The Lion Of Montelepre

Salvatore Giuliano was only 28 when he was killed. He spent most of his adult life on the run and died in a hale of gunfire, after he was betrayed by his own cousin. His name may be familiar to those who have read "The Sicilian" by Mario Puzo

He was born in the town of Montelepre, Sicily in 1922. His early years were shaped by political turmoil and then war in his native land.

The Mafia have long dominated Sicily's history, but their influence was on the wane thanks to a brutal clampdown ordered by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Ironically the American invasion of Sicily gave the Mafia fresh impetus, many imprisoned Mafia bandits were released from jail and some were eventually placed in positions of authority.

As Giuliano grew up, Sicily became ever poorer. From an early age he was involved in smuggling contraband across the mountains and in to Montelepre. Ages 21 he shot and killed a policeman after been discovered with an illicit stash of grain.

Instead of becoming just another of the many hundreds of fugitive bandits hiding away in the wild Sicilian hinterlands, Giuliano stood out as a figure of defiance, within months he had recruited a growing band of fellow outlaws who he led on Robin Hood style raids, robbing the rich to feed the poor.

Hiding in the mountains, Giuliano soon reached near legendary status through out Sicily. Sadly he was always doomed to be exploited by the ineradicable Mafia. He was talked in to putting the frighteners on the attendees of a May Day celebration, specifically because the Mafia wanted to remove the Socialist Party who organized it. On May 1st 1947, Giulianos men, hidden in the mountains over Portella Della Ginestra opened fire on the families below, who were innocently enjoying the days festivities. Eleven were killed and thirty were wounded.

Unsurprisingly, after the massacre Giuliano's influence began to decline. He was pursued in to the mountains and lived his remaining years constantly dodging the authorities, protected by a now shrinking band of men. As his support ebbed away and the police and army increased the size of their search parties. At the end, 1000 men were looking for him.

On July 5 1950, Giuliano was shot and killed. Shockingly, the man who pulled the trigger was none other than his cousin and long time co-conspirator, Gaspare Pisciotta . He claimed that he had been offered amnesty and a pardon for "getting rid" of Giuiliano. Evidently Pisciotta's hopes of freedom would be dashed - he was poisoned four years later in his prison cell.

The author of these words reflects on the life and death of Salvatore Giuliano. He was obviously a man who managed to pack a lot in to his 28 years. The author has passed that age now and he has chosen, like most of us, to fade away rather than burn out. When Giuliano died, after years on the run, maybe his life flashed before his eyes. Maybe he wondered at the broken dreams and the betrayals that had brought about his folly, the author doubts that he died happy or fulfilled.

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