Day release gives Mafia man freedom to kill again

Rome Letter Paddy Agnew This is a story that begins nearly 30 years ago in the autumn of 1975

Rome Letter Paddy AgnewThis is a story that begins nearly 30 years ago in the autumn of 1975. Late at night in Via Pola, in the fashionable, upper-middle class Trieste quarter of Rome, an old lady thinks she hears someone calling for help in the street below.

She opens her window and looks out but sees no one. Yet, the faint cries for help plus some dull thumping noises continue.

In the end, she calls for the police who soon locate the cries in the boot of a Fiat 127 parked below the woman's apartment.

When the police force open the car boot, they are faced with a scene of surreal, cinematic horror.


Two young women, both naked, lie cramped into the small boot, both covered in blood, wrapped in plastic, with their feet tied together and with tape over their mouths.

One of the women is still alive. Her name is Donatella Colasanti, while that of the woman who lies dead beside her is Rosaria Lopez. Over the next few days, as she recovers from 36 hours of beatings, rape and torture, Donatella recounts a tale that shocks all Italy.

On the afternoon of September 29th, 1975, 17-year-old Donatella and 20-year-old Rosaria had accepted an invitation from three Parioli ragazzi per bene (well-heeled kids), Andrea Ghira, Gianni Guido and Angelo Izzo, to a party in a summer house in Circeo, on the coast south of Rome. The house belonged to the Ghira family.

The two young women were casual acquaintances of Angelo Izzo and it was he who persuaded them to come to the "party".

Even before they had arrived at the summer house, however, both girls realised that something was wrong. Over the next 36 hours, they were beaten, raped and tortured. In the end, the three men drowned Rosaria Lopez in the villa's bathroom, by holding her head under water, while Donatella Colasanti survived only because she faked being dead.

Having vented their homicidal aggression, the "boys" then loaded the two bodies into the boot of the car and drove back up to Rome two days later, parking outside one of their homes before heading off to have something to eat. After they had forced open the boot, police soon traced the owner, Gianni Guido, one of the three.

Under questioning, Guido soon confessed his part in the killings whilst he also identified his two cohorts, Izzo and Ghira.

Guido was arrested immediately, whilst Izzo was taken into custody some days later but the third member of the "Drago Gang", Ghira, perhaps tipped off, managed to get away and ever since has lived as a fugitive from justice, believed to be somewhere in Latin America.

The subsequent trial became a cause celèbre with feminists, psychologists, leftists (the three had strong links with the neofascist MSI) and others jumping on the media bandwagon. In the hothouse atmosphere of anni di piombo (years of the bullet) created by left- and right-wing terrorism in Italy, the trial roused huge passions. In the end, to the unqualified delight of the feminist movement, all three men received life sentences.

All of this grizzly story resurfaced last week following a routine police check near Campobasso in southern Italy where two men with criminal records, Guido Palladino and Luca Palaia, were stopped. In their car, police found a revolver and that led to extensive questioning which in turn led the police to another country villa, this time outside Campobasso.

Here, buried in a fresh grave in the villa garden, they found the bodies of two women, their feet tied, their mouths taped and with plastic bags over their heads. The dead women were 47-year-old Maria Carmela Limucciano and her 14-year-old daughter, Valentina, wife and daughter of a small-time Mafia boss, Giovanni Maiorano.

It soon emerged that one man might link together the Mafia boss, his murdered wife and daughter, and Guido Palladino and Luca Palaia, the men stopped at the road block. That man was the Circeo killer of 30 years ago, Angelo Izzo.

He happens to have shared a cell in prison with Mafia boss Maiorano. He also happens to work alongside both Palladino and Palaia in a cultural association called The City of the Future, work he is allowed to do since being granted day release from prison last December.

Under further questioning, Palladino admitted that he had driven Izzo and the two women to the country villa last Thursday. He also claimed he helped bury the bodies but denied any part in the killings.

Rearrested last weekend, Izzo on Tuesday this week admitted he had murdered (but not raped) the two women. As of now, investigators believe that Izzo and Maiorano may have been "in business" together, a business whose affairs may have been handled by Maiorano's wife. Her murder and that of her daughter may have been a grizzly settling of accounts.

Izzo may, too, have been wary of his ex-cellmate. In 1990, during a gangland war, boss Maiorano murdered Cristiano Matteo (17), a member of a rival family. To make identification of the body difficult, he decapitated his victim.

This walk down Izzo's memory lane has prompted much soul-searching, both about criminal life behind bars and day release programmes.

As justice minister Roberto Castelli put it this week: "It is obvious that a mistake was made. The important thing now is to understand if the mistake was made in good faith or through negligence."