Century-old mafia murder of US detective in Italy may be solved

Alleged mafia boss claims his great-uncle murdered US detective Joe Petrosinoin 1909

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 9:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 9:37pm


Italian police believe they have solved one of the most notorious mafia murders in the history of organised crime, more than a century after it was committed.

On March 12, 1909 Giuseppe "Joe" Petrosino, a celebrated New York detective who had gone to Sicily to gather intelligence on the mafia, was shot dead in the centre of Palermo. The identity of his killer remained a mystery.

But in a conversation recorded in an operation that on Monday morning led to a wave of arrests in the Sicilian capital, an alleged Cosa Nostra capo, Domenico Palazzotto, told other alleged mafiosi that his great-uncle had been Petrosino's killer.

"My father's uncle was called Paolo Palazzotto. He carried out the murder of the first policeman to be killed in Palermo. It was he who killed Joe Petrosino, on behalf of Cascio-Ferro," the 29 year-old suspected mobster was quoted as saying in evidence submitted to the judge who authorised the arrests on Monday.

Don Vito Cascio-Ferro, a leading "godfather", was among those arrested long ago on suspicion of having a role in Petrosino's killing. But he was released after a politician said Cascio-Ferro had been at his house when the US detective was shot.

On Monday, 91 people were taken into custody in raids focusing on two Cosa Nostra clans operating in the west of Palermo. They were accused of a variety of offences, including extortion and money laundering.

The murder of New York's most famous detective, who had emigrated as a child from southern Italy, appalled Americans.

Mounted police and a guard of honour accompanied his body as it was carried to his home from the liner on which he had crossed the Atlantic. According to a contemporary estimate, about 200,000 New Yorkers turned out for his funeral procession.

Petrosino's life and death provided the inspiration for the 1960 film Pay or Die.

The suspicion that Cascio-Ferro had a hand in the killing was revived many years later, by which time the Cosa Nostra boss had been arrested, tried and jailed for another murder.

According to John Dickie's history of the Sicilian mafia, Cascio-Ferro told an interviewer after his imprisonment that he had only killed one man "and I did that disinterestedly".

His cryptic remark was interpreted by some as a reference to the Petrosino murder, implying he had ordered it as a favour to Cosa Nostra mobsters in the US.