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Double Vendetta: how academic research exposed mafia workings

By Lara J Carim, on 13 January 2012

The Italian authorities officially recognised the existence of the mafia as a single unified criminal organisation in 1992. This was in spite of evidence brought to their attention more than 100 years previously exposing the secretive, bloody ritual undergone by all new ‘men of honour’ – evidence that had lain neglected in Sicilian archives until Professor John Dickie (UCL Italian) unearthed them in research that grew into his latest book, Blood Brotherhoods (Sceptre 2011).

On 10 January, Professor Dickie held the packed audience of the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre spellbound with the tale of the dogged yet doomed Inspector Sangiorgi, in a dramatic inaugural professorial lecture that more resembled a one-man show.

Giovanni Falcone – an investigating magistrate from Palermo – became a national hero in Italy when he was killed by a car bomb weeks after bringing several hundred members of the mafia to trial in 1987 – a trial that forced the authorities to admit that the Sicilian mafia was a “freemasonry of murderers”, in Professor Dickie’s words, rather than disparate criminal gangs. The trial pivoted on the detailed description Tommaso Buscetta – a mafioso turncoat – gave in the dock of the initiation ritual he had undergone.