The Addolorata courtyard

The Addolorata courtyard

Of the hundred churches of Corleone, one of the most beloved is dedicated to San Leoluca, one of the town’s two patron saints. The Church of Sorrows, the Chiesa dell’Addolorata, is in the San Nicolo’ district, built on what was called at that time “the left side trazzera of Corleone.” (A trazzera is a path for herding cattle.) Although dedicated to San Leoluca, the name refers to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. Landslides threatened the church in 1784, but it still stands.

San Leoluca was born in Corleone on the eve of the Saracen invasion, in the ninth century. The Sicilian emirate lasted until the eleventh century, and Corleone remained a Muslim-majority city for at least another hundred years. By the Middle Ages, churches had assumed the social position of mosques in the town, built in the traditional North African style, with winding alleys and communal courtyards. The largest houses of worship in Corleone have squares in front of them that have been centers of public life for centuries.

In the 18th century, Church censuses, called “state of the soul,” or “stato delle anime,” describe an old city and suburbs, still laid out along the same lines as it had been in the time of San Leoluca.

A typical “stato” begins without headings, with the name of a head of household. This appears with their age, and the first names, ages, and relationship to the head of household, of each resident in the home. A horizontal line separates one household from the next. Occasional headings or marginalia appear as clues to the census’ geographical location. The town’s many “quarters”—there are more than four—correspond to the largest churches. Some years include running totals, and most conclude with a tally of the population, broken out between the city and the suburbs.

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The priest who takes the census winds in and out of courtyards, alleys, and institutions on his rounds. As well as the private homes of Corleone there is a college, an orphanage, a marketplace/hostel, and several convents and monasteries.  “San Nicolo’ quarter,” “out,” “turn,” and “as you go up the road,” are all typical headings. There is no visual map of the census taker’s trajectory in the “stato delle anime,” only these clues, and the names of the families he records.

As a genealogist, making sense of one of these records is not the place to begin one’s search for family: there have been too many changes, and the “stato” provides too few clues.  While a few households appear on roads that still bear the same names today, the majority do not. Most of the town’s original courtyards, which were numerous in 1834, are no longer visible on maps today: they have been filled in with more houses.

From one census to the next, landmarks are renamed or disappear, people marry and die, and families move. Some of the “stati” are mislabeled as to the year they were taken: one labeled “1848” on FamilySearch appears to have been taken almost a hundred years earlier.  Ages are misreported, relations and servants appear without surnames, widows are listed under their married names, and locations cannot be exactly pinpointed, but only referred to with relation to shifting landmarks. Even people’s names skip generations, so it’s hard to know from a single page of the census, whether you’re looking at one man’s family or his grandfather’s.

Given these qualities, the “stato” is only useful for finding your relations, after you already know exactly who they are and when they lived. But if your research into the town is broader than one lineage, the census is a goldmine of information. By reviewing many years’ worth, I have mapped old Corleone onto the new, and pinpointed the locations of dozens of landmarks and family homes.

In the 1811 and 1812 censuses, there is a courtyard in the San Nicolo’ quarter called after the nearby Chiesa dell’Addolorata. In much the same way as the plazas were engineered in the time of the emirate, city planners made courtyards centers of domestic activity. 

Among the families living in the Addolorata courtyard in 1812 are those of Calogero Morello, who is the great-grandfather of New York City gangster Giuseppe Morello, and of Maestro Leoluca Vasi. In 1834, Calogero Morello still lived there, near master artisans, brothers Vito and Pasquale Vasi, who are sons of Leoluca; and Calogero Maida, uncle of Vincenzo Maida, the guard associated with Rapanzino’s gang. Maestro Vito was married to Vincenzo Maida’s sister.

I haven’t determined exactly where Rapanzino’s bandmates lived in 1834, from their position in that year’s census, but their families live in the San Nicolo’ quarter, as well.

Calogero Morello’s nephew, Ciro Rigoglioso, also lived in the Addolorata courtyard in 1834. Another Vasi brother lived just outside it. Ciro, whose married sister also lived nearby, is the twice-great grandfather of Bernardo Provenzano, who died last year in prison.

Vito Vasi and Calogera Maida had at least one son, Francesco, who in turn had at least four sons, all of whom immigrated to New York. The two older brothers are Giuseppe and Leoluca, and they have at least two younger brothers, one named Pasquale, born in 1880, and Francesco Paolo, who shares a name with their father, born in 1882.

The brothers also have a second cousin named Pasquale Vasi, the grandson and namesake of Vito’s brother. He was born in 1866. His godfather was murdered by a Giuseppe Morello associate, Gioachino Lima.

Of the four sons of Francesco Vasi, Giuseppe immigrated first to Manhattan, and married a girl from Corleone there in 1897. The two younger brothers immigrated together in 1904. Leoluca Vasi married in Corleone and sailed with his wife’s family in 1905.

Leoluca and Pasquale were both arrested in New York in 1910, in connection with Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting operation. Pasquale made bail and was released, but Leoluca appears in that year’s US census: as a prisoner in South Bend, Georgia.

 

Image of Maria Addolorata by unknown artist, © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0

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