Giovanni Brusca, known as "The Pig" due to his unquenchable thirst for blood, killed between 100 and 200 people in ways that make other gangsters seem tame.
He was known as “The Slaughterer,” “The Executioner,” and even as “The Pig” both for his body shape and his appetites — including, as TIME wrote, “his thirst for blood.” For nearly 20 years starting in the late 1970s, whoever the Sicilian Mafia wanted dead, Giovanni Brusca would kill them without hesitation.
Eventually, Brusca had murdered so many people that he lost count and could only say that his kill total was somewhere between 100 and 200, which could make him the deadliest Mafia hitman of all time.
Murder was his business. “In his heart, a Mafioso isn’t a bloodthirsty person or a terrorist,” Brusca said. “The rule is that he kills on behalf of the organization.”
And for Giovanni Brusca, there was never any life outside of that organization. He was born into a long line of Mafia members in San Giuseppe Jato, Sicily in 1957. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father had all been in the Mafia, with his father still the local boss in his hometown.
The lifestyle of a Mafioso was ingrained into Brusca from an early age. At five, he had already been to prison — not as an inmate, that would come later — but to visit his father. As he grew older, he aided fugitives on the run with food and clothing and cleaned his father’s weapons, which were stashed and buried in nearby fields.
At just 18, Giovanni Brusca killed his first victim. A year later, he killed his second, gunning the target down outside a crowded cinema with a double-barrelled shotgun.
With two kills to his name, he was officially initiated into the Mafia by “the boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina. Once an official member, Brusca started out as a driver for another boss, Bernardo Provenzano.
But it wasn’t long before Brusca was tasked with doing what he did best: torturing and killing.
Often, he’d torture victims first to “make them talk,” when that was part of the assignment. But they usually didn’t because they knew they were going to die anyway.
Either way, torture at the hands of Giovanni Brusca might typically last for half an hour, which probably seemed like an eternity for the victim as Brusca proceeded from breaking their legs with a hammer to attacking their ears with pliers.
Finally, he and his men would often strangle their victim, which itself regularly took an agonizing ten minutes. Two men would hold the victim’s feet, another two his arms, while a fifth slipped a thin nylon cord around his neck and garrotted him to death.
Once the victim was dead, Brusca had creative ways of dispatching with corpses. “I’ve dissolved bodies in acid; I’ve roasted corpses on big grills; I’ve buried the remains after digging graves with an earthmover,” he wrote in his memoirs. “Some pentiti [former criminals] say today they feel disgust for what they did. I can speak for myself: I’ve never been upset by these things.”
And if such excruciating methods of torturing, killing, and corpse disposal suggest something that these murders were in any way crimes of passion, that simply was not the case. Most of the time, Brusca didn’t know the victim. A boss would give the order and he’d follow it. It was that simple.
On one occasion, he was given a time and place to kill an unidentified target on a certain make of tractor. Three different people passed by on three different tractors. So Brusca killed them all.
But Giovanni Brusca didn’t just commit murders, he helped waged war against the Italian government itself. In the 1980s, as part of Riina’s death squad, Brusca and his men battled with police using AK-47s and targeted prosecutors with car bombs.
The first to die was Palermo chief prosecutor Rocco Chinnici in July 1983. The force of the explosion blew the car three stories high before it plummeted back to Earth. Two bodyguards died with Chinnici and 20 bystanders sustained injuries.
Chinnici had created the Antimafia Pool, a group of magistrates set on bringing the organization down. With Chinnici’s death, Giovanni Falcone took over as head of the Antimafia Pool. He was given unprecedented powers to crack down on the Sicilian Mafia. Between Feb. 1986 and Jan. 1992, more than 300 Mafiosi were given life sentences (including Riina, although he had fled and thus received his sentence in absentia).
By 1990, many of the Mafiosi brought down by Falcone had appealed and were released on technicalities, with only 30 remaining behind bars (while some in the government meanwhile tried to cut a deal with the Mafia to stop prosecutions in order to halt the bloodshed). However, in January, Falcone and fellow Antimafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino had many of the appeals thrown out and some of the previously successful ones overturned.
Now more than ever, Falcone and Borsellino had targets on their backs — and both were indeed killed in car bombs two months apart from each other in 1992.
Giovanni Brusca later admitted to detonating the bomb that killed Falcone, his wife, and two Sicilian special anti-terrorist agents assigned to protect him.
With Falcone’s assassination on May 23, 1992, the Mafia launched an unprecedented war against the state.
Riina unleashed hell, using car bombs against police and even blowing up entire government buildings. Meanwhile, Brusca strangled the boss of the rival Alcamo crime family, who resented Riina’s authority, as well as the boss’ pregnant partner.
Law enforcement then retaliated against all of this bloodshed and arrested a key Mafioso, Mario Santo Di Matteo, who was an accomplice of Brusca’s in the assassination of Falcone.
Before long, Di Matteo became a government informant and spoke to authorities about everyone involved in the assassination, including Giovanni Brusca. But first, Di Matteo’s information led to the capture of Riina by officers of Italy’s paramilitary national police force, the Carabinieri, at a traffic light on Jan. 15, 1993. At his trial in Oct. 1993, Riina received a life sentence.
With Rina behind bars, Brusca emerged as a top mafia boss. One of his first orders of business was punishing Di Matteo for his betrayal.
In 1993, Brusca kidnapped Di Matteo’s 11-year-old son, Giuseppe, to try and persuade Di Matteo to recant his testimony. Over a 28-month period, Brusca tortured the boy while starving him and keeping him locked in a cage. They even sent photos of the battered boy to his father. Finally, in Jan. 1996, when the boy was 14, Brusca had him strangled to death and his body dissolved in acid.
And it was all to no avail. Di Matteo did not recant and his information led to Brusca being convicted in absentia for detonating the car bomb that killed Falcone.
Authorities finally tracked down and captured the man they had convicted in absentia on May 20, 1996 when they caught the 39-year-old Brusca in the Sicilian countryside near Agrigento.
Four hundred men surrounded the house he and his family were staying in. When 30 men raided the house at 9 p.m., they found Brusca and his family watching a television programme on Falcone. The fourth anniversary of his assassination was in two days time.
But despite Brusca’s vengeance against Di Matteo for becoming an informer, now that he was caught, he soon became one himself.
Brusca’s testimony led to Riina receiving additional sentences for ordering the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino. Despite his cooperation, Giovanni Brusca himself is now serving multiple life sentences — a fitting end for a man who had such a grisly career.
After this look at Giovanni Brusca, see some intense Letizia Battaglia photos that’ll take you right into the bloody heart of the Sicilian Mafia. Then, see what life was like inside Murder Inc., the New York mob’s deadly hit squad.