Married to the Mafia

A woman’s life in a criminal country is complicated in the extreme. Impenetrable rules, brazen customs, inseparable bonds. Where the Mafia governs, women are subordinated to a rigid, immovable code of conduct, requiring them to perform a perilous balancing act between tradition and progressiveness, between moralistic constraints and illimitable coolness in business affairs. They can order a man’s execution, but under no circumstances may they leave or betray their own husband. They can invest in whichever enterprise or trade they choose, but they must not wear any make-up whilst their spouse is behind bars. During Mafia trials, the womenfolk can commonly be seen huddled together  in the gallery blowing kisses or waving to the accused in the steel cage of the dock. These are the wives, even if they look more like their mothers. Dressing up, wearing make-up and nail varnish while their husbands are doing time means they are thinking of someone else. Dying one’s hair is tantamount to admitting to an affair. Without the husband, a wife’s existence means nothing, she is nothing more than a lifeless object. A thing halved. No sooner is the husband incarcerated, than the wife demonstratively neglects her appearance. It is a sign of fidelity, at least amongst the clans of the Campanian hinterland, parts of the ‘Ndrangheta and some Cosa Nostra families. If, on the other hand, she is neatly dolled up to the nines, then her man must be free and not far away. He gives the orders and the way she looks is an expression of his power. Often, however, the most inconspicuous, unkempt wives of bosses in jail are the very women who hold the most sway as they deputize for their absent husbands. In a criminal country, all women share a similar fate, regardless of whether their lives have taken a tragic course, or they have managed to lead a tolerably normal life. Man and wife have invariably known each other since childhood, marrying between the ages of twenty and twenty-five. What better guarantee can there be of virginity than to wed the woman one has known since she was a young girl? It is acceptable for a man to have playmates, so long as they are not Italian – a condition imposed by their wives in recent years: Russian, Polish, Romanian, Moldavian women are considered inferior and incapable of having or raising a family. A relationship with an Italian woman or, worse still, one from the same village, would undermine everything and must be punished accordingly. Sexuality is a defining element of education for both men and women living in the Mafia system. “Never beneath a woman”, as they say.


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Allowing the woman to get on top during sex suggests a man easily dominated in everyday life. “Oral sex, never” is another maxim. For a man to be indulged is one thing, but to perform oral sex on a woman is a “canine” taboo. “Never become anyone’s dog” is an old saying still observed even by the younger generation of followers. The laws are even stricter outside of Italy. Take the influential Jamaican Yardie Mafia, for example, active not only in Kingston, but also in many districts of London and New York. Oral sex and anal sex are completely forbidden, as is touching a woman’s anus. These are considered dirty practices (homosexuality is punishable by death in the Jamaican Mafia). Sex has to be dynamic, masculine and, above all, clean. No kissing. A real man knows, he needs his tongue to drink and will not use it for anything less. Clan members are positively obsessed with proving their masculinity and the strict code of sexual conduct serves as a ritual demonstration of their power. It is adhered to in almost every realm of the ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra, the Mafia and the Sacra Corona Unita and is unquestionably more than a mere reflection of a chauvinistic culture. Little else demonstrates so clearly the iron rules of allegiance, hierarchy, power and territorial dominance. This authority presides over life and death, predicated on killing or being killed. Woe betide anyone who believes the rules do not apply to him. Regulating people’s sex lives plays a fundamental role, with even a spot of flirting dictated by marking out one’s turf. Getting to know a woman more intimately runs the risk of breaching enemy territory. In 1994, Antonio Magliulo of Casal di Principe, dared to get involved with a girl who was engaged to one member of the Caselesi clan and sister-in-law to another. Magliulo showered her with gifts and, sensing that she was not so enamoured with her future husband, felt no inclination to back off. He was just crazy about this much younger woman and courted her as was the custom where he came from, with Baci Perugina pralines on Valentines Day and a fox stole at Christmas. He would wait outside her workplace for her of an evening. One hot summer’s day, a few members of the Casalesi clan summoned him to the ‘la Scogliera’ lido in Castelvolturno. They did not even wait to hear him out.

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Maurizio Lavoro, Giuseppe Cecoro and Guido Emilio raked a club spiked with nails over his skull, tied him up and stuffed his mouth and nose with sand. The more he swallowed, in an attempt to breathe, the more they forced into him. He asphyxiated as the sand and saliva hardened like cement in his throat. Executed for making advances to a girl who was related by blood to a leading figure and was already promised to another. To flirt, to date, to spend a night together, these are risky, stressful undertakings, weighed down with responsibility. Valentino Galati was nineteen years old when he disappeared on 26 December 2006 in Filadelfia – not the American Quaker town, but a settlement founded by Freemasons in the province of Vibo Valentia. Valentino was close to the local Ndrina family clan. With ‘Ndrangheta blood flowing through his veins, he signed up and began working for Rocco Anello, the boss. When the latter was sent to jail for extortion (every contractor working on a small stretch of railway had to pay him 50 thousand Euros per kilometre), his wife, Angela Bartucca, became more reliant on the support of the Ndrina. Taking care of the shopping, cleaning, bringing the children to school, Valentino slipped into a pivotal role as her aide. That they should fall into a surreptious relationship seemed almost logical. Yet the fact that he must be punished is equally certain. None of the villagers is surprised when, one day, he vanishes from the face of the Earth. He had an affair with the wife of the boss, and the price for his indiscretion is his life. Only Anna, his mother, refuses to accept the truth. Her son with a clan leader’s wife? Impossible, he’s far too young, barely an adult at all. Yes, indeed, before her son disappeared, Angelina did call in for a coffee from time to time, but she has not done so since. But what does that prove? Valentino’s mother insists “my son had nothing to do with any of this”. She is convinced that there is another explanation, but the Anti-Mafia Directorate disagrees. For a long time, Anna slept on the sofa next to the telephone, waiting for her son to call, afraid she would not hear it ringing from the bedroom. And so, at last, she takes refuge in her silent pain, as the Omertà demands, yet steadfastly refusing to accept the facts. Santo Panzarella from Lamezia Terme, murdered in July 2002, suffered a similar fate. Four years earlier, Santo had fallen in love with Angela Bartucca. Always his Angela. They sprayed him with the contents of an entire clip before slamming him into the boot of a car. But they had been mistaken in believing that Santo Panzarella was dead. He started thrashing out inside the boot.

So they snapped his lower limbs, to prevent his flailing kicks from interrupting his final journey.At the end of the ride, they put a bullet in his head. All that was recovered of his body was a collarbone, which proved sufficient to get the investigation under way. Another man executed for a liaison with the wrong woman. Valentino may well have known that he was risking his life, but that was not going to deter him. Angela Bartucca, a femme fatale, a “praying mantis” as the newspapers liked to call her. Her powers of seduction could make a man forget the mortal danger awaiting him – to love this woman carries a penalty of death. Yet in reality she bears little resemblance to such a creature of legend. Her photograph depicts a nice girl, guilty of nothing more than wanting to have some fun. With her man behind bars, a Mafia wife is expected to practice total abstinence – which goes for lust as well as love. The only exception is when an older boss, married to a younger woman, offers his consent for her to see a surrogate, so to speak, if he himself is serving a lengthy prison sentence. A suitable substitute is the village priest or, if he is not available, a brother, cousin or some other relation. On no account a member who is not a blood relative, somebody who might revel in the relationship to such a degree that a new-found charisma could see the husband replaced. Many women, including the young ones, wear black almost all of the time. Mourning a husband murdered, a brother, nephew, a neighbour slaughtered. Grieving for the killing of  the husband of a co-worker, the son of a distant relative. There is no shortage of reasons to wear black. Underneath, red is worn, to signify the blood which has to be avenged.

A red corsage for the older womenfolk, red lingerie for the younger, a perennial reminder of the blood that keeps the pain alive, the shockingly intimate colour of vengeance, set alight by the contrasting mantle of black . To be widowed in criminal territory is equivalent to losing one’s identity as a woman, reduced to the role of a mother. If a widow wishes to remarry, she needs the permission of her sons. She is only allowed to marry a man whose rank in the Mafia hierarchy is at least equal to that of the husband she has lost. She must first observe seven years of chastity and remain in strict mourning for the same period. This corresponds to the time it takes for the soul to reach its final resting place, as is traditionally believed, so that the soul need not witness her “unfaithfulness”. The charismatic boss of San Cipriano d’Aversa, Antonio Bardellino, attempted to liberate widows from these medieval constraints and enforced suffering. Don Antonio could be heard in the village announcing: “It takes seven years to reach paradise, but where we are heading requires a much shorter journey, namely a single night.” But when Bardellino was murdered, the Schiavone clan seized power and reinstated the old rules of sexual conduct. In August 1993, Paola Stroffolino was caught with a lover. She was the wife of the influential boss Alberto Beneduce, one of the first to supply cocaine and heroin directly to the Caserta coast. Following his assassination, she failed to respect the seven years of widowhood, entering into a relationship with Luigi Griffo. The clan ruled that such a disregard for the former boss could not go unanswered. A close friend, Dario De Simone, was entrusted with the task of exacting punishment. He invited the couple to a farm in Villa Literno under the pretext of sampling the first mozzarella of the season. Instead, each received a single shot to the head. The most basic of executions for two traitors who had disrepected the honour of the dead. Their corpses were then tossed into a deep well in Giugliano by the man who had thus proved his loyalty, aided by Vincenzo Zagaria and Sebastiano Panaro. Sandokan (Francesco Schiavone) and his brother were charged with having issued the orders. The widow of a boss cannot be touched, but if she is tarnished by another man, she loses her inviolable status. In their efforts to remove any doubt the court might have, a revealing statement was made by a key witness for the prosecution: “Dottò, a fuck is more serious than murder where we come from. It’s better to kill the wife of a boss. At least there’s a chance of mercy, but if you fuck her, you’re dead.” To love one another, sleep with each other, kiss, give each other gifts, smile and touch each other’s hands, to seduce a woman or be seduced by her, can be fatal. The last, most dangerous step you take. When implacability is the law, feelings and passion are transgressions payable with death.