13 SEPTEMBER 1975, Page 12


The kidnappers of Calabria

Patricia Clough

The crime was so cruel that many people, in this fundamentally humane country, want the death penalty returned, retroactively. A longhaired, quiet-mannered schoolgirl of eighteen was seized by a gang of men as she was returning home near Como with friends on June 30 after an exciting evening out, bundled into a car and driven off in a manner which left no doubt as to what was happening. It was another kidnapping.

Cristina was taken to a lonely farmhouse near Casteletto Ticino and thrown into an underground cell as long and as wide as a bed and not high enough to stand up in. It was equipped only with a mattress and an air hole. There she was kept for more than four weeks until, for unknown reasons, her jailers moved her to an apartment, in Galliate, near Novara. But the improvement was short-lived. Maybe Cristina saw her captors' faces or realised her whereabouts. Or maybe she succumbed to drugs given to keep her semi-conscious. Three days later she was taken in a deep coma to a municipal rubbish tip in a nearby quarry and killed with a blow on the back of her neck. Her body was covered with caustic soda and buried among the garbage. Suspicions that she suffered even darker atrocities will probably never be proved.

With Cristina dead, the gang continued negotiations with her family and finally extracted the enormous ransom — £700,000. Then they let her desperate parents wait and wait. It was a month before police came upon the awful truth.

Cristina's tragedy, one of the rare cases in which the full details of a kidnapping have become known, has revealed to a horrified nation the ugly face of the new Calabrian Mafia. For although the kidnapping was carried out in the north of Italy it was organised, financed and directed by remote control from the deep south.

Investigations into this and other recent cases have led police to believe that a large proportion of the 100 or more kidnappings over the past three years were the work of this organisation whose hallmark is a rare savagery. At least ten "outside" jobs, mainly in Rome and Milan, and nineteen local kidnappings have already been attributed to them. One of the victims was certainly young Paul Getty, whose left ear was hacked off to prove to his multimillionaire grandfather that it was not some hippie joke. It seems no coincidence that the rise of the Calabrian Mafia has been accompanied by a rise in the numbers of kidnap victims murdered — nine this year alone. And of the fourteen victims still unaccounted for several, at least three, their ransoms paid, are thought to have met a fate similar to Cristina's.

Until recently the public image of the Calabrian Mafia was that of a hillybilly outfit restricted to bullying the locals. This impression is probably due to its origins as an agricultural racket which demanded its cut at harvest time, fairs and in the vegetable markets. But in the past twenty years a far more sophisticated branch has been grafted on to the traditional roots. Sicilian Mafia bosses in exile there or Sicilian smugglers seeking new landing places for drugs and cigarettes away from their closely-watched coasts taught them new methods and opened new horizons. Thus the Calabrians, too, learned to guarantee votes for politicians, particlarly the ruling Christian Democrats, in return for protection, building licences and public works contracts.

Construction work and building speculation, which has destroyed the beauty of parts of the Calabrian coast, is where the Mafia is most at home and the Autostrada del Sole, when it reached Calabria, was a gold mine for illicit earnings. Every"Mafioso", it seems, dreams of becoming a big constructor and the profits from cigarette and drug running, and later kidnapping, appear to have been "recycled" into the building industry.

The pattern is similar to that in Sicily, but the style is different. This colonial Mafia is cruder, more violent, lacking in subtlety and a code of honour. Sicily, for instance, draws the line at women and children and avoids unnecessary cruelty. No novelist has given it that aura of grim romance that the Sicilian Mafia enjoys. No legends have grown up around its "Godfathers", No scholars have bothered to study it. This now looks likely to change.

A strange burst of activity has recently puzzled police: some fifty members of various Mafia clans murdered in the past twelve months, countless injured and innumerable bomb attacks on Mafia property. A struggle for supremacy between the "Families"? A settling of old accounts? Possibly both. But again and again one hears the words "Gioia Tauro".

This means the huge steelworks to be built by the state on the plain of Gioia Tauro. A huge investment which will be the only big industry. The ground is only just being levelled to make way for the building sites and already a no-holds barred struggle is on for a share in the banquet.

In particular it is believed that the Mafia has its eye on subcontract construction work for the compound and the port. The government contracts for the work have gone to huge northern Italian consortiums with whom local businesses cannot compete. But these giants receive a message which goes something like "If you want a single labourer to work for you, if you do not want your equipment and your offices blown up, you must farm the work out to us." And the kidnap ransoms are destined to enable the Calabrian firms buy equipment and hire labour in order to carry out the job. In other words Cristina and Paul Getty were kidnapped to enable the Mafia to corner the taxpayer's money.

But the Calabrian Mafia has two disadvantages compared with its Sicilian counterpart. Once caught, its members tend to `sing' more easily. And its roots are far shallower.

Tragic though Cristina's case was, it has meant a big breakthrough for police in fighting the Calabrian Mafia. Tipped off by a repentant Swiss bank clerk who changed some of the ransom into 'clean' money, they managed to unravel the whole plot, arrest seventeen people — almost the entire gang — and identify the `brain' behind it.

That the Mafia wields immense power through terror in Calabria was demonstrated recently by one boss, Saveria Mammoliti, thirty three, who escaped from prison three years ago and has been on the loose since. While Italy's top police chiefs were gathered at Lamezia Terme to co-ordinate activities he coolly got married publicly in the parish church of his native village of Catellace. It was a week before police knew about it.

When two brothers were gunned down from a passing car in Gioia Tauro in full view of fifty people, not one eyewitness was prepared even to remember the colour of the car.

Nevertheless, the Mafia has not yet become, as in Sicily an integral part of the Calabrian mentality, the point at which the Mafia ends and ordinary society begins is still definable. The chances are that if action is taken soon it could be eradicated.

One person convinced of this is Signor Salvatore Frasca, a Calabrian society deputy who has been trying to fight the Mafia for six years. But he warns, arrests and steelworks are not enough. "It can only come with a thorough development of the region. Starting for instance, with proper schools and work for the young people to go to afterwards."

The Mafia, he says, must be attacked at the roots. As long as Calabria is desperately poor, as long as one million inhabitants have to emigrate to seek work and hundreds of thousands more are unemployed, there is no hope. What is needed is a strong political will.