Giuseppe Impastato: his actions, his murder, the investigation and the cover up

Giuseppe was born on 5 January 1948 in Cinisi in the province of Palermo, into a mafia family. His father Luigi had been sent into internal exile during the fascist era, and was a close friend of mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti. His father’s brother-in-law, Cesare Manzella, was a major mafia boss who was killed in car bomb attack in 1963.
Still an adolescent, he breaks off relations with his father – who kicks him out of the house – and initiates a series of political and cultural anti-mafia activities. In 1965 he founded the newsletter L’Idea socialista and joined the left-wing PSIUP party. And from 1968 onwards he takes a leading role in the activities of the new revolutionary groups. He leads struggles by Cinisi peasants whose land had been expropriated to build the third runway at Palermo airport, as well as disputes involving building workers and the unemployed. In 1975 he sets up Music and Culture with other young people in Cinisi, a group which organises debates, film, theatre and music shows. A self-financed radio station named Radio Aut is created in 1976, with which he exposes on a daily basis the crimes and dealings of mafiosi from Cinisi and Terrasini, principally the mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti, who were playing a major role in international drug trafficking through their control of the nearby airport. The most popular programme was Crazy Waves, a satirical broadcast in which he mocked politicians and mafiosi.
In 1978 he stood as a candidate in council elections for Proletarian Democracy, but was killed during the election campaign on the night of 8-9 May, by a charge of TNT placed under his body, which had been stretched over the local railway line. (Two days later voters in Cinisi elected him as a councillor). Initially the press, police and investigative magistrates talked about Giuseppe having been a terrorist carrying a bomb, who caused his own death. Then, after the discovery of a letter written by Impastato several months before his death, they started talking about suicide. Thanks to the efforts of his brother Giovanni, his mother Felicia Bartolotta Impastato (who publicly break off relations with their mafia relatives), his fellow activists, and the Centro siciliano di documentazione (founded in Palermo in 1977; Giuseppe Impastato’s name was added to its masthead in 1980), the mafia’s responsibility for the crime is identified. And on the basis of all the evidence collected and the public accusations which were made, the case was reopened.
On 9 May 1979 the Centro siciliano di documentazione and Proletarian Democracy organised the first national demonstration against the mafia in Italy’s history, in which 2,000 people came from all over the country. In May 1984 the Court of Palermo issued a judgement (in line with the investigations carried out by Rocco Chinnici, a member of the first pool of anti-mafia investigative magistrates who had been murdered in July 1983) confirming the mafia’s responsibility for the crime, attributing it however to persons unknown. In 1986 the Centro Impastato published a biography of Giuseppe’s mother called La mafia in casa mia (Living with the mafia), and a dossier entitled Notissimi ignoti (Very well-known persons), in which Gaetano Badalamenti was identified as the instigator of the murder. Badalamenti, meanwhile, had been given a 45 year sentence for drug trafficking by a New York court in the ‘Pizza Connection’ trial.
In May 1992 the Court of Palermo, whilst recognising the mafia’s responsibility for the murder, decided to end their investigations as they believed it impossible to identify the perpetrators. In May 1994 the Centro Impastato, supported by a sizeable petition, demanded that the case be reopened, and that a new supergrass from the Cinisi mafia named Salvatore Palazzolo be questioned over Impastato’s murder. In March 1996 Giuseppe Impastato’s brother and mother, and the Centro Impastato, presented a dossier in which it was argued that obscure events be investigated – in particular the role of the carabinieri police force immediately after the crime.
Following a statement made by Palazzolo, in which he named Badalamenti as the instigator of the murder, the investigation was formally reopened in June 1996, and in November the following year an arrest warrant was issued for Badalamenti.
In 1998 a committee was formed within Parliament’s permanent anti-mafia commission to investigate the ‘Impastato case’; and on 6 December 2000 it issued a report which outlined the responsibilities of State officials in leading the investigations astray. On 5 March 2001 the Court of Assises declared Vito Palazzolo to be guilty of murder, handing down a thirty year sentence. And Gaetano Badalamenti was given a life sentence on 11 April 2002.

Extracts from Parliament’s Anti-Mafia Commission report on the Impastato case (Peppino Impastato: anatomia di un depistaggio, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 2001).

Badalamenti’s personal history from the 1950s to 1978 is also the history of how mafia bosses in that period were able to be successful: through the complicity, inability to understand, or dismissiveness practiced by local and national institutions of the State. The Anti-Mafia Commission has already made a clear and unequivocal statement on this in the past, in the shape of the report signed by President Cattanei in 1971: Mafiosi brought to trial are generally acquitted, at best such a verdict is given due to lack of evidence. Police reports are inadequate and sometimes contradictory. Administrative measures taken in their favour are, to say the least, incredible. They are quickly approved for financial credit. They have free access to State and municipal offices. Either directly or indirectly, they can ensure the election of candidates at local or national elections. For years political parties, State authorities, the judiciary and the police have frequently ignored the existence of the mafia entirely. This explains, for example, why it has very rarely been attempted to move beyond identifying murderers, to discovering who has instigated these crimes. (pp. 36-37) […]
This was the situation at the start of the 1970s. To understand what happened to the investigations concerning the death of Peppino Impastato one needs to bear in mind that trend, the modus operandi of State institutions. And during those years the main enemy were left wing terrorists and not mafiosi, because only the former represented a danger for the State. In the town of Cinisi a young man such as Peppino Impastato – whose father had even thrown him out of the house – was definitely an ‘undesirable element’, not a respected man such as don Tano Badalamenti. (p. 37)
[Peppino Impastato’s younger brother Giovanni made the same point in his deposition to the Commission]. ‘It seems that Badalamenti was well-liked by the carabinieri as he was calm, reliable, and always liked a chat. It almost felt like he was doing them a favour in that nothing ever happened in Cinisi, it was a quiet little town. If anything, we were subversives who made nuisances of ourselves. This was what the carabinieri thought. When I chanced to speak to one of them – something which didn’t happen often because I didn’t really trust them – I realised that it was a widely held belief that Tano Badalamenti was a gentleman and it was us who were the trouble-makers.’ […] ‘I often used to see them walking arm in arm with Tano Badalamenti and his henchmen. You can’t have faith in the institutions when you see the police arm in arm with mafiosi.’ (p. 108)
[From the statement made by Benedetto Manzella, one of Peppino Impastato’s friends] ‘Very often I used to see these carabinieri – and this was something that annoyed me intensely – going off to have a coffee with mafiosi. Sometimes people might say “what does that prove?”, but to me and lots of other people it was obvious what going to the bar with mafiosi meant – everyone knew they were mafiosi.’ (p. 92)
[A statement made by another friend, Salvatore Riccobono, recounts what happened following Peppino’s death]. ‘”The day after Peppino’s death the investigators took me and other friends of Peppino to the police station, where we were all harassed and treated like terrorists.” Asked to explain the content of that phrase further, he added: “I used the term ‘harassed’ because they kept on asking the same question: ‘Why were you organising a bombing?’ We were supposed to answer that we were preparing the bombing, or that as we were placing it things went wrong and Peppino was killed. This is what I meant. We were asked the same question over and over again.’ […] ‘We got the feeling that in the first instance they weren’t interested in the truth. We all noticed that immediately. I repeat: they didn’t ask us about anything else, all they said was that we were bombers.’ […] ‘Me, along with all the others, made it clear that Peppino had written leaflets and made speeches against the mafia. In different ways, we were all asking the police to investigate in that direction.’ (pp. 109-110)
So on what grounds were other hypotheses excluded? Why was consideration of any other causes, above all murder, avoided? […] Why did none of the investigators happen to ask themselves whether Peppino had any enemies? Or if somebody could have an interest in his death? The immediate exclusion of the possibility of it being a mafia crime is difficult to justify, even on 9 May 1978. On the other hand, it should be stressed that the total lack of interest shown towards the mafia was not decided upon following the discovery of the letter in which Peppino wished his own suicide. The ruling out of murder, and in particular of it having been a mafia murder, in reality occurred earlier – when the first raids were planned and carried out in the early hours of the morning. Obviously this was before the discovery of the letter – and yet the mafia had already been excluded. (pp. 120-121)
The reopening of investigations continued to be the reason for the mobilisation of his family and friends, and a vast movement that had developed in society. This is shown by the remarkable level of support for the appeal presented in May 1992 by Regional councillors from Communist Refoundation, the Rete, the Communist Party (PCI-PDS), the Greens, and by Umberto Santino, President of the Centro Impastato. […] Even in subsequent years, despite the fact that in legal terms the situation had reached an impasse with the unsatisfactory conclusions of the previous two judicial processes, the Centro Impastato and his family continued in their incessant and commendable work of investigating, as well as raising public awareness concerning Peppino Impastato’s social and political commitment. (p. 143)
Peppino Impastato had clearly understood the danger represented by Tano Badalamenti, and Tano Badalamenti had clearly understood the danger of Peppino Impastato. They both represented danger to each other. (pp. 37-38)
But Giuseppe Impastato had understood too much. His struggles were too public and determined for the mafia to allow his tireless activities to continue – particularly in view of the harder and more detailed attacks once he got elected as a local councillor. (p. 118)
Peppino Impastato wasn’t wrong. Badalamenti carried on being dangerous well beyond 1978. A very emblematic example of this is the long jail sentence he is currently serving in the United States. He was convicted of drug trafficking, something he was attracted to since he was a youth; back then he was one of the first to understand how much money that trade could bring, and along with that money, how much power. (p. 38)