Mafia boss held after years on the run


NAPLES HAS long been a city where fiction seems all too real and reality all too fictional. When police arrested 62-year-old Camorra boss Pasquale Russo, early yesterday morning, they found on his bedside table not only a 9.21 calibre Beretta pistol but also a wig, a two-way radio system, a GPS tracker and a book called La Camorra by Neapolitan journalist Gigi Di Fiore.

If godfather Russo had been checking the book for references to himself, he would have found plenty of them. On the run since 1995, Russo has already been sentenced to life, in absentia, in relation to at least 13 homicides.

Caught in a remote farmhouse near Sperone, 80km north of Naples, the godfather made just one request of his captors. He asked whether he could take his walking stick and coppola (Sicilian-style flat cap) with him. After all, appearances are appearances.

After last weekend, the Russo family story will need updating in any history of the Camorra. Arrested alongside Pasquale yesterday was his brother Carmine, while a third brother, Salvatore, had been arrested 24 hours earlier on Saturday morning.

Indeed, it seems more than likely that the alarm raised within the family by the capture of Salvatore Russo on Saturday may have inadvertently led police to the hideaway of his brother, the acknowledged padrino and boss of the family. The arrest had created panic in the family, with a careless phrase picked up on a police phone tap probably having led to the detention of Salvatore’s brother yesterday.

Like his elder brother, 51-year-old Salvatore Russo had also been on the run since 1995, and like his brother he too has already been sentenced to life for murder. Salvatore Russo was found on a chicken and rabbit farm not far from the family’s historical base of Nola, outside Naples.

He had been hiding in a purpose-built underground bunker, but it seems that the suspicions of someone had been aroused by the unusually lavish shopping of the wife of the farm owner, 57-year-old Luigi Perna. Clearly, Signora Perna had been keen to rustle up something good for her special guest.

Silent and taciturn at the moment of his arrest, Salvatore Russo later gave vent to his feelings when he lashed out and tried to kick a news photographer who attempted to take his picture as he was being transferred from the police station to prison.

In what became a weekend of rare success for Camorra investigators, some progress may also have been made in the investigation into the killing of camorrista Mariano Bacioterracino.

He was the small-time mobster whose murder last May outside a supermarket in Naples was caught on CCTV, complete with very clear pictures of his killer.

Last week investigators released the footage to the media, a move which prompted some initial criticism but which has led to the killer being identified. He is now on the run.