Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Luciano Leggio head of the Corleonesi 1940-1945
As well as setting the Corleonesi on track to become the dominant Mafia clan in Sicily, he became infamous for avoiding convictions for a multitude of crimes, including homicide, before he was finally imprisoned for life in 1974.
Leggio was one of ten children raised in extreme poverty on a small farm. He turned to crime in his teens. His first conviction was when he was aged 18 for stealing corn; as soon as he completed a six-month sentence for this crime, he murdered the man who had reported him to the police. In 1945 he was recruited by the Mafia boss of Corleone, Michele Navarra, to work as an enforcer and hitman. That same year Leggio shot dead a farm-hand in order to take his job, then immediately took over the farm by demanding the owner sign it over to him at gunpoint.
On March 10, 1948, trade unionist Placido Rizzotto was kidnapped by three men in broad daylight, with a number of witnesses claiming Leggio was one of them. The following year two men confessed to helping Leggio kidnap Rizzotto, who shot the victim and dumped him in a 50-foot-deep (15 m) cavern. The police recovered Rizzotto's body and two others, Leggio was arrested on suspicion of murder, but after spending almost two years behind bars he was released and the charges dropped when witnesses refused to testify. The two alleged accomplices were eventually killed. Leggio went into hiding—although reportedly did not have to try hard to hide because no one in Corleone seemed brave enough to alert the police as to his whereabouts—after he was indicted once again for the Rizzotto slaying. He was tried twice in absentia of the trade unionist's murder but acquitted due to insufficient evidence on both occasions.
Many pentiti have described Leggio as being highly volatile and violent, as well as possessing a streak of vanity. According to Tommaso Buscetta, during meetings with Mafia bosses from Palermo, Leggio insisted on correcting grammatical errors made by Gaetano Badalamenti when Badalamenti tried to speak Italian rather than his native Sicilian. Leggio apparently liked to be called "The Professor", as if he were an intellectual, even though, like many of his fellow Corleonesi, he was poorly educated. Leggio left school at the age of nine and was illiterate until well into adulthood. He also tended to wear expensively tailored suits at his repeated court appearances, often along with sunglasses, and grandly puffed on a cigar.
Ascent to power
Leggio soon began to build his own faction of mobsters loyal to him alone, including Riina and Provenzano, and in 1956 the Leggio faction went to war with Navarra and his followers. One evening in June 1958 Leggio was walking across a field when some of Navarra's men opened fire on him. He escaped with just a slight injury to his hand.
A couple of months later, on August 2, Leggio, Riina, Provenzano and a number of other gunmen set up an ambush just outside Corleone. Michele Navarra soon drove round the corner and the gunmen opened fire, riddling the car with two-hundred bullets. Navarra died instantly along with a friend (unconnected with the Mafia); he was giving a lift to Lercara Friddi. Leggio proclaimed himself boss of Corleone and over the next five years he and his men hunted down and killed around fifty more of Navarra's remaining supporters.
Leggio and his faction emerged victorious, and he eventually took his place on the Sicilian Mafia Commission. However, the increase in violence in Corleone, coupled with the Ciaculli massacre in Palermo relating to a separate Mafia War, had inspired a crackdown against the Mafia in 1963, meaning Leggio and his associates had to go into hiding.