Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 2

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 2

To study mafia marriages, first, you need to find the mafiosi.

See Part 1 of this series.

To study the marriages of Mafia members requires several steps. First, there is the identification of members of a secret, criminal organization. A few, like members of Giuseppe Morello’s family, and the bosses of Corleone, have been written about many times, and a wealth of biographical information is available on them.

The identities of some members of the Mafia are unambiguous: they are named in trial records that give the defendants’ birthdates, hometowns, and parents’ names. Adding to the names of known members are Mafia historians Dino Paternostro, John Alcorn, and Richard Wagner, and others, who have named dozens of mafiosi from Corleone, and the time periods during which they were active, both in Sicily and in the United States.

Following accepted genealogical standards, I have built cases for the identities of over a hundred individuals named in connection to the mafia in Corleone. You can find them on Wikitree, categorized as “Corleone Mafia.” Occasionally, my work overlaps with that of other “Arborists” on the site. I am not the only one who has done genealogical research on, and written biographies for, the many thousands of people from Corleone on Wikitree, but I have done a lot of it. Each profile has a history, so if you’re curious, and a Wikitree member (it’s free to join), you can find out exactly what I contributed and when on the “Changes” tab of any profile. You can also see what I’ve been doing most recently on Wikitree, on my activity feed. For the last several months, much of my activity has been the genealogical research for this consanguinity study.

Of the Mafia members who were either born or married in Corleone, thirty-five of their marriages, performed between 1815 and 1909, were selected for this study. I cut off the study at 1909 because after that year, full marriage records are not available online, making the selection of controls a degree more difficult. The earliest marriages come from the first documented, organized criminals from Corleone that I’ve yet found.

The median year of marriage is 1889. Three of the mafiosi (Nicolo’ Ciravolo, Marco Maggiore, and Giuseppe Morello) married twice, and in each case, both of their marriages are included, so they each appear twice in the test group, below.

Mafia members included in study, with profile IDs on Wikitree

Mafia Member Wikitree ID Year of Marriage
Giuseppe Battaglia Battaglia-103 1870
Antonino Cascio Cascio-157 1906
Carmelo Cascio Cascio-432 1902
Biagio Ciancimino Ciancimino-10 1852
Nicolo’ Ciravolo Ciravolo-20 1815
Nicolo’ Ciravolo Ciravolo-20 1834
Mariano Colletto Colletto-38 1898
Luciano Crapisi Crapisi-12 1880
Salvatore Cutrera Cutrera-34 1859
Bernardo di Miceli Di_Miceli-100 1862
Domenico di Miceli Di_Miceli-128 1881
Angelo Gagliano Gagliano-50 1902
Calogero Gagliano Gagliano-52 1906
Luciano Gagliano Gagliano-9 1880
Michaelangelo Gennaro Gennaro-85 1884
Biagio Jannazzo Jannazzo-1 1843
Luciano Labruzzo Labruzzo-55 1897
Antonino lo Jacono Lo_Jacono-16 1872
Calogero lo Jacono Lo_Jacono-18 1884
Marco Maggiore Maggiore-8 1893
Marco Maggiore Maggiore-8 1908
Calogero Majuri Majuri-23 1893
Pietro Majuri Majuri-6 1897
Giovanni Mancuso Mancuso-307 1887
Francesco Mancuso Mancuso-313 1883
Antonio Mariano Mancuso Mancuso-77 1889
Giuseppe Morello Morello-35 1889
Giuseppe Morello Morello-35 1903
Paolino Streva Streva-64 1894
Carlo Taverna Taverna-7 1904
Bernardo Terranova Terranova-29 1873
Ciro Terranova Terranova-31 1909
Pasquale Vasi Vasi-2 1895
Francesco Zito Zito-78 1900

Of the Mafia members included in this study, the oldest are Nicolo’ Ciravolo and Biagio Jannazzo, members of Rapanzino’s gang of cattle rustlers who were nearly all killed by police in 1835. (Real 1836)

Biagio Ciancimino; Luciano Crapisi; Salvatore Cutrera; brothers Antonino and Calogero lo Jacono; Marco Maggiore and his uncle Calogero Majuri (note the two spellings of the same surname); Francesco, Giovanni, and Mariano Mancuso (all three of no known relation); first cousins Bernardo and Domenico di Miceli; and Carlo Taverna; are all named among Fratuzzi membership around 1900, by the journalist Dino Paternostro. (2004)

Giuseppe Morello, his stepfather Bernardo Terranova, and his stepbrother Ciro Terranova, all founding members of the Morello gang in New York, a predecessor of the Genovese crime family, are well documented, most famously by William J. Flynn in “The Barrel Mystery.” (Flynn 1919) Other New York City gangsters from Corleone include the counterfeiter Pasquale Vasi, who is described by Richard Wagner et al (2014), and in contemporary newspapers.

The criminal activities of Carmelo Cascio, Mariano Colletto, and brothers Calogero and Luciano Gagliano, contemporaries of Bernardino Verro, have been written about by John Alcorn and Dino Paternostro.

Fratuzzi bosses Giuseppe Battaglia, Angelo Gagliano, Michaelangelo Gennaro, and Luciano Labruzzo are known from multiple sources, including Flynn (1919) and Paternostro, and from Italian Senate inquest and trial records, which also name Antonino Cascio (a distant cousin of Carmelo) and Francesco Zito. Flynn also describes the young Mafia captain, Paolino Streva, who collaborates as a cattle thief with Morello in Corleone, under Battaglia’s leadership.

Next week, this series continues with more on my methods, including selection of a control group.

Sources

  1. John Alcorn. “Revolutionary Mafiosi: Voice and Exit in the 1890s.” Accessed http://www.comune.corleone.pa.it/file%20da%20scaricare/Saggi%20palermo1_Saggi%20palermo1.pdf 5 May 2016.
  2. Archivio di Stato di Palermo, GP, aa. 1906-1925, b. 267, f. 3, Associazione per delinquere scopertosi in Corleone, 13 Agosto 1916.
  3. Dino Paternostro. «Fratuzzi», antenati di Liggio e Riina. La Sicilia: 8 August 2004.
  4. Dino Paternostro. La «punciuta» di Bernardino Verro. La Sicilia: 1 August 2004.
  5. William J. Flynn. The Barrel Mystery. The James A. McCann Co.: New York, 1919.
  6. Real Segreteria di Stato presso il Luogotenente Generale in Sicilia Ripartimento Polizia Repertorio anno 1836. Accessed http://archiviodistatodipalermo.it/files/inventari/file/1263903377anno1836.pdf 6 August 2015.
  7. Senato della Repubblica VII Legislatura. 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.
  8. Richard Wagner, Angelo Santino, and Lennert Van ‘t Riet. “The Early New York Mafia: An Alternative Theory.” The Informer: May 2014. Accessed https://www.scribd.com/doc/222924210/2014-02-Informer-May-2014 11 January 2016.

Feature image: Giorgio Sommer [Public domain], 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.

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 stranger in this town

A stranger in this town

At the height of the cholera epidemic, a foiled Republican plot for independence leads to mob violence.

Strangers are the enemy in every story of Sicilian revolution. This is because the Sicilian story is one of constant invasion and foreign control. In 1282, during the Sicilian Vespers, anyone who looked or sounded French was killed. The shibboleth was “cece,” the local word for a common food staple, the chickpea. If a stranger could not pronounce the word, he was killed as a foreign invader.

The same fear of outsiders aroused by the Sicilian Vespers was inflamed by the cholera epidemic of 1837. In “The Betrothed,” (called “the most widely read work in the Italian language”) one of the lovers, Renzo Tramaglino, is taken for an “anointer” because he looks like a foreigner. An anointer was someone who, according to the rumor, was sent as an agent of the king, to poison the Sicilian populace with cholera. The story fueled an insurrection, which was violently suppressed by the Bourbon King Ferdinand II.

Early in the 19th century, laws regarding debt, land ownership, and the rights of leaseholders had oriented the agricultural marketplace toward short term gains that enriched an already ascendant class of gabelloti. In 1789 and 1820, estate managers had taken advantage of reforms to grab land and reinforce their power over landowners and the peasantry alike. Denis Mack Smith writes in his history of Sicily, “All the ingredients of the mafia were present [by 1831] except the word itself.”

In 1837 in Sicily, a liberal movement for independence from the Bourbon king was spreading among educated nobles like the Bentivegna family of Corleone, guildsmen, dissident groups including the Carbonari and Freemasons, and criminals, the latter of whom learned of the political movement in prison. The revolutionary leaders of 1848 and 1860, Francesco Bentivegna and Giuseppe Garibaldi, were both Republicans. In the year of Bentivegna’s revolt, 1848, there would be another outbreak of cholera, and again in 1867, but in 1837, when Francesco Bentivegna was seventeen years old, a third of his town fell ill, and half of those people died. That was the year he became a believer in Republicanism.

“Colera,” in Italian as well as in Spanish, has two meanings: the deadly disease caused by various strains of Vibrio cholerae, and emotional passion, which people once believed was caused by an excess of bile. In the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez uses the word’s double meaning to warn against the dangers of an excess of passion.

In the days when health was still a matter of balancing the bodily humors, cholera morbus was a catchall term for any kind of stomach flu. “Morbus” sounds worse in English than its meaning in Latin, which is simply “disease” or “ailment.” “Cholera” is derived from the Greek khole which means “illness from bile.”

“Asiatic cholera,” which is what we recognize today as the deadly disease, cholera, caused by various strains of Vibrio cholerae, used to be thought of as merely a more aggravated form of  cholera morbus. Before it spread to western Europe, Asiatic cholera was endemic to India, and spread through shipping ports. It was seen in England as early as the mid 17th century. It’s possible it was seen in Sicily before 1837, but this was the first time the disease spread to such devastating effect.

Patients infected with cholera died from a rapid depletion of bodily fluids, and as their bodies broke down, they exhibited the symptoms first of dehydration, and then of oxygen deficiency, which made their extremities cold and blue. At first, cholera victims thrashed and screamed, and their muscles spasmed. The disease was presumed to be spread by bad air, not contaminated water. Treatments included bloodletting, opiates, and mercury.

Within just a day in most cases, patients were exhausted and unresponsive. It was an agonizing death, and terrifying to behold. American medical records of the time reported bodies that twitched for hours after expiration. In a later cholera epidemic in Sicily, in 1888, the British Consul at Palermo reported that the people there had lived for some months in a state of “savage panic.”

***

King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies took the throne in 1830. At first, he appeared to be a progressive ruler, like his grandfather and namesake, the first King Ferdinand of Sicily, son of the Bourbon king of Spain. He commissioned the Royal Palace of Ficuzza, the King’s hunting lodge in the Ficuzza woods, near Corleone.  

Ferdinand II opened institutions in support of the sciences, including agriculture and statistics, and built the first railroad, in mainland Italy. Garibaldi’s Thousand famously rode the train to Rome in 1860, but the Industrial Revolution would be slow to reach Sicily: the island would not have its first rail service for decades.

By 1835, the King had lost interest in remediating the island of his birth, and his rule veered right. He shut down clubs, and increased censorship of foreign books. Land reforms and a growing market in Russian and American wheat meant that for Sicilian peasants, bread and pasta were increasingly luxuries, and meat, rare: the typical Sicilian peasant subsisted on cactus fruit and chickpeas. Even natural resources were diminishing, due to poor land management that resulted in soil erosion, deforestation, and flooding. In times of great poverty, peasants increasingly turn to banditry. The early years of Ferdinand II’s reign were the years in which Rapanzino and his band were active, stealing cattle and hiding them near the King’s hunting grounds.

At this time, practically everything came from abroad. The basic necessities of life, from bricks to buttons, were imported. In June, 1837, the first to be affected by cholera were two sanitation guards in the port of Palermo, who the historian and priest, Don Giovanni Colletto tells us were also smugglers. The district attempted a quarantine by putting up barricades, but the disease swept through the city and out to the countryside, with the citizens who had fled the city, attempting to escape the epidemic. A rumor began circulating that “anointers,” agents of King Ferdinand II, were spreading the disease through their food.

In the minds of many Sicilians, the epidemic of 1837, a disease of unknown origin or cure, was fused to the known threat of Bourbon oppression. Cholera was called “the Bourbon disease.” (Italians called syphilis “the Spanish disease,” in much the same spirit.) Denis Mack Smith writes that even university professors (who were not the most highly educated) and the archbishop of Palermo (who might have been more so) believed cholera was spread by “anointers” from the mainland.

As part of their campaign against the rumor, the police published manifestos, ordinances, and posters correcting assumptions about the disease. This did not stop the lynch mobs, in towns throughout Sicily, from attacking suspected anointers. In Roccamena, close to Corleone, Colletto alludes to early signs of civil unrest: two citizens were held in a makeshift hospital, not because they were ill, but to protect them from rioting.

Word came to Corleone from Palermo on 12 June to take precautions against disease. Corleone established a cordon sanitaire around the city. In Don Pietro Scaglione’s fondaco (a marketplace/storage depot/hostel), near the church of San Antonio, there were ten people being held under observation. Other people suspected of illness were kept quarantined in their homes.

As the death tolls rose throughout the island, ordinary food supply channels were cut, towns closed their gates, and cities emptied. There was widespread hysteria, lynchings, and looting. People were dying from disease in Corleone. But on 1 July 1837, when the Church there recorded the event, they said they were suffering merely from cholera morbus.

On 21 July, violence broke out in Corleone. The town had been under a quarantine for more than a month. Maestro Gaetano Governali, his nineteen year old son, Giuseppe, and two more men, Ciro Boscarelli, and Leo lo Bue, were dragged to the Gatto bridge by a mob, beaten, and then shot to death with rifles. The main aggressors in the crowd were Giuseppe Catalinotto (called “Catinotto Moscoglione,” which is a rendering of his surname followed by a nickname that apparently means a weaver of spiderwebs), Liborio Perricone, Leoluca Milone, Simone Majuri (called “Maione” in two different accounts), and Benedetto Glorietti, all but the last, natives of Corleone. Two more men were murdered this day, according to the Church’s records of their deaths: Antonino Giaccone and Maestro Gesualdo Birritella.

Two days later, Antonio di Puma, who was called by the ingiuria “Lasagna,” was killed by Antonio Ciraulo. Also on the twenty-third, three women were killed by the nineteen year old Biagio Listi, called “Frattiglione (Frattaglione is a nickname and local place name) and his companion, 23 year old Simone Majuri, who was also involved in the killings on the Gatto bridge on the nineteenth. Their victims were Carmela Billera and two wives of the men killed: Maria Pomilla, the recent widow of Don Leo lo Bue, and Birritella’s widow, Angela Colletto. Another man killed this day was Don Ignacio Gennaro. Colletto tells us that the three women, and Di Puma, were all accused of spreading poison.

Catalinotto, Pirricone, Milone, Majuri, and Benedetto di Mitri, were all executed on 2 August. From another source, the list of those executed is longer, with some overlap to Colletto’s. In addition to Giuseppe Catinotto Moscoglione, Liborio Perricone, Leoluca Milone, Simone Majone (Majuri), Benedetto Glorietti Dimitri (this Monreale native is known by at least three versions of this name), and Biagio Listi Frattaglione di Antonino, this source lists among the executed Antonino Celauro (Ciraulo), Liborio Greco, Leoluca Trya (possibly Friia, or Traina), Antonino Palazzo, Vincenzo Palumbo, Pasquale d’Auria (d’Anna), Vincenzo Grimaldi, and Cosimo Notarbartolo. The execution was performed by a military battalion, as part of an island-wide crackdown on insurrection.

Antonio Ciraulo, who was executed on the second of August, is also known as Antonino Ciravolo: a cousin of mine, and the nephew of Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciravolo, a member of Rapanzino’s gang, most of whose members were killed by the police, the previous summer. Vincenzo Palumbo was the brother of two members of Rapanzino’s gang, Bernardo and Antonino Palumbo, who were both reportedly guillotined in Palermo in December 1835. Legend has it, the Palumbo brothers escaped to Tunis, but Vincenzo was not so lucky. He was executed on 19 August 1837 in the public square in Corleone.

Sources:

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

Charles E. Rosenberg. The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.) Accessed https://books.google.com/books?id=k2pL9c00rl4C&pg=PA74#v=onepage&q&f=false 24 April 2016.

The Lancet. “Dr. Smart on cholera in insular positions.” 19 April 1873. p. 555.

Giovanni Colletto. Storia Della Citta di Corleone (Siracusa: Tip. Littoriale, 1934.)

Death records 1747-1751, 2 August 1837, “Italia, Palermo, Diocesi di Monreale, Registri Parrocchiali, 1531-1998,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11555-102038-84?cc=2046915 : accessed 22 April 2016), Corleone > San Martino > Morti 1837-1843 > image 91 of 194; Archivio di Arcidiocesi di Palermo (Palermo ArchDiocese Archives, Palermo).

Archivio storico siciliano, Volume 14, accessed https://books.google.com/books?id=q3JMAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA444&lpg=PA444&dq=Moscoglione&source=bl&ots=hINJuyeggI&sig=mefpuW2GKvMA3ZKHG5W9djfGrDg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiXydKLx6XMAhUCNT4KHabrCQMQ6AEIMzAE#v=onepage&q=Moscoglione&f=false 23 April 2016. Pubblicazione Periodica della Societa Siciliana per la Storia Patria. Nuova Serie, Anno XIV. (Palermo: Tipografia dello “Statuto”, 1889.)

Image credit: By Francesco Redenti (Correggio 1820 – Torino 1876) (Scan da “Il fischietto” del 20 gennaio 1857) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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