#34: The Head

Violence, Prison

The organized crime system oppressing the city of Naples, Italy is known as the camorra. The Neapolitan bingo game in which each number codifies a secret meaning is known as tombola. This is the camorra’s tombola.


Number 34 means ‘a capa: the head. Also known as “the gospel”, “the prince”, “the monk”, “the highest”, is the head, one of the first bosses of the bosses, Raffaele Cutolo. Above all, he is ‘o professore, “the professor”. 

Because this small, shy-looking man under big glasses, always smiling innocently, passed his jail time as a tireless reader and writer of poetry, he earned his nickname in Naples’ Poggioreale Prison, where he first stepped foot in 1963. From behind these bars, where he spent most of his life, Cutolo ordered hundreds of murders.

Between the walls of the prison -with paintings on the walls and the carpets on the floor, according to legend- Raffaele reformed the camorra as we know it. He had power, drugs, weapons and ideas. He transformed the jail where he was sitting into a tank for skilled labor of his organization: the N.C.O., or New Organized Camorra. Cutolo applied the Sicilian Mafia’s rule of pyramidal power to the horizontal camorra structure, and gained a power so vast that he is thought to have helped the Italian Secret Service rescue a Christian Democratic politician who had been kidnapped by Italy’s leftish terrorist group, the Red Brigades. Recently Raffaele has declared that he could have also saved Aldo Moro, onetime secretary of the Christian Democratic party.

Following his affiliation ritual, swearing an oath of silence with chains and roses, sucking the blood from the wrists of other camorra men, youth from all over the southern region of Campania joined Cutolo’s anti-state army. Many came from Cutolo’s own hometown of Ottaviano. The war between Cutolo’s faction and the Campania family clans opposing him eventually grew so bloody that prison guards had to divide the prison in “cutoliani” and “anti-cutoliani”. At the height of the conflict, 250 people were dying every year as collateral damage from clan wars in the streets of Naples and its surroundings.

Judged crazy by the psychiatric Aldo Semerari (who was later found decapitated in his car in Ottaviano) Raffaele Cutolo would be transferred to Aversa Psychiatric Hospital, from which he escaped with the help of a ton of explosives in 1978. In an interview with journalist Enzo Biagi, Cutolo argued that “he put smile on those who needed it” and that “the real camorra is in Rome”. While Cutolo was in prison, his sister Rosetta Cutolo became the boss, living in a 350-room castle in Ottaviano bought by her brother. Naple's camorra women, unlike like mafia women, often have the power to rule.


Post by Michaela A.G. Iaccarino

Illustration: Fanqiao Wang