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Authors: John Dickie

Cosa Nostra


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Title Page

Copyright Notice





Men of Honour

1. The Genesis of the Mafia 1860–1876

Sicily’s Two Colours

Dr Galati and the Lemon Garden


Baron Turrisi Colonna and the ‘Sect’

The Violence Industry

‘The So-Called Maffia’: How the Mafia Got its Name

2. The Mafia Enters the Italian System 1876–1890

‘An Instrument of Local Government’

The Favara Brotherhood: the Mafia in Sulphur Country


3. Corruption in High Places 1890–1904

A New Breed of Politician

The Sangiorgi Report

The Notarbartolo Murder

4. Socialism, Fascism, Mafia 1893–1943


The Man with Hair on His Heart

5. The Mafia Establishes Itself in America 1900–1941

Joe Petrosino

Cola Gentile’s America

6. War and Rebirth 1943–1950

Don Calò and the Rebirth of the Honoured Society

Meet the Grecos

The Last Bandit

7. God, Concrete, Heroin, and Cosa Nostra 1950–1963

The Early Life of Tommaso Buscetta

The Sack of Palermo

Joe Bananas Goes on Holiday

8. The ‘First’ Mafia War and its Consequences 1962–1969

The Ciaculli Bomb

Like Chicago in the Twenties? The First Mafia War

The Antimafia

‘A Phenomenon of Collective Criminality’

9. The Origins of the Second Mafia War 1970–1982

Rise of the Corleonesi: 1—Luciano Leggio (1943–1970)

Leonardo Vitale’s Spiritual Crisis

Death of a ‘Leftist Fanatic’: Peppino Impastato

Heroin: The Pizza Connection

Bankers, Masons, Tax Collectors, Mafiosi

Rise of the Corleonesi: 2—Towards the Mattanza (1970–1983)

10. Terra Infidelium 1983–1992

The Virtuous Minority

Eminent Corpses

Watching the Bullfight

The Fate of the Maxi-Trial

11. Bombs and Submersion 1992–2003

Totò Riina’s Villa

After Capaci

‘Uncle Giulio’

Enter the Tractor

The Major-Domo and the Ad Man


Picture Acknowledgements


Notes on Sources




As will quickly become evident, these pages inevitably refer to serious allegations relating to certain individuals. It is essential therefore that no one should read the book without keeping the following points in mind:

Mafia Families and blood families are distinct entities. The fact that one or several members of any blood family mentioned in this book are initiated into the mafia in no way entails that their relatives by birth or marriage are affiliates of the mafia, working in its interests, or are even aware that their relatives are or were affiliated. Indeed, since Cosa Nostra is a secret organization, it has a rule that its members must not tell their blood family members anything about its affairs. For the same reason,
a fortiori,
it should not be inferred that any descendants of now dead individuals about whom suspicions of complicity with the mafia are raised in this book are in any way themselves complicit.

Throughout their history, the Sicilian mafia and the American mafia have established relationships with individual business people, politicians and members of organizations such as trade unions and companies. Equally, both the Sicilian and the American mafias have established relationships with companies, trade unions, political parties or groups within those parties. The available historical evidence strongly suggests that one of the primary characteristics of those relationships is their variety. For example, in cases in which protection money is paid to the mafia, the organizations and individuals involved may be entirely innocent victims of extortion, or willing collaborators with organized crime. Comments about such organizations and individuals in this book are in no way intended to prejudge the specific nature of single cases in this regard. Nor should it be inferred that such organizations and individuals that have, at one time, had a relationship with the mafia continue to do so. Furthermore, no inference should be drawn from what is written in this book about any organizations and individuals whose names, by pure coincidence, happen to be the same as those mentioned here.

This book, like many other studies of the mafia, identifies a broad historical pattern in which members of the mafia have tended to escape prosecution more often than would be expected. Within this broad pattern, individual cases have very varied characteristics; there are by no means always grounds for suspicion of any wrongdoing or incompetence on the part of any members of law enforcement agencies, members of the judiciary, witnesses or jurors. Accordingly no inference about any such wrongdoing or incompetence should be drawn unless explicitly stated.

Many people throughout history have denied the existence of the mafia or sought to downplay its influence. Very many of these people were speaking and acting in perfectly good faith. Similarly, many people have expressed honest, reasonable, and sometimes absolutely justified doubts about the reliability of evidence from individual mafia
(defectors) or
collectively. In the absence of explicit statements to the contrary in these pages, no inference should be made about a person’s complicity with the mafia merely from the fact that someone is reported as denying or downplaying the existence of the mafia or expressing doubts about
of the kind outlined.

In instances where, as related in these pages, members of the mafia met in hotels, restaurants, shops or other public places, no inference should be made that the proprietors, management or staff of the places mentioned were in any way complicit with the mafia, or aware of the meeting, of the criminal calibre of participants in the meeting, or of the criminal nature of the business conducted at the meeting.

For practical reasons it has not been possible to interview all of the people still living whose spoken words are quoted here from written sources such as interviews in books and newspapers. In each case the author has made an assumption that the words in such books and newspapers have been transcribed with accuracy and good faith.

Some of the judicial proceedings mentioned may have progressed to a new stage, with different results, since the time this book was written and published.


Two stories, two days in May, separated by a century of history. Each story—the first a melodramatic fiction, the second a tragic reality—reveals something important about the Sicilian mafia, and about why, at last, the history of the mafia can now be written.

*   *   *

The first story was introduced to the world at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 17 May 1890 at what many people believe was the most successful opera première of all time. Pietro Mascagni’s
Cavalleria rusticana
(‘rustic chivalry’) put plangent melody at the service of a simple tale of jealousy, honour, and vengeance set among the peasants of Sicily. It was greeted with wild enthusiasm. There were thirty curtain calls; the Queen of Italy was present and apparently applauded all evening.
rapidly became an international hit. A few months after that night in Rome, Mascagni wrote to a friend that his one-act opera had made him, at the age of twenty-six, rich for life.

Everyone knows at least some of the music of
Cavalleria rusticana,
and everyone recognizes its associations with Sicily. Its intermezzo is played over the famous slow-motion title sequence of
Raging Bull,
Martin Scorsese’s dissection of Italian-American machismo, pride and jealousy. The opera also runs through Francis Ford Coppola’s
The Godfather Part III.
In the climactic scene, a mafia killer disguised as a priest stalks his victim through the sumptuous Teatro Massimo in Palermo as
is performed on stage. Don Michael Corleone’s son is singing the lead tenor role of Turiddu. At the end of the film, the intermezzo makes a return to accompany the solitary death of the aged don played by Al Pacino.

What is less well known about
is that its story is the purest, most anodyne form of a myth about Sicily and the mafia, a myth that was something akin to the official ideology of the Sicilian mafia for nearly a century and a half. The mafia was not an organization, it was believed, but a sense of defiant pride and honour, rooted deep in the identity of every Sicilian. The notion of ‘rustic chivalry’ stood square against the idea that the mafia might even have a history worthy of the name. Today, it is impossible to tell the story of the mafia without reckoning with the power of that same myth.

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