Leggio (right)

Born in 1925 into wretched poverty in a hovel in Corleone, he developed into a psychopathic killer, and a cunning manipulator of the Mafia process, first by murdering the local boss then infiltrating the labyrinth of Palermo’s multiple clans until his authority and domination became the stuff of legends.

It was as if he was the sun, and planets of the Sicilian Mafia revolved around him.

Mario Malausa had tracked him in Corleone, when as a young officer stationed there in the 1950s. He sent a report to his opposite number in Palermo, claiming: “He (Leggio) is extremely active among Palermo’s Mafia chiefs, bound not so much by friendship with them as is ascendancy over them.” (3)

On the run since August 1958, the police capture Leggio in 1964, in of all places Corleone, and the law holds him in confinement until indicted in the famous Trial of 114 in Catanzaro in 1967, where he’s acquitted. A few months afterward he moves to trial once more in Bari, and apart from a trivial charge of stealing grain in 1948, although indicted on nine charges of homicide, the court finds him not guilty, on June 10, 1969. (4)

Although free, he’s a fugitive in the eyes of the judicial system in Sicily and the court orders his detention. Here is where it becomes murky again for Judge Scaglione.

The court in Bari issued an expulsion order, written instruction to Leggio, to report to his hometown. Served at the home of his lawyer, Donato Mitolo, in Bitonto, near Bari, instead, he takes off and spends the next three months in a series of clinics in the south of Italy for treatment of his endless struggle with Potts’s Disease, a tuberculosis of the spine.

During his medical travelogue he conducts an affair with a nurse, before proceeding to a deluxe clinic, the Villa Margherita, near Piazza Bologna, in Rome, for treatment by Dr. Bracci, a renowned surgeon. This time on his liver.

Back in Sicily, Scaglione insists, conforming to the law, Leggio’s arrest must be in Corleone. Deputy Palermo chief of police, Aldo Acuri, passes this message to the authorities in Bari. People mutter again, journalists speculate what is happening. Is the judge correct in his legal opinion, or is there something off here?

Pesci fet d’a testa. The fish stinks from the head, is an old Sicilian proverb. Corruption starts at the top.

Leggio evaporates while under the supervision of the law, signing out of the Rome clinic on November 19. Whose responsibility is this? The administration or the judiciary? The Anti-Mafia Commission investigates and exonerates Judge Scaglione, the police in Sicily and the judges in Bari.

Scaglione’s apparent hesitation dealing with Cosa Nostra may have been more about his working habits than any underlying conspiracy.

The officials of the Palermo court, ushers, lawyers, judges, and chancellors knew of his method of filing away small mountains of correspondence connected to the Mafia, observing to anyone near, “What a bore.” (5)

By the dawn of the new decade, he is working on two labyrinthine investigations. The first is a conspiracy to overturn the Italian state that will become known as the Golpe Borghese (Borghese Coup) and will include Leggio as a key participant in Sicily; it fizzles out before it can create any damage to Italy. The other inquiry involves the disappearance of a well-known investigative journalist who worked for the left-wing newspaper L’Óra in Palermo. Mauro De Mauro drove off one night in his BMW with two men and vanished in September 1970.

As reported by informant Rosario Naimo, mafiosi Emanuele D’Agostino along with Stefano Giaconia and Bernardo Provenzano kidnapped and transported De Mauro to a chicken farm in Pallavicino, murdered him and dumped the body in a disused well. The reporter was becoming dangerously aware of Mafia secrets and had to go. Before he vanished, De Mauro told a friend in the newspaper he’d a scoop that would shake Italy.

Was it connected to the Mafia’s narcotic dealing? The coup that failed? The death of leading industrialist Enrico Mattei, who dies in a mysterious airplane crash in 1962, which De Mauro had been examining for years with its links into high politics and the Mafia?

We will never know.

By 1971, promoted by the state, Scaglione was shortly to move to Lecce on the Italian mainland to take up his new position as attorney general. It was, he realized, a side-ways promotion. Chief prosecutor in Palermo was a considerably more important assignment.

And then he went to place flowers on his wife’s grave.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After visiting the cemetery on this gray and windy Wednesday morning, May 5, the judge sits in the back of the state-supplied black Fiat 1300 carrying a Trieste license plate. Lo Russo (left) pulls away from the monastery and shifts left onto Via dei Cipressi, a tight, cobbled street, bordered on one side by the high, stone-wall of the cemetery and on the right by commercial and residential buildings.

It’s about eleven as the car reaches a slight right-hand bend in the road close to number 242. Here, the building wall juts out into the road, forming a right-angled bay, with enough room to conceal a person standing there. A white Fiat 850 pulls over towards the judge’s car. Lo Russo brakes and swings the car to his right. Into the secluded bay. From this moment, it’s all conjecture.

An only witness is an eleven-year-old boy, who was further up the street and recalls the white car racing away, its horn sounding to open the way. Next day he informed the police he was mistaken. The vehicle was black. His father arrived with the boy, shaking his head. “My son knows nothing,” he declared. There had, without doubt, been a visit to his family by men in dark suits and even darker eyes.

At the time of the shooting, police received a telephone call that a serious incident had taken place in the Zisa quarter near the cemetery. They rush to the scene.  One of them is Boris Guiliano, head of the Palermo Flying Squad. He will become a victim of the Mafia, shot dead in a cafe in 1979.   

Rosa Badalamenti is working in her backyard at 242 Via dei Cipressi. She knows nothing until the resounding screams of the patrol cars invade the street. She tells investigators she did not hear gunshots. And there were enough of them. Investigators find at least a dozen shell casings scattered near the car of the victims.

The police and carabinieri detectives hypothesize one gunman is waiting in the building niche. He steps out and shoots the driver three times in the chest. One or more shooters come at the judge from their car. Analyzing the bullets removed from the bodies and the ejected casings, it’s believed that at least two of the weapons used were a.38 caliber revolver and an M.A.S. nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol that carried a fifteen round magazine. The killers shoot the judge twice in the head and in his arm and hand. Officers rush the two victims to the Civic Hospital, but they are dead on arrival.

Harrowing, in a way that only a Mafia killing could orchestrate, one of the first respondents is carabinieri general Angelo Campanella. His driver is Rocco Lo Russo, brother of Judge Scaglione’s bodyguard.

The assassinations shock Palermo and Sicily and Italy itself. There's never been a murder of such an important legal figure. The media falls over itself searching for adjectives to describe an event that appears indescribable.

Rosa, the judge’s sister, comes to the morgue to identify the body. She screams at the world, “They killed the prosecutor. Right now, they laugh because you will never catch therm.”

Pietro Scaglione’s funeral is at Chiesa del Gesu, in the historic center of Palermo on May 8. It’s a big one. But nobody comes. From the government, at least. No prime minister, or minister of justice, or minister of interior. It’s like the state had forgotten him in three days. One journalist, Gianni Flamini, wrote, “There is a solemn funeral for Scaglione, but nobody talks about the Mafia.”

In Sicily, however, the elephant is always in the room.

In the months after his murder, the Office of the Prime Minister posts a reward of twenty million lire (just over US $3000) for information that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators. No one, it appears, had the nerve to take up the offer.

The only voice raised in protest came from the small town of Enna, in the east of Sicily. There, prosecutor Mariano Lombardi railed, “How will we ever have the courage to find his murderers if we ourselves are complicit?” (6)

In the mafiando of Sicily, a neologism coined by Michele Greco, one of Palermo’s oldest mob bosses, like elegant Romantic language misplaced in a book of hard, Germanic text, the clues to the killers of Judge Scaglione become misplaced, or lost, or just not there, and the men who murdered him moved on to their next victims and crimes.

As the law tried to unravel the mystery of who the killers were, the names of Leggio and his majordomo, Salvatore Riina (right) emerged as popular favorites. The killings had taken place in a Mafia controlled quarter, Porta Nuova, under Giuseppe Calo, so he was another obvious suspect. No Mafia boss allows a killing on his territory without consent. His right hand-man was Gerlando Alberti, which linked him into the conspiracy. Other names appear in due course to add to the list of suspects, as the homicides turns from a cold-case to one that becomes sub-zero.

The first authoritative sign of the killer’s identity comes from Mafia boss, Giuseppe Di Cristina, who discloses names and details to the carabiniere in the spring of 1978. In May, Riina’s men kill him.

In 1984, penitent (informant) Tomasso Buscetta confirms that Leggio and his gang had carried out the killings.

Years later, the disclosures of Mafioso, Antonino Calderone of Catania, at a parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, supports this disclosure. He later declared that the murder of Scaglione was part of a series of subversive actions carried out by mafia exponents following the collapse of the Golpe Borghese, which included the mystery surrounding the journalist Mauro De Mauro.

Buscetta had described the murder as having three objectives: to remove a troublesome prosecutor, to bring heat off the Rimi clan of Alcamo recently tried by the judge, and to create the suspicion that Scaglione had collaborated with the Mafia. Leggio had looked on Vincenzo Rimi as a mentor and father-figure, and the killing of the judge might remove pressure for the verdict. If the coup had succeeded, one of its benefits may have been the overriding of sentences against both Rimi and Leggio. The judge’s removal guarantees no interference from that direction. (7)

Other pentiti come forward and confirm Leggio’s part in the killing of Judge Scaglione.

One is Francesco Di Carlo, a Palermo boss who lived in England for many years, running his mob’s business from the south London stock-market belt. Others are Nino Giuffre, boss of Caccamo, and Benedetto La Cara, a defendant in the Catanzaro Trial. He claimed the judge’s murder involved high-ranking Christian Democrat politicians trying to cover up the Borghese coup.

A well-known Italian historian maintained the murder of Scaglione and the disappearance of De Mauro were a resumption of mafia terrorism as during 1946-1948, no longer against managers, trade unions, and politicians of the peasant world but against the press and an essential element of the state, such as the judiciary body. (8)

The judge was constantly a victim of the complexities of Palermo politics while investigating crimes of the Mafia. In Palermo legal circles they referred to it as “the fundamental intrigue.” It was trying to slice bananas with a chopstick. Possible, but endlessly frustrating.

In addition, he believed the most important mafiosi had to be hunted down in public administration. If only there had been a penitito de estade, a state penitent, an informant from the within the government, to clarify what mafiosi were telling the magistrates. None ever appeared, and so the mists of intrigue drifted over the investigation for years.

So much conspiracy.

It’s possible that it may have been something more simple: Revenge.

With the arrest of Leggio in 1964, in Corleone, one of his family became collateral damage. Carmela, an older sister, born in 1921, married into the Mafia; along with her husband, Leoluca Marino, she was in the dock at the Bari Trial. Judge Scaglione sentenced her to external banishment on the Italian mainland for assisting her brother to evade capture by the police. For a woman who’d never left the confines of a small, rural town, it was a catastrophic penalty.

There has to be a strong possibility, that irrespective of any political or strategic reasons for killing the judge, addressing this affront to his biological family must have consumed a man such as Leggio, who never forgot an insult.

Even though in prison for over five years, in September 1979, he’d arranged the murder of another judge. Cesare Terranova had worked many cases with Pietro Scaglione, and had crossed Leggio during an interrogation in Ucciardone Prison in Palermo years before, in 1968. He was so enraged; he frothed at the mouth, Terranova told his wife later that night.

The murder of the judge changes the limits that had lain, uneasily, in place since 1945 between Sicily, Rome, the politicians and the Mafia. Well-known Italian journalist Attilio Bolzoni claimed that “Palermo is a city where politics is made with guns.”

The spring of 1971 heralds the start of a campaign by Cosa Nostra to bring the state to its knees.

English philosopher, Derek Parfit, wrote in 2011, “We are living on the hinge of history.”

It’s conceivable that with the murder of Scaglione, Cosa Nostra, opened the lid on a Pandora’s Box they had been kept closed for generations. It was their own special axis which unleashed years of terror across Sicily and Italy.

They will murder another eleven magistrates, along with police officers and politicians, by 1993, until finally, with the fall of the First Republic, the government begins to take back the streets.

The law arrests Leggio in Milan in 1974 and sends him to prison for the rest of his life. Riina kept on mastering the skills of the killer until he too became a ward of the Italian penitentiary service in 1993. It imprisoned him until he died in a hospital in 2017 of multiple health problems.

In 1991, investigative judge Dino D. Mattei, based in Genoa, reviewed the hundreds of files that had accumulated over the years, but could find no evidence to justify continuing the search for the killers of the judge and his bodyguard twenty years earlier

When the case was officially closed, the findings listed the suspects as: Luciano Leggio, Salvatore Riina, Giuseppe Calo, Francesco Scaglione (no relative), Gaetano Fidanzati, Pietro D’Accardio, Gerlando Alberti, and Francesco Russo.

Calo is 87 and has been in prison serving multiple life terms since 1985. In a damascene conversion in September 2001, he disowned Cosa Nostra. The rest are dead, in prison or between sentences for crimes they have or will commit.

Photo: Gerlando Alberti, Giuseppe Calo and Gaetano Fidanzati

Years later, a new suspect joins the list.

On August 13, 2013, Riina is wandering around the exercise grounds at his prison in Milan. With him is Alberto Lorusso, a gangster from Taranto. The security microphones pick up parts of their conversation in which Riina refers to one of Scaglione’s killers as Bernardo Provenzano. Another of Leggio’s killers in the early years, he’d managed the big-boss job after Riina went to prison forever in 1993 until the law caught him and it imprisons him for life in 2007.

There were rumors that Provenzano (right) may have dropped a dime on Riina. If so, it’s without doubt the ex-boss of bosses surely knew. Mafia watchers were aware he understood he was being recorded and everything he allowed his watchers to hear was sending someone, somewhere, a hidden message.

La Stampa, one of the oldest newspapers in Italy, in an article dated 8 December 1972, said of the killings on Via dei Cipressi: “No more is known about the Scaglione crime than was known the day after the killing of the magistrate, and it is probable that not much more will not be known in the future.”

Fifty years later, we know everything, and nothing.

“All the victims of the Mafia constitute a red line of blood that can not be compared to anything in any European state, or anywhere in the world.”

Antonio Scaglione.

(1) The first was a town councilor in 1906, one a New York police officer, and the rest a mixture of union officials, police officers, and journalists. A year before the murder of Judge Scaglione, a well-known Italian investigative reporter, Mauro De Mauro, disappeared. Informants verified his killing by the Mafia. Scaglione was working the case when he became a victim himself.

(2) Benito Mussolini, the prime minister of Italy, carried out a war against the Mafia of Sicily, using Cesare Mori as his prefect in Palermo. Between 1924 and 1929, authorities jailed over 10,000 suspects. Many Mafiosi fled overseas, especially to North America.

(3) Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission.

(4) Catanzaro is on the east coast of southern Calabria. The authorities chose this, and Bari, on the Adriatic coast in the province of Puglia, because they were big enough to handle the logistics of the trials, and their isolation from Sicily would help minimize interference from the Mafia. A fallacious hope, as it turned out.

(5) Nese, Marco. Nel Segno Della Mafia: Rizzoli, Milano. 1975.

(6) Bolzoni, Attilio and Giuseppe D’Alonzo. Il Capo dei Capi: Mondadori, Milano, 1993.

(7) Schneider, Jane C., and Peter T. Schneider. Reversible Destiny: University of California Press, Berkley, 2003.

(8) Rendo, Francesco. Storia della mafia: Vittoretti, Palermo, 1998.

A word of thanks to Justin Cascio and his incredible web-site: https://mafiagenealogy.wordpress.com/

Perhaps, the most comprehensive, and certainly the most interesting source for information on Mafia family trees. And much more.

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Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.

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