Monday, November 11, 2013

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


Falcone knew the Mafia would kill him one day because 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 the middle class seaport district of La Kalsa in Palermo, which was bombed by the Allies when they were babies.  They played soccer together as boys.  Some of their team mates grew up to be Mafiosi.  But they met again at the University of Palermo, studied law, and became Judice, prosecuting magistrates. When they joined the fight against the mafia, they knew what they were getting themselves into.  They had seen their colleagues murdered.  But they were not willing to stand by and let the criminals get away with murder and ruination of Sicilian society.  They put their lives on the line.
The relentless Falcone led the most successful prosecution of Mafia criminals in Italian history, the Maxi Trial of 1986-87, which led 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.  More than twenty years later, memorial photos of Falcone and Borsellino still adorn every public bus in Palermo. There are plaques dedicated to them and their work at the airport in Palermo and in the U.S. FBI headquarters.  The Facebook page for Sostenitori Delle Forze Dell'ordine, an organization devoted to efforts against organized crime, regularly displays their photos and their words.

Both men were awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valore civile (the gold medal for civil valor).  In 2006, Time Magazine listed them as heroes of the previous 60 years.   

The story of these heroes is the subject of the best true-crime book I’ve ever read, “Excellent Cadavers,” by Alexander Stille.  The name of the book comes from the phrase "excellent cadavers" (cadaveri eccellenti) or "illustrious corpses," used in Italy when referring to high-profile victims of the Mafia such as politicians, judges and police chiefs (as opposed to less public victims claimed by day-to-day Mafia business). It was made into an HBO movie starring Chazz Palminteri.

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 - Monday


  1. Our modern society requires brave men to wage the battle, and articulate brave men to prevail. We could use Falcone and Borsellino just about now...

  2. Brava! It's always good to talk about it and remember them and all the others that are still fighting...........

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  4. Jeff, Nicoletta says it. There are still heroes fighting despite the pusillanimous politicians who, if not in league with the criminals, prefer the safety of laissez-faire. After writing this yesterday, I woke up from a dystopian dream this morning. We need an army of Falcones and Borsellinos in every country.

  5. Wonderful, Annamaria, again you bring me new untasted fruit.

    But, catching up with three days of posts, I couldn't help but notice Jeff's use of 'articulate,' first in his Saturday column, and now in his comment, and then you used 'pusillanimous,' yesterday in a comment on Zoë's column and now today in comment on your own. I'm starting to see a pattern forming...

    And Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, mon ami, "brave men" and "articulate men"? You risk offending Annamaria and Cara and Lisa and Caro and Zoë and Yrsa, brave women all, who wage battle here every week against the evil of your very punny self. :-) But I *do* agree with your sentiment!

    1. Welcome back, Everett, and though I'm tempted to say "wo man" I was using the Biblical form of "man," which God in her wisdom allows we writers to do, I shall not; but instead just be happy that your recent articulating didn't wreck the joint.

  6. Everett,I am happy to introduce you to two of my heroes. And to have fun reading my two favorite starring partners.