Feature Articles

September 2012
Giuseppe Musolino and La Picciotteria

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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     The Picciotteria, as the Calabrian ��Ndrangheta was called in its infancy, was first noted in an official government document on 15 May 1892. The associates were described as ��people of a bold and haughty behavior.�� Exuding an arrogance that dominated their thuggish countenances, these picciotti spoke in jargon, were bandits and outlaws, who carried themselves in a very distinctive fashion, in dress and in manner. Most had tattoos, which in those days were considered a sign of primitive instincts. Anti-social and prone to violence, they would enter a cantina, eat and drink, terrorize the owner and patrons, and exit without paying. A more Italian term for such individuals was Bravi, going back at least to the 1700s and earlier. (The Bravi were bandits under the control of signoritti di campagna, country land owners.)The original meaning of picciotti is boys. Another is members of the Picciotteria. (The word was used in other contexts, one being the military.)

     Giuseppe Musolino was born in Santo Stefano di Aspromonte, in the Reggio Calabria province of the Italian region of Calabria. His parents were Giuseppe Musolino and Angela Filasto��. His birth was normal and as he grew there were no serious infantile diseases. At age six a case of flowers fell on his head. His parents indicated no results of severe trauma. There was, however, a noticeable scar and an indentation of his skull. At age eighteen he experienced his first epileptic seizures. During his first two years at school he quickly revealed a violent temper and an intolerance of discipline. The parish priest noted that Musolino was an ill-mannered child and was growing up without absorbing any civility. As a youth he was a laborer. His father managed a wood-cutting business in the nearby forests of Aspromonte. After that failed he began in his house a modest wine shop.

     At his first arrest Giuseppe was a day laborer. Others claimed he was a carpenter, a cutter of wood as well as a lumber businessman. Whatever the occupation, the family did not prosper. There was no notable effort to seek employment that could provide a modicum of security. He drifted.

     There was no evidence that he gambled or abused wine, nor that he engaged excessively in the practice of masturbation. He did not bend to the task of work; mostly he became quarrelsome, finding trouble and enjoying himself, especially with women. From adolescence, he preferred associating with friends of which there were many. It was conventional thinking by the villagers that he was an associate of the mala vita (criminal band), most particularly the Picciotteria of Santo Stefano, although there was no concrete evidence of the existence of the association. Nevertheless, there was agreement by the authorities and others that Musolino had internalized the ��spirit of the mafia.�� Adolfo ��Rossi, an authority of that era on criminality in southern Italy, declared that in fact a criminal association did exist in Musolino��s village.

     At age 21, on 13 June 1897, Musolino attacked with a pistol and his fists the father of one of his friends. He did not deny the assault and justified the action by claiming that the man had brought women into his home, thereby scandalizing the daughters and offending the sacred memory of his late wife.

     Shortly thereafter, there were a series of criminal acts. In August he attempted to possess Rosalia Caligiuri, with whom he had fallen desperately in love. His sentiments not reciprocated, Musolino threatened to kill her with a knife. At the same time, he offended another female, Fortunata Romeo, a neighbor. For that action, he spent twenty-five days in jail and paid a 30-lire fine. On September 2nd, he attacked two women: striking Rosalia Fortunata, and severely wounding with a hatchet her mother, Mariangela Caccamo. Found guilty on all counts, he was locked up for five months.

     He had a violent encounter in late 1897 with Vincenzo Zoccoli. When Zoccoli drew his pistol Musolino said, ��You have the revolver, Nino, go ahead and shoot.�� The two bullets missed him. During the evening other shots were fired, wounding Musolino, his father, who had come to his aid, and Antonio Filasto��.

     Later, at the court hearings in Lucca, Musolino willingly admitted his role in the gun play, but accused Zoccoli of treachery and that he was wounded and had to defend himself. After more trouble with Zoccoli, Musolino went into hiding from 28 October 1897 to 9 April 1898, at which time he was taken into custody and remanded to Reggio prison. While confined, he stole food from a 73-year-old inmate, for which he served ten days in solitary on bread and water. After attacking a prison guard, three months were added to his sentence.

     Musolino was declared an ��incorrigible maffioso.�� He was deemed a danger to society and was given a very stiff sentence. On 27 September 1898, he began serving a sentence of 21 years, two months and fifteen days. While confined, Musolino fell into a deep depression. He felt abandoned, a man without hope and lamenting that he had been deprived of a sexual outlet.

     Musolino dreamed of America. He would ��make�� America like many of his village were doing during that era of increasing out-migration. He would walk out of Calabria northward to the French border. Others had done so, others had crossed over, who could not get the required papers, and reached the Land of the Dollar. On 9 January 1899, he and three other inmates, his cousin Filosto�� included, broke out. With a contraband length of iron, they dug a hole through the cell wall and fled into the night.

     On the run, a fugitive from justice from 10 January 1899 to 9 January 1901, Musolino would commit his most notorious crimes. He became as a result a public figure, a person of myth, who unleashed terror, yet one who took on a Robin Hood status in the popular imagination. Among other crimes, he murdered seven persons and tried to kill or wound eight or ten others.

     It was in January of 1899 that he shot to death Francesca Sidano, the concubine of Stefano Crea, who was wounded in his attempt to shield Francesca. Musolino would latter admit it was part of a vendetta. In August he gunned down Stefano Zoccoli as he was leaving a forest with two mules, one of which was also killed. In the same month, he assassinated outside of Sant��Alesso village the municipal policeman, Alessio Chirico, as he attempted to arrest Musolino for the murder of Zoccali. In February of 1900, he wounded his cousin Sinicropo, mistaking him for Raffaele Priolo, whom he considered a ��spy,�� along with many others who were out to stop his murderous rampage. Realizing his error, Musolino knelt down next to his cousin, asking for forgiveness while handing him the gun so that he could take his revenge.

     In March he shotgunned Giuseppe Agelone, peppering him with twenty-six lead pellets in both legs and one arm. Musolino justified the shooting by arguing that Agelone, an ex-carabiniere, wanted the award for bringing in the ferocious bandit.

     Musolino saw ��spies�� at every turn, even to the extent of saying that one or more were assassins of La Picciotteria. He boasted that he was always able to keep one step ahead of the authorities, who were scouring the countryside to smoke him out. Increasing the reward for his capture produced no results, one reason being that the peasants considered him an unfortunate victim of judicial error and an unjust political system.

     It was at two o��clock, on October 9, 1901, on the road between Acqualagna and Urbania, in the neighborhood of Farnet, the region of Marche, in central Italy, when two carabinieri, Feltiziani and La Serra, saw a young man wearing a brown hunter��s jacket and a beret walking ahead. The man turned, saw the men and hurried his steps. The two policemen approached. When Feltiziani yelled �� Ohe!�� Musolino took off at full speed with the two officers keeping pace. Musolino tripped and fell and drew his pistol as La Serra pounced on him. Musolino was brought to his feet and his hands were bound. Now subdued, Musolino said, ��Kill me.�� When questioned as to his identity, in answered in vague generalities. His attempt to bribe the officers failed.

     A body search revealed 253 lire and 85 cents in cash, a pencil stub, a pipe, a comb, small metal crucifix and medallion, both broken, an image of a saint, a Cuore di Gesu��, one of San Giuseppe and the Madonna dei Polsi as well as other objects. There was a small braid of gray hair wrapped in a soiled piece of paper, a well-sharpened razor, a pistol with twelve bullets and a knife.

     During his interrogation on 12 October, he claimed to be Francesco Colafiore, 28, native of Pescara, having worked in Dalmazia for several years. He denied pointing his weapon at the carabinieri. ��My intent was to shoot myself.��

     On 16 October, Stefano Zirilli, his arch enemy, arrived from Calabria to identify him. Musolino realized that the game was up. He admitted to his true identity and his many crimes, but said that he was forced to avenge himself of the many wrongs that he had suffered. He declared himself a sick man and had no memory of his travels from Calabria to central Italy. He had been a fugitive for two years and nine months.

     For Musolino, America was a land too far. He received a life sentence and twelve years later was declared insane. He died in a mental hospital in Reggio Calabria at age 79. His notoriety continued well beyond his death. Musolino��s life has been thoroughly documented in the annals of Italian criminology, becoming a subject of extensive analysis and biographies.

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