In the last article we’d reached the turn of the 19th century and what was looking like the inexorable rise of the Sicilian mafia. The various groups now had money, power and influence and could operate, if not with complete impunity, then at least with some confidence that they could act with little chance of punishment.
However these days were about to come to an end. When the fascist Benito Mussolini took power in Italy in 1922 he was determined to end mafia influence in Sicily. This was on one hand a shot in the arm for law and order but on the other hand it gave Mussolini the opportunity to rid himself of his political opponents with alleged mafia ties in the stronghold.
Mussolini appointed Cesare Mori, later known as the Prefetto di Ferro (the Iron Prefect) as
the man who would lead the campaign against the mafia in Sicily. In 1925 he was given special powers to subdue the mafia and this included recruiting a small army of police and militia. In a telegram to Mori, Mussolini wrote
“Your Excellency has carte blanche, the authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. If the laws still in force hinder you, this will be no problem, as we will draw up new laws.”
This group travelled around the island rounding up suspects by the thousand. To encourage surrender the group would sell suspects property, kill their livestock and occassionally take the accused’s families hostage. Mori also had no hesitation in using torture against his suspects in the quest for information and he understood that it was necessary to use extraordinary methods to fight an extraordinary adversary.
By 1929 Mori’s brutal campaign had been spectacularly successful. More than 1200 suspected mafioso had been tried and convicted and although not quite dead, the Sicilian mafia had been almost extinguished. Eventually Mori was recalled to another position and there is an apocryphal story that it was the astonishing amount of paperwork that accompanied the arrest of more than 11000 that helped his transfer.