Originally from Syracuse, Francese was shot dead in Palermo, in viale Campania in front of his house. He was the crime reporter of the newspaper Il Giornale di Sicilia, where he carried out an in-depth reconstruction of the most complex Mafia events of the 70s and first published the names of the Corleone bosses who began to climb up the Cosa Nostra hierarchies arriving in Palermo. Francese died on January 26th 1979. Why was he assassinated? In the sentence of the Supreme Court that condemned the perpetrators and instigators of that crime, Mario Francese was described as possessing “an extraordinary ability to make connections between the most significant news events, to interpret them with courageous intelligence, and thus to reconstruct with exceptional clarity and credibility the evolutionary lines of Cosa Nostra “. In addition, the Supreme Court judges wrote that with the elimination of that upright reporter the “season of excellent crimes” had begun. Francese, among other things, sensed and described the beginning of the assault of the “Corleonesi” (as they call the Mafia in Corleone) to the top of Cosa Nostra. He also reported on divisions within the “Mafia Commission”.
(from Remembrance Day of journalists killed by mafia and terrorism, 2008)
(Update by Grazia Pia Attolini – 3rd May 2020)
- 2000 – For twenty years the tragic end of Mario Francese was shrouded in silence. The judicial investigation against persons unknown was soon closed. It was reopened in 2000 at the request of family members. In particular, this reopening was also due to his son Giuseppe who, motivated by the same passion of his father for the truth, devoted himself to the meticulous reconstruction of the murderer. His investigations helped shed light on the murder.
- 2001 – The trial of the perpetrators takes place with an accelerated procedure and ended with the 30-year sentence of Totò Riina and the other members of the Mafia “central command”: Francesco Madonia, Antonino Geraci, Giuseppe Farinella, Michele Greco, Leoluca Bagarella and Giuseppe Calò. On the other hand, Giuseppe Madonia was acquitted, accused of having been the killer together with Leoluca Bagarella. In the second trial, with the ordinary procedure, the other accused Bernardo Provenzano was sentenced to life imprisonment.
- 2002 – The first instance sentence is confirmed on appeal in December 2002. The judges again underlined the great human and professional qualities of Mario Francese and clearly stated that “with his death the season of exceptional crimes opens up”. And that Francese was the first to fall in that long bloody period was no coincidence for the judges, because “Mario Francese was a protagonist, if not the main protagonist, of Sicilian legal news and investigative journalism. In his articles he often anticipated investigators in identifying new investigative leads “. And it represented “a danger for the emerging mafia, precisely because it was capable of unveiling its criminal program, far ahead of the time when it was subsequently possible, thanks to the collaborators with the justice system, to know the structure and rules of Cosa Nostra” . Giuseppe Francese was not to have time to hear this sentence: he took his own life on the morning of September 3rd , at the age of 36.
- 2003 – The prosecuting case is held up in the Supreme Court, even if three bosses, Pippo Calò, Antonino Geraci and Giuseppe Farinella are acquitted “for not having committed the deed”. But the sentence of December 2003 confirmed the 30 year prison sentence for Totò Riina. The 30-year sentence was also confirmed for Leoluca Bagarella, Raffaele Ganci, Francesco Madonia and Michele Greco, who had not recourse to the Supreme Court. In the second trial, Bernardo Provenzano’s life sentence was confirmed on appeal.
Francese dealt with crime and legal news. He documented the building pillage of Palermo and closely examined the public procurement system. When Cosa Nostra, after the Belice earthquake, took advantage of the reconstruction to enrich themselves, Francese tramped the valley and spoke to farmers, shepherds and artisans. In this way he learned about the intrigues that lay behind the expropriation of land for the construction of the Garcia dam. Thanks to his “extraordinary ability to make connections” he had a visceral understanding of the strategic evolution of the Corleonese Mafia. He described everything in his investigations. He is the first journalist to mention Totò Riina, to interview his wife Antonietta Bagarella and to name the companies connected to the boss and to talk about the split in the “Mafia commission”.
A selection of Mario Francese’s investigations and articles is available on the Mario e Giuseppe Francese website.