As Nunzia D’Amico pushed her baby in a pram near her home in an eastern suburb of Naples, she probably looked much liked like any other mother. Laden with shopping, the 37-year-old was killed in a hail of bullets, yards from her front door.
Her brothers, Salvatore, Giuseppe and Antonio, the three heads of the D’Amico clan, had been arrested. Their sister is believed to have been, when she was killed by a rival clan as part of the city’s brutal drugs war, in charge.
An informant, Gaetano Lauria, who is accused of mob-linked murder in the same Ponticelli part of Naples, told police that D’Amico, who had a conviction for drug trafficking, had been leader of the family business. Her death in October underlined what prosecutors in Naples have long been saying: more and more women are taking over mafia groups as their husbands and brothers are jailed or murdered.
Even Sicily’s traditionalist Cosa Nostra crime organisation is embracing equal opportunities, with news this week that the treasurer of the group’s notorious Porta Nuova clan is a woman – 38-year-old mother of five, Teresa Marino. She was arrested along with 37 others in the island’s capital, Palermo.
Experts estimate there are 10 times as many female mobsters in Italy compared to 20 years ago – and they are often more violent and cynical than their male counterparts.
Raffaele Marino, a former Naples prosecutor said: “I think that for every active woman inside the [Camorra] criminal organisation in the early 1990s, today there are at least 10.”
In areas of Naples such as Torre Annunziata, the number of active female clan members might soon outstrip the men. “Here the women have assumed a key role in the activities of the Camorra.
From social companions they’ve turned into active members – often more violent and cynical than their men,” a senior member of Naples flying squad told Il Giornale. He said that the new female mobsters were often entrusted with the “most delicate operations”.
Corrado De Rosa, a psychiatrist and expert witness in mafia trials, said differences remained in the roles assumed by the different sexes in criminal organisations. But he agreed that the role of women was expanding rapidly.
“Women are not usually the ones who commit violence. But today they are much more active and powerful,” he said. They know the workings of the mafia and they increasingly at the centre of its business, and they study and learn.”
“This helps them advance in the clans but it also put them at risk, and they can find themselves as the targets of attacks,” he added, referring to the killing of D’Amico. “For some time they’ve been involved in smuggling and have hidden cigarettes in their skirts. But these days they collect extortion money and deal drugs. So it’s not surprising more of them are being killed.”
Anna Maria Licciardi, Rosetta Cutolo and Raffaella D’Alterio are all notorious figures from the Naples underworld. D’Alterio, nicked-named the “Big Kitten”, was arrested in 2012, six years after she had assumed control of clan operations following the murder of her husband. But three years after becoming leader she suffered gunshot wounds as part of the endless turf wars in the city’s lucrative drugs trade.
Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, has stuck to traditional male and female roles longer than the Camorra. “But even in Sicily things are changing,” said Mr De Rosa. The roles of women in the ‘Ndrangheta, a Calabrian criminal organisation, were also expanding, he said. “They know the rules and when husbands are arrested they can take over the clan.”
The case of mother of five Marino is a sign of the changing times. She is thought to have assumed control of finances in the Porta Nuova clan of Palermo after her husband, Tommaso Lo Presti, was jailed in April last year. Police also believed she took charge of drug-trafficking activies, and along with the other 37 peopled held on Wednesday this week, she faces charges of mafia association, extortion, fraud and weapons offences.
But both crime groups lag behind the more anarchic Camorra in terms of equal opportunities, however. Experts note that Camorristi aren’t bothered how they are portrayed or what other people think as long as they’re able to function and carrying on making money.
Their laissez-faire attitude to gender roles was evident when, in February 2009, police arrested a 27-year-old transsexual, Ugo “Ketty” Gabriele, on suspicion of being a Camorra drug smuggler.
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