By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
The catalyst is an arrest and a search.
On July 7, a bar-owner on Via Francesco Crispi, near the Palermo waterfront, finds a hand gun left behind by a customer. It’s a Brazilian made, six-shot Taurus.38 Special. He rings the police who visit and waits for the owner to return.
Sure enough, about an hour later, two men enter the bar and start looking for something. When stopped and questioned, Nino Gioe and Nino Marchese, both mafioso, deny the gun is theirs. When The Flying Squad get involved, they check the men’s possessions, and find in Marchese’s wallet a receipt that leads to a building in Romagnolo, Brancaccio: Number 56 Via Percori Giraldi. One of Bagarella’s lairs in the city.
In the apartment, the police find heroin, four kilos, guns everywhere, photographs of Bagarella and other mafiosi; one of Lorenzo Nuvoletta, a boss of the Camora in Naples, fake passports. A medical prescription made out to Giacomo Bentivenga, an alias used by Bagarella. A treasure-trove of mob miscellany, including a pair of worn work boots. Turned out they had belonged to one Melichore Sorrentino.
They find his name on a piece of paper written by Bagarella and then crossed out repeatedly. He and his brother, Giuseppe, had disappeared at the beginning of July. White shotgun. Why Bagarella kept the boots is a mystery. Maybe like most serial killers, he kept a memento of his hits. We’ll never know. The brothers’ Sorrentino are gone. Two vacancies to the ranks of Cosa Nostra.
That Saturday morning, Boris finishes his coffee and goes to pay the owner, Giovanni Siragusa. As he stands with his back to the door, Leoluca Bagarella walks in and steps up behind him. From the eyewitness reports, he’s as nervous as a whore walking into church.
He’s carrying a pistol, a 7.65milimeter Beretta, Short, like the killer, a seven-round clip in the handle. Small cartridge equivalent to a.32. Useless at thirty feet, deadly at thirty centimeters. Bagarella points up, he’s shorter than Giuliano who is no giant, and fires three times into jaw and head. Entry would small, exit wound big, destroying the face and features of the police officer, who tumbles to the floor. Bagarella leans over and empties the last four rounds into his victim’s back.
The killer pockets the gun and walks out into the street, turning left into Via Di Marco, and steps into a waiting car. On June 20 that year, a yellow Fiat 128 belonging to a furniture manufacturer, Giuseppe D’Agostino, disappears from Via Aquileia, two kilometers to the west of the Bar Lux. On the same day, in Via Pacinotti, two kilometers south, someone steals plates from a Renault belonging to a signor Inzerillo. They come together a month later.
As Bagarella settles in, the driver heads north and they abandon the car ten minutes later in Via Lombardia. (7)
Although the cafe is full, only the owner can give a description of the shooter. A police-artist image creates what is close to the actual killer, but leads nowhere.
Inert here artist image and photo of Bagarella in 1979
The Squadra Mobile will produce a report on the killing on 21 July 1979, and another dated 16 December in the same year. Both are dead-ends. For some inexplicable reason, Bruno Contrada takes on the investigation. He gets nothing. One of the best units in the state police cannot close the assassination of their boss.
The district of Liberta becomes a graveyard for the Mafia. Between 1979 and 1988 they slaughter three law enforcement officers, three judges and two politicians in this area alone.
Bagarella finally comes to justice years into the future for this crime, his fate decided by the new breed of Mafia informants who pour out of the woodwork, spilling the beans.
He is currently serving thirteen life sentences plus 134 years for murders he committed over his lifetime as a mafioso. Locked away in the highest security prison in Italy, L’Aquila, on the island of Sardinia.
He managed the Capaci Massacre that killed Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards. He orchestrated the bombings that ripped apart Milan, Florence and Rome between May and August in 1993, killing and injuring dozens.
He even arranged the murder in June 1982 of a prison guard while locked away in Cavallaci penitentiary in Termini Immeresi.
- READ: A Bullet for Burrafato
His victims were men and women and at least one child that we know of- Giuseppe Di Matteo.
Vincenzina Marchese is the sister to a band of villains who run the mob family in Corso dei Mille. And the wife of Leoluca Bagarella.
Her brother Giuseppe, also known as Pino, turns and becomes an informant in September 1992. It’s a disgrace that would drive anyone to drink, or worse. Secretly inducted into the Corleonesi by Riina and Bagarella, Pino acted as their spy embedded in Palermo’s clans. No one else knew who he was or what he did. Toto’s godson. A special boy. His treachery therefore double-sided.
With Salvatore Riina’s arrest in January 1993, one of the many informants to testify against him is Santino Di Matteo of the Altofonte Mafia clan. Bagarella orders Giovanni Brusca to kidnap Di Matteo’s son, age twelve, and hold him for ransom to maintain the pressure on his father to renounce his testimony. This is in November 1993.
They hold him for three years, then strangle the boy and dissolve his body in a drum of acid. Transversal vendetta some sources claim. They killed the child because Bagarella could not do the right thing and revenge the treachery of his wife’s brother by inflicting punishment on her family. By killing the boy, he shifted the balance of blame onto the law for creating the problem.
This act of evil is just too much for Bagarella’s wife.
She married Luchino in the wedding of the year in 1991, at Casa Professa, an ancient baroque church in the heart of Palermo; the reception held at Villa Igea, the most expensive hotel in Sicily, filled with guests from every level of society. Everyone danced to the theme tune from the the movie ‘The Godfather.” They had been engaged for fifteen years. Her husband was on parole, awaiting a legal judgment to determine whether he returned to prison.
He didn’t, and instead, lived with his wife at various places in Palermo province until in March 1994, he leased a 120 square meter luxury apartment on the fourth floor of a Mafia constructed behemoth of a block on Piazza Tosti, Malaspina, in the city's heart. Built by Tullio Cannella. A building contractor in deep to the mob, he was close to Bagarella who was protecting him from the Graviano brothers who ran Brancaccio and wanted to kill him. For some reason.
Brancaccio is an important cog in Bagarella’s great wheel of death. The biggest Mafia family in Sicily, it overflows with men who murder on command. Mangano, Spatuzza, Lo Nigro, Romeo, the De Filippo brothers, an endless chain of death merchants at his command.
- READ: To Kill A Dream
When Canella flips and joins Italy’s list of Mafia tell-alls, he informs the police Bagarella had told him, Riina’s arrest in January 1993, happens because his other right hand, Bernardo Provenzano, turned cop and tipped off the authorities. Waiting in the shade too long can do that, it seems. He and Bagarella will run the Mafia from then on. (8)
Luchino is essentially the head of the armed wing, the fire teams, that the Corleonesi used to carry out hits. He not only leads, but is a hands-on boss who would match each of his killer’s astutarlo (hit) records. Exceeding most.
He’s not so much a killer as an exterminator. A human version of pyrethrum that settles like a curtain of death wherever he visits.
People around Piazza Tosti knew him as Signor Franco, who came and went quietly with his wife and faithful assistant, Calvaruso, who lived on the seventh floor of the same apartment block, and ran a clothing store for men on Corso Tukory.
Bagarella would often sit on his deck and look across the square at the homes of two Palermo judges in a building close by, Giuseppe Pignatore and Guido Lo Forte. Guarded day and night by a special unit of the carabiniere provided to protect them from dangerous mafiosi who they were prosecuting regularly at the Palace of Justice. Their apartment is within spitting distance, following each other’s shadows like a murder of crows. But only Luchino knew what was going on.
By 1995, things were just too much for Vincenzina (right). She had suffered multiple miscarriages, believing they were penance to pay for her husband’s sins. Her brother, Pino Marchese, had become informant number 224, and the shame of this must have been unbearable to her. She was aware of the child being held captive in some deserted farmhouse near San Giuseppe Jato. She tried throwing herself off the balcony.
Calvaruso was there and stopped her.
In March, the High Court in Palermo finds her husband guilty in his absence for the Russo murder in 1977. Perhaps it’s too much of everything?
No one was there on May 12, 1995, when she hung herself. Like all Mafia women, she was a carrier of secrets. Cosa Nostra to her, as so many wives, simply meant death and destruction.
Bagarella came home to find her dead body. Her slippers by the bed, fresh flowers in a vase by their wedding photograph. She had spent her last moment on earth finishing the family ironing. There was a note: “Luca, it is all my fault. Forgive me.” She was forty-eight years old.
According to Renate Siebert, even before she committed suicide, she had 'let herself die' in a process of psycho-physical depression and decline. (9)
Calvaruso, who rolled and became an informant in January 1996, explained that Bagarella cleaned and dressed the body and then, carried it out into the darkness of the night and buried her. Somewhere. (10)
With the death of his wife, he even lost interest in killing people.
On June 24, Bagarella sets off for Corleone. Perhaps he had a meeting with Provenzano, who had been on the run from the law for over thirty years. He drops Calvaruso off at his shop in Albergerhia, picking up a pair of Levi jeans he was having altered, and then heads south towards the Palermo ring-road.
About seven in the evening. He’s driving a Lancia Y10, colored violet. A strange shade for a man with such a black heart. Suddenly, near the Pagliarelii junction, he’s hemmed in my multiple cars, lights flashing. Men everywhere and it’s all over. It’s less than two miles from the square where Toto was caught in January 1993.
Done in by more members of the family.
This time it’s the brothers De Filippo-Pasquale and Emmanuele- men of honor in the Brancaccio clan. Brothers-in-law to Pino Marchese. Pasquale’s a close confidant and friend of Bagarella. Now, hated and despised by their wives and families for becoming informants, they give the low-down on Luca and where he might be.
His bravi raguzzi (fine boys) turned out not so good at the break.
“I must have dreamed″ giving birth to her sons, Mrs. Marianne Bruno said, her voice shaking with anger on a broadcast on RAI state TV. “Maybe they’re not even mine. They disgust me.″
Luchino surely wondered as the DIA (Anti-Mafia) agents escorted him to their Palermo headquarters at Tre Torri, near Palermo’s huge public park, Favorita, will it ever stop?
If the past is a foreign country, Leoluca Bagarella will spend the rest of his life there, as he has no future. (11)
But first, he’ll call his lawyer.
"He always did the job with love." - Antonino Calvaruso
1) Reski, Petra. The Honoured Society, London: Atlantic Books, 2012.
4) The Italian word cristiano is spelled cristianu in Sicilian. The former does mean “Christian.”
Sicilians however, use cristianu almost always to mean a male human being, not in a religious sense.
6) Bolzoni, Attilio. White Shotgun, London; MacMillan, 2013.
8) Raggruppamento Operative Speciale Carabinieri. Reporto Investigativo Roma 30.07.1196.
9) Renate Siebert. Mafia and anti-Mafia, Concepts and individuals. Univeristà della Calabria.
10) In September 1996, Calvaruso leads investigators to an area between Villabate and Bagheria, to a hole covered by a marble slab. He claimed Vincenzina is here, but the pit was empty. Forensics identified something had laid there, but it was inconclusive on origin.
Not far away, on Via Pablo Neruda there is a bland, inconspicuous building, formerly a steel and hardware warehouse, once the registered office of I.C.R.E. a company owned by Leonardo Greco, the Mafia boss of Bagheria.
During the period Riina rules, everyone knows this place as “The Auschwitz of Cosa Nostra.” People who went in never came out. It served as a court to dish out death sentences and dispose of bodies. It would have been home-away-from-home to someone like Bagarella. Burying his wife in the neighborhood would make sense.
11) The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. L. P. Hartley. The Go-Between.
Other sources for the story are various newspapers-La Repubblica, L’Ora, Oggi, L’Unita, Giornale di Sicilia, Corriere della Sera- and government documents on-line. As always, when writing about the Mafia, reports, even government official documents, often offer inconsistent evidence. I have tried to use the standard three rule: three interpretations of the same event from non-conflicting provenance.
Thanks to Joey Nardi for his support in translating some Italian files that puzzled me, Chris G for showing me places I had not thought to go, and the lovely Edy Biraschi for her invaluable guidance in getting me through Sicilian dialect mysteries in search of the truth. Also, Justin Cascio, at mafiagenealogy.wordpress.com for some background on Corleone.
His website is a must-visit for mafiaologists.
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Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.