Salvatore "Toto" Riina was the boss of the Corleonesi throughout the 1970's and 80's until his arrest in 1993. He was known as a
ruthless and violent man, often being nicknamed "The Beast". Riina is believed to be involved in over 1000 murders and was regarded as Sicily's boss of bosses.
The peasants from Corleone
Salvatore Riina was born in Corleone on November 16, 1930. During his teens he became affiliated with the Corleone Mafia which was under the command of Michele Navarra, a respected doctor from Corleone. Like many mafioso Riina was born inside a connected family. His uncle Giacamo, for instance, was a made member. During the late 1940's
A young Salvatore Riina
Riina joined a faction headed by Luciano Leggio, a man with a violent reputation, who would become his mentor. In 1949 Riina was ordered to murder a man named Domenico DeMateo, who would become his first victim. He was arrested for the crime and was jailed for 6 years.
After returning home from prison he returned to his old village and got involved in smuggling cigarets, stealing cattle and extorting shopkeepers. During those
years other mobsters who belonged to wealthier and more powerful clans disregarded Leggio's group as "peasants". A name which would prove
costly to those who ever said it. As the 1950's got to it's mid Luciano Leggio and his crew became less dependent of boss Michele Navarra. Both groups also found it harder and harder to keep working together until it reached a culmination point where Navarra decided to eliminate Leggio. In the summer of 1958 Leggio
barely escaped a murder attempt which only fueled his rage.
A couple of weeks after the failed murder attempt Leggio and his men stroke back. A murder squad was put together which included
Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. On August 2, 1958, Navarra
and a fellow doctor were driving home when they were suddenly ambushed with machine gun fire. The car was riddled with bullets and both Navarra and his companion were killed. In the following weeks and months several Navarra loyalists were murdered as well, in order for Leggio to take control of the Corleone clan.
The Corleonesi became known as brutal outlaws who killed anyone who stood in their way. The police noticed the
violence and identified the men behind the bloodshed. Soon Riina, Provenzano and Leggio were wanted by the police for murder and were forced to go into hiding. In the meantime, during the early 1960's, Leggio allied himself with Salvatore Greco, who headed for war with rival Mafiaboss Angelo Barbera. This war became known as Sicily's First Mafia war. In December 1962 Calcedonio Di Pisa was murdered in order of the Barbera side, who believed he had stolen heroine from a shipment destined for New York. As a counterattack Greco ordered the murder of Salvatore Barbera. The violence
continued until Angelo Barbera was arrested in 1963. However, the war had caused a massive anti-Mafia operation by the Italian government which led to the arrest of hundreds of men. In 1964 Leggio and Riina were arrested but the case was held small and Riina and Leggio succeeded in intimidating the jurors and witnesses. Not much later Riina was released and again went in hiding. For the next 23 years he remained a ghost.
When Leggio was released in 1969 a change in Mafia structure was noticed. The copula, which was formed in 1957 by
Joseph Bonanno, now contained only 3 original members, being
Gaetano Badalamenti, Stefano Bontade and Luciano Leggio.
When a meeting occurred it was often the case that Leggio wasn't present but instead sent over his trusted underboss Salvatore Riina. That same year Leggio was involved in the murder of Michele "The Cobra" Cavataio, a former member of the copula and boss of the Acquasanta clan. Amongst his killers were Riina, Leoluca Bagarella and Bernardo Provenzano. Leggio and his Corleonesi
had now stretched their powers from the poor streets of Corleone to Palermo, the epicenter of the Sicilian Mafia.
The Mattanza 1981-1983
Salvatore Riina arrested
While hiding out in Milan, Leggio was arrested in 1974 after the police had wiretapped his phone. However, it would last until the Maxi Trials
to be sentenced for the killing of Michele Navarra. After Leggio was imprisoned he kept on running his business through Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, who were known as "le belve" or "wild beasts" by fellow mafioso.
However, it was soon Riina who pulled the strings of the Corleonesi. Riina started to gather allies all around Sicily, amongst them Giuseppe Calo and Benedetto Spera, in order to wipe out his rivals.
Amongst these rivals were fellow copula members Gaetano Badalamenti and Stefano Bontade, but also Salvatore Inzerillo and Tommaso Buscetta.
The Mattanza, a name which is taken from the procedure of capturing bluefin tuna in Sicily, became the general public's reference for the Second Mafia war. One of the catalysts of the upcoming violence
was the removal of Gaetano Badalamenti as head of the Sicilian Mafia. Riina and his associates blamed Badalamenti of holding drug money to himself instead of sharing it with other families. Badalamenti was exiled from Sicily and moved to America. Badalamenti's forced exile however wasn't received well by his partners. Another reason for the war was the murder of Giuseppe Di Cristina, an allie of Salvatore Inzerillo, in 1978. It was clear that Riina was taking over the Sicilian Mafia with the ambition to control every family and to oversee the drugtrafficking business.
In 1980 Tomasso Buscetta was released from prison and, knowing a war was ahead, moved away to Brazil. One year later Stefano Bontade was murdered and only 2 weeks later Inzerillo was also murdered while leaving his mistress. With Buscetta in Brazil, Badalamenti in the United States and both Inzerillo and Bontade dead the Corleonesi had
removed it's biggest enemies. However, Riina didn't stop there. He ordered his men and associates to murder everyone who was close to his enemies. This resulted in a massive killing spray. Brothers, parents, sisters, friends and even children who were related to his rivals were murdered.
For instance, as much as 35 familymembers of Salvatore Contorno were killed. As a result Contorno feared for his live and decided to take revenge on a whole other level, by becoming a federal witness. One of Riina's most prominent gunmen was
Pino Greco, who was also present during the Bontade-Inzerillo liquidation. Greco himself was eventually murdered in 1985 in order of Riina himself who continued the slaughter without blinking an eye. This also proves Riina would not hesitate on killing his own men if they became even slightly revolting.
Since the Corleonesi gained in power and wealth, they also grew in influence within the government. Political figures often worked together with the Mafia and if they didn't listen, they were murdered.
For instance, in 1971 prosecutor Pietro Scaglione was murdered after leaving his wives grave. Scaglione was frequently brought in connection with the mafia before his death and was close to Vito Ciancimo, who would become mayor of Palermo and took orders from the Corleonesi.
In September 1982 the Corleonesi again demonstrated they could murder anti-mafia figures without consequences. Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, an Italian general sent over to Sicily to hunt down mafioso and to end the Mattanza, was ambushed and killed within months after his arrival in Sicily.
Many didn't dare anymore to challenge the Mafia, until Giovanni Falcone stepped up. At first he recieved little help from his collegues because they were all scared to be killed by the Mafia, but Falcone rushed on. After almost everybody of his closest family was murdered by the viscious Corleonesi, also Tomasso Buscetta decided to become a federal witness. When news broke out that Buscetta became a federal witness, he only wanted to speak with judge Falcone.
Buscetta, being one of the highest mafiamembers ever to become a federal witness, told many inner details of the Mafia's working and pointed out many men who were involved in the Mattanza. With the loads of information Falcone recieved he set up the Maxi Trials in 1986.
Before the trials began the police hunted down several mafioso to bring them to justice. The ones on their most wanted list however stayed untracable, Toto Riina and his second in command Bernardo Provenzano. The arrested men, and also mobsters who were allready serving prison sentences such as Luciano Leggio, were brought to a highly garded building in which the trials would take place.
Buscetta became the head witness, sending many of his old associates and enemies to jail.
Disregarding the Maxi Trials success, the man responsible for all violence and bloodshed was still on the run. Together with Paolo Borsellino, Falcone made the Maxi Trials a huge success and after the trials he continued his war against Riina. Due to this however he was also a marked man.
In the aftermath of the Maxi Trials the Corleonesi fought back with political means and in 1989 only 60 of the 342 convicted men stayed in prison. That same year Falcone's bodyguards discovered a bag filled with explosives near his beach house in Palermo. Falcone knew he was in danger and spend his last years surrounded by bodyguards and continueous hiding.
The Falcone murder
In 1992 Salvatore "The Beast" Riina finally got to Falcone. Giovanni Brusca, a man belonging to a long mafia dynasty
and loyal to Riina, was ordered to take care of the man who had tormented Riina for so long. On May 23, 1992, Brusca and his men planted a huge bomb under a piece of motorway leading to Palermo airport.
Falcone and his wife were travelling in an armored Fiat as a safety precaution and were escorted by several policemen. As they were heading for the town of Capaci Brusca and his men were waiting for them from a distance.
They waited for the right moment and when Falcone's escort reached the bomb they set it off. A massive explosion followed and several cars, including Falcone's, were destroyed as was a segment of the road.
Falcone and his wife died instantly and also 3 agents were killed. Riina had now taken his revenge and targetted Paolo Borsellino as next victim. Only one month later Borsellino was killed by a car bomb near his home.
The deaths of both magistrates enraged the people, who had enough of the violence and constant threath of the Corleonesi.
Arrest and trial
Toto Riina escorted by Police to his trial
Now with the presure of the people the carabinieri was more than detirmined to capture Riina. On January 15, 1993, they finally arrested him while he was sitting in a car during traffic.
His driver, Baldassare Di Maggio, had informed the police of their wherabouts. During his arrest Riina reputidly yelled "Communista!" against the carabinieri. In court he claimed he was an innocent accountant and had no idea he was Italy's most wanted fugitive for the last 3 decades. Newspapers soon headed that "The Devil" had been captured but to anyones surprise it was also revealed
that Riina had been living in Palermo all those years, without being seen or noticed. He even spended his 1974 honeymoon in Venice and was never recognized. Most possibly the people did not know how he looked like after being in hideout for so many years.
Riina had allready been sentenced to 2 life-sentences while being a fugitive, and was charged for over 100 counts of murder during his trial, including the murder of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. In 1998
Riina was sentenced to another life-sentence for the murder of Salvo Lima, a corrupt politician who had close ties with the Corleonesi. Riina is currently jailed in a maximum-security
prison in Sardinia. In 2003 it was reported that Riina had suffered two heart attacks in May and December. In April 2006, a full thirteen years after his arrest, he was on trial for the murder of a journalist named Mauro De Mauro, who vanished without a trace in 1970.
Riina's long time second in command, Bernardo Provenzano, took over the reigns of Riina and became Sicily's next boss of bosses. The Mafia became more stabilized under Provenzano and violence was reduced immensivly.
Nonetheless Provenzano was a killer and became Italy's next most wanted fugitive. He wasn't arrested until 2006. Giovanni Brusca, the feared Corleonesi gunman who became a federal witness in 1996 later claimed that Provenzano had
actually been involved in Riina's arrest. The carabinieri and the other bosses of the mafia reputidly made a deal and realized Riina's tenure had to end.
Both Riina's sons, Giovanni and Giuseppe, followed their fathers footsteps and have been sentenced for various crimes ever since. The Riina family owned a large amount of real estate throughout Sicily and eversince Riina's arrest the government has taken over and transformed much of it. In 2008 the government transformed some 25 acres of land in a tourist complex. One year later a former villa of Riina, believed to have been his final hideout, was re-assigned
to the Peppino Impastato Association. (Peppino Impastato was an anti-mafia campainer who was murdered in 1978). Another Riina villa had allready been given to the people in 1997 and became an institution.
On November 17, 2017, Riina passed away in the prisoners’ wing of a hospital in Parma, Northern Italy. He had been suffering from cancer for a couple of years. By dying at age 87, he has outlived most of his foes, but also thousands of people who had come to suffer under his rule.
(Source: italymag.co.uk, startupmeme.com, time.com, "Reversible destiny" by Peter T. Schneider, "Cosa Nostra: History of the Sicilian mafia" by John Dickie, "Mafia: The Documentary" by Jonathan Hewes)