He worked as a woodcutter in the Aspromonte area of Calabria, an isolated and mountainous region near the "toe" of the Italian "boot". Musolino was reputed to have turned outlaw when he was falsely accused of attempted murder in 1897. False testimony was brought forward against him and he was sent to prison in Gerace. In 1899, he escaped from jail, and for the next three years conducted his own brigand version of justice.
While hiding among the hills of Aspromonte, Musolino killed ten traitors and added another seven attempted kills to his belt; but "in expiation of their sins and his own", he kept busy as well at a multitude of good works. Among his good deeds, it was said he assisted peasants and gave large sums of money stolen from the rich to monasteries and churches. He also kept King Victor Emmanuel posted by letter on the need for local reforms.
Musolino was captured, while heading to seek pardon from King Victor Emmanuel in 1901, near Urbino, apparently caught in some wire while fleeing two Carabinieri that recognized him. He was tried and sent to prison for life, where he was declared insane twelve years later. He died in Reggio Calabria's mental hospital at the age of 79.
Musolino as legend
It can be said that Musolino was seen by his countrymen as a symbol of the injustice Calabria was facing at the time. As an elusive fugitive, always managing to escape traps, Musolino stirred the imagination of many people in Italy and in short order he became a legend throughout Italy and abroad. He became the subject of many Calabrian folk tales and popular songs. The 1950 film Il Brigante Musolino, by Mario Camerini, was based on his life. His real life events were also the subject of the concept-album Il Brigante Musolino by Otello Profazio.
- Eric Hobsbawm's concept of the social bandit (see also Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels, 1959)
- Cesare Lombroso's "The Last Brigand" (1902)
- Dan Possumato's book (paperback edition) King of the Mountains. The Remarkable Story of Giuseppe Musolino, Italy's Most Famous Outlaw (2013) Kindle edition (2012), Audiobook Edition, read by Italian actor Edoardo Camponeschi (2014)
- "Musolino and the Law", from Old Calabria (1915) by Norman Douglas
- (in Italian) Arrestato il famoso e temutissimo brigante Musolino, La Domenica del Corriere del 27 ottobre 1901
- (in Italian) Il processo contro il brigante Musolino, La Domenica del Corriere del 4 maggio 1902
- (in Italian) Il rientro del bandito Musolino nel carcere, La Tribuna Illustrata del 4 maggio 1902