Luciano Leggio at a 1974 court appearance
January 6, 1925|
|Died||November 15, 1993
|Criminal charge||Murder of Michele Navarra|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
|Criminal status||Deceased (cardiac arrest)|
Luciano Leggio (Italian pronunciation: [luˈtʃaːno ˈlɛddʒo]; January 6, 1925 – November 15, 1993) was an Italian criminal and leading figure of the Sicilian Mafia. He was the head of the Corleonesi, the Mafia faction that originated in the town of Corleone. Some sources incorrectly spell his surname Liggio, a result of a misspelling in court documents in the 1960s.
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.
While behind bars in the late 1940s he met Salvatore Riina, who was then aged 19 and starting a six-year sentence for manslaughter. The two eventually became accomplices in crime after Riina's release, as did another young local criminal, Bernardo Provenzano.
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.
Leggio spent the 1960s and early 1970s increasing the strength of the Corleonesi, murdering anyone who got in its way. In particular, he wanted control of the refining and trafficking of heroin that soon provided a huge source of income to the Sicilian Mafia.
He was captured in Corleone in May 1964 (curiously, he was lodging with the former fiancée of Placido Rizzotto, whom he had once been accused of murdering) and was hauled off into custody, complaining loudly about his ill-health, old age (he was only thirty-nine) and how he was being persecuted and knew nothing of any Mafia. First off he was tried for murdering Navarra and Navarra's companion back in 1958. The trial ended with him being acquitted due to insufficient evidence. He stood trial in late 1968 with 113 defendants relating to the Mafia War that resulted in the Ciaculli Massacre. However, what became known as Trial of the 114 ended with only ten convictions. The rest, including Leggio, were acquitted.
He was not yet released, however, as he had to stand trial in 1969 on charges of murdering nine of Navarra's men. This time he was tried alongside over sixty of his fellow Corleonesi, including Salvatore Riina, who was one of almost two-thousand Mafiosi rounded up in the mid-1960s in the aftermath of the violence in the early years of that decade.
The trial was regarded as farcical, with reports of blatant witness intimidation and evidence tampering. For example, fragments of a broken car light found at the Navarra murder scene which had been identified as belonging to an Alfa Romeo car owned by Leggio had, by the time of the trial, been replaced by bits of a broken light from a completely different make of car. The judges and prosecutors were sent anonymous letters threatening them with death.
In the end, all the defendants were acquitted.
Fugitive on the Italian mainland
Immediately after the trial, which ended in July 1969, a determined Italian magistrate named Cesare Terranova appealed against Leggio's acquittal for the Navarra slaying. In December 1970 Leggio was finally convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for this murder, but it was in absentia because, once more, he had gone underground. In July 1969, after hearing of his indictment to stand trial once more, Leggio checked in to a private health clinic in Rome to have treatment for Pott's disease, which he had suffered from most of his life and for which he had to wear a brace. When the police finally came to arrest him in January 1970 he had checked out and vanished. The fact that he had not been arrested during his seven-month stay in the clinic was a scandal in Italy, as were his repeated acquittals.
There were many suspicions that corrupt figures in authority had helped Leggio avoid justice, with plenty of suspicion falling on the General Attorney of Sicily, Pietro Scaglione; he was shot dead in 1971. Pentiti Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contorno later said Leggio personally shot Scaglione dead because he either did not want him to help deliver an acquittal for one of the Corleonesi boss's rivals or he did not want to leave someone who knew a lot of his secrets alive. Leggio would later be tried twice for killing Scaglione but was acquitted for insufficient evidence.
He eventually hid out in Milan where he ran a profitable kidnapping ring. In early 1973 he ran into a mobster named Damiano Caruso whom he blamed for killing one of his friends years before. Caruso vanished, as did his girlfriend and her fifteen-year-old daughter not long afterwards. According to numerous informants, Leggio killed Caruso then, when his girlfriend and her daughter came round asking questions, he raped and strangled them both.
He was finally captured in Milan on May 16, 1974, local police having tracked him down by tapping his telephone. Leggio was finally sent off to serve his life sentence for the Navarra slaying.
He is believed to have retained significant influence from behind bars, as have many other mobsters after imprisonment. However, by the end of the 1970s, his lieutenant Salvatore Riina was in control of the Corleonesi clan.
Raised in poverty, Leggio was a multi-millionaire by the time of his arrest. At the time of his capture, Italian law did not yet allow authorities to confiscate criminals' illicit fortunes, although this has since changed.
He was tried with a number of others in 1977 for previous crimes on the testimony of Leonardo Vitale; he was acquitted with all but one of the others (Vitale's uncle) when Leonardo Vitale's mental state was called into question.
In the Maxi Trial of 1986/1987, Leggio faced charges of helping to run the Corleonesi from behind bars, including the accusation that he ordered the murder of prosecutor Cesare Terranova, who was shot dead in 1979. He acted as his own lawyer and defended himself, cross examining Tommaso Buscetta and other pentiti. He claimed he had been framed for political reasons. He was eventually acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence, although he still had his life-sentence to serve and was returned to a maximum security prison in Sardinia, where he indulged in his hobby of painting, in particular landscapes.
- Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet, ISBN 0-340-82435-2 (Review in the Observer, February 15, 2004)
- Sterling, Claire (1990). Octopus. How the long reach of the Sicilian Mafia controls the global narcotics trade, New York: Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-671-73402-4
- Stille, Alexander (1995). Excellent Cadavers. The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, New York: Vintage ISBN 0-09-959491-9
- (Italian) Luciano Leggio, l'ex «primula rossa», La Sicilia, August 21, 2005
- Report of Leggio's funeral