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Three Good Men - The Second One: Antonino Cassarà

By Thom L. Jones

The media called them raggazzi di una stagione ‘straordinaria: “The boys of an extraordinary season.”

Beppe Montana and Calogero Zucchetto and Pippo Giordano and Roberto Antiochia and Natale Mondo and Ninni Cassarà and the rest of the Squadra Mobile, the Flying Squad. They knew what they had to do and lived their lives doing it. They were literally worked to death in Palermo, Sicily, in the early 1980s. A city full of the walking dead.

They went after the Mafia in second-hand, broken-down patrol cars; they worked out of old, disused offices and had no computers to help them track and record the killings, the bodies that littered the streets. They bought their own binoculars to help on surveillance. No one seemed to care, except the few judges they trusted and worked alongside. The Mafia owned Sicily in the years of lead. It was a child disowned by its parent who sat impotently in Rome: spidery politicians who existed only, it seemed, to weave their webs of self-gratification. Five million people held hostage by a few thousand criminal thugs who glorified their existence by claiming to be men of honor. 

“The Boys” were Palermo’s version of the thin blue line, the new Centurions. The mark in the sand between evil and good. And so many of them died.

They were outnumbered and outgunned and badly equipped, and because of the collusion between crooked politicians and their enemy, they were often out thought. However, the men of the Flying Squad (1) were tough, dedicated and committed, not to a job but more to a crusade-to rid Palermo of the evil that masqueraded as Cosa Nostra. Our Thing was becoming Everything as they killed each other and anyone who got in the way.

American investigative journalist, Claire Sterling, met the Palermo Flying Squad and watched them at work in their cramped, shoe-box offices in the Palermo State Police Headquarters on Piazza della Vittoria. (2) 

They operated out of windowless cubes, for hours on end, fueled by whiskey in paper cups, chain-smoking cigarettes, answering the continuous shrill of telephones, pouring over files and photo-albums of villainous mug shots, many of them out of date. The real targets, long removed from the records by paid Mafia contacts deep within the questura, (police headquarters) located in the old, three-storied building across from the park. The squad worked themselves numb and laid their lives on the line for less than $1000 a month. Each day, when they walked through the archway of their building, they would pass a bronze walled-plaque that commemorated their colleagues murdered in the line of duty.

In January 1985, there were already six names listed, dating back to 1963. There would be four more before the story of Ninni Cassarà (right) would come to a close.

He was born in May 1947, in the city where he would die. A top student at the Garibaldi High School, he then attended university with Leoluca Orlando, who would one day, become the Mayor of Palermo. Ninni graduated in 1973 with a degree in law and joined the state police. He loved tennis and was an avid card player. He was tall and handsome, casually elegant, with striking blue eyes. At school and university, his friends admired him for his generous spirit and zest for life. He had talent and was incorruptible, two personal traits that would make him a deadly enemy of the Mafia. He was also a man of action, uncompromising and determined in his pursuit of the criminals he faced daily in his job in law enforcement. An investigator of exceptional skills, he pursued his targets with great vigor and commitment.

His first major posting with the police force was in Reggio, Calabria, and from there, he was transferred to head up the Trapani flying squad in Western Sicily, and then was sent to Palermo. If Palermo is the heartland of the modern Mafia, the mountainous, picturesque countryside running from Alcamo west to Marsala is its political nerve center. The Christian Democrat party in the Trapani Province was controlled by a power group dominated by the two Salvo cousins, Ignazio and Antonino, who ran one of three state-appointed tax-gathering concessions in Sicily. Esattori, tax collectors as they were called. They were the hub of an extensive matrix of economic and political interests which dominated Sicily for decades. Nino Salvo had boasted at one time, “We are the most important financial group in Italy. Our funds are unlimited.” 

Just how much of this money was being laundered for the Mafia and how much was financing heroin trafficking was yet to be determined. The Salvos were part of the Mafia. The Mafia owned the Salvos.  As early as 1976, a report by the Anti-Mafia Commission concluded that the essatori “is an anomaly that has become a vehicle for political corruption and for mafia activities.”

Ninni would go after the Salvos like a bloodhound.

Cassarà found plenty of work and more than enough opportunities to hone his skill in the complex interpretation of Mafia methodology, chasing down the criminals who sucked the local population dry of money, hope, and ambition.

In the early 1980s, law enforcement was struggling to make sense of the epic struggle that was taking place within Sicily’s Mafia families. It was barely twenty years since the noun used to describe the impalpable, complex criminal organization had come into common usage. Italians on the mainland knew little or nothing about it, except for the lurid newspaper headlines, breathlessly denouncing the latest killings it had perpetrated. The Second Mafia War that re-invented the concept of Cosa Nostra, killing hundreds in the process, made it even more difficult for the investigators trying to decipher the markings on Sicily’s own Rosetta Stone.

This ethnic cleansing of the rank and file of multiple cosche (clans) resulted in the emergence of the hegemony of the Corleone family along with its allies, and the undisputed leadership of Salvatore Riina, its boss, as the acknowledged head of the Sicilian Mafia now molded in a stasis with him as the ultimate arbitrator. Just as Milton’s Satan, he no doubt believed it was better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Like a Russian masivorka, a masquerade, Riina and his Corleonesi cartel, created so much confusion, mystery, and uncertainty, no one had any idea what the truth really was.

It did not help that there were dissension and suspicion among the judges and lawmakers in a country notorious for its complex and frustrating judiciary system. A confidential cable, posted between the American Embassy in Rome and the State Department in Washington D.C. during this period stated, “Anti-Mafia judges have spent more time fighting each other than fighting the mafia. Endless accusations and counter-accusations have swamped the waters so that any significant measure against the suspects of the mafia has to be pretended.”

In the years following the end of the Mafia war, Riina would come to kill anyone who dared to stand in his way. Especially officers of the law.

On his posting to Palermo, Ninni worked alongside Giuseppe “Beppe” Montana (right), the head of the “Catturandi.” This was a newly formed department within the state police that concentrated on tracking down Mafia bosses and fugitives. The two men became close friends and socialized outside of work with their families. Cassarà also assisted magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Rocco Chinnici, investigating and collating evidence against Mafiosi. Ninni and Falcone had first met when they both worked in Trapani, and over the years had developed a strong bond of friendship and mutual trust.

Montana, born in Agrigento, had been transferred to Palermo in September 1982. There were around 800 mafiosi on the loose across Italy when he joined the section and Beppe introduced new methods to track down and arrest these men. His colleagues called him “Serpico” after the famous New York detective, because of his dogged investigative skills.

Ignazio D’Antone was the head of the Flying Squad. Ninni came to have grave doubts about this man who had taken over the squad following the murder of Boris Giuliano, in 1979. The squad became so paranoid about their safety, that they would pass each other written information, then deleting the cards so there was no evidence on file. Cassarà’s fears were fully justified, as D’Antone would be subsequently arrested and sentenced in 2004, to ten years in prison for Mafia association. Five Mafia pentiti (informers) would testify against him, including a member of the cupola, the Mafia commission made up of senior family bosses across the island.

By 1982, Ninni was slowly building up a picture of the chaos and confusion that seems to be engulfing the Mafia world. Salvatore Riina has been apparently waging a war against some of the clans in the city of Palermo and their supporters across Sicily. While Mafia killings were nothing new, this internal crisis seemed to have been carried out in such a capricious fashion and at such a ferocious level as to have created fear and panic on a scale never seen before within Cosa Nostra. 

Operating as the head of the investigative division of the Flying Squad, (the other section of the anti-Mafia unit which only involved themselves with homicides was led by Francesco Accordino), Ninni would go out at night with one of his young and ambitious detectives, Calogero Zucchetto. Another tall, and handsome young man of twenty-seven, Zucchetto had a huge mane of dark hair and a smile that would drown a rain-storm. They would zip around the city, on a scooter, dodging into dark alleys, following up leads, looking for Mafiosi, checking their known haunts.

On one occasion, they spotted two well-known and dangerous killers, Giuseppe Pino Greco, known to his friends as Little Shoe (his father, also a Mafioso had been nicknamed Shoe, hence the tag), and Mario Prestifilippo, chasing them, but losing their trail in the warren of streets in the old quarter of the city. Zucchetto made a name for himself as a dogged and enterprising officer, and through his efforts, Cassara and his team were able to track down and arrest Salvatore Montalto, the Mafia boss of Villabate.

Seven days later, on Sunday, November 14th, 1982, Zucchetto stopped, late in the evening at the Collica Bar on Via Notarbartolo, and went inside for a sandwich. As he returned to his Renault, parked nearby, two men on a motorbike drew up alongside him and the pillion passenger, shot the detective five times in the head. The killers were almost certainly Greco and Prestifilippo, although no one was ever convicted of the killing.

In one of the many ironies of Mafia history, Zucchetto (right) was murdered on a street named after Emanuele Notarbartolo, a banker and politician, considered the first eminent Mafia victim (Excellent Cadaver) when he was stabbed to death twenty-seven times by two Mafia affiliates in February 1893.

When Ninni visited the crime scene, he openly wept as he viewed the body of the dead officer.

Zucchetto had worked closely with Ninni in assembling the background data, filling in the structure of the Mafia clans across Sicily, and had been with him when he interviewed Salvatore Contorno in the spring of 1982. A close ally of Stefano Bontade, and made into his Mafia family (the largest on the island,) since 1975, Contorno was arrested in March, became an informant, and supplied information that helped Cassarà assemble his massive intelligence report, “Michele Greco + 161,” which became the underpinning to “The Maxi Trial” of 1986, resulting in the indictments of almost 500 Mafiosi.

Contorno was able to expose the inner workings of the Mafia at a level never before explored by law enforcement. To such an extent, that Ninni came to refer to him as Fonte di Prima Luce (Source of First Light). Ninni found out the reasons behind the killings of Bontate and his close ally, Salvatore Inzerillo, the Mafia’s involvement in a massive heroin ring, stretching from Italy to the Americas, and what Cassarà came to call. “the vast indefinable gray area” that linked Cosa Nostra into Rome and its political powerhouse.

Cassarà, in a meeting with Francesco Forleo, the head of the State Police, in Palermo in early 1984, claimed, “You see, people like these orbit in the world of the mafia.” He was referring to the Salvo cousins. His investigation was linking them to Salvatore Riina, the head of the Mafia, Vito Cinacimino, an ex-mayor of Palermo and a businessman so crooked he made a corkscrew seem straight, and Giulio Andreotti, perhaps the most powerful politician in Italy. The Salvo cousins, Antonino and Ignazio, were arrested by a joint law enforcement task force in November 1984. Nine months later, Ninni Cassarà was dead. In the world of the Mafia, like no other, where there is cause there is always effect

Cassarà travels to New York and liaises with the FBI investigating the torturous links that will become known as “The Pizza Connection,” with Mafia from America and Sicily working in tandem to import and distribute heroin through pizza parlors across the New York-New Jersey area and Midwestern America. Ninni is made a temporary US Marshal so that he can be armed and work the streets of Queens with federal agents. On occasions, they will sit in their unmarked surveillance vehicles listening to tapped conversations in pizza parlors between Sicilian men of honor, Ninni translating for his American allies, as men like Salvatore Catalano and Giuseppe Ganci, men of honor, now domiciled in New York, negotiate their drug trafficking deals. The good guys would then wander up to the restaurants and order pizza for lunch.  

The “Pizza Connection Trial” will become the longest Federal jury trial in American history, involving thirty-eight defendants charged with importing almost $2 billion of heroin into the United States.

Contorno's revelations were the first time that Ninni really learned of Michele Greco’s high-ranking in the Mafia, although in fact, the first official link into Greco had come a year earlier, in 1981 with the confessions of another Bontate associate, a capo in his family called Salvatore di Gregorio. Previously Greco had just been regarded as a rather secretive landowner and public benefactor, with a suspiciously high income, although he did come from a long line of Mafiosi. Ninni’s report, which he presented to Judge Rocco Chinnici on July 16th, 1982, was at this time, the most effective and damning indictment ever produced, and showed Greco as head of the Mafia’s cupola or national committee.

In addition, it consisted of Riina and his number two, Bernardo Provenzano, Giuseppe Calo, Francesco Madonia, Bernardo Brusca and a further six family heads. These were the men who laid down policy and made sure it was carried out. Any public official who died at the hands of the Mafia did so on the orders of the commission.

Two years after Contorno came out, the Palermo Judiciary becomes involved with a man who is perhaps, arguably, the most famous Mafiosi to have ever turned, informant Tommaso Buscetta. His extraordinary testament included what became known as the Buscetta Theorem: Cosa Nostra was a unitary and secret organization and the events that governed its life, apparently unconnected, were never independent of one another, but connected, responding to a single strategy, determined by the cupola.

On September 30th, 1984, Ninni Cassarà in charge of a huge inter-island task force, set in motion the arrest of 366 defendants across Sicily. It was the biggest anti-mafia initiative in almost a quarter of a century.

Through the early months of 1985, Ninni is deep into an investigation of one of Palermo’s most “untouchables,” Count Arturo Cassina. One of the richest businessmen in Sicily he had, since 1938, operated through his companies the contract to maintain the streets, lighting and sewerage system of the city, the worst maintained and most expensive in Italy. To run his business successfully and generate his huge profits, he enjoyed the support of six different city Mafia cosche.

Ninni travels back and forwards to Switzerland seeking help and information from the banking system, trying to trace the convoluted paths of money transfers in and out of Sicily through Cassina’s many enterprises.

On Sunday, July 28th, 1985, Beppe Montana spent the afternoon boating off Capo Zafferano, with his girlfriend, Assia Mezzalama and one of her friends. Ninni and his wife had arranged to join them for a picnic but had to cancel at the last moment. 

Three days earlier, 25 July 1985, Montana and his men had lunched a successful action against the |Mafia when they arrest 8 fugitive mafiosi in the Hotel Costa Verde in Cefalu. Their top prize was Tommaso Canella the boss of Prizzi, who was also a close business partner of Michele Greco. The party had been celebrating the marriage of Francesco Madonia's daughter and also present, and so close to being captured, were Riina and Provenzano, but they were warned of the raid by Bruno Contrada the former head of the Palermo Flying Squad, and then a chief in the SISDE (secret service) and both men managed to escape. Contrada was subsequently arrested, tried and convicted of being the Mafia’s highest-placed spy. Someone said that it was like discovering "your faithful guardian angel is actually an associate of the Devil." 

After docking at the harbor in Porticello, a small, seaside town about 15 kilometers east of Palermo, at about eleven in the evening, and as the girls walked the short distance into town to meet another friend who had driven over to meet them, Beppe, still in his swim-shorts, his body browned by the sun, the sea-salt on his skin, walked across to a motorboat service yard. His power-boat engine had been playing up and he wanted it checked over.

As Beppe was standing, talking to the boat-shed owner, Agostino Orlando, two men, tall and dark, stepped out of the night and shot him in the head. As he went down, one of them leaned over and fired, repeatedly into his face. This was Pino Greco’s trademark, a coup de grâce that was more than just excessive, it was confirmation of how powerful and evil he truly was.

Later that evening, as a stunned Ninni Cassarà was driven down to Porticello, he turned to one of his companions, magistrate Paolo Borsellino and said, “Let’s face it. We are all walking corpses.”

Witnesses to the killing provided information which led to a sea-urchin fisherman, 25-year-old Salvatore Marino. It was later confirmed that he was acting as a look-out for the killers, but at the time of his arrest there was no solid evidence against him other than the 34 million lira (about US18000) a huge amount for an itinerant worker, that police found wrapped in a newspaper dated the day of Montana’s killing, when they raided his house on Via Pigafetta, where he lived with his parents, and that he had been identified as being in Porticello the afternoon of the killing and it turned out he was also a friend of the daughter of Agostino Orlando.

Taken to the police barracks in Corso die Mille, he was interrogated and tortured by police officers, no doubt grief stricken by the murder of their friend and boss, and succumbed to his injuries. His death in the early hours of August 2nd and subsequent hysterical funeral procession created headline news across Italy. On August 5th, the minister of the interior instructed the removal of the head of The Squadra Mobile, a senior member of the Carabinieri (Military Police) and the officer in charge of the State Police anti-robbery section. There were more publicity and controversy aroused by the killing of a man who undoubtedly had criminal association than was generated by the brutal murder of a senior police officer who had been gunned down like a helpless animal just a few days before.  

Ninni lived with his wife and three small children in an apartment on the second floor of building 81 on Via Croce Rossa in the residential area of San Lorenzo. Following the killing of Beppe Montano and the debacle of the Marino case, he had decided to leave the dystopian world that Palermo had become and had applied for a position on the mainland with the questura in Genoa. Like so many police officers in Palermo before him, he felt increasingly lonely and isolated. He had spent most of the previous week holed up in the Squadra Mobile offices, working and sleeping there. The long, hot summer was cresting with the Sirocco winds blowing clouds and humidity from North Africa, when on August 6th, at 3 pm he rang Laura and told her he was coming home for lunch, to spend some time with her and the children.

From the police station to his home was a twenty-minute car drive, off-peak.

He had no idea what was waiting for him there.

It was a gruppo di fuoco, a fire team. One of Riina’s strategic military units, its killers selected from families within the Corleonesi. The best of the best, or the worst of the worst. Men who would drop everything when the order came, go wherever they were sent, and kill someone, however long it might take. They had plenty of work over the years.

On this day, the team was made up of Pino Greco, Mario Prestifilippo, Nino Madonia, Agostino Marino Mannoia, Giuseppe Giacomo Gambino, Francesco La Marca, Giuseppe Lucchese, Pietro Puccio and Giovanbattista Ferrante.  They represent five different clans. Some will shoot, some will manage transport, some will act as look-outs. All will be responsible for what happens. Madonia had pressed the switch that killed Judge Rocco Chinnici two years before. His father Francesco, was the Mafia boss of the area where Cassarà lived. Nino killed at least eleven men, outside the ranks of Cosa Nostra.

The killers had been on the alert for weeks. The killing of Marino simply acerbates things. Greco, Prestifilippo, Luchese, and Gambino demanded of the commission that Ninni should be killed at once in retribution. Word on the street was that the Flying Squad boss had been behind the torture and death of Marino and that he laid down instructions that Greco and Prestifilippo be shot on sight by his men. None of this was true. Riina was probably delighted that his pack of mad dogs was straining on the lead, so he unleashed them.

Nisce munnine, he would have said. “Let’s get it over with.”

In 1985, Croce Rosa was a narrow, one-way street, clogged with parked cars, like any road in Palermo.

Natale Mondo (right), the driver of the squad car, would have turned right and driven up a ramp, passing a new building, No 77, facing the street, still under construction, and directly in front of Ninni’s apartment complex. Mondo would then have swung right again, stopping in front of number 81. In the car, apart from the driver, were Cassara, his young bodyguard, Roberto Antiochia and another squad member, Giovanni Salvatore Lercara.

As the four men left the armored white Alfa they came under intense fire from the apartment building to their right. Much has been reported about just how many shots were fired at the men, ranging from 80 to over 200. Empty shell casings confirmed gunmen were stationed on the second, third and fourth landings, facing down into the “amphitheater” of Cassarà’s apartment building entrance. The gunmen were using large potted plants outside the apartment entrance as markers to guide in their rounds. It’s quite astonishing what an Armageddon of shot was unleashed, and yet so few bullets found their targets. They were there to quarter everyone by Kalashnikov, except their marksmanship was less than perfect.

Mondo, furthest from the attackers, rolled under the car and was unhurt. Lercara stumbled and fell, injuring his head, although not seriously. He was also saved by the car’s body. The gunmen were shooting downwards from a height of between thirty and fifty meters, using 7.62 mm military cartridges, some tracers among them. Three rounds smashed into Antiocha, one in his leg the other two effectively disintegrating his head. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Ninni almost into the entrance was also hit three times. In the shoulder blade, the left arm, and one round tearing into his back. Somehow, he staggered into the lobby and made his way to the staircase, crawling up, leaving a trail of blood.

His wife, Laura, standing on their balcony had witnessed the ambush, and rushing down the staircase, found her husband, dying on the first level. She sat there, cradling his body until the first emergency teams arrived.

Laura and Ninni on stairwell

Investigators determined that there had been a white Fiat van parked near Ninni’s apartment for at least six days. This and another stolen vehicle, a Fiat, which had been designated as a blocker car to prevent any escape by Cassarà’s vehicle, were left at the scene. An Alfa Romeo Giulietta used by some of the killers as an escape vehicle was found, burned out in Via Sardegna, a few hundred meters to the west of the kill-site.

The buildings

The car

Location of the shooters

There were at least three shooters, maybe as many as six. Pino Greco, Mario Prestifilippo, and Nino Madonia were almost certainly part of the death squad. That particular gruppo di fuoco is long gone, either in prison until they turn to dust, or killed by themselves, the Mafia.

Greco was shot dead by his best friends, Vincenzo Puccio and Giuseppe Lucchese a month after he helped to assassinate Ninni Cassarà.

Salvatore Riina in conversation with one of his close aids, Salvatore Cancemi said afterward, “You know we’ve found the medicine for madness. We’ve killed Little Shoe. He’d become crazy.” In his absence, Greco was convicted of 58 murders at the Maxi-Trial of 1986-87, but some sources believe he may have killed up to 300.  

It has never been established just how the hit team knew their target was en-route. It is believed that there was a “mole” in the police headquarters who passed the details to someone who in turn alerted the killers. Try as they might, the authorities have never been able to confirm this over the last thirty-two years. And this was not just any mole, “but the mole that was the beauty spot on the nose of power itself.” (3)

Natale Mondo was a suspect, and in fact arrested, but subsequently cleared and went on the fight the Mafia from a new posting in Trapani. On January 14th, 1988, on a visit back to Palermo, he went to meet his wife who owned and ran a toy shop, Mondo dei Balocchi, on Via Papa Sergio in Arnella, a seaside suburb north of the city center. Outside the store, three men walked up to him and shot him dead.

Agostino Marino Mannoia and Salvino Madonia (brother of Nino) were indicted but Mannoia and a third, unidentified gunman later disappeared. They became lupara bianca, a mafia reference to someone killed and then vanished. A Mafia crime of refined savagery. It is believed Mondo was killed because of the work he had done when under Ninni, in the early 1980s, infiltrating the Arnella Mafia cosca and breaking a major drug ring operating between Sicily and Lombardy.

Mondo was effectively killed twice. The first time by lies and the second by lead.  The Mafia however, never forgets once they issue a death sentence.

It would take years and the usual testimony of Mafia informants to piece together what happened that hot afternoon in August 1985. Francesco Marino Mannoia, whose younger brother was part of the fire-team was one of them. In 1994 giving evidence, he confirmed that a “mole” was in play at both the killings of Cassarà and Beppe Montana.  

There is a strange and somewhat weird codicil to the massacre at Via Croce Rossa.

Reports surfaced that one of the killers was not a member of the Mafia but a shadowy figure known as Faccia da Mostra, Monster Face. Someone who turned out to be as mysterious as Fu Manchu. An ex-police officer who had served in Palermo until his retirement in 1981, Giovanni Aiello (left), had been, according to some sources, wounded by a shotgun blast while apprehending a criminal in Sardinia. His police file states it was caused by the accidental discharge if his rifle while on duty in Sardinia, in 1967.

Tall, thickset, with shoulder length blonde hair, and hands like shovels, he looked as bad as he sounded. His name appears often, in newspaper reports, and official documents, which in typical Italian fashion, say much about little. Apart from his alleged part in the killings of August 6th, it was rumored he was part of the massacres of the summer of 1992 when judges Falcone and Borsellino were blown up by Mafia bombs. He was also allegedly, a participant in the brutal killing of secret service agent Antonino Agostino and his pregnant wife, Ida, in August 1989, at Villagrazia di Carini.

Some of the people who identified Aiello as being involved with various factions of Italy’s multiple crime cartels were:

Luigi Ilardo, a boss from Caltanissetta, who recalled “a policeman in Palermo who did strange things and was always in strange places. He had the face of a monster. The man’s face was horribly ravaged.” 

Vito Lo Forte former boss of Aquasanta, Palermo. He recalled, “the face was bloodthirsty and wasn’t afraid to kill.”

Gaetano Vegna at one-time head of the Arnella cosca who confirmed Aiello was one of the shooters of Cassarà. Afterwards, he claimed, some of the fire group and other men of honor, along with Aiello had gone to a restaurant at Piazza Tonnara, near the port of Arnella.

Consolato Villani, a ‘ndranghetista pentito. (‘ndranghetta is a Calabria based criminal cartel.) He claimed Aiello was part of the SISDE and often worked in tandem with a woman, known as “Antonella the Secretary,” who was even more dangerous than he was.

Giuseppe Di Giacomo, a Catania hit man in the powerful Laudani Family, and

Giovanna Galatolo whose father, Vincenzo “Enzo Alati” Galatolo was capo of the Aquasanta clan from 1982 to 1993. Her elder brother, Vito, confirmed Aiello often visited the family compound on Vicolo Pipitone near Palermo’s dockside, to meet with the heads of Mafia families. (4)

Like so many of the strange and ineffable stories that overflow the archives of Sicily's never-ending war against organized crime, this one will no doubt remain an ongoing mystery as Aiello collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack on August 21st of this year as he pulled his boat ashore, near his ramshackle home on Calabria’s Ionian Coast.

On February 17, 1995, the 3rd Section of the Court of Assizes in Palermo, sentenced five men to life in prison for the murders of Ninni and Roberto Antiocha. These were: Salvatore Riina, Bernardo Provenzano, Michele Greco, Bernardo Brusca and Francesco Madonia.

So why was Ninni Cassarà murdered? Was he getting too close to the Salvo cousins? Was his investigation into the links between Count Cassina and the Mafia becoming too much of an embarrassment? Had his investigation into Michele Greco et al created a seismic shift in the relationship between the judiciary and Cosa Nostra that was just too much to bear?

Only one man, Salvatore Riina, knows the answers, and he’s telling no one, as he lies waiting for death from cancer, in a prison hospital in Milan.

Cassarà’s murder became a big, black hole inside which no one wanted to look. His killing became part of the awful, stained summer of 1985, which came to haunt Sicily, seemingly forever. A dark moon was rising over the land and it looked as if it would never set.

Until seven years later, when a nightmare of even greater proportions would plunge the island and mainland Italy into a nightmare of mammoth proportions.

(1) The Flying Squad (Squadra Mobile) is an investigative division of the State Police. (Italy has five police organizations.) There is one attached to every major city police office (questura) in all the 103 provincial capitals of Italy and at police stations (commissariato) in all large cities and highly populated areas. It was created in the late 1940s, in Milan, by police commissario, (chief) Mario Nardone.

(2) Octopus: The Long Reach of the International Sicilian Mafia. Claire Sterling. London, 1990.

(3) With acknowledgment to The Sympathizer. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Grove Press. New York, 2015.

(4)  Some of the detail here is quoted in Mafia Exposed. Carl Russo. 2015

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