Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Sicilian

Lorenzo Liborio Cali, 1911
Lorenzo Liborio Cali, 1911

Lorenzo Cali was a handsome young man with muscular shoulders and the classical look of the Mediterranean male: dark, wavy hair and brown eyes, square jaw and smooth, olive complexion. Cali was born in 1884 in the village of Aidona on the island of Sicily. Most people in the rural areas worked endlessly in the fields harvesting wheat, or sweating their lives away in the barbaric sulfur mines where thousands died in cave-ins and industrial accidents. Fresh water was extremely scarce on the island, which led to numerous health and social problems. Life was brutally hard in Sicily, so hard that most young people left in droves as soon as they were able.

Some went to mainland Italy, the Mezzogiorno region, south of Rome, where conditions were not much better but at least there was a little more food. Others tried to make a life aboard cargo ships that stopped in Palermo on their way to ports in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. Some, like Cali, turned to crime. Stealing was a work-free way for a young man to get some easy lira. But if a man were caught, he could be killed on the spot, for the Sicilian police were notoriously corrupt and ruthless. There was no such thing as constitutional protection for criminals in Sicily. Most cops were on the payrolls of the local Mafioso, already a formidable power and the true rulers of Sicily. If a man stole from the wrong person, there were no rights, no attorney and no trial. There was only a shotgun blast to the head.

In 1908, a massive earthquake struck Messina in eastern Sicily. The catastrophe killed at least 80,000 people and probably a lot more. It was the final blow for a poverty-ravaged nation. During this time over 1.5 million Sicilians, almost 40 percent of the island's population, fled the country. In 1909, Cali and two of his friends from Aidona, Santo Zanza, 23, and Vincenzo Cona, 19, arrived on Ellis Island. The island was a place of mixed blessing; for many Italian families were separated from each other due to health reasons, legal problems or insufficient paperwork that forced authorities to isolate, reject or deport thousands back to the old country. The immigrants called the island L'Isola dell lagrime (the island of tears). Cali and his friends were some of the lucky ones. They were accepted, and like the three million other Italian men, women and children who came to America between 1900 and 1910, stepped off l'isola into the unknown.

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