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CHAPTER 23

Turi Guiliano had finally succeeded in doing what no other statesman or national politician had succeeded in doing. He had united all the political parties in Italy to pursue one course of action: the destruction of Guiliano and his band.

In July of 1949 Minister Trezza announced to the press the formation of a special carabinieri army of five thousand men to be called the Special Force to Repress Banditry, without any reference to Guiliano himself. The newspapers soon rectified this sly coyness on the part of the government, which did not wish to make Guiliano seem the main target. They gleefully approved and congratulated the ruling Christian Democratic party for taking such a vigorous step.

The national press was also struck with wonder at Minister Trezza's genius on the organization of the special five thousand-man army. The army would be made up of bachelors so there would be no widows, and so their families could not be subjected to threats. There would be commandos, paratroopers, armored cars, heavy weapons and even aircraft. How could any two-penny bandit withstand such a force? And it would be commanded by Colonel Ugo Luca, one of the great Italian war heroes of World War II, who had fought with the legendary German general Rommel. The "Italian Desert Fox" the newspapers called him, skilled in guerrilla warfare, whose tactics and strategies would bewilder the unsophisticated Sicilian country boy, Turi Guiliano.

The press perfunctorily noted in small paragraphs the appointment of Federico Velardi as the head of all Sicilian Security Police. Hardly anything was known of Inspector Velardi except that he had been handpicked by Minister Trezza to assist Colonel Luca.

Just a month before there had been a fateful meeting between Don Croce, Minister Trezza and the Cardinal of Palermo. The Cardinal told them of Guiliano's Testament with its damning documentation.

Minister Trezza was frightened. The Testament must be destroyed before the army accomplished its mission. He wished he could rescind the orders for the Special Force that was now being assembled, but his government was under too much pressure from left-wing parties who were clamoring that Guiliano was being protected by the government.

For Don Croce the Testament only added a complication but did not change his resolve. He had already decided to kill Guiliano: the murder of his six chiefs gave him no alternative. But Guiliano could not die at the hand of the Friends of the Friends or himself. He was too great a hero; his murder would be too great a crime for even the Friends to live down. It would focus the hatred of Sicily upon them.

In any case, Don Croce realized he had to accommodate himself to Trezza's needs. After all, this was the man he wanted to make the Premier of Italy. He said to the Minister, "Our course must be this. Certainly you have no choice, you must pursue Guiliano. But try to keep him alive until I can nullify the Testament, which I guarantee I can do."

The Minister nodded grimly. He clicked on the intercom and said commandingly, "Send in the Inspector." A few seconds later a tall man with frigid blue eyes entered the room. He was thin, beautifully dressed and had an aristocratic face.

"This is Inspector Federico Velardi," the Minister said. "I am about to announce his appointment as the head of all Security Police in Sicily. He will be coordinating with the head of the army I am sending to Sicily." He introduced the men to each other and explained to Velardi their problem about the Testament and its threat to the Christian Democratic regime.

"My dear Inspector," the Minister said. "I ask you to consider Don Croce as my personal representative in Sicily. You will give him any information he requires as you would to me. Do you understand?"

The Inspector took a long time to digest this particular request. Then he understood. His task would be to advise Don Croce as to all the plans the invasion army made in their war against Guiliano. Don Croce, in turn, would pass on that information to Guiliano so that he could escape capture until the Don thought it safe to end his career.

Inspector Velardi said, "Am I to give all information to Don Croce? Colonel Luca is no fool – he will soon suspect there is a leak and perhaps cut me out of his planning sessions."

"If you have any trouble," the Minister said, "refer him to me. Your real mission is to secure the Testament, and to keep Guiliano alive and free until that is done."

The Inspector turned his cold blue eyes on Don Croce. "I will be happy to serve you," he said. "But I must understand one thing. If Guiliano is captured alive before the Testament is destroyed, what do I do then?"

The Don did not mince words; he was not a government official and could speak frankly. "That would be an unbearable misfortune."

Colonel Ugo Luca, the designated Commander of the Special Force to Repress Banditry, was hailed by the newspapers as an inspired choice. They hashed over his military record, his medals for bravery, his tactical genius, his quiet and retiring nature, and his abhorrence of any kind of failure. He was a small bulldog, the newspapers said, and would be a match for the ferocity of Sicily.

Before doing anything else, Colonel Luca studied all the intelligence documents on Turi Guiliano. Minister Trezza found him tucked in his office surrounded by folders full of reports and old newspapers. When the Minister asked him when he was taking his army to Sicily, the Colonel said mildly that he was assembling a staff, and that certainly Guiliano would still be there no matter how long he took.

Colonel Luca studied the reports for a week and came to certain conclusions. That Guiliano was a genius in guerrilla warfare and had a unique method of operation. He kept only a cadre of twenty men about his person, and these included his chiefs: Aspanu Pisciotta as his second in command, Canio Silvestro as his personal bodyguard and Stefano Andolini as chief of intelligence and his contact messenger to Don Croce and Mafia networks. Terranova and Passatempo had their own bands and were allowed to operate independently of Guiliano's direct command unless there was a concerted action. Terranova carried out Guiliano's kidnappings and Passatempo the train and bank holdups that Guiliano planned.

It became clear to the Colonel that there were no more than three hundred men in the whole Guiliano band. Then how, the Colonel wondered, had he existed for six years, how had he outfought the carabinieri of an entire province and almost absolutely controlled the entire northwest of Sicily? How had he and his men escaped searches of the mountains by large government forces? It could only be that Guiliano summoned up extra men from among the peasants of Sicily whenever he needed them. And then when the government searched the mountains, these part-time bandits would escape into the towns and farms to live like ordinary peasants. It also followed that many of the citizens of the town of Montelepre had to be secret members of the band. But most important was Guiliano's popularity; there was little chance that he would ever be betrayed, and there was no doubt that if he made an open call to revolution, thousands would flock beneath his banner.

Finally, there was another puzzling thing: Guiliano's cloak of invisibility. He appeared at one place and then seemed to vanish into thin air. The more Colonel Luca read, the more he was impressed. Then he came to something he knew he could take immediate action against. It might look like nothing much, but it would be important in the long run.

Guiliano had often written letters to the press that always began, "If, as I have been led to believe, we are not enemies, you will publish this letter," and then went on to present his point of view on his latest acts of banditry. To Colonel Luca's mind that opening phrase was a threat, a coercion. And the body of the letter was enemy propaganda. There were explanations of kidnappings, of robberies and how the money went to the poor of Sicily. When Guiliano had a pitched battle with the carabinieri and killed some of them, a letter was always sent to explain that in war soldiers had to die. There was a direct plea to the carabinieri not to fight. And another letter came after the execution of the six Mafia chiefs, explaining that only by that deed could the peasants claim the land due to them by law and human morality.

Colonel Luca was astounded that the government had allowed these letters to be published. He made a note to ask Minister Trezza for the power of martial law in Sicily so that Guiliano could be cut off from his public.

Another thing he searched for was any information that Guiliano had a woman, but he could find nothing. Though there were reports that the bandits used the brothels in Palermo and that Pisciotta was a womanizer, Guiliano seemed to have lived a sexless life for the last six years. Colonel Luca, being an Italian, could not believe this possible. There must be a woman in Montelepre, and when they found her half the job would be done.

What he also found interesting was the record of Guiliano's attachment to his mother and hers to him. Guiliano was a devoted son to both parents, but he treated his mother with a special veneration. Colonel Luca made a particular note of this too. If Guiliano really had no woman, the mother could be used to bait a trap.

When all this preparation was over, Colonel Luca organized his staff. The most important appointment was Captain Antonio Perenze as his aide-de-camp and personal bodyguard. Captain Perenze was a heavy, almost fat, man with genial features and an easy disposition, but Colonel Luca knew him to be extraordinarily brave. There might come a time when that bravery could save the Colonel's life.

It was September 1949 before Colonel Luca arrived in Sicily with the first increment of two thousand men. He hoped this would be enough; he did not wish to glorify Guiliano by bringing a five thousand-man army against him. This was, after all, only a bandit who should easily have been dealt with sooner.

His first move was to order the Sicilian newspapers to discontinue the publication of Guiliano's letters. His second move was to arrest Guiliano's mother and father on the charge of conspiracy with their son. The next was to arrest and detain for questioning over two hundred men in Montelepre on charges that they were secret members of Guiliano's band. All those arrested were transported to jails in Palermo that were heavily guarded by Colonel Luca's men. All these actions were taken under laws from the Fascist regime of Mussolini still on the books.

The Guiliano house was searched and the secret tunnels found. La Venera was arrested in Florence. But she was released almost immediately when she claimed she never knew that the tunnels existed. Not that she was believed, but Inspector Velardi wanted her free in the hope that Guiliano would visit her.

The press of Italy lauded Colonel Luca to the skies; here finally was a man who was "serious." Minister Trezza was delighted with his choice, especially when he received a warm letter of congratulation from the Premier. Only Don Croce was not impressed.

The first month, Turi Guiliano had studied Luca's actions, the deployment of the carabinieri army. He admired the Colonel's astuteness in forbidding the newspapers to print his letters, cutting off his vital communication to the people of Sicily. But when Colonel Luca indiscriminately arrested the citizens of Montelepre – guilty and innocent alike – the admiration turned into hatred. And with the arrest of his parents, Guiliano went into a cold murderous rage.

For two days Guiliano sat in his cave deep in the Cammarata Mountains. He made his plans and reviewed what he knew about Colonel Luca's army of two thousand carabinieri. At least a thousand of them were stationed in and around Palermo, waiting for him to try to rescue his parents. The other thousand were concentrated in the area around the towns of Montelepre, Piani dei Greci, San Giuseppe Jato, Partinico and Corleone, many of its citizens secret members of the band who could be recruited for a battle.

Colonel Luca himself made his headquarters in Palermo and was invulnerable there. He would have to be lured out.

Turi Guiliano channeled his rage into the making of tactical plans. They had a clear arithmetical pattern to him, simple as the game of a child. They nearly always worked, and if they did not he could always disappear back into his mountains. But he knew that everything depended upon faultless execution, every little detail perfected.

He summoned Aspanu Pisciotta to the cave and told him the plans. Later, the other chiefs – Passatempo, Terranova, Corporal Silvestro and Stefano Andolini – were told only what each had to know for his particular job.

Carabinieri headquarters in Palermo was paymaster for all forces in Western Sicily. Once a month a heavily guarded money wagon was sent out to pay the garrisons in all the towns and province headquarters. The pay was in cash, and an envelope for each individual soldier was made up, lire notes and coins to the exact pay, stuffed inside. These envelopes were put into slotted wooden boxes which were locked onto a truck that had formerly been an American Army weapons carrier.

The driver was armed with a pistol, the soldier paymaster beside him with a rifle. When this truck stuffed with millions of lire left Palermo, it was preceded by three scout jeeps, each with mounted machine guns and four men, and a troop carrier holding twenty men heavily armed with machine pistols and rifles. Behind the money truck came two command cars, each with six men. All these vehicles had radio communication to call Palermo or the nearest carabinieri barracks for reinforcements. There was never any fear that bandits would make an attack on such a force. It would be suicidal.

The payroll caravan left Palermo early in the morning and made its first stop at the small town of Tommaso Natale. From there it swung onto the mountainous road to Montelepre. The paymaster and his guards knew it would be a long day and they drove quickly. They ate pieces of salami and chunks of bread and drank wine from botttles as they rode. They joked and laughed and the drivers of the lead jeeps put their weapons down on the floors of their vehicles. But when the caravan rode over the top of the last hill that led down into Montelepre, they were amazed to see the road ahead filled with a vast flock of sheep. The jeeps leading the column made their way into the flock, and the guards shouted at the roughly clothed shepherds. The soldiers were anxious to get inside the cool barracks and eat a hot meal, to strip to their underwear and loll in the beds or play cards for their noon hour break. There could be no danger; Montelepre, only a few miles away, had a garrison of five hundred men of Colonel Luca's army. Behind them, they could see the truck carrying the payroll enter the vast sea of sheep but did not see that it had become becalmed there, that no path opened up for it.

The shepherds were trying to clear the way for the vehicle. They were so busy they did not seem to notice that the troop carriers blasted their horns, the guards shouted and laughed and cursed. There was still no alarm.

But suddenly there were six shepherds pressed close to the paymaster truck. Two of them produced guns from beneath their jackets and kicked the driver and paymaster out of the truck. They disarmed the two carabinieri. The other four men threw out the boxes full of pay envelopes. Passatempo was the leader of this band, and his brutish face, the violence of his body, cowed the guards as much as the guns.

At the same moment the slopes around the road came alive with bandits holding rifles and machine pistols. The two command cars at the rear had their tires blown out by gunfire and then Pisciotta stood in front of the first car. He called out, "Descend slowly, without your weapons, and you'll eat your spaghetti tonight in Palermo. Don't be heroes, it's not your money we're taking."

Far up in front, the troop carrier and the three scout jeeps reached the bottom of the last hill and were about to enter Montelepre when the officer in charge realized there was nothing behind him. Now even more sheep were on the road cutting him off from the rest of the convoy. He picked up his radio and ordered one of the jeeps to go back. With a hand signal he directed the other vehicles to pull over to the side of the road and wait.

The scout jeep made its turn and started back up the hill it had just come down. Halfway up it met a hail of machine-gun and rifle fire. The four men in the jeep were riddled with bullets, and without a driver the jeep lost momentum and slowly rolled back down the hilly road toward the convoy.

The carabinieri commanding officer sprang out of his scout jeep and shouted at the men in the troop carrier to dismount and form a skirmishing line. The other two jeeps took off like frightened hares scuttling for cover. But this force was effectively neutralized. They could not rescue the paymaster truck since it was over on the other side of the hill; they could not even fire on Guiliano's men, who were stuffing the money-filled envelopes into their jackets. Guiliano's men held the high ground and obviously had the firepower to slaughter any attackers. The best the army could do was set up a skirmish line under cover and fire away.

The Maresciallo of Montelepre had been waiting for the paymaster. By the end of the month he was always short of money and, like his men, anticipated a night in Palermo dining at a good restaurant with charming women and friends. When he heard the gunfire he was bewildered. Guiliano would not dare attack one of his patrols in broad daylight, not with Colonel Luca's auxiliary force of five hundred soldiers in the area.

At that moment the Maresciallo heard a tremendous explosion at the gate of the Bellampo Barracks. One of the armored cars parked in the rear had blown up into an orange torch. Then the Maresciallo heard the clatter of heavy emplaced machine guns from the direction of the road that led to Castelvetrano and the coast city of Trapani, followed by a constant rattling hail of small arms' fire from the base of the mountain range outside the town. He could see his patrols in the town of Montelepre itself streaming back to the barracks, in jeeps and on foot, fleeing for their lives; and slowly it dawned upon him that Turi Guiliano had thrown all his forces at the five hundred-man garrison of Colonel Luca.

On a high cliff above Montelepre, Turi Guiliano observed the robbing of the payroll through his binoculars. By turning ninety degrees he could also see the battle in the streets of the town, the direct attack on the Bellampo Barracks and the engagement of carabinieri patrols on the coastal roads. All his chiefs were functioning perfectly. Passatempo and his men had the money from the payroll, Pisciotta had the rear of the carabinieri column immobilized, Terranova and his band, supplemented by new recruits, had attacked the Bellampo Barracks and engaged their patrols. The men directly under Guiliano commanded the bases of the mountain. And Stefano Andolini, truly a Fra Diavalo, was preparing a surprise.

At his headquarters in Palermo, Colonel Luca received the news of his lost payroll with what seemed to his subordinates an unusual calm. But inwardly he could only seethe at Guiliano's cleverness and wonder where and how he acquired his information on the disposition of the carabinieri troops. Four carabinieri had been killed in the robbery and another ten killed in the pitched battle with the other Guiliano forces.

Colonel Luca was still on the phone receiving casualty reports when Captain Perenze burst through the door, his heavy jowls quivering with excitement. He had just received the report that some bandits had been wounded and that one had been killed and left on the field of battle. The dead bandit had been identified by documents on his body and personal identification by two citizens of Montelepre. The dead body was none other than Turi Guiliano.

Against all caution, against all intelligence. Colonel Luca felt a surge of triumph in his breast. Military history was full of great victories, brilliant tactical maneuvers, which were negated by small personal accidents. A mindless bullet directed by fate had magically sought out and found the elusive ghost of the great bandit. But then caution returned. The fortune was too good; it might be a trap. But if it was, then he would walk into it and trap the trapper.

Colonel Luca made his preparations, and a flying column was readied that would be invincible to any attack. Armored cars went ahead, followed by the bulletproof car that carried Colonel Luca and Inspector Federico Velardi, who had insisted on going to help identify the body but really to make sure the body did not carry the Testament. Behind Luca's car were troop carriers with men at the alert, weapons ready to fire. Scout jeeps to the number of twenty, filled with armed paratroopers, preceded the column. The garrison at Montelepre was ordered to guard the immediate roads to the town and establish spotting posts in the nearby mountains. Foot patrols heavy in strength, massively armed, controlled the sides of the entire length of the road.

It took Colonel Luca and his flying column less than an hour to reach Montelepre. There were no attacks; the show of strength had been too much for the bandits. But a disappointment awaited the Colonel.

Inspector Velardi said the corpse, now resting in an ambulance at the Bellampo Barracks, could not possibly be Guiliano. The bullet from which the man had died disfigured him but not enough for the Inspector to be mistaken. Other citizens were forced to view the body, and they too said it was not Guiliano. It had been a trap after all, Guiliano must have hoped that the Colonel would rush to the scene with a small escort and lay himself open to ambush. Colonel Luca ordered all precautions to be taken, but he was in a hurry to start on the road back to Palermo and get to his headquarters; he wanted to report personally to Rome what had happened that day and also make sure no one had released the false report of Guiliano's death. Checking first to make sure all his troop elements were in place so the road back would not be ambushed, he commandeered one of the swift scout jeeps at the head of the column. Inspector Velardi rode with him.

The Colonel's hastiness saved both their lives. As the flying column neared Palermo, with Luca's command car in the middle, there was a tremendous explosion. The command car flew up over ten feet in the air and came down in flaming pieces that scattered over the slopes of the mountain. The troop carrier following closely behind had eight men killed and fifteen wounded out of a total of thirty. The two officers in Luca's car were blown to bits.

When Colonel Luca called Minister Trezza with the bad news, he also asked that his three thousand extra men waiting on the mainland be shipped immediately to Sicily.

Don Croce knew that these raids would continue as long as Guiliano's parents were held prisoner, and so he arranged for their release.

But he could not prevent the incursion of new forces, and two thousand soldiers now occupied the town of Montelepre and the surrounding area. Another three thousand were searching the mountains. Seven hundred citizens of Montelepre and in the province of Palermo had been thrown into jail for questioning by Colonel Luca, using the special powers delegated to him by the Christian Democratic government in Rome. There was a curfew that began at dusk and ended with dawn, citizens were immobilized in their homes and travelers without special passes were thrown into prison. The whole province was under an official reign of terror.

Don Croce watched with some trepidation as the tide turned against Guiliano.


CHAPTER 22 | The Sicilian | CHAPTER 24