If you give them an inch

If you give them an inch

From the “inchino” this spring to the recent dissolution of Corleone’s city council, recent events in Corleone demonstrate the relevance of research into mafia genealogy.

Science is cool, but also, sometimes boring. In order to bring some rigor to my work, and quantify some of my hunches, I decided last week that I need a control group. The problem is, controls are boring. They’re by definition, the group in which I have far less interest. I’d much rather find the common ancestors of known mafiosi than scrutinize their neighbors in a randomized fashion. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it didn’t happen this week, and the reason why is, sometimes science is boring.

If you follow Mafia Genealogy on Facebook, or keep up with current events in Italy, you’ve seen the news of an earthquake on the peninsula that has taken more than 250 lives. Tremors of lesser note included the passing of Bernardo Provenzano in prison in July, and the historic dissolution of Corleone’s city council, due to mafia infiltration.

Late in June, it was reported that four councilors had resigned in protest of the mayor, Leoluchina Savona. The investigation that led to its dissolution implicated Antonio di Marco, who was arrested in 2014. He is named as a capo and a civil employee in the Repubblica.

It appears from the coverage that the investigation into the city of Corleone, which uncovered shady construction deals, began with a series of incidents back in the spring, at Easter. In Corleone and elsewhere, traditional processions performed a ritual “bow” to the houses of known members of the mafia, which is against both civil law and Church rules. The one person who has been named in Corleone in connection with the inchino is Leoluca Grizzaffi, a member of the confraternity of San Giovann’Battista, and a second cousin of Toto Riina’s wife, Ninetta Bagarella.

The mafia is a living organism, one that changes and evolves. But at its roots, its character and form are dictated by centuries old customs. Risky, public demonstrations of respect—like the inchino, or the naming of “men of respect” as godparents—are part of its DNA. Quite literally, the genetics of the mafia in Corleone have remained constant. By understanding how it has already adapted to changing circumstances, it’s possible there is more to be learned about what to expect from the mafia in the future.

 

Sources:

Antonio Fraschilla. “Il Consiglio dei ministri scioglie per mafia il Comune di Corleone.” Published 10 August 2016. Accessed  http://palermo.repubblica.it/politica/2016/08/10/news/il_consiglio_dei_ministri_scioglie_per_mafia_il_comune_di_corleone-145759589/?ref=HREC1-8 10 August 2016.

Josephine McKenna. “Homage to Mafia boss angers Catholic Church.” Published 6 June 2016. Accessed https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/world/homage-mafia-boss-angers-catholic-church/ 6 June 2016.

“Corleone, si dimettono i consiglieri del Pd in polemica col sindaco.” Published 25 June 2016. Accessed http://palermo.repubblica.it/cronaca/2016/06/25/news/corleone_si_dimettono_i_consiglieri_del_pd_in_polemica_col_sindaco-142809649/ 10 August 2016.

 

Image credit: Easter procession image is from https://etinkerbell.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/bows-ships-and-godfathers/ Available for noncommercial reuse.

Legacy of the Rapanzino gang

Legacy of the Rapanzino gang

While most of Rapanzino’s gang was exterminated by the police in the mid-1830s, their legacy continues, with a clear line of descent, all the way to the Five Families of New York and the Mafia in Corleone today.

The Rapanzino gang of cattle thieves, active in the early 1830s in Palermo province, were closely related to known mafia members in Corleone. Two of the members,  Bernardo and Antonino Palumbo, were brothers, and their second cousin, Leoluca Mondello, was also in their gang. Mondello and the leader, Rapanzino, were killed on the same day by the police. Two other members of the gang were Biagio Jannazzo and his older brother, Paolo. Although not closely related to the Palumbo brothers, by blood or marriage, the two families were evidently close: Biagio and Paolo’s parents were Antonino Palumbo’s godparents.

Ninetta Bagarella
Ninetta Bagarella

On their mother’s side, the Palumbo brothers were cousins of Vincenzo Maida, a rural guard. A common practice in that time, was for guards like Maida to negotiate for the return of stolen property. For this reason, it was a requirement of the position, that guards have close relations with criminals. Salvatore Lupo describes a typical arrangement: a mafia boss would go to the victim of a theft to express his sympathy, and to say maybe he can make some inquiries and find out what happened to the stolen goods. But he’s behind the theft and makes his money from the owner who pays to restore his goods.

Denis Mack Smith writes that the most common crimes in Sicily around this time were smuggling food into towns to avoid taxation, the illicit control of water, extortion—often through threats of arson to crops—and “abigeato”: stealing farm animals. It’s likely that Rapanzino’s gang worked with Maida, and other rural guards, to whom the thieves would kick back a proportion of their gains.

It’s not clear to me, what forces led to the police action against this band. Possibly the geographic scope of their activity brought the thieves from Corleone into conflict with neighboring mafias, each district an ecosystem of peasants, thieves, guards, and landowners. Or members of the band may have angered their local boss in some way. At any rate, by 1833, they were being hunted down by police, on orders from Palermo.

Despite being a wanted man in June 1834, the young widower Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciavarello remarried in Corleone, to Maria Marino. The Palumbo brothers were guillotined in Palermo the following year… that is, unless they escaped to Tunis, as legend has it. Paolo Jannazzo’s fate is not known. He did not marry in Corleone, and there is no record of his death there, either. Possibly he met the same fate as the Palumbo brothers.

In 1838, “Puntillo” and his wife stood as godparents to Mariano Cascio, Maria’s first cousin. Puntillo’s old band mate, Biagio Jannazzo, married Rosa Cascio, the sister of Mariano, in 1843. Rosa and Mariano’s sister, Emmanuela, married Vincenzo Maida, the guard, in 1849. Another of their sisters, Lucia, was the mother of future boss, Michelangelo Gennaro.

In 1840, a sister of the Jannazzo brothers, Lucia, married Vincenzo Terranova. Their son, Bernardo, is a known member of the mafia in Corleone, and the stepfather of Giuseppe Morello, a founding member of the Genovese crime family in New York.

Rapanzino, killed at age 27, didn’t marry. His niece, Maria Carmela Milone, married Domenico Moscato. Domenico’s cousin, Maria Carmela Chiazzisi, married Spiridione Castro, a cart driver—one of the rural entrepreneurial professions associated with the mafia. Spiridione’s nephew, Luciano Castro, is called a mezzano, an “intermediary” or middleman, in the 1853 civil record of his son’s birth: another mafia-related profession.

One of Biagio Jannazzo’s daughters, Leoluchina, married Bernardo Moscato, first cousin of Domenico. Leoluchina and Bernardo’s daughter, Domenica, married Placido Crapisi, son of mafia member Luciano. Her brother, Luciano, married their first cousin on his mother’s side, Angela Gennaro, sister of Michelangelo.

Biagio’s youngest son, born in 1849 and named Paolo, after his uncle, married twice, the second time to his long time domestic partner, when Paolo was considered to be “in extremis,” close to death, in 1906. He lived another nine years.

Epifanio Palumbo, the uncle of the Palumbo brothers, is the third great grandfather of Ninetta Bagarella. Ninetta is the youngest daughter of Salvatore Bagarella, a soldier in the Liggio-Navarra war. Salvatore and two of Ninetta’s brothers were named as defendants in the 1969 trial in Bari. She is the wife of Toto Riina. The family has been in the news recently, after a local Church confraternity paid homage at Ninetta’s home in Corleone. The “inchino” (a word that translates to “bow” or “curtsy”) a gesture of respect made during religious processions, is forbidden toward known Mafia figures by decree of the archbishop in Monreale. When it has occurred elsewhere in Italy, as in Caltagirone in March, there have been charges of disruption of public order. The family and the mayor of Corleone both deny that the inchino happened there.

Sources

“San Michele di Ganzaria tra inchieste e processioni sospese.” Published in Il Giornale d’Italia on 31 March 2016. Accessed http://www.ilgiornaleditalia.org/news/cronaca/875849/San-Michele-di-Ganzaria-tra-inchieste.html 7 June 2016.

Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Josephine McKenna. “Homage to Mafia boss angers Catholic Church.” Published 6 June 2016. Accessed https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/world/homage-mafia-boss-angers-catholic-church/ 6 June 2016.

Real Segreteria di Stato presso il Luogotenente Generale in Sicilia Ripartimento Polizia Repertorio anno 1836. Accessed at http://archiviodistatodipalermo.it/files/inventari/file/1263903377anno1836.pdf 6 August 2015.

Salvatore Salomone-Marino. Leggende popolari siciliane in poesia raccolte. Published 1880. Accessed online 5 April 2015.

Denis Mack Smith, A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713. Dorset Press, 1988.

 

Feature image credit: Giovanni Fattori, Cowboys of the Maremma Driving the Herds, 1893.

A family business

A family business

Mafia leadership for the past hundred years in Corleone have all been related to one another, through blood and marriage.

Cattle theft in Sicily, before the twentieth century, was like car theft today, in that it was a crime that required a village. A thief who takes a car needs a network of criminals to help conceal the crime and profit from it. There are chop shops and resellers, those who strip it down for parts or sell it whole. And there are other people who will tow your car away to a lot, and guard it there until you come and pay a fee to get it back. In either scenario, criminals need places large enough to secure large items away from their owners, until such time as they can be liquidated or redeemed.

Paolino Streva, with the help of one of his subordinates, Giuseppe Morello, was stealing cattle, using his network of resources for this complicated crime. The job of the guard Giovanni Vella, was to find the stolen cattle and deal with the thieves. He might do this by negotiating a return of the cattle to their owner—this was a standard practice—or by killing the thief. Vella believed Streva and Morello were behind the large number of cattle thefts that year in Corleone. Given Streva’s social position, however, murdering him was out of the question.

The Mafia boss at that time, Salvatore Cutrera, and his nephew, Paolino Streva, were among an elite of landowners in Corleone in the late 1880s. Despite his age—Streva was only nineteen in 1889—he was one of his his uncle’s chief subordinates. When Giuseppe Morello rose in the Corleonesi mob, it was under Paolino and Cutrera. According to William J. Flynn, Morello killed the guard, Vella, and following that, killed again, to silence a witness to his crime. 

When Paolino was 23, he married his first cousin once removed, Anna Giovanna Streva. Anna was just fifteen, and an orphan, the ward of her uncle Angelo. Anna’s father, who was also called Don Paolo Streva, married the mother of his children on his deathbed. Four years later, the witnesses at Anna and Paolino’s marriage were a student, Filippo Bentivegna, who would become a doctor, and Giuseppe Battaglia, the new boss in Corleone.

record-image_3QS7-897B-VF42
Paolo Streva’s marriage record, signed by himself, his uncle, his father, and two witnesses, including Giuseppe Battaglia

Battaglia is distantly related to future bosses Angelo Gagliano and Michele Navarra through his wife, Maria Rosa di Miceli, a second cousin of Gagliano’s mother, Leoluchina lo Bosco. Battaglia was boss until 1920, when he was succeeded by Michelangelo Gennaro. Michelangelo Gennaro is related to known mafiosi through both of his parents. On his father’s side, he’s the nephew of Cutrera by marriage. On his mother’s, he’s the first cousin of Don Antonino Cascio.

Don Antonino comes from a line of landowners. He was a witness at the wedding of Dr. Michele Navarra’s parents. And he is called a “capofamiglia” in a 1962 Italian Senate hearing. His daughter, Tommasa, married Dr. Navarra in 1936.

Antonino’s wife, Rosalia di Miceli, is his first cousin, once removed. Rosalia’s sister, Giovanna, was married to Angelo Gagliano, a powerful, and violent, mafioso with business on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s also the uncle of Michele Navarra.

Gennaro served for four years as the head of the Corleonesi Mafia, and was followed by Angelo Gagliano, who was killed in 1930. Before his death, it’s possible there was another boss, Dr. Marcellino Benenti. After 1930, the boss in Corleone was Don Calogero lo Bue, gabellotto of the Donna Beatrice estate. Calogero was married to Giovanna Lampo, who was a second cousin of the di Miceli sisters, and the third cousin of Michele Navarra. He ruled until his natural death, from diabetes complications, in 1943. Thereafter the boss was the hospital director and son of a teacher, Dr. Michele Navarra. Through Navarra’s second cousin, once removed, Lucia Cannaliato, he is related, somewhat distantly, both to Michelangelo Gennaro, another second cousin, once removed, from Lucia, and to Toto Riina. Lucia’s husband, Giacomo Riina, was Toto’s great uncle. Navarra was assassinated in 1958 on the orders of his successor, Luciano Leggio.

Luciano Leggio’s grandfather, Girolamo, had a sister in law, Biagia Cascio, who was a second cousin of Michelangelo Gennaro and Antonino Cascio. Leggio ran the mafia in Corleone until he was imprisoned in 1974. From then until his 1993 capture, Toto Riina was the boss. Toto’s brother, Gaetano, assumed leadership, and was himself arrested in 2011, at the age of 79.

Sources

Mike Dash. “The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia.” Random House, 2009.

William J. Flynn. “The Barrel Mystery.” New York: The James A. McCann Co., 1919.

Henner Hess. “Mafia and Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth.” NYU Press, 1988.

Nick Squires. “Head of Mafia in ‘The Godfather’ town arrested.” Telegraph. Published 1 July 2011. Accessed http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/8610833/Head-of-Mafia-in-The-Godfather-town-arrested.html 19 May 2016.

Senato della Repubblica, V Legislatura, Doc. XXIII. “Commissione Parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia in Sicilia.” 20 December 1962. Accessed http://en.calameo.com/read/0012258332ab89457a3a8 29 February 2016.

The 1969 Corleonesi trial

The 1969 Corleonesi trial

In 1958, Luciano Leggio started a mafia war that lasted five years, and killed more than fifty people, starting with Dr. Michele Navarra, the former boss in Corleone. The victory was short lived, as police swept up dozens of mafiosi from Corleone and Palermo in the early 1960s. Three major trials were held in mainland Italian cities, the first to prosecute mafia members for criminal association. The third of these, the Corleonesi trial, held in the spring and summer of 1969 in Bari, Italy, mainly revolved around Leggio’s war. The charges ranged from criminal association to homicide.

The prosecutor, Cesare Terranova, initially charged 116 people, including one whose name was unknown. Of those, sixty-four went to trial in Bari. Among them is Giuseppe Ruffino, originally from Lucca Sicula, suspected in a triple homicide. Five of his co-defendants are from Palermo. There are a handful from other towns in the province, but the majority, fifty-five of the sixty-four, were born in Corleone: three women and fifty-two men, including Luciano Leggio, Leoluchina Sorisi, Bernardo Provenzano, and Toto Riina.

Of the fifty-five, fourteen are my cousins, some of them admittedly pretty distant ones. The closest relations are the Majuri brothers, Antonino and Giovanni, who are my second cousins, twice removed. Their father, Pietro, and two of their uncles, were active in the mafia in Corleone around 1900. The Majuri brothers are also first cousins, once removed, of Giuseppe Morello. (I talk about my connection to Morello, through the great-aunt Biagia who stayed behind while my ancestors immigrated, in my first entry on this blog.)

Affiliates of both Navarra and Leggio appeared together at the Sicilian Mafia trials. Calogero Bagarella, said to be one of the assassins of the brothers Marco and Giovanni Marino, and of Pietro Majuri, who were all part of Dr. Navarra’s cosca, stood charged alongside the Majuri brothers. Calogero’s father, Salvatore, and brother, Leoluca, were also defendants. After the trial, Calogero Bagarella was among those who executed Michele Cavataio, instigator of an earlier mafia war, in Palermo. In the exchange, Calogero was also killed.

Filippo Gennaro, son of the former capo Michelangelo, was a defendant at Bari. So was Salvatore Briganti, second cousin once removed of “Mr. Vincent” Collura, a suspect in the killing of Placido Rizzotto. Briganti and Collura are related through a common ancestor on their mothers’ sides, named Leoluca Criscione; also charged was Briganti’s nephew, Biagio Criscione. John Follain and Gordon Kerr say Collura and another defendant, Angelo di Carlo, were instrumental in rebuilding the mafia after WWII. Di Carlo, Ruffino, and a third co-defendant, Salvatore Pomilla, all died in custody, awaiting trial.

Toto Riina was a defendant, as were his second cousins, once removed, the brothers Pietro and Giacomo Riina. Giacomo’s wife, Maria Concetta Leggio, her brothers, Francesco and Vincenzo, and their father, Leoluca, were all defendants, too. Francesco Leggio and his wife, Maria Riina, were in a double in-law marriage: she is the sister of Pietro and Giacomo, and Giacomo’s wife is Francesco’s sister. Maria was not charged, herself, but four of her sons were. Despite the common surname, I can find no relationship between Leoluca and Luciano Leggio, going back five generations. The four sons of Francesco and Maria are third cousins of Toto Riina, through their mother. Even the killers and their victims, in this small town, can trace some convoluted relationship: through connections to the Palumbo and Grizzaffi families, the extended Leggio clan, Dr. Navarra, the Majuri brothers, and I are all related.

That summer of love in Bari, an anonymous note threatened the lives of the judge, the prosecutor, and the jury, warning that if even one of the “honest gentlemen from Corleone” were convicted, they would be “blown sky high, you will be wiped out, you will be butchered and so will every member of your family.” The note closed with a supposed Sicilian proverb, “A man warned is a man saved.” All sixty-four of the defendants at Bari were acquitted.

 

Sources

Gordon Kerr. “Fugitives: Dramatic Accounts of Life on the Run.” Accessed https://books.google.com/books?id=x5lIAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT69&lpg=PT69&dq=angelo+di+carlo+mafia+corleone&source=bl&ots=90htLvjpEF&sig=yiEBNLstADFThVCsIVEQ2tXZ4rY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBGoVChMI3_H958GHyQIVhNgeCh0ZsgKt#v=onepage&q=angelo%20di%20carlo%20mafia%20corleone&f=false 11 November 2015.

John Follain. “The Last Godfathers: Inside the Mafia’s Most Infamous Family” Accessed https://books.google.com/books?id=hkDFCi3ItawC&pg=PT29&lpg=PT29&dq=angelo+di+carlo+mafia+corleone&source=bl&ots=H-UjJyHeun&sig=41arcl2L3b85RB3Va5TAo_Dg0NE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAWoVChMI3_H958GHyQIVhNgeCh0ZsgKt#v=onepage&q=angelo%20di%20carlo%20mafia%20corleone&f=false 10 November 2015.

Paternostro, Dino. <<Fratuzzi>>, antenati di Liggio e Riina. Accessed http://www.cittanuove-corleone.it/La%20Sicilia,%20I%20fratuzzi%20di%20Corleone%2008.08.04pa03.pdf 16 November 2014.

Senato della Repubbblica VII Leglislatura. Documentazione allegata alla relazione conclusiva della commissione parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia in Sicilia. Accessed http://legislature.camera.it/_dati/leg08/lavori/stampati/pdf/023_001011.pdf 13 May 2016.

Wikipedia entries on Michele Cavataio, Salvatore Riina, Cesare Terranova, and the 1960s Sicilian Mafia trials

 

Image credits: Luciano Leggio, by Il capolinea del padrino, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41505544

Killer Queens

Killer Queens

Are Toto Riina and Tommy Reina related?

A few days ago, I discovered that I confused the histories of two different gangsters from Corleone, Toto Riina (b. 1930- ) and Luciano Leggio (1925-1993), in this blog, a couple of weeks ago. I wrote that Leggio’s father was killed in an explosion that was, in fact, based on a story about Toto Riina’s father. Born five years apart, Riina succeeded Leggio as the head of the mafia in Corleone, when the latter finally went to prison in 1974 for ordering the assassination of his predecessor, Dr. Navarra.

This week, I’m exploring whether Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the “Beast” of Corleone, and Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, also from Corleone, and the founder of the Lucchese crime family in New York, are related.

From studying the vital records, I know there are not separate “Reina” and “Riina” families in Corleone, only two spellings of the same name. Although in both Italian and Latin, the word for queen is “regina” (“riggina” in Sicilian), in Spanish and French, the word drops the middle “g” sound and is spelled “reina” or “reine.” The latter two cultures ruled Sicily in the medieval period, when family surnames were coming into regular use.

Because Corleone is a relatively small town with excellent records, I felt confident that I could trace both Toto and Tommy’s ancestry, and that there was a good chance they were related. I began with clues from one of the most frequently cited sources on the subject of the Five Families, David Critchley’s The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. (Routledge: New York, 2009). In his book, Critchley provides Tommy Reina’s hometown, birth month and year, and names his parents. With such a wealth of information, it should have been easy for me to find Tommy’s baptismal record, and yet there was none that matched Critchley’s dates.

I tried reverse-engineering his research. He cites a newspaper, the New York Tribune, dated 18 August 1921. That issue is indexed on The Library of Congress website, Chronicling America, but there is no article about Tommy Reina on or around that date. Wider searches on Chronicling America and on Fulton History yielded some obituaries about the murdered ice box magnate (I mention Tommy’s brother-in-law in my post on the ice trade), on 26 February 1930, but no mentions of Giacomo and Carmela, Tommy’s parents. The stone marking his grave in New York gives his birth year only, as 1889.

Critchley provides another clue to Tommy Reina’s origins. Bernarda Reina, wife of Giuseppe Morello’s half-brother Vincent Terranova, is called the daughter of Giacomo. Were Bernarda and Tommy Reina sister and brother? Tommy was a long-time captain in the Morello gang. It would fit mafia marriage patterns, for his sister to marry one of his criminal associates. But the records available for Bernarda do not suggest she is Tommy’s sister.

There are three vital records available online that give Bernarda’s parents names: those of her baptism, marriage, and death. These all agree that her parents were Giacomo Riina and Giuseppa di Miceli. There are a few spelling variations—Reina is usually spelled “Riina” in the original Church records from Corleone, and in the civil records, too. (There’s another Bernarda Riina, of unknown relation, in this 1895 index of births.) By the time Bernarda dies in New York, she is known by her nickname, “Bessie,” and her mother is called “Josephine di Miceli” in the American record of Bernarda’s death. (Josephine is the English form of Josepha, the Latin form of Giuseppa.)

After failing to find him in the records for September 1889, I started looking for Gaetano Riina, son of Giacomo, in the Corleone baptismal records, moving in widening circles. The only one that came close was born the following year, in September of 1890. (The next closest births of a child by this name in Corleone are thirteen years in either direction, in 1877 and in 1904.) The boy born in 1890 is the first born son of Bernardo Riina and Giuseppa Zabbia, who married the previous year.

Bernarda Reina is from a well-connected family. One of her great-grandfathers on her father’s side, Giuseppe Fratello, was a gabelloto, and her mother’s first cousin was Bernardo di Miceli, a known member of the mafia in Corleone, and the godfather of Dr. Navarra. Another cousin of theirs, also named Bernardo di Miceli, was a broker by trade, and married Caterina Riina, Bernarda’s sister.

Toto Riina, whose father really did kill himself, one of his children, and a mule by detonating a German WWII bomb he intended to dismantle for the gunpowder inside, was born Salvatore Riina in 1930. Like virtually all firstborn sons in Corleone, he was named after his paternal grandfather. And like most boys named Salvatore, he was called “Toto” from childhood.

Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, who was killed in New York the same year Toto was born, was also named after his paternal grandfather. Like other Sicilian boys named Gaetano, he was probably called “Tanu” growing up, and this may be the source of his American nickname. Some names don’t translate well—Calogero is another one, frequently converted to “Charles” in the US. Gaetano is a distinctly Italian name, with no English equivalent.

Both being gangsters, and born in Corleone, with forms of the same surname, I had to wonder:  Were Toto Riina and Tommy Reina related? It’s not an idle question: Genealogical relationships are valuable clues to the genealogy of the mafia itself. The mafia is rooted in traditions that privilege family ties and the loyalty they engender. The criminal organization relies upon these relationships both to reinforce ties among its members, and to maintain a traditional, positive image outside the mafia, among the Sicilian diaspora. In recent years Toto Riina’s daughter, Lucia, has provided the mafia such a PR boost, when she expressed pride in her family name, and devotion to her incarcerated father.

Tommy Reina, forming the Lucchese family in New York, and Giuseppe Morello, father of the Genovese crime family, were the first generation of the Corleonesi mafia abroad. What are the implications in the next generation, following World War II? To understand the spread of the mafia, and its global network of relationships, requires knowledge of the kinships among its members. To learn the connection between the Lucchese family in New York and “the Beast of Corleone,” I would have to untangle Toto’s roots from the clues in mafia scholarship, as I had with Tommy’s.

In the 1969 mafia trial in Bari, Toto Riina is named, along with his birthdate and the names of his parents, Giovanni Riina and Maria Concetta Rizzo. Attilio Bolzoni and Giuseppe d’Avanzo, in their book, “The Boss of Bosses,” describe Toto’s father, Giovanni, as a member of the “class of 1897.” There’s one Giovanni Riina born that year, on the first of January. Giovanni’s godfather is Francesco Zito, who is named among mafia leadership around this time, by Dino Paternostro, in a 2004 article, “‘Fratuzzi’, antenati di Liggio e Riina.”

Based on these clues, I was able to dig up the roots of each of their families, and to document them far enough back to find a common ancestor for all three. I have determined that Tommy and Bernarda Reina are second cousins to one another , and second cousins, once removed, from Toto Riina. All are descended from Gioachino Riina, who was born around 1788 in Corleone. Gioachino’s brother, Nicolo’, married a first cousin of Antonino Palumbo, one of the brothers in Rapanzino’s gang in the 1830s. Nicolo’ lived near his in-laws on the strada di Mannina in 1834. (This paragraph was substantially revised on 14 Feb 2017. -JC)

Toto married the sister of one of his captains and they have four children. Today, Toto Riina is an old man, living in prison. His predecessor, Leggio, having met the same fate, died there in 1993.

The physician and the patient

The physician and the patient

Dr. Michele Navarra and his successor, Luciano Leggio, dominated the Corleonesi Mafia after World War II.

A few months before Domenico Liggio married, in the summer of 1834, he lived with his widowed mother and an older brother, Salvatore, near the ancient Ospedale dei Bianchi in Corleone: the same hospital Dr. Michele Navarra would run, a hundred years later.

Even in a place known for its poverty, misery is not evenly distributed. To one side of the hospital, in the 1834 census, live the families of the more fortunate: the skilled artisans, petty nobles, and priests. Meanwhile, on the other side, beyond the arch, Domenico Liggio and his family live among peasant farmers and their widows. One of his neighbors was my first cousin, seven times removed, Gaspare Cascio.

Ninety-one years after this census was taken by the local priests, Domenico’s great-grandson Luciano Leggio was born, a ten minute walk south of the center of town, on via Lanza.

Though some sources claim Leggio’s name is misspelled “Liggio” due to a court reporter’s error, in fact both are common spellings of this surname in Corleone. Luciano’s grandfather and great-grandfather both appear in Church records as “Liggio.” Sometimes the name is “lo Liggio.” In 1834, there was a courtyard named after Maestro Pasquale lo Liggio, near via Macaluso, in the southeast of town.

Genealogists would not be surprised to find multiple spellings of a Sicilian surname, in records maintained on behalf of illiterate peasants, which were kept in ecclesiastical Latin by the Catholic Church. My own family’s surname appears variously as Cascio, lo Cascio, and most confusingly, as Castro, in both church and civil records. There is another family in Corleone called Castro, from which I am also descended.

My last name, Corleone natives tell me, is most likely related to cacio, or cheese. “Castro” is Latin for “castle,” of which there are the remains of two in town, and probably the descendants of those who worked there are called by this name. Other surnames in town include Palazzo and Palazotto. There are a wealth of names related to apples (pomo, or mele) in my family tree: Pomara, Pomilla, and di Puma; Mangiameli, which means “apple eater.” A “leggio” is a lectern or music stand.

Luciano’s early life story is marked by tragedy and poverty. Thom L. Jones describes Luciano’s childhood home as a “hovel” near the police barracks. If you look at it today on Google Maps, it’s an undistinguished, shabby building on a narrow street, like many others in Corleone. In 1834, via Lanza would have been just beyond the southern limits of the city. When Luciano lived there, the animals would have lived inside the house with them, just as people have done there for centuries. Luciano suffered from Pott’s disease, a form of tuberculosis that attacks the bones, and gave him the ingiuriamulacciuni,” or hunchback. His condition was probably contracted in early childhood, from drinking unpasteurized goat’s milk. Even while on the run, Luciano frequently sought treatment for his symptoms, running successful criminal operations in mainland Italy while checked into hospitals under assumed names.

When Luciano went to prison, he left his associate, Toto Riina, in charge. Toto, born Salvatore Riina, grew up in Corleone, poor like Luciano. Toto’s father, Giovanni, was a poor farmer with seven children. After World War II, the countryside was littered with unexploded ordnance. One day, he brought home a bomb on mule back, to harvest the gunpowder. The explosion killed Giovanni, leaving young Toto, just thirteen, as the man of the house. His youngest sister was born a month later.

Despite his physical frailty, Luciano Leggio made a reputation for himself, first in the 19th century trade of cattle theft. His first conviction, at age 18 or 19, was for stealing wheat. Ultimately, he would succeed, not only in the traditional activities of the Mafia, but by dramatically altering the tenor and scope of the organization. Liggio’s use of violence, and his disregard for traditional values, were as much a part of his legacy as his expansion into international drug trafficking.

SC250_bomb_at_National_Museum_of_the_United_States_Air_Force
The SC 250 was one of the most common bombs dropped by the Germans in WWII. It weighed 250 kg (over 550 lbs). (Source: Wikipedia.) Smaller bombs were also used, sometimes in combinations. See Days of Glory: Luftwaffe bombs.

Corleone was an early seat of the Italian labor movement. In 1893, Bernardino Verro was killed for opposing the landowning class—and more importantly, their protectors, the Mafia—through his organizing. Fifty-five years later, on a March day in 1948, labor organizer Placido Rizzotto made plans to meet Dr. Navarra in Corleone, coming off the bus from Palermo. Instead, at the doctor’s orders, Rizzotto was bundled into the back of a car, taken to a deserted farmhouse, and shot. When his body was found, Rizzotto’s fiancee swore to eat the heart of his killer. Leggio was arrested, but the charges were dropped. Leggio is still widely regarded as Rizzotto’s murderer.

In 1963, thousands of mafiosi were being arrested. When the police found Leggio, he was in the home of Leoluchina Sorisi, the fiancee of the murdered Placido Rizzotto. She had been hiding the Mafia boss upon whom she’d sworn vengeance, in her home on the Mangiameli courtyard, a three minute walk from where Leggio was born. Upon his capture, she wept and stroked his hair.

There were murder trials, for Navarra’s killing and others, but Leggio and his associates were acquitted. The only crime the tubercular Leggio was ever convicted of, was the murder of the physician, his predecessor, Dr. Michele Navarra.

In addition to heading the Corleonesi Mafia, Navarra was the director of Corleone’s ancient hospital. According to John Follain, when a second hospital was built, Navarra was not made its director, so the vengeful physician successfully prevented the hospital from opening in his lifetime.

This was not the only development in whose way Navarra stood, and he’d already sensed the danger from his former underling. A foiled attempt on Leggio’s life by the doctor sealed his own death certificate.

Michele Navarra was violently assassinated by Leggio and his men. The physician’s body was torn apart by more than a hundred bullets, fired into his car. The attack came on an isolated country road, in the hottest part of the Sicilian summer. It must have been like a bomb going off.

Feature Image: “Operation Husky” Public domain.

The Ficuzza

The Ficuzza

The woods to the northeast of Corleone were a natural place to hide stolen cattle.

Corleone is a crossroads and an agricultural community. To the northeast of town is the Ficuzza, a huge forest that was also one of the King’s hunting preserves. Locals couldn’t legally hunt game, but they could gather firewood, wildcraft mushrooms, medicinal herbs, and fresh greens, and some men would make charcoal there. The revolutionary Carbonari (“charcoal burners”) of 1820 took their name from this activity that, with the enclosure of the commons, became illicit. The woods were also a natural place to hide stolen cattle.

Being an agricultural village in central Sicily, the main crops were beef and wheat. It follows, then that the principal criminal activities circa 1820 were cattle rustling and protection rackets. Landowners generally paid whatever was required to prevent their crops being burned or herded off and hidden. Having avoided these calamities, additional protection money was required to get the harvest safely to Palermo, to get it onto a ship in the port, and for the shipment to pass the gauntlet of pirates who hung around in the port. Just between its home village and Palermo, Sicilian products doubled in value, because of the great expense of transporting them.

Today, the woods of Ficuzza are the largest, protected forest in Sicily. Once covered with trees, the island lost most of its wooded areas to agriculture in classical times, with the foundations of the latifondi. In recent centuries, additional lands were cleared by short sighted landowners and managers, further shrinking the forest, eroding the soil, and causing rivers to silt up. The Ficuzza is not a proper forest, says one nature writer. The trees there are too widely spaced, and the prevailing species are not very tall. This makes these woods an ideal place to hide stolen cattle. (Or to hunt game, if you’re King Ferdinand.) Even in the 20th century, Dr. Navarra was involved in cattle theft, and used the Ficuzza for this purpose.

Palazzo Reale di Ficuzza
The Palazzo Reale di Ficuzza, King Ferdinand I’s hunting lodge, completed in 1810

Criminals with fierce enough reputations could eventually trade on their curriculum vitae for employment by large landowners, as field guards or gabelloti. One of the perks of these positions was protection from the police. A criminal band that evidently lacked these connections (at least until it was too late), was led by a man called Rapanzino. Given the quantity of manpower and time devoted to his band’s destruction, Rapanzino must have either failed to make powerful friends, or made an enemy of his protector.

Rapanzino was born Giuseppe Castro on 24 October 1811, the second of ten children. His family lived in the Porto Salvo district, in the southwest of the old città of Corleone. His ingiuria (a class of insulting nicknames endemic in Sicily) means “cropper” or “abductor,” and suggests that among his crimes were the theft of either cattle or men.

Stolen goods—and kidnapped people—would be hidden away until a family member or owner made contact with the abductors, usually through a middleman, or “mezrano,” to redeem them. One of my distant cousins, Luciano Castro (1807-1859), of unknown relation to Rapanzino, was a mezrano by profession. 

Not content simply to lead other men’s cattle into the forest, the armed band evidently roamed the province, committing robberies and murdering people. A bounty for Castro’s capture or killing is issued in September 1833, naming both Rapanzino and one of his leading associates, Puntillo.

Nicolò “Puntillo” Ciavarello (sometimes confused with another surname, “Ciravolo”), was born in 1792. His nickname means “stubbornness.” Nicolò is a distant cousin of mine through my twice-great grandmother, Angela Grizzaffi. Other members of Rapanzino’s gang were mainly from Corleone, with a handful from other villages in the province. Despite being wanted men in the fall of 1833, Rapanzino and several of his men appear in the Corleone Church census, taken the following January: the Palumbo brothers, Bernardo and Antonino, lived at home with their widowed mother; Giuseppe Castro, with his parents, his grandmother, and his brothers and sister. Another member, Paolo Jannazzo, appears in the same census, near the Palumbos, living with his wife. Paolo, born in 1809, is the son of the godparents of Antonino Palumbo, his band mate. Another member is probably a cousin of the Palumbos: Leoluca Mondello.

The same year as this census was taken, five men were reported to have escaped the Arsenal, the Bourbon prison in Palermo. Three of them were from Corleone, and members of Rapanzino’s gang.

In the ensuing police chase, Bernardo and Antonino were captured, and some say they were guillotined in Palermo in 1835, while others say the brothers escaped to Tunis. The remaining members are named in a March 1836 bounty. The search is led by the locally stationed police captain, Don Pietro lo Cascio. Not a corleonese himself, Don Pietro appears in the 1834 census, living in Corleone with his wife and two servants, a few doors away from the politician and Carbonaro, Don Giuseppe Catinella.

Giuseppe “Rapanzino” Castro and one of his associates, Leoluca Mondello, were both killed on the same day in July 1836. Police reports of their deaths describe the event as completing the destruction of Rapanzino’s band. The Church record of Giuseppe Castro’s death record calls him “Rapanzino.”

rapanzino-mondello-deaths
The death records of Giuseppe “Rapanzino” Castro and his associate, Leoluca Mondello

At least two members of Rapanzino’s gang have ties to my family through my fourth-great uncle, Stefano Cascio, and they are among the only survivors of the 1836 manhunt. Biagio Jannazzo died in 1861, after eighteen years of marriage to Rosalia Cascio, Stefano’s daughter. (His brother, Paolo’s fate is not known.) Puntillo stood as godfather to Rosalia’s brother, Mariano, in 1838. Another of Stefano’s daughters married a Sylvan guard, Vincenzo Maida, who was also the uncle of the Palumbo brothers.

Later in the century, Stefano’s son, Marco, and grandson and namesake, Stefano, were both landowners, a privilege that belonged almost exclusively to the nobility and the gabelloti. The younger Stefano was killed in 1893 at the Agricultural Society Casino, a known Mafia hangout.

According to the police record, after most of Rapanzino’s band were captured or killed, in the summer of 1836, Nicolò and another member robbed a farmhouse and, following this crime, were killed by the police. However, neither of their deaths are recorded in Corleone. Nicolò stood with his wife as godparents to Mariano Cascio two years later, and died in 1864 at the age of 72. His wife survived him.

 

Image credit: “Il bosco della Ficuzza ai piedi di Rocca Busambra” Di Utente:ramas7 – opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0