||Palermo| Vito Cascio Ferro
Born: September 22, 1862 - Palermo
Dead: 1943 - Palermo
Vito Cascio Ferro was a powerful Mafia leader during the early 1900's and is credited with being the first Sicilian Boss of Bosses. It was said that at the height of his power he was leader of at least 7 regions. Cascio Ferro also had a brief history in America where he was involved in counterfeiting and was associated with the Morello Gang.
Vito Cascio Ferro was born to peasants on September 22, 1862 in Palermo. After several years he and his family moved to the town of Bisacquino, near Corleone, which would become his main base of operations. In his early adulthood he worked as a revenue collector which provided a cover for his protection racket. Vito's criminal record began with assault somewhere around 1894, with later charges of arson, extortion and kidnapping. In 1898 he was arrested and sentenced for kidnapping the baroness of Valpetrosa. Upon his release in 1901 he sailed across the ocean towards America, entering as a fruit merchant.
Living in America
After arriving at the shores of Ellis Island in September 1901, he moved in with his sister Francesca and brother-in-law Salvatore Armato in an apartment on 103rd St. He was soon welcomed by old and new Sicilian friends such as Giuseppe Morello and Giuseppe Clemente. In a small amount of time he and his associates became rich by smuggling cattle. In 1902 he was arrested by the secret service during a roundup with Salvatore Clemente, Giuseppe Romano and Antonio Frauto. His associates were all convicted but Cascio Ferro could prove an alibi which made him uninvolved in Frauto's counterfeiting band. Cascio Ferro then left New York for New Orleans, a town which was seen as the birthplace of the American Mafia and where Sicilians dominated the criminal underworld. The Secret Service, including Joseph Petrosino, however had set an eye on Cascio Ferro and his criminal activities. Knowing he could face long prison terms he decided to move back to Sicily in 1904.
Boss of Bosses
Vito Cascio Ferro returned to Sicily where his status as a man of honor kept on growing. People looked up to him and answered Cascio Ferro as if he was their king. With many high placed friends his wealth and power in Sicily grew within years. He also kept his contacts back in America, possibly hoping to return one day. Together with a man named Nunzio Giaimo he led the region of Bisacquino with an iron fist to anyone who did not obey. In 1909 Joseph Petrosino, presuming no one except his officials new of his plans, traveled to Sicily for investigations. The news of Petrosino's course towards Palermo however spread rapidly amongst Mafia circles in both America and Sicily, making Cascio Ferro aware of Petrosino's arrival.
About the same time as Petrosino left the New York shores, a couple of Sicilian associates of Cascio Ferro also moved back to their native country. Amongst these men were Antonino Passananti, Salvatore Mucuoloso, Francesco Cassisi and Carlo Constantino. On the rainy night of March 12, 1909, Petrosino was accompanied by Professor Mucci, who claimed he could help in his investigations. They went to a see a counterfeiting factory which manufactured Canadian bills. Once they arrived a signal was made and Salvatore Mucuoloso and Francesco Cassisi gunned Petrosino down. The killers afterwards fled to Cairo and then Quebec. Professor Mussi also left Sicily and went to Canada. Mussi was said to have received $60.000 for his share in the murder. These revelations were made by a man named Carlo Battista, who made claims to the police he knew who killed Petrosino. After he told his story however he was hanged in December 1912. Not much later after the murder of Petrosino Vito Cascio Ferro was already named as a possible suspect in the murder, however he was never convicted for the crime.
Cascio Ferro was arrested about 70 times for various crimes but was always acquitted. When Cesare Mori was appointed by Benito Mussolini to hunt down suspected Mafiosi, Vito Cascio Ferro became one of his main targets. Mori even went to Cascio Ferro's territory to held speeches against the Mafia. In 1926 he was arrested and sentenced to prison for smuggling. He eventually died in 1943 due to natural causes in his prison at the age of 81.
(Source: "Petrosino Slayer may be in custody" April 7, 1909; "Told a story of Petrosino murder" December 29, 1912; "The origin of orgnized crime" by David Critchley; "The history of the Sicilian Mafia" by John Dickie)
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