Scomparsi/Their bodies will never be found

2014 - 2016 ~ Calabria, Italy

"The Calabrian 'Ndrangheta is one of the most powerful organized crime groups at a global level. Its colonization strategy is spreading all over the world. […] The 'Ndrangheta started building its economic power in the 1970s and 1980s with the ransoms derived from multiple kidnappings they perpetrated."
(Threat Assessment / Italian Organized Crime
Europol, The Hague, June 2013)

In Italy, 649 people were kidnapped by ‘Ndrangheta from 1969 to 1998: an average of 22 persons per year. 128 of these cases occurred in Calabria. Eight of these people disappeared forever without leaving behind a single trace. This work tells their story.

The circumstances are murky even for investigators. A lot of hypotheses were made, but the truth was never fully known.

Long silences break out from the heart of Aspromonte, the wild mountain massif that is known as the fortress of the 'Ndrangheta; an inaccessible theater of cruel imprisonment. Perhaps the kidnapped people were killed or died because they weren't willing to suffer through their imprisonment.

In any case, their stories all came to the same end: they disappeared, and their bodies will never be found.


Stern Crime
The Best of LensCulture, vol.1
Maps-Magazine #3
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The river Sant'Agata.
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The back of a postcard from Brancaleone in the1970s. In 1977, Mariangela Passiatore, the wife of Sergio Paoletti (a businessman from Milan), was kidnapped. The two were in Calabria on vacation. Her body was never found.
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Notes from my research. These are the eight people who were kidnapped and never found.
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A map of Calabria with the places where the eight were kidnapped.
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An abandoned car on the edge of route SS106.
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Staiti (Reggio Calabria). Probably the place where Mariangela Passiatore was held captive.
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«Siamo le Brigate Rosse, preparate un miliardo. Vi daremo presto altre istruzioni.» The kidnappers pretended to be members of Brigate Rosse - an italian left-wing paramilitary organization - to mislead the investigators.
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Swine in a pigsty. Aspromonte, Reggio Calabria.
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A forest. Aspromonte, Reggio Calabria.
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The kidnappers hid their victims in pits a meter deep. These subterranean prisons were usually covered with leaves.
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Gazzetta del Sud (Calabrian newspaper). The news of Antonio Colistra's kidnapping. His body was never found.
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The kidnappers usually hit their victims with blunt objects that could have been fatal to some of them.
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Giuseppe Gullì was kidnapped in Locri, Calabria, on February 21, 1980. Two months later, this picture was sent to Gazzetta del Sud by his kidnappers. His body was never found.
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The Crucified Christ of Zervò in Aspromonte, Reggio Calabria. This is the place where the ransoms were usually paid.
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The holy picture of "Maria SS della montagna di Polsi". The chiefs of the 'Ndrangheta have held annual meetings at the Polsi sanctuary, located near San Luca, Platì and Natile di Careri.
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A part of a map of Calabria. San Luca, Natile di Careri and Platì. The clans of these towns managed the kidnapping business.
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Photo from police inspector La Bella's archives. He was a member of NAPS, a special unit for kidnapping in Aspromonte. In this picture, La Bella (right) stands with a colleague in the riverbed of Bonamico, a river that flows through the territory of San Luca.
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A path in the heart of Aspromonte.
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The SGC Jonio-Tirreno. This highway runs coast to coast from Tyrrhenian Sea to the Ionian Sea.
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The Italian law "L. 82/91" froze the bank accounts of the victims' families so they would not be able to pay huge ransoms without the investigators' consent.
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“Lupara” is the Italian word for a sawn-off shotgun. It is traditionally associated with the mafiosi of southern Italy (especially Calabria and Sicily)
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A picture from Gazzetta del Sud. The body of Giulio Cotroneo, killed in Bruzzano Zeffirio (Reggio Calabria) on September 13, 1977. He was helping his friend Sergio Paoletti search for his wife. He may have discovered something, and so he had to die.
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A picture from Gazzetta del Sud. Felice Ferrara (left) and Pasquale Sorbara (right), were both killed on May 1, 1985 near Navari. Their deaths were payback for dealings related to the kidnapping business. Felice Ferrara, probably the man who kidnapped Alfredo Sorbara, was the real target. His daughter Nunziatina, 16, was also killed.
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Detectives suppose that the corpses of the eight kidnapped individuals were buried on the slopes of Aspromonte.
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Ten years after the kidnapping of Lollò Cartisano - Bovalino, 22 July 1993 - this letter, sent by an anonimous jailer, reveals the burial place of the victim.
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The river Careri in the Aspromonte of Reggio Calabria. This river flows through Platì and Natile and eventually to the sea.