The Mafia without godfathers

The Mafia without godfathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cited:

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

 

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

Cousins, many times over

Cousins, many times over

There’s a classic illustration of exponential growth, that goes something like this: a king agrees to play a chess match for a prize: a single grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, two grains on the second square, and so on, doubling the number for each of the 64 squares. The king loses the match, and soon realizes that the amount of rice he would have to pay is far higher than he imagined: 18,446,744,073,709,551,615, or more than eighteen quintillion grains of rice in total. That’s a lot of rice.

Every genealogist who has gotten very far in charting all of their own ancestors has discovered that doubled numbers get large, very quickly. We all have two parents, four grandparents, and so on: the number of ancestors grows exponentially with each generation.

My closest common ancestor with Salvatore “Toto” Riina is through his mother, Maria Concetta Rizzo. We’re both descended from Giovanni Todaro and Antonina Russo, who married in 1750. Maria Concetta is the fourth great granddaughter of their son, Filippo. Filippo’s sister, Emmanuela, married Leoluca Cascio in 1770, and they are my 5GG. Of my 128 fifth-great grandparents, thirty-two are through my paternal grandfather, and lived in Corleone.

Toto and I are also related through his father, Giovanni Riina. Michaele Giunta and Innocenza Papania, who married in 1729, are Toto’s 5GG and my 7GG. So in addition to being sixth cousins, once removed, on his mother’s side, we are also sixth cousins, twice removed, on his father’s side.

Giuseppe Sangiorgi and Filippa lo Munti, who married in 1683, are also Toto Riina’s direct ancestors and mine: they are his 6GG and my 7GG, which makes us fifth cousins, once removed. We’re also seventh cousins, twice removed, three different ways. Pietro Mannina and Gioachina Biscuso, who married in 1673, are his 6GG and my 8GG. So are Giuseppe Sciacchitano and Caterina Lanza, who married in 1703, and Giovanni Sciortino and Mattea Russo (of no known relation to Antonina), who married in 1689.

Giovanni Fruja and his wife, Giuseppa, who I estimate married sometime before 1650, are my 9GG and Toto Riina’s 7GG, making us 8th cousins, twice removed, through this pair of common ancestors. Another of our common ancestors is Tommaso Cimino (my 6GG, his 8GG), who married twice, first to Toto’s ancestor, and then to mine, making us half-seventh cousins, twice removed.

In population genetics, degree of consanguinity is measured as a percentage of one’s genetic inheritance held in common with another, called a coefficient of relationship (CoR). The more closely related you are to someone, the higher your CoR. Identical twins have a CoR of 100%. You and your mother have a coefficient of 50%, and so do you and any of your full siblings. Half siblings share a coefficient with aunt/uncle-nephew/niece relationships, of 25%.

In the same way the number of grains of rice grows exponentially larger, from one chessboard square to the next, the CoF gets exponentially smaller, the more distant the relationship. Fourth cousins share a coefficient of relationship of only 0.20%. Sixth cousins, once removed, have a CoR of 0.000061035156%

I have multiple ancestors in common with another Corleone Mafia boss, Michelangelo Gennaro. We’re second cousins, four times removed. My fifth-great grandparents, Leoluca Cascio and Emmanuela Todaro, are Michelangelo’s great grandparents.

Michelangelo and Toto are also multiply related. They’re third cousins, three times removed, both being descended from Giovanni Todaro and Antonina Russo. They are also fifth cousins, twice removed, through Domenico Saggio and Domenica Mondello, who married in 1651: they are Michelangelo Gennaro’s 4GG and Toto Riina’s 6GG. And all three of us are descended from my 9GG, Giovanni and Giuseppa Fruja, who are Gennaro’s 5GG and Riina’s 7GG.

Image credit: Giulio Campi, “The Chess Players”

Three coasts

Three coasts

There were three men named Marino, on both sides of the Leggio-Navarra war in Corleone. One is related to two Mafia bosses.

In my first post on the relations among defendants at the 1969 Corleonesi trial, I focused on the Leggio-Riina connections. Another set of defendants with a common surname are the Marinos, whose paternal lines I’ve traced to three different couples who lived in the 1600s. One of these are the ancestors of both Dr. Navarra and of Toto Riina.

In Italian, “marino” refers to the sea or the coast. The triangular island of Sicily has three coastlines, with the closest to Corleone being to the north. In mountainous, inland Corleone, the name “Marino” suggests an origin elsewhere, on one of those coasts. It’s not yet known where the family got their name, when they came to Corleone, or even if they share a common ancestor.

Of the men named Marino who were involved in the Leggio-Navarra war of the 1950s, there were associates of both cosci. I’ve traced their roots to three different men who lived in Corleone in the 1600s. Of two of their families, little is known, but the third is rich in mafia connections.

Some background on the war: Luciano Leggio was recruited by Dr. Michele Navarra in 1945. By that time, he’d already served a six month prison sentence for murder, when he was still a teenager. He was imprisoned again in the late 1940s, where he met Toto Riina, who would become his criminal accomplice back in Corleone.

Leggio is described as an arrogant and volatile man. The kidnapping and murder of the trade unionist Placido Rizzotto, which Leggio was seen participating in, happened in broad daylight, yet Leggio was acquitted twice in the murder. He was clearly already a powerful mafioso when he began building a close group of associates who were loyal to him alone, and not to Navarra.

In 1956, Leggio’s men (sometimes called the “cosca leggiana” or the Liggiani) went to war against the Navarriani. An attempt was made on Leggio’s life two years later, which he escaped with slight injury. He retaliated, killing the brothers Marco and Giovanni Marino, and Pietro Maiuri, another associate of Navarra, on 6 September 1958.

The assassinated brothers are identified as the sons of Paola Pomilla in Zingales’ book on the life of Bernardo Provenzano. Paola is the wife of Salvatore Marino: they married in 1924. Marco is named after his paternal grandfather, and so is presumably the elder. I’ve traced the brothers’ male line back to (Carlo Marino‘s parents) their fifth great grandparents Antonino and Rosa, who I estimate were born around 1651.

Two of Leggio’s men were also named Marino, Bernardo and Leoluca. Because they appear at Bari, their birthdates and parents’ names are known from the trial record. They’re of no known relation to one another, or to the brothers from the navarriana cosca.

As part of the violence of Leggio’s war for dominance of the mafia in Corleone, one of his targets was Francesco Paolo Streva, Dr. Navarra’s fearsome, ambidextrous hit man. Bernardo Marino was one of the assassins. Streva’s face was disfigured, according to the farmer who found his body, and a finger from Streva’s left hand was removed. Bernardo is named in connection with the top members of Luciano Leggio’s cosca, including Bernardo Provenzano, Calogero Bagarella, Salvatore Riina, and Leggio himself. I’ve traced Bernardo Marino’s male line back to his fifth great grandparents (Onofrio Marino‘s parents) Antonino and Anna, who I estimate were born around 1668.

Leoluca Leggio, who was on trial at Bari with three of his brothers, his father, and his uncle, is Toto Riina’s third cousin. (The large Leggio family, of which there were so many members on trial, and Luciano Leggio, their leader, do not have a common ancestor, going back at least five generations.) Riina would take over from Leggio, upon his arrest.

There is no known relation between the brothers who were killed on Luciano Leggio’s orders, and his brother in law, Leoluca Marino. Marino was a defendant at Bari along with his wife, Carmela Leggio, the sister of the boss. Marino’s parents were first cousins, once removed. (Endogamy is very common among mafia families.) I’ve traced Leoluca’s paternal line back to his fifth great-grandparents, Nunzio Marino and his wife, Maria, who I estimate were born around 1649. Through Nunzio, Leoluca Marino is also related to Toto Riina: they are sixth cousins, once removed.

Nunzio is also the ancestor of fourth cousins Michele Navarra and Toto Riina. One of Nunzio’s twice great grandchildren was Maria Marino, who married Puntillo, an associate of Rapanzino. Another is Lucia Marino, who married Gioachino Riina: they are the third great grandparents of Toto Riina. Nunzio Marino is the sixth-great grandfather of both Toto Riina, who took over leadership from Luciano Leggio, and of Dr. Navarra, their murdered rival.

 

Sources

Attilio Bolzoni and Francesco Viviano. “Provenzano fantasma di Corleone che da 40 anni vive in latitanza.” Published in La Repubblica 17 September 2003. Accessed http://www.repubblica.it/2003/i/sezioni/cronaca/provenzano/provenzano/provenzano.html 16 June 2016.

Luciano Leggio entry on Wikipedia. Accessed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciano_Leggio 16 June 2016.

Leone Zingales. Provenzano: Il Re di Cosa Nostra. Pellegrini Editore, 2001.

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.