Cold case di Sicilia: the scarred dancer in Cala

Think long and hard before taking a bouquet of flowers at the hospital to a beautiful hospitalized patient. And above all, avoid leaving a copy of Puzzle Week lying around with a completed crossword. Because? Simple: you could be in a cell for premeditated murder. exaggerated? This is instead what happened – precisely on the basis of these two “serious” leads – to a young Czechoslovakian in Palermo in the 1970s.

The story of Jiri Laski, for his friends Giorgio, 32 at the time of the facts, is worthy of an appendix, complete with suggestive characters and twists: a nightclub dancer, an attack, a beautiful scarred face, a murder, a handwriting assessment, a crooked commissioner convinced that he had found a perpetrator beyond all doubt, a foreigner left to rot in prison for a year and a half, an anonymous message to exonerate him. And above all, the shadow of the mafia is inescapable. But by a strange “cultural” mafia that is able to use elegant terms and misleading studies.

The background. We are in February 1976. A charming Czech dancer, Lina Kottova, livens up the evening at the most exclusive nightclub in town, the Mirage in via Emerico Amari. He has a contract of a few months, obtained together with a dancer of his countryman. One day, in Piazza Fonderia, at Cala, the crime happens, unfortunately at the time, repeated against a tourist who ventured in these parts: From one of the alleys of Vucciria, two boys arrive and attack Lina and drag her to to take possession of the handbag. However, they do not deal with the dancer’s musculature and her ability to react: Lina resists, defends herself, manages to protect her bag. The two robbers fail in their intention, but one of the two, angry, pulls out a knife and cuts the girl’s face in revenge. Lina ends up in the hospital and on the pages of the newspapers. And here, thanks to the detailed report complete with photos of Lina that appeared in a newspaper, our protagonist, Jiri Laski, enters the scene.

Jiri, the son of a Czech aristocrat, arrived in Palermo in 1968. The Prague Spring, crushed by Russian tanks, consolidated in him the decision to leave royal socialism and find a new life in a Western country. He got a scholarship, he’s brilliant and likable and doesn’t take long to make friends, despite his heated anti-communism, even among left-wing youth. He is successful with girls, he settles down well and finds hospitality at Casa Professa and becomes the protégé of the Jesuits. When the scholarship has expired, he will share an apartment in Vucciria with other companions, including a brilliant researcher in philosophy who will later hold a professorship for a long time, as well as a faithful champion of his innocence: Professor Gianni Rigamonti. Jiri is given the opportunity to enter the Banco di Sicilia research office, but to fill the position he must wait to obtain Italian citizenship. Having also achieved this goal, the prospect of peaceful stability opens up for him: he has a job, is well-liked, he can even rent his own apartment in via Maqueda. And here one day he reads what happened to Lina. A reaction is triggered in him, which is a mixture of wounded homeland pride, the desire to redeem Palermo, who has adopted him, seasoned with a generous pinch of bravery. So he goes to pay tribute to his compatriot in the hospital with a bouquet of roses, invites her to dinner, maybe goes to see her. There is nothing wrong with that, nor dangerous. Until, on March 13, a macabre discovery, announced by a phone call to Ansa – antiliteram method used by the terrorists – which invites us to “discover” what is inside a 127 parked in via Aleardi. In the trunk there is a “hogtied” boy: he will be identified as Tanino Cacioppo, 16 years old. He is covered in plastic bags, his body bound by a suffocating web of rope. On the neck there is a sign, with an inscription made with the red Lampostyle, all in capital letters: “I am the one who cut off the face of the tourist from Vucciria. It is (sic) this servant of (sic) ) warning to those worms , who, like me, throw mud to (sic) Sicily”.

With the murder of poor Tanino, the story of Lina takes a qualitative leap: now the investigators – perhaps – no longer have to find a robber, but a murderer. The modalities of the crime should immediately make us think of mafia techniques, but there is the phone call to Ansa, above all the polished and at the same time ungrammatical writing, which leads the commissioner dealing with the investigations to hypothesize a different background. And here is the trap for Jiri Laski. Someone reports on his gallant visit to the hospital, in the ballerina’s room there is a note with the banker’s address and the note, in Czech, “books for Jiri”. But speaking of writing, the shocking discovery for the police is a crossword puzzle found in Laski’s home. He was immediately seized as a possible body of the crime, subjected to examination by three calligraphy experts appointed by the prosecution. They give their sentence: the letter “Q” in the crossword and the sign on the boy’s body are identical. Yes, there is some concern about the similarity of the “M”, but in short, according to the experts, the “Q” is the killer’s signature. It does not mean much that Laski has an unassailable alibi for the night between March 12 and 13, when the murder took place. The reconstruction of the investigators is relentless. Wasn’t he the one who killed himself? Then he will have been superintendent, says the commissioner. And how is it possible that a foreigner has the power to order a crime? He must have had the right contacts, the inspector replies, thanks to his home in Vucciria and the knowledge of the smugglers from whom he bought foreign cigarettes. And what would the motive be? Said soon, the commissioner explains that he was in love with the dancer and wanted to avenge her. And that’s what it says on the sign? Typical of an educated foreigner, the investigators’ thesis, just think of the word “warning” and the first ungrammatical “I am what I have”, is compatible with the literal translation of a thought expressed in the Bohemian language.

Laski ends up in prison, but the surprises don’t stop. Friends and colleagues speak out in favor of his innocence. And the same management of Banco di Sicilia takes the field generously and prepares the expenses of a formidable college of defenders, among which the prince of the Milan Forum Gian Domenico Pisapia stands out. The handwriting assessment of the part overturns the prosecution’s thesis, and it is noted that the offending sentence would also fit perfectly with the “translation” from Sicilian: “Io sugnu chiddu ‘ca tagghiò’ a face”.

Lina Kottova, for her part, denies any intimate relationship with Laski, and after finishing her work, she returns to Czechoslovakia and leaves the place definitively: only her first statement issued in Palermo will be read during the trial. In the meantime, however, the investigators have traced through the victim, Tanino Cacioppo, back to the second suspected snapper: Antonino Ribaudo, 17 years old. He will be considered the author of the scar and sentenced to seven and a half years for this, but without any overwhelming evidence. And with an inconsistency: if he is the stabber, why kill Tanino? A mistake? And made by whom?

The scaffolding of accusations begins to crumble. Beyond the disputed investigation of the crossword puzzle, there is little left in the hands of the investigators. A new message, also written in a red Lampostyle, exonerates Laski and claims that the two boys are also not related to the grip: Tanino, the anonymous claims, would have been killed for other “mistakes”.

The newspaper L’Ora, meanwhile, leaks an indiscretion: a sign similar to the one that framed Laski was made to disappear from the body of another boy, perhaps precisely so as not to compromise the outcome of the trial. Process that for the Czechoslovak banker, after 18 months in prison, ends at 5:30 p.m. 17 January 1978: acquittal for lack of evidence for Jiri Laski (full formula to come later, on appeal); sentenced to 7 years and 5 months for Antonino Ribaudo, an even harsher sentence for personal reasons to 8 and a half years for two co-accused accused of complicity and perjury to try to cover the responsibility of the robber.

Laski emerges in the tumult of his followers, regains freedom and a job. Not so happy are Ribaudo’s family who, despite cheering on the Czech, find themselves with their relative in charge of the whole affair. Absolute darkness, however, on the most serious crime, murder. And at that point, despite the inspector’s convictions, the mafia trail – the one with the punishment of a boy who went out of his way to disrupt the control of the territory imposed by Cosa Nostra – is the only one that can be raised. However, it will not be erected. Or perhaps the wall of silence will not be scratched by a supplement of investigations. However, there are still several doubts and inconsistencies: was the mafia really the author of the macabre press release? Did you use someone who could choose these words so balanced between mistakes and polished expressions? Were the two boys, Cacioppo and Ribaudo, really the authors of the assault? And why was only one of them brutally eliminated? Why was there never an acknowledgment from the dancer? And last but not least: wasn’t there really an option for a third number? Questions now buried by the dust and legal acts of time.

And Jiri Laski after his accident? Let’s talk to his friend, Professor Rigamonti: “He had stood in prison with great calmness and indulgence. He had also denied, at Ucciardone, the “availability” of a boss who wanted to give him a hand. After obtaining acquittal, the management of the Banco di Sicilia offered him the opportunity to move to Rome. He later married and had three children. Then he fell ill.”
Jiri Laski died, as if a whole season of history would disappear with him, on the night of December 31, 1999.

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