Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Excellent Cadavers

My life is mapped out: it is my destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia some day. The only thing I don't know is when.

—Giovanni Falcone

The reason Falcone knew the Mafia would kill him one day is that he spent most of his life trying to break their violent stranglehold on his native Sicily. He and his closest friend, Paolo Borsellino, both came from a neighborhood in Palermo where some little boys grew up to be Mafiosi. They grew up to be Judice, prosecuting magistrates. Falcone led the most successful prosecution of Mafia criminals in Italian history, the Maxi Trial of 1986-87, which lead to the conviction of 360 thugs.

After several failed attempts to take his life, the Mafia finally did their worst: on May 23, 1992, they planted a half-ton bomb under the highway between the Palermo airport and the city center and detonated it as Falcone’s car passed, killing him, his wife Francesca Morvillo, and three body guards.

Less than two months later, another car bomb assassinated Borsellino along with five policemen.
Afterwards, posters appeared all over Sicily, that read, “You did not kill them: their ideas walk on our legs.” The Sicilian people have kept that promise. Twenty years later, memorial photos of Falcone and Borsellino still adorn every public bus in Palermo. The Facebook page for Sostenitori Delle Forze Dell'ordine, an organization devoted to efforts against organized crime, regularly displays their photos and their words.

The story of these heroes is the subject of the best true-crime book I’ve ever read, “Excellent Cadavers,” by Alexander Stille. It was made into an HBO movie starring Chazz Palminteri.

I was reminded of all this on Monday by my friend Leighton Gage’s blog about a crusading judge in Brazil, Patrícia Lourival Acioli, who was murdered last week by the death squads (made up of policemen!) that she had so bravely prosecuted. I hope she will be remembered and her ideas carried on, as Falcone and Borsellino’s have been. You can read her story at Murder is Everywhere.

The Mafia is a human phenomenon and thus, like all human phenomena, it has had a beginning and an evolution, and will also have an end. — Giovanni Falcone

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. Just to be clear: The man in the brown suit is Borsellino. The handsome, mischievous one is Falcone--the falcon!

  2. Thanks, Patricia. I appreciate knowing of these two men. What men!!!

  3. Wow. I've heard about this, but your recommendation is the best. If you like it, it's a page-turner. And real.

  4. Thank you both for your comments. Yes, Mary Frances, Stille's book is a page-turner. And all true. Falcone was the bravest man I have ever heard of. Which is why he was the first and only one to successfully prosecute those monsters.

  5. Your erudion is terrific. I know whom to call if I spot a weird man lurking at the gatepost of my ancestral mansion in my gated community in Santa Carnegia!