A Mafia Funeral Rome Couldn’t Refuse

Police blocked streets for the crime boss’s cortège as helicopters dropped rose petals on crowds tearing up at the procession—and a government crackdown looked as futile as ever.

08.21.15 3:54 PM ET

ROME — There are certain times the Eternal City, with its glorious ancient ruins and stunning beauty, seems fictitious, almost like a movie set where the most bizarre scenes play out. And so it was Thursday, when hundreds of mourners gathered to pay their final respects to 65-year-old Vittorio Casamonica in an extravagant funeral befitting royalty.

Six black stallions pulled a gilded and glassed-in carriage as a low-flying helicopter dropped red rose petals onto tearful crowds who lined the streets. Trucks laden with wreaths followed the procession. After the funeral, a shiny black Rolls-Royce carried the coffin to the parish cemetery, where it was interred in the Casamonica family’s marble mausoleum. 

But this was no movie shoot or noble funeral. It was the final farewell to one of the most well-known—and obviously beloved—mob bosses in Rome, whose criminal clan has helped bring the capital to its knees in recent months. Giant posters with photos of Casamonica hung from the Church of Don Bosco, where the funeral took place and is, appropriately perhaps, a few blocks from the legendary Cinecitta Movie Studios. In some pictures, he wears a dark suit and is superimposed inside the ancient Roman Colosseum under the words “King of Rome.” In others, he is dressed in papal white with a shimmering cross slung on a gold chain around his neck, over the words “You conquered Rome,” one sign read. “Now you will conquer heaven.”   

And lest there be any doubt what this was really about, at the church a lone trumpeter played a mournful rendition of “Speak Softly Love”—which happens to be the theme song from The Godfather. Other songs included numbers from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The show funeral was, in many ways, a blatant slap in the face to Rome’s ruling establishment, which had claimed to have pulled the plug on the so-called Mafia Capitale crime syndicate. Until recently the group had run the city unchecked, pilfering funds from the city’s coffers through extensive corruption, making massive profits off the most vulnerable, including refugees and the homeless. The Casamonica clan stands formally accused of extortion and racketeering, and several members are in jail pending trial.

Casamonica’s death after a long battle with cancer and his subsequent funeral came during one of the quietest weeks in Rome, when government entities were on break and while the mayor, Ignazio Marino, was on holiday in America. As news broke of the ironic event, the mayor quickly tweeted that he had called the local prefect to clarify just how this could happen, saying it was “intolerable that funerals are used by the living to send mafia messages.” The civil-protection chief countered that there had been a breakdown in communication and no one knew exactly who the funeral was really for until it was too late.

But someone had indeed given permission for the funeral cortège, which was covered by Italian press with the same energy as a celebrity event, with star reporters lining the procession route to comment on the extravagant affair. More embarrassing still was the complicity of the Roman police, whose cars blocked traffic so the procession could carry on unhindered. A spokesman for Rome’s police department said that Casamonica was only in the “margins of criminal activity” recently due to his terminal illness, and that the elaborate funeral broke no laws. Apparently no license is necessary for low-flying rose-petal-carrying choppers outside the historical city center. 

The presiding priest, Father Giancarlo Manieri, seemed shocked that there was any ruckus attached to the event, telling local media that, actually, the funeral was conducted “normally” inside the church in accordance with the Catholic ritual, and that he had no control over what grieving families chose to do to send off their loved ones. 

This week, judges in Rome set November 5 as the start date for a criminal trial against almost 60 suspects, including some from the Casamonica clan, allegedly tied to the capital mob, though it would seem that the news only served to bolster the crime syndicate. Italy’s parliamentary anti-mafia head Rosy Bindi said she was appalled that, given the circumstances of the judicial clampdown, “a funeral could be transformed into an ostentatious show of mafia power.”

Other parliamentarians expressed similar outrage. “Funerals like this may appear to be a phenomenon of folklore,” said parliamentarian Celeste Costantino. “But in reality they are a clear message of impunity by a clan that says ‘We still exist and we are powerful.’ That’s unacceptable in a democratic state.” But apparently not so in Italy’s capital. Ah, Rome…