Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Times of the Sicilian Robin Hood

Hero or Villain?

What are we to make of Giuliano? 

Brigands and bandits were and are a continuing presence in Sicily.  Why should we think that Giuliano was any different?

Part of the explanation can be found in the times in which he lived, and part of his fascination can be explained by a typical Sicilian state of mind.  Times were harsh, government was in chaos, and heroes were few.  Further, the centuries-old domination of the peasants in Sicily created a mind-set that resisted authority, however feebly, and glorified those brave enough to defy it on their behalf.  Giuliano, at least in spirit, represented the defiance of oppression that the average peasant could not afford to embrace.  This, in large part, explains why the citizens of Montelepre and surrounding villages went to such lengths to protect Giuliano.

However, there is no question that Giuliano was a killer.  Admirers claim that he killed only when he had to, but the variety of his victims makes that claim suspect.  His killing of informants was particularly cold-blooded, the messages pinned on his victims notwithstanding.

In order to understand him, it is necessary to consider the following:  He was young.  That fact is often forgotten.  He had the idealism of youth, and with that the ability to rationalize his actions.  He was charismatic, handsome, and, despite his youth, dignified, giving him an attractiveness not usually associated with a common bandit.  He was, for a Sicilian peasant, articulate, and, in some ways, literate, so that he defied the usual image of thuggery associated with bandits.

Salvator Giuliano
Salvator Giuliano

And, most of all, he was in his way extremely patriotic.  He seems to have genuinely believed in justice, the special identity of Sicily, and a simple interpretation of the American dream as it applied to Sicily.  Indeed, in some ways, Giuliano considered himself an American.  He was conceived in the United States during a period in which his family lived in New York.  He was an admirer of President Truman and his determined stance against communism.  He had planned to escape his pursuers by immigrating to the United States, where several members of his band had gone.

But legend surrounds him, and, as in the case of Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, it is virtually impossible to capture him.