The detective’s private stenographer

The detective’s private stenographer

Was the Sylvan guard’s murder falsely attributed to the father of detective Flynn’s private stenographer? Correspondence sheds new light on the murder of Giovanni Vella.

In a letter dated 7 February 1911, James V. Ortelero asks for a favor from the superintendent of the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia: obtain a murder confession from Giuseppe Morello.

According to his letter, Ortolero holds a confidential position in the office of the second deputy commissioner of police, William J. Flynn. But he’s not asking for his boss: the murder for which Ortolero hopes to obtain Morello’s confession is not under American jurisdiction. Neither can the crime be prosecuted by the Italian government, since it has passed the statute of limitations. Ortolero’s request is of a more personal nature, a matter of honor.

Ortolero and Morello are both from Corleone, where a Sylvan guard, Giovanni Vella, was killed in December 1889. If Morello confessed, it could do the imprisoned counterfeiter no harm, but it would be an honorable deed, clearing the name of an innocent man whom Ortolero says was framed for the murder, and is now on his deathbed in prison. The wrongly accused man is Ortolero’s father, Don Francesco Ortoleva.

According to Ortolero, his father was a highly respected man of means who was running for the position of chief of the Sylvan guard, in opposition to Vella. Ortolero describes Vella in the most positive terms, as a brave enemy of the Mafia in Sicily. Despite his excellent qualities, the two men disagreed politically, and argued publicly on a number of occasions. When a more highly placed figure in the Mafia ordered Vella’s murder, Morello and an accomplice carried out the assassination. Through a combination of public corruption and circumstantial evidence, Ortolero claims his father was found guilty and sentenced to prison for the crime. In one letter, Ortolero offers the warden a cash reward for the confession. Although it will not free his dying father from prison, it will clear his name.

James Ortolero was born Vincenzo Ortoleva on 3 November 1880 in Corleone, Sicily.  The Americanization of his given name follows a familiar pattern for Sicilian immigrants: “Chenzo,” as he was probably called back home, sounds something like “James” to the English speaker. The modification of his surname is probably not significant. It may have been a deliberate move to obscure his identity from his countrymen, but this seems unlikely to have been effective. He was surely known to Morello and his associates, not only because they came from the same small town and lived in New York City at the same time, but because their families moved in the same circles in Corleone, and most of all, because of his father’s circumstances.

The Ortoleva family were landowners, descended from the Sicilian nobility through Don Francesco. One of his twice-great grandfathers had been a baron, and Francesco’s father was once mayor of Corleone. On his mother’s side, James was closely related to an aristocracy of Mafia families. One of his first cousins, once removed, is Paolino Streva, with whom Giuseppe Morello rustled cattle in the late 1880s. At the time of his death, Vella was investigating precisely this sort of activity.

The Sylvan guard, which Francesco Ortoleva and Giovanni Vella vied to run, were typically on friendly terms with local organized bands of thieves like Streva and Morello, with whom guards negotiated on behalf of the large landowners for whom they worked. Paolino Streva, Francesco Ortoleva, and Giovanni Vella were all from the landowning class.

According to Mike Dash’s account in his book, The First Family, Paolino Streva put Don Francesco Ortoleva up for election against Vella. Ortoleva was, in Streva’s view, a more pleasant and malleable chief than the honest and probing guard, and unseating Vella was preferable to killing him. Francesco was married to Paolino’s cousin, Laura Streva. Through intermediaries, Paolino had friends suggest to his cousin’s husband that he run. The day Ortoleva announced his candidacy, Vella got drunk and went to his apartment, and told his new opponent who was behind his run. The next day, Ortoleva withdrew from the election. That was when Streva told Morello to kill Vella.

James was just nine years old when his father’s political opponent was shot in the street on his way home from work. Morello fled the country three years later, in 1892, and moved to the American South with his family the following year. It’s not known when James Ortolero immigrated, or who may have joined him. James’ brother, Giuseppe, and sister, Emilia, both married in New York City, in 1903 and 1905, respectively. James married a woman from New Jersey, the former Eliza Mary Wright, in 1909.

In 1897, William J. Flynn, newly married, and until recently a plumber in Manhattan, embarked upon his government career. His first position was as an agent in the Secret Service. It was through the investigative work of Flynn and his operatives, working in collaboration with New York police detective Joe Petrosino, that Giuseppe Morello and his associates were charged with counterfeiting in New York in 1910. It is widely believed, and was the conviction of Flynn, that Morello was behind the assassination of Petrosino in Sicily in 1909.

Mike Dash’s account of James’ involvement in the United States begins in the summer of 1910, when he says that James went to New York with the hopes of convincing Flynn to help get his mother into the penitentiary in Atlanta, to visit Morello. Laura Streva hoped to extract Morello’s confession, herself, but Flynn suggested that he was not likely to confess to another crime while engaged in an appeal. According to Dash, Flynn liked the young man and offered him a job as his private secretary.

The warden in Atlanta, William H. Moyer, and James Ortolero exchanged several letters early in 1911. By degrees, the secret stenographer—his very position with Flynn was considered sensitive information—revealed his personal stake in Morello’s confession. In his letters, he never mentions any retaliatory murders of witnesses, following Vella’s shooting, though he claims that two women were “terrorized” into silence. Flynn, who would write about these events in his book, The Barrel Mystery, attributes as many as four more murder victims to Morello: Anna di Puma is named as a witness and subsequent victim in multiple accounts; Pietro Milone is identified by Mike Dash as another guard and “honest,” like Vella; and Michele Guarino Zangara is said to have been thrown from a bridge to his death after overhearing a conversation between Bernardo Terranova and his mother. No death records for any of these three, or for any other murders following Vella’s, appear in the Church records for Corleone, in the years between Vella’s murder and the debut of Flynn’s book in 1919.

Through the late winter and early spring of 1911, Ortolero followed up with the warden at intervals, eager for a report on Moyer’s efforts, but the warden’s replies amounted to excuses: in February there was no one he trusted to do the job, and then in March, he told Ortolero there was no qualified Italian interpreter available. In April, the stenographer wrote again to share what he had recently learned from a Secret Service agent (most likely Flynn): that Morello would confess as soon as he heard the result of his pending appeal. Their correspondence ends with a note from the warden’s secretary, acknowledging receipt of Ortolero’s last letter.

Dash tells us that Francesco Ortoleva, having served 21 years of a life sentence, was released from prison late in 1913, though it’s not clear how or why. Francesco appears in a ship manifest early in 1914, where it’s noted that he suffered from senility. He was 65. Don Francesco spent his remaining years in the United States with his family.

Morello’s appeal was denied. He remained in prison until 1920. Following his release, he spent some time in Italy to avoid a hit from a rival in New York. He returned to the city and enjoyed some prosperity during Prohibition, though he never rose to his former heights. He was killed in 1930. There is no evidence he ever confessed to Vella’s murder.

Feature image: William J. Flynn (1867 – 1928), the director of the Bureau of Investigation, by Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1909. Public Domain.

 

Sources:

Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. 2008: Routledge.

Dash, Mike. The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. 2011: Simon and Schuster.

Flynn, William James. The Barrel Mystery. 1919: James A. McCann Company.

Thomas Hunt has generously shared with me documents obtained from NARA including the following original correspondence between James V. Ortolero and William M. Moyer, the Warden of the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, GA:

Ortolero, James V. Letter to Superintendent of the Federal Prison in Atlanta GA. 7 February 1911.

—–. Letter to William M. Moyer. “In re Guiseppe Morello, Register #2882.” 15 February 1911.

—–. Letter to William H. Moyer, Esq., Warden, United States Penitentiary, Atlanta, Ga. Dated 23 March 1911, stamped received 25 March 1911.

—–. Letter to William H. Moyer. 17 April 1911.

Warden, United States Penitentiary, Atlanta. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “In re Guiseppe Morello, Register #2882.” 9 February 1911.

—–. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “Desired confession of Guiseppe Morello, #2882.” 18 February 1911.

—–. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “Confession from Morello, register #2882.” 25 March 1911.

—–. Letter to James V. Ortelero. “In re Guiseppe Morello, register #2882.” 19 April 1911.

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The olive oil business

The olive oil business

When I started this blog, I told one of the earliest anecdotes I had about my family: a story about olive oil. My father’s paternal grandparents, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano, immigrated as teenagers with their families and settled in East Harlem, on 106th Street. After they married, Lucia and her youngest brother, Tony, sold olive oil to their neighbors, produced and exported by Louis’ brother-in-law.

In my first post, I was doubtful that this story was true, or at least that it was the whole story, and not a cover for some other, hidden events. Was it even remotely possible that the olive oil story was the extra-virgin truth, as it was told to me? If so, why did it smell like a second pressing of “The Godfather”?

 

genco tie tack
A Genco olive oil tie tack. Genco was Don Vito Corleone’s fictional import business.

 

The farmland around Corleone, in the 19th century, was used according to its distance from the city: closest to town were the household gardens, surrounded by vineyards and orchards, and then land used alternately for pasturage and to grow grain. In Corleone there was an outer ring of almost-feudal lands, called contrada (lands) or “feudi,” fief holds, based on the original Roman farms. Many are still in existence, if diminished; the locals can tell you where they once were.

The smallest of these traditional holdings in Corleone, around 1800, were five salmi, or about 8.75 hectares, in size. Many small landowners owned far less than this, with a bit of land in one contrada and another, some in vines, some in trees. Most farmers in Corleone did not own any property at all, not even their houses. 

A five salmi olive orchard could theoretically produce 39,000 kg of olives, if all of the trees were mature and healthy, and it was a favorable year for the olive harvest. That’s enough to keep 288 Italians in olive oil for a year, at today’s consumption rates. However, olives are a tough crop to rely upon, as a farmer. The trees tend to yield a good crop only in alternate years, like apple trees. They mature slowly, and do not produce saleable fruit for about ten years. But they can live for more than a thousand years.

Olive trees are extremely hardy and will usually recover from droughts and freezes. Growing anything here is tricky. Corleone is at 600 meters above sea level, where trees can sustain frost damage, and the land is dry for most of the year. The regulating agency governing olives in the Val di Mazzara, in which Corleone is located, limits olive production to no more than 8,000 kg per hectare. If the land is fully planted in the traditional way, with 28 feet between trees, that comes to around three and a third kilograms of olives per tree. This is well below the standards of ten or even fifty kilograms from a mature tree, reported by growers in other parts of the world.

biancolilla olive
The Biancolilla olive, one of three varieties grown in western Sicily

Every olive producing region in Europe has its own varieties, very few of which have been transplanted to the New World. Three types of olives are grown near Corleone, all for oil production: Biancolilla, Nocelara de Belice, and Cerasuola. Sicilian olive oils are usually a strong shade of green, with a golden undertone, good body, and a complexity of flavor. Traditionally, olives are harvested by hand or with nets. The fruit is slowly milled on a trappeto, which keeps the paste unheated, and then the olive paste is pressed in a frantoio to release the oil. Extra virgin olive oil is still produced using a very similar process.

When my twice great-aunt Biagia Cascio was born in Corleone in 1884, olive oil was likely regarded as a precious commodity. The future olive oil exporter was born at number 3, via Banditore, in the northern part of Corleone, the second child of Giuseppe Cascio and Angela Grizzaffi. They lived in the “Upper Area” of Corleone, above via Roma, in what is called the Borgo in old records: the suburbs. North of the suburbs is a great open area. To the east of this address is a via Trappeto. There must have been at least two olive mills in town, possibly at different times. There is another trappeto that appears in Church censuses of the older, southern part of the city, early in the century.

49.95.870(3)
Illustration of 17th century olive oil production. In the foreground on the left you can see the upright wheel in the olive mill, the trappeto, and in the midground on the right, three men turn the screw of a frantoio, a press.

Giuseppe Cascio was a farmer who suffered poor health, and died in 1899, when Biagia was fourteen. Her mother, older sister, and three of her younger siblings immigrated two years later, leaving her and her two youngest siblings in Corleone. I don’t know where they all lived, but it is likely they stayed with Angela’s brother, Leoluca. By this time, Leoluca and Angela’s parents had died, and Leoluca most likely inherited property from their father.

Angela, a young widow, and her older children joined her sister’s family in East Harlem. Two years later, her brother, Leoluca, brought Angela’s two youngest children with him to New York. Only Biagia did not immigrate. She married a man with the same name as her father—Giuseppe Cascio, her first cousin—in 1902.

Giuseppe was from a Mafia family. His godfather is also his namesake and maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Morello. His older cousin was the infamous gangster of the same name, named after the same grandfather. Giuseppe’s sister, Giovanna, married Pietro Majuri in 1897. Pietro was active in the Mafia in Corleone around 1900, under Giuseppe Battaglia. Two of their sons were active in 1962, under Luciano Leggio.

Biagia’s brother Louis and his wife, Lucia, my great-grandparents, married in New York in 1918. Immigrants made more money in New York than they did back in Sicily, and wanted the luxury goods they could now afford. Census records tell us that Louis worked in a laundry in 1920 and 1930. Even humble peasants from Corleone would, of course, know quality when it came to olive oil, and I expect many preferred the distinctive flavor of oil produced in their hometown, where they knew its provenance and production method, and it tasted like home. 

Long before the Mediterranean diet swept the United States, Ciro Terranova became the Artichoke King with a monopoly on small, “baby” artichokes, a Sicilian delicacy unheard of outside immigrant communities. Joe Profaci built his legitimate business empire on olive oil, beginning in 1920, around the same time my family was operating their own, far more modest import business out of their New York apartment. This niche product would go mainstream when Joe’s son, Joseph Profaci, Jr. and his Italian business partner, Enrico Colavita, founded an olive oil import business in 1978. American cuisine—and virgin olive oil—would never be the same.

 

Feature image credit: Herstellungsprozess von Olivenöl um 1600. After Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus (Netherlandish, Bruges 1523–1605 Florence),Jan Collaert I (Netherlandish, Antwerp ca. 1530–1581 Antwerp) – http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/427835

 

The First Great Wars

The First Great Wars

The story of Captain Angelo di Carlo’s life takes us through a turbulent period in world history, and in the history of the Sicilian Mafia: through two world wars, and two more for domination of New York City by competing mafia organizations. In his lifetime, Italy would fight its old enemy, Austria-Hungary, in World War I, but before doing so, would fight a colonial war in Libya against the Ottoman Empire. The rise of fascism in Italy nearly destroyed the Sicilian Mafia before the end of WWII, but due to the political blunders of the Allies following Operation Husky, the Mafia was able to reform itself under their protection. Angelo di Carlo is considered one of the architects of this renaissance.

The Turbulent 1890s

di_carlo-48
Captain Angelo di Carlo

Angelo was born in February 1891 in Corleone,the eighth of thirteen children. According to the family historian, Angelo’s nephew and godson, Vincent di Carlo, their family was distinguished in Corleone by its very tall, fair, and beautiful members. Vincent reports that DNA evidence shows the family is descended from Normans, part of the Lombard resettlement of Corleone beginning in the 11th century.

The month after his birth, eleven men, most of them Sicilian immigrants, would be killed in a New Orleans prison in the largest mass lynching incident in American history.

The decade of Angelo di Carlo’s birth would see an Italian banking crisis unseat its prime minister, and the birth of a powerful worker’s movement, the Fasci Siciliani, with one of its most notable leaders, Bernardino Verro, organizing in their native Corleone. Verro would join the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, in 1893, and die at their hands in 1915. In 1930, when Angelo di Carlo lives in New York, Morello and Ferro battled for dominance over the gambling dens of Manhattan, in a war that would take Morello’s life.

In the late 1880s, Giuseppe Morello made a name for himself as a vicious cattle rustler, working with Paolino Streva, under the protection of Fratuzzi boss Giuseppe Battaglia. Morello and Gioachino Lima both fled the country in 1892, following a series of murders, including that of the Sylvan Guard, Giovanni Vella, who was investigating Morello’s crimes. The Morello-Terranova family would spend most of the next decade as agricultural laborers in the American South.

In Sicily, Angelo di Carlo received a good education: a total of ten years in public school and gymnasium, the European equivalent of American high school, followed by a year in lyceum (college), and one year in officer military school. He graduated from military academy and became an officer in the Italian Army. As an adult, Angelo was tall and strongly built, distinguished and yet physically imposing. His military rank of “Capitano” became a lifelong nickname.

Living Space

Like Germany, Italy saw itself as a natural heir of the Roman Empire. In the years leading up to Angelo’s military service, the Italian elite embraced a philosophy termed “Unredeemed Italy” (“Italia Irredenta”) that dovetailed with a fascist belief in Aryan expansionism, called “Lebensraum” in German and “spazio vitale” in Italian. Not unlike the American myth of “Manifest Destiny,” fascist doctrine included the notion that man was a species continually at war. All three movements put varying degrees of emphasis on the primacy of Nordic people, and traced their political lineage to ancient Rome. To avoid stagnation, fascists argued that Italy would once again have to expand its borders, through reclamation of lands historically occupied by culturally Italian people, and through colonization. The “Spazio vitale” effort was particularly concentrated in the Mediterranean and in Africa.

italian_infantry_entrenched_near_tripoli
Italian troops entrenched behind the Tripoli zone, in the Italo-Turkish War (circa 1911). (Public domain)
ataturk5
Ataturk commanding Libyan fighters against Italian occupation, 1911 (Public domain)

It was in pursuit of this nationalist effort that Italy declared war in 1911 on the Ottoman Empire, and Angelo di Carlo saw military service as an artillery captain in the 3rd mobile battalion of the 40th infantry, in the Italo-Turkish War, in Libya. The Italians took Libya, held at that time by the Turks, in response to losing their own territory in Eritrea. Angelo would remain in active service until 1915, just before Italian entrance into World War I, and in the reserves until 1932.

The Mafia-Camorra War

220px-Giuseppe_Morello_1902
Giuseppe Morello

In the early years of the Great War in Europe, Italian mafias in New York were beginning to fight one another for dominance. Following the New York Stock Exchange crash of 1901, Giuseppe Morello returned north to the city, where he remarried to another Corleone native, and began a counterfeiting operation. One of Morello’s captains, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, eventually left Morello’s organization to form his own. While Reina’s family built a reputably peaceful ice trade empire in the Bronx, the Morello organization was drawn into a bloody war for dominance over gambling in Manhattan. The Sicilians, clustered around Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, and the Napolitani Camorra, based in Brooklyn, both wanted the monopoly. This prudent neutrality would benefit Reina right up to the eve of the second great mafia war, which began with his assassination in 1930.

On the national scene at this time, Woodrow Wilson, presiding over a small, unready military, remained publicly committed to American neutrality. German submarines sank the Lusitania, a passenger vessel, killing more than a hundred American citizens, but failed to lure America into the conflict.

Reina’s former associate Nicolo’ Terranova, Giuseppe Morello’s half-brother, was killed in the Mafia-Camorra War against the Napolitani, in 1916. That year Steve LaSalle, born Stefano la Sala, was with the Terranova brothers in a plot to kill Joseph DeMarco, one of the Camorra, in retaliation for Nick’s murder. LaSalle turns up later in support of Angelo di Carlo’s release from internment during WWII.

One of the last efforts of the Camorra, when assassinations proved ineffective, was to go after Ciro Terranova’s legitimate business interests, including artichokes (Ciro’s nickname was “the Artichoke King”) and coal. These were not successful, either. Participants in the murders turned informant, including Rocco Valenti and Ralph Daniello, the latter murdered after his release from prison in 1925. Mafia-Camorra War trials continued through the 1920s for Frank Fevrola and Antonio Paretti, with the latter executed at Sing Sing in 1927.

Fasci Siciliani

Meanwhile in Sicily, Bernardino Verro, the first Socialist mayor of Corleone, was increasingly at odds with the mafia’s primary clients, the large landowners, through his organization of peasant labor. Verro was killed by his fellow Fratuzzi in 1915 and replaced with another Socialist, Antonino lo Cascio. His worker’s movement, the Fasci Siciliani, would be subverted by right-wing nationalists who would become known as the Fascists.

The following year Angelo di Carlo, recently retired from active service and still living in Italy, married his first cousin, Luisa Castro.

In the years following the Mafia-Camorra War, the US would enter WWI and help bring about a victory for the Allies on the Western Front. Turbulence—economic, political, and social—would rock both sides of the Atlantic through the 1920s, and persecution by the Fascists would send suspected mafiosi to the US in the hundreds, among them, one reserve Italian Army captain by the name of Angelo di Carlo, pursued by charges of killing a Fascist in Palermo.

Feature image credit: Italian marine troops landing on Tripoli. (Public domain)

The Mafia without godfathers

The Mafia without godfathers

In a controlled study of Mafia marriages in Corleone, I found that Mafia members are historically more closely related to their brides than their non-mafiosi neighbors in Corleone. What are the implications, genetic and otherwise?

The rates of consanguinity among Corleone’s families, even its Mafia families, are not likely to represent an existential threat due to inbreeding. According to Cavalli-Sforza and his co-authors, nowhere in human civilization do we find sufficient rates of consanguineous marriage to threaten a population from pedigree collapse, even one as small and insular as Mafia families in Corleone. While the rate of consanguineous marriage approaches 50% in some populations today, in Sicily, it has not risen above ten percent. (Cavalli-Sforza 2004)

On the other hand, cousin marriage could represent a different kind of danger to a free society. Jonathan F. Shulz (2016) has shown that not only is consanguineous marriage highly significantly correlated with mafia activity, “cousin marriage is a highly significant and robust predictor of democracy.” Even controlling for a variety of other factors, including the year of onset of the Neolithic revolution, and duration of Church bans on consanguineous marriage, a ten percentage point higher rate of cousin marriage is associated with an approximately three points lower score on the Polity democracy index (a 21 point scale, from -10 to 10). This is equivalent to the difference between the “full” democracies of Italy and the United States (which both scored a “10” in 2015), and the more limited democracy found in countries like Bolivia, Kyrgystan, and Nigeria (which scored a “7” that year).

Another way of looking at it would be to compare the United States’ score in 2015, under Democratic President Barack Obama, and the current rating (2016) as a “Flawed Democracy” on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index under Republican Donald Trump, who won the electoral vote in November. (Data for 2016 are not yet available from Polity IV.)

The Mafia has cultivated an image of itself that is indivisible from Catholicism and Sicilian culture. One way the two institutions are allied, is in sharing authoritarian values—which is to say, undemocratic ones. The Church authors and then reinforces the religious values and rituals which bind together Sicilians from different families and towns, even those living halfway around the world. And it does so while at the same time, honoring the local: the daily miracle of transubstantiation, the vision, the miracle, the saint who lived close by. The Cursa Santu Luca, celebrating the anniversary of a miraculous retreat by Bourbon forces at Corleone, is one such local, religious celebration.

Another local ritual reinforced by the Church is the “inchino,” where the effigies of saints are made to curtsy or bow, by the confraternity members holding them, in front of the homes of honored families. Not infrequently in Italy, the honorees are at the top echelons of local mafias. When the San Giovann’Battista confraternity in Corleone conducted the inchino in front of the home of Toto Riina’s wife, Ninetta Bagarella, last year, the resulting investigation brought down the corrupt city government, and dissolved the city council.

Collusion between members of the Catholic Church and the Mafia in Sicily has existed, and been overlooked, for decades. Toto Riina was married by a priest in a Palermo church, while living as a fugitive. Rome’s position on organized crime began to change in 1993, when the Pope denounced the Mafia. In 2014, the Vatican declared that Mafia members are to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Yet this has not completely severed relations between Church and Mafia, as recent events in Corleone demonstrate.

Complicating these institutional associations are the most personal of connections, those among family members. The Catholic Church holds a monopoly on the sacraments that quite literally create Catholic families. Exercising its right to refuse the sacraments could strike a mortal blow to the organization whose own mythology centers the Catholic family. After all, what is the mafia without godfathers?

The recent objection of the archbishop in Monreale, to a known mafia associate standing as godfather to his niece, may be part of a growing movement to uphold the 2014 Vatican position against mafia activity. Giuseppe Salvatore “Salvo” Riina, the son of Toto Riina, has served an eight-year sentence for Mafia association. Yet last December, Salvo stood as godfather to his niece, an honor Archbishop of Monreale Michele Pennisi has since publicly opposed. It is well understood by Catholics that godparents are obliged to uphold the faith and set an example for their godchildren, facts the archbishop repeated in his objections. “I am not aware that the young man has ever expressed words of repentance for his conduct,” Pennisi says of Riina.

People marry in for reasons other than a lack of opportunity to marry outside one’s extended family. And people who marry their close kin at higher than average rates, do not do so randomly. People who marry their cousins do so not in ignorance, but in concert with their own values, and they do so for legitimate social and economic reasons, such as to preserve inherited wealth, strengthen family ties, and increase one’s personal prospects. One reason for marrying in that cannot be casually discounted, is to preserve power accumulated through generations of mafia activity.

Marriages between close relations are not normally permitted by the Church. For first and second cousins to marry in Sicily requires dispensation from the local archbishop. In the past, dispensations were granted whenever possible: the lack of a dowry, the danger of unmarried cohabitation, and even the risk of social embarrassment to a family at having to break an engagement, were all considered valid reasons to permit a marriage that would otherwise be prohibited due to consanguinity. Unlike the selection of a godparent, which is approved by the local priests, the dispensation process puts each archbishop in position to decide, on a case by case basis, whether a marriage might go forward. While dowry is, hopefully, no longer a deciding factor in granting dispensations to marry, perhaps mafia association will soon become one.

 

Cited:

  1. Colleen Barry. “Italy: Mafia stronghold of Corleone has new ‘godfather’ saga.” Published 2 February 2017. Accessed 3 February 2017 at http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Italy-Mafia-stronghold-of-Corleone-has-new-10903127.php
  2. Colleen Barry. “Italy: Mafia stronghold of Corleone has new ‘godfather’ saga.” Published and accessed 5 February 2017 at http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/weird-news/italy-mafia-stronghold-of-corleone-has-new-godfather-saga/article_6265cfb9-8275-5823-8249-6f1cf9867f69.html
  3. Jonathan F. Schulz. The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-Networks and Democracy (December 14, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2877828 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2877828
  4. Alexander Stille. The Pope Excommunicates the Mafia, Finally. Published 24 June 2014. Accessed 8 February 2017 at http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-pope-excommunicates-the-mafia-finally

 

Image credit: Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464). “Baptism, Confirmation, Penance.”

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 4

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 4

 

In a controlled study of Mafia marriages in Corleone, I find evidence supporting the hypothesis that Mafia members are more closely related to their brides than their non-mafiosi neighbors in Corleone.

See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.

Conclusions

On average, Mafia members and their wives in this study are more than twice as closely related as the control group grooms and their brides.

Average coefficient of relationship and rate of consanguineous marriage

Average coefficient of relationship between bride and groom, out to fourth cousins Percent of marriages that are consanguineous in this set, out to third cousins
Mafia couples 0.008 0.147
Control couples 0.003 0.059
Difference 0.005 0.088
Average 0.005 0.103

The differences in marital consanguinity between the two groups are pronounced. Compared to the control group, Mafia couples are almost three times as likely to have a close degree of kinship: third cousins or closer, which is to say, having in common at least one set of twice-great grandparents or a nearer direct ancestor.

Although the coefficient of relationship (CoR) of the control group, on average, is less than half of the average CoR for the Mafia group, the difference between these two figures is slight, in genealogical terms. A coefficient of relationship of 0.008, the average for Mafia couples in this study, is between that of a fourth cousin, once removed (0.1) and the CoR of fifth cousins (0.0004). (See the table in Part 1.) This is as good an illustration as any, of the practicality of researching only three or four generations to determine CoR. The decrease in CoR is exponential, and becomes vanishingly small beyond the degree of fourth cousins.

Relationships more distant than fourth cousins are not included in calculations of average CoR or in the percentage of consanguineous marriages. One Mafia marriage (Marco Maggiore, 1908) is between fifth cousins, and one marriage from each set, the Mafia group and the control group, are between fifth cousins, once removed (Giuseppe Morello, 1903, and Giuseppe Verro, 1902).

Out of the 35 marriages of Mafia members (named in Part 2), five are consanguineous. Nicolo’ Ciravolo  and his second wife (married in 1834) are third cousins. Paolino Streva married his first cousin, once removed, in 1894, as did Antonino Cascio in 1906. Luciano Labruzzo and his wife, who married in 1897, are in a double in law marriage and are both first and third cousins, for a CoR of 13.28%. Luciano Gagliano (1880) and Carlo Taverna (1904) are also in double in law marriages, though not related by common ancestry to their wives. Luciano Crapisi, who married in 1880, is related to his wife three different ways: they are fourth cousins, fifth cousins, and fifth cousins, once removed, for a CoF of .20%.

Among the 35 control marriages, the most closely related are Salvatore Pomilla (1893) and his wife, who are are first cousins, once removed. Carmelo d’Anna and his wife (1880) are both second and third cousins. Calogero Pecoraro marries twice, to sisters who are his third cousins, once removed. If Calogero had children with each of his wives, they would be more closely related than typical half-siblings, with a CoR of 37.5%.

Next week, a discussion of the implications of this research.

 

Feature image: Interior of Monreale Cathedral, by Bernhard J. Scheuvens aka Bjs [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Borgo Piano

The Borgo Piano

Swift and ruthless justice was delivered in a broad plaza to the north of Corleone.

When Republicans in Sicily revolted, their insurrection was put down violently by King Ferdinand’s military battalions. Several of those involved, including two who survived the crackdown, had ties to one of the earliest documented organized criminal gangs in Corleone… and to the next generation of the Mafia, who would bring their organization to America.

In April, I told the story of the 1837 cholera epidemic and, at its height, a foiled plot to blame the illness on Sicily’s foreign king. In Corleone, at least eight people—including three women—were murdered, before the killers were brought to justice, mainly through execution by military battalion on the town’s main plaza. One who was implicated, but not executed, was Antonino Milone. Unlike his younger brother, Leoluca, who was considered a ringleader of one of the murderous mobs, Antonino was merely imprisoned for his participation in the failed insurrection, according to Giovanni Colletto’s history of Corleone.

corleone-map-with-borgo-and-porto-salvo-indicated
The star above and to the left of the main city indicates the location of the plaza at the old Borgo Piano; the lower left star shows the location of the Porto Salvo district

The Borgo Piano is a broad open area to the northeast of the oldest part of the town. On Google Maps, the long, lopsided diamond of the Borgo Piano is still visible between SP80 and the Corso dei Mille. Where it comes to a southerly point is the piazza. It is now called the Piazza Falcone and Borsellino, after the assassinated magistrates who ruled against the Mafia.

A couple of years before the cholera epidemic, police had been dispatched from Palermo to eliminate Rapanzino and his band of cattle rustlers. Just two years after his associates were hunted down and killed, Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciravolo saw his nephew, Antonino Ciravolo, brought to justice on the Borgo. Antonino Ciravolo, along with Leoluca Milone and at least three others, were executed on the second of August, 1837, on the Borgo Piano in Corleone.

At the time of their arrest, Antonino Milone, Leoluca’s brother, was about 29 years old. He was married to Anna Gioachina Castro, a sister of Rapanzino, and they had one child, a girl. Eight months later, his second daughter was born. In the 1840 census, Anna Gioachina appears in a household in the Porto Salvo district with her teenage sister and two young daughters, on the same street where the Castro children grew up. Antonino’s younger daughter died a couple years later. The older girl married into the Moscato family, whose associations with Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting operation merit a future post in this blog.

It’s not yet known in what year Antonino returned to Corleone. No more of his children have been found so far. But his death record appears in the Corleone records, indicating that he returned to his hometown before his death in 1872, at age 70. His wife died in 1887.