Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

commissioned them to receive their dues. In former days they would have been paid at once; on this occasion the wives were marched off to prison.

325. Murders by Camorristi. - Another occasion when the Camorra again came prominently before the public was in June 1879. In August 1877 one Vincenzo Borrelli, a leading member of the society, was murdered near Naples. He had fallen under the suspicion of having turned spy and informer, and entertaining secret relations with the police. Accordingly his death was decreed by the association. Six members met together in a wine-shop, and agreed to select one of their number to do the deed. The lot fell on one Raffaele Esposito (the Foundling), who seems to have been chosen because he had a private cause of quarrel with Borrelli, and also because he was himself suspected of want of loyalty towards the society, and his fidelity would be conveniently tested by his readiness to undertake the deed. Esposito lay in wait for Borrelli and shot him from behind. The wound was not immediately fatal, and Esposito was pursued and seized by some soldiers, but he was rescued by a sympathising crowd. Borrelli's body was carried to the dead-house amidst the insults of the populace, and subjected to all sorts of indignities. Esposito was made the hero of the day; collections were gathered for him; but he found it impossible to evade the vigilance of the police, and three days after his rescue he gave

himself

up.

He was escorted to prison through the streets of Naples by a vast crowd of sympathisers, who pressed money and cigars on him, and strewed flowers in his path. Some seventy-eight other members of the Camorra were arrested at the same time, and indicted as accessories to the murder of Borrelli; but the judges and jury, threatened with the vengeance of the Camorra, found “extenuating circumstances," and the criminals got off with comparatively slight punishments. But, then, all these wretches are noted for their devotion; they are faithful children of the Church, which knows how to protect them; and the Camorra still flourishes, for the papers reported in April 1885 a fresh trial of Camorristi, one of them having turned informer, A number of them had been sent to the island of Ischia, and the first proceeding of some of the chief sufferers from the Italian mania for secret societies was to form an inner circle of the Camorra, electing a president, whose position entitled him to all articles stolen, a portion of which he assigned to the thief; he also allowed gambling, receiving a share of the winnings-in fact, we

[merged small][ocr errors]

find that in 1885, under the present Italian Government, the Camorra survives in prisons in the same form and vigour which distinguished it under the Bourbon despots. But what progress or improvement can be expected among the lower classes of Italy as long as a Pope occupies the Vatican, and a German Emperor insults the intelligence of civilised Europe by kneeling to that Pope, who is the representative of an ecclesiastical system which has always fostered and protected brigandage, with its robbery and murder?

V

MALA VITA

326. The Mala Vita.—The society known by this name seems to be an offshoot of the Camorra, since the highest grade in it is that of camorrist, and the second that of picciotto; the third was that of giovanotto, or novice. The chief of the Camorristi held the title of “Wise Master,” whilst the Camorrist was nicknamed “Uncle.” The society first came prominently before the public in April 1891, when 179 persons were arrested and tried at Bari, in the Neapolitan territory, as members of it. The title of the society, Mala Vita, which signifies “Evil Life,” is said to be taken from a novel by Degia Como, which, at the time of its publication, was tremendously popular in Italy. The discovery of the conspiracy was due to the disclosures of nine members of the society who became informers. It appears that admission to the ranks of the organisation was only procurable after numerous preliminaries. A person wishing to become a member had to be introduced by a member to the chief of the society, who would then instruct another associate to institute a rigorous inquiry as to whether or not the applicant was worthy of admission. All these negotiations were conducted in a species of thieves' slang. There were, as already mentioned, three grades of members, each possessing a separate head, and, to a certain extent, separate accounts.

When the admission of a new associate had been resolved upon, a meeting of the sect in which he was to be enrolled was convened, and the formality of taking a vote upon the question having been gone through, the candidate was led into the place of meeting. An interrogatory and interchange of declarations, conducted in the secret dialect of the body, next ensued. The novitiate was finally sworn in with great mystery. He took the oath with one foot in an open grave, the other being attached to a chain, and swore to abandon father, mother, wife, children, and all that he held dear, in order to work out the objects of the association.

Humility and self-abnegation were also imposed upon the novitiate by the terms of the oath. After the ceremony of initiation, the chief delivered a fantastic harangue, intended to intimidate the new member by impressing him with a due sense of the fearful pains and penalties which would certainly attend any betrayal of the society's secrets or interests. No one was allowed to join the organisation who had been a gendarme, a policeman, or a custom-house officer. The principal object of the society appears to have been brigandage. The booty obtained in all predatory expeditions, and the ransoms derived from the capture of unlucky travellers, were thrown into a common stock, a certain proportion being, however, specially set apart for division among the Camorristi, whose duty it was, within eight days, to divide the remainder among all the members of the organisation, an exceptionally large share being claimed by the chief.

Breaches of the society's rules and disobedience to orders were punished by torture and death, the whole society sitting in judgment, and the executioners being selected by lot. In the event of any person so deputed failing to carry out the society's decree, he had to undergo the same punishment he had been ordered to inflict. The member was obliged to have certain designs tattooed on his body, by which he could at any future time be identified. Some of these designs were extremely curious, representing angels, devils, serpents. dancing women, Garibaldi's portrait, and the Lion of St. Mark.

At the trial, informers explained how, when in prison, they, by order of the Camorristi, conveyed letters or money to other prisoners belonging to the society; or how the decrees of the Camorristi, involving outrages upon prisoners, warders, and others, were communicated to those chosen for their execution. The evidence adduced revealed a thoroughlyorganised system of outrage and exaction pursued against innocent persons, and of revenge committed upon such as were suspected of communicating with the police. Severe sentences of imprisonment were passed on most of the accused; but the society. evidently continued to exist, for in March 1892, about one hundred and sixty persons, mostly young men between the ages of twenty and thirty, were arrested as members of it. Their chief was a man of sixty, who had spent some twenty-five years in penal servitude on the galleys. His followers were all persons guilty of various crimes, such as robbery, assault, and other acts of violence. They were, of course, sentenced to various terms of imprisonment; but the Mala Vita Society still exists.

VI

THE MAFIA

327. The Mafia's Code of Honour.—This is a Sicilian society, which may be briefly described as another Camorra, its aim and practices being similar to those of the Neapolitan association, with a strong admixture of brigandage and bloodthirstiness. The society has a regular code of laws, called the Omerta, according to which every member must himself avenge any wrong done to him, for not justice, but the living, must avenge the dead-hence the laws of the vendetta. No member is to give evidence in any court of law against a criminal, but must, on the contrary, conceal and protect him. Candidates are admitted after a trial by duel; the members are divided into such as are merely under the protection of the Mafia, and such as are active members, and share in the profits, derived from smuggling and blackmail levied on landowners and farmers. No one guilty of, in the Mafia's opinion, disgraceful conduct, such as giving evidence in a court of law, or information to the police, picking pockets, or being a coward, is ever admitted a member, who call themselves giovani d'onore, honourable youths. They have their secret signs, passwords, and other means of recognition, which they have hitherto managed to keep from the knowledge of the outer world. Like the Camorra, it is represented in all classes of society. It lounges abroad in silk hat, black coat, and kid gloves; it skulks in dens haunted by the forger, bully, or pimp. Generally when a murderer or burglar is arrested, the governor of the prison gets a hint that the culprit is a Mafiose, and forthwith he is treated with consideration. The judge on the bench receives a document in open court, and the prisoner somehow has to be discharged for want of evidence; juries, as a rule, refuse to convict. When in 1885 the doings of the Mafia were discussed in the Italian Parliament, proofs were adduced that the society was represented in the antechamber of the Procurator-General of Palermo; nay, the very commandant

« AnteriorContinuar »