words by Carol King
DNA tests conducted on the exhumed body of Sicilian outlaw Salvatore Giuliano show that it is 90% likely that the remains are his.
The results bring a 10-year investigation by Palermo prosecutors to a close. Doubts regarding the death of the outlaw have been raised since he died in 1950 aged 28. Giuliano was gunned down in a courtyard in Castelvetrano, Sicily by the police, supposedly as he was resisting arrest. However, a journalist investigating the death found out that the shootout was staged and that Giuliano had been betrayed. Giuliano was shot by his cousin, Gaspare Pisciotta, who was poisoned in Palermo’s Ucciardone prison four years later. Some believed that Giuliano had fled to the USA, and that the corpse belonged to someone else and was substituted in his place.
A bandit and member of the Sicilian Independence Movement, Giuliano was active in the 1940s. Giuliano has been called ‘The Last Bandit’. Although a killer and kidnapper, some regard him as a Robin Hood figure because of reports that he robbed from Sicily’s rich and then distributed his spoils among the poor. However, in 1947 Giuliano and his gang were involved in the killing of men, women and children at the Portella della Ginestra massacre, and were condemned by the government. The incident remains controversial: Giuliano claimed he ordered his men to fire shots above the crowd attending a May Day rally in order to disperse them and that the deaths of 11 people were a mistake. Some have suggested that the mafia, landed barons and even the Italian government were to blame for the slaughter.
The romanticisation of the activities of a man who remains a divisive figure has been aided by the numerous fictional accounts of his life. Italian director Francesco Rosi made the film ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ in 1962. Best known for his novel 'The Godfather', Italian-American author Mario Puzo interweaves the life of the bandit with that of his fictional character, the Italian-American mafiosi Michael Corleone, in his 1984 novel 'The Sicilian', which was adapted for a movie in 1987. Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero wrote an opera based on Giuliano’s life that premiered in 1986.