Murder Most Foul: Sicilian Crime Scenes

Siciliano Crime Scenes

“The Mafia is oppression, arrogance, greed, self-enrichment, power and hegemony above and against all others. It is not an abstract concept, or a state of mind, or a literary term[…] It is a criminal organization regulated by unwritten but iron and inexorable rules[…] The myth of a courageous and generous ‘man of honour’ must be destroyed, because a mafioso is just the opposite.”

— Cesare Terranova, Italian Magistrate murdered in 1979


La Cosa Nostra is unlike any other organisation in the world, be it criminal or a company quoted on the stock markets around the globe (though some might say is there a difference between those two?). The Mafia web stretches far and wide and I begin my look at the Mafia hit sites of Sicily by arguably one of the most infamous to have taken place on this beautiful Island which is bounded by the Mediterranean, Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas.

Giovanni Falcone 23 May 1992, Palermo.

Giovanni Falcone 23 May 1992, Palermo.

Giovanni Falcone had been on the Mafia’s death list since the early 1980’s, when as a bankruptcy judge he uncovered links to politicians and financial trails leading to the Mafia. However, at the maxi-trial of ’87, Falcone, as chief prosecutor of the Palermo trial, saw close to 400 Mafia members sent to prison.

In 1979 Falcone was selected by senior Palermo magistrate, Rocco Chinnici as one of his pool of prosecutors and judges he regarded as anti-Mafia. Falcone had joined this select group shortly after the head of Palermo’s police force, Boris Giuliano’s, who was on the verge of a major breakthrough, assassination. Giuliano’s murder was the beginning of new of era of violence from the Mafia as for many decades prior the police and politicians had been left alone. However, as the international heroin trade grew so did the levels of ruthlessness from the Mafia. Falcone once said “death is no more important to me that the button on my jacket…. I’m a real Sicilian”.

 falcone and borsellino

Falcone left Palermo for a job with the Ministry of justice in ’87, he was asked if he thought the threat to his life would be lifted, he replied that he was under no illusions it would not be and described the Mafia as “a Panther with an Elephantine memory”.

It was down to Giovanni Brusca with killing Falcone. The then Capo di tutti capi Riina wanted the murder carried out in Sicily in a demonstration of Mafia power, 400 kilograms of explosives were placed in a culvert under the highway between Palermo International Airport and the city of Palermo. Brusca discharged the crude bomb by remote control from a small shack on a hill to the right of the highway on 23 May 1992. Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and police officers Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed in the blast. The explosion was so powerful it registered on the local Richter scale.

What remained of the car that escorted Falcone, which carried Dicillo, Montinaro and Schifani.

What remained of the car that escorted Falcone, which carried Dicillo, Montinaro and Schifani.


Cesare Terranova 25 September 1979, Palermo

Cesare Terranova 25 September 1979, Palermo
Cesare Terranova (pictured below), this judge and politician noted for his anti-Mafia agenda was one of the first serious investigators of Cosa Nostra and their financial operations. The first Mafia wars in ’62, which erupted over the murder of Calcedonio Di Pisa and a lost shipment of heroin – the Greco’s believed the La Barbera brothers Angelo and Salvatore were behind it – changed from a Mafia war into a campaign by the prosecutors against the Mafia. Not since the second world war had there been such a concerted anti-Mafia effort. Which led to the creation of an Anti-Mafia Commission, meeting for the first time on the 6th July 1963. Within less than three months 1,200 Mafiosi were arrested. Terranova was a prominent figure in the subsequent ‘Trial of 114’ Mafiosi for their role in the war. However, out of the 114 only 10 of the defendants were found guilty, the rest were acquitted, which frustrated Terranova.

Cesare Terranova

Cesare Terranova

It was no secret, nor did Terranova hide the fact, that it was his ambition to bring the boss of the Corleone family (the Corleonesi), Luciano Leggio to justice. In 1965, Terranova demanded the prosecution of over 60 Corleonesi, which included Leggio. The Corleonesi were indicted in the ‘Trial of 114’ and is was whilst preparing for the trial that Terranova unwittingly signed his death warrant. Leggio, having refused to answer questions about his parents, was angry that Terranova suggested his was an illegitimate child by instructing a clerk to “write that Leggio does not know who he is the son of”.

Terranova had left the judiciary, however, he asked, in 1979 to be re-instated once again to take on the Mafia through the courts of Palermo, telling his wife, “They don’t touch judges, they won’t touch me”.

Cesare Terranova

On the 25th September 1979 Terranova was shot and killed in his car alongside policeman Lenin Mancuso. Leggio was charged and acquitted of Terranova’s murder, but on the 15th January 2000 seven members of the Sicilian Mafia Commission were convicted of the murder of Terranova and Mancuso, one of the seven receiving a life sentence was Capo di tutti capi Salvatore Riina.

Terranova was considered to be the predecessor of Giovanni Falcone and also the next victim, Paolo Borsellino.


Paolo Borsellino July 19, 1992, Palermo

Paolo Borsellino July 19, 1992, Palermo

Paolo Borsellino July 19, 1992, Palermo

Paolo Borsellino was an Italian judge and prosecuting magistrate. He was killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo, 57 days after his friend Giovanni Falcone was murdered in Capaci. He is considered to be one of the most important magistrates killed by the Sicilian Mafia and he is remembered as one of the main symbols of the battle of the State against the Mafia. Both Borsellino and Falcone were named as heroes of the last 60 years in the November 13, 2006, issue of Time Magazine. Forty-seven people were convicted in connection with his murder, but the entire case was discredited by the revelations of Gaspare Spatuzza.

Neither Borsellino nor Falcone had intended to get involved in the struggle against the Mafia. They were assigned cases involving the Mafia that continued to expand and became disturbed by what they discovered. One of his accomplishments included the arrest of six Mafia members in 1980 including Leoluca Bagarella the brother-in-law of Mafia boss Salvatore Riina.

Paolo Borsellino

Borsellino was assigned to investigate the murder and became a special target when he signed the arrest warrant for Francesco Madonia on a charge of ordering the murder of Basile. He was assigned police protection. In 1983, Rocco Chinnici was killed by a bomb in his car. His place in the Anti-Mafia Pool was taken by Antonino Caponnetto.

The group pooled together several investigations into the Mafia, which would result in the Maxi Trial against the Mafia starting in February 1986 and which lasted until December 1987. A total of 475 Mafiosi were indicted for a multitude of crimes relating to Mafia activities. Most were convicted and, to the surprise of many, the convictions were upheld several years later in January 1992, after the final stage of appeal. The importance of the trial was that the existence of Cosa Nostra was finally judicially confirmed. On 19 July 1992, Borsellino was killed by a car bomb in Via D’Amelio, near his mother’s house in Palermo. The bomb attack also claimed the lives of five policemen: Agostino Catalano, Walter Cosina, Emanuela Loi (first policewoman in Italy to get killed in action), Vincenzo Li Muli and Claudio Traina.


Rocco Chinnici July 29, 1983, Palermo

Rocco Chinnici July 29, 1983, Palermo
It was Rocco Chinnici’s idea to establish a collaborative group, from within the magistrate’s office, to solely take on the Mafia. The ‘Anti-Mafia’ pool was created along with Falcone and Borsellino. The Anti-Mafia pool laid the basis for the Maxi Trial against the Cosa Nostra in 1986. Not long before he was murdered Chinnici gave an interview with the well-known newspaper La Sicilia (which is a daily newspaper published in Catania, it is the second best-selling newspaper in Sicily) in which he said:  “the Mafia has always been reaction, preservation, defence and therefore accumulation of wealth. First it was the feud to be defended, now it is the large public procurement, the most opulent markets, the smuggling that travel the world and administer thousands of billions. The Mafia is therefore tragic, frenzied, cruel vocation to wealth. […] The mafia itself is a way of doing politics through violence, so it is fatal that you seek complicity, a match, an alliance with pure politics, that is, practically with power”. (Chinnici as cited in La Sicilia, 1983).

Chinnici as cited in La Sicilia, 1983

Chinnici was an integral part in reviving inquiries into the Sicilian Mafia. He completely understood in order to break down the code of Omertà they had to bridge the gap which existed between the judiciary and the citizens of Sicily. At a time when judges had steered clear of the word ’Mafia’, Chinnici spoke out against the Mafia at schools and public appearances.

When the inevitable happened, Chinnici was assassinated by a car bomb, his Fiat 126 was packed with 75kgs of explosives which was detonated by Mafia assassin Pino Greco under orders from his uncle Micele Greco. Mario Trapassi, Salvatore Bartolotta (his bodygurads) and Filippo Li Sacchi (apartment consierge) were also killed in the blast. Michele Greco was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering the hit. Rocco Chinnici was succeeded as chief prosecutor by Antonino Caponnetto.


Via Palestro massacre 27 July, 1993, Milan

Via Palestro massacre 27 July, 1993, Milan

The Via Palestro massacre in Milan was a terrorist attack late on the 27th July 1993 and part of a wider campaign that night. The car bomb, which was placed outside the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, injured twelve and killed five people, one of the five was a homeless Moroccan immigrant, Driss Moussafir, who was sleeping on a nearby bench. On the evening of the 27 July municipal guard Alessandro Ferrari spotted a Fiat Uno from which smoke was wafting, he immediately called the fire brigade, within moments of their arrival, at 11:14pm, the bomb exploded killing Ferrari along with firefighters Stefano Picerno, Carlo La Catena and Sergio Pasotto plus the aforementioned Moroccan Mousafir. As a direct consequence of the bomb there was a later explosion due to fractured gas pipes which caused extensive damage to the Padiglione.

It was after the killing of Falcone in May ’92 that the Italian government declared war with the Sicilian Mafia and arrested Capo di tutti capi Salvatore Riina. It was in response to this arrest that Cosa Nostra launched a campaign of terror of car bombs in ’93. Five car bombs were detonated in Rome, Florence and Milan, the campaign accounted for ten deaths and dozens wounded. Among the targets were the Uffizi in Florence and two of Rome’s most venerated churches, San Giorgio and San Giovanni in Laterano.

Damage in the Uffizi Gallery from the bomb blast

In ’98 Cosimo Lo Nigro, Salvatore Benigno, Salvatore Grigoli, Giuseppe Barranca, Antonio Scarano, Luigi Giacalone, Francesco Giuliano, Antonino Mancano and Gaspare Spatuzza were all implicated in the massacre’s. In 2008 Gaspare Spatuzza turned government informant and began working with the authorities. Saptuzza declared it was himself, Lo Nigro, Giuliano, Giovanni Formoso and the Tutino brothers Vittorio and Marcello that were responsible for the Rome and Milan attacks. In 2012, due to Spatuzza’s information, the cousin of Cosimo Lo Nigro, Cosimo D’Amato was accused of supplying the explosives, extracted from residual warfare recovered from the sea, these explosives were used in all attacks 0f 1992-93, in 2013 D’Amato received a life sentence for his involvement.

Words by anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone on Georgofili olive tree

Words by anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone on Georgofili olive tree

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About the Author

David Breakspear
I have spent, over the years, a total of 15 years in prison. Since being released in June 2017 I have been using my lived experiences to help those youngsters in danger of going down the same road I did many years ago. I also write about my experiences on my personal blog Journey of a reformed man on Wordpress.