Giuseppe Pinelli and daughters, 1960s.

GIUSEPPE PINELLI had been at home at 6.00 a.m. that 12 December. Home was the apartment at 2, Via Preneste in Milan, in the San Siro district, a strange mixture of mansions, small bungalows with gardens, swimming pools and petit bourgeois condominiums. Pinelli had just come off the night shift where he was a driver in the goods yard at the Porta Garibaldi station. One hour later his wife Licia woke their daughters, Silvia and Claudia, made them breakfast and walked them to school. Then she did some errands before returning home. At around 11.00 a,m., they had a caller whom she disliked — Nino Sottosanti.  Licia was washing the floor. “Go through and I’ll wake him’, she told Sottosanti.  Then she left to collect the girls.

By the time she returned, Pinelli and Sottosanti were discussing the case of Tito Pulsinelli who was in jail with some other young anarchists in connection with the 25 April 1969 bombings at Milan’s Central Railway Station and the Milan Show ground. Pulsinelli was also accused of being the perpetrator of the attack on the Garibaldi police barracks on 19 January 1969.

Nino Sottosanti — 'Nino the Fascist'

Sottosanti was in a position to provide Pulsinelli with an alibi for the night in question. Why? Sottosanti was infatuated with the young Pulsinelli and they had spent the night of the attack together. Pinelli, a founder member of the Croce nera anarchica (Anarchist Black Cross), was obliged, in that capacity, to come into contact with this ambiguous individual whose friends included a number of far-right extremists.

Sottosanti, a former Foreign Legion volunteer, was an admirer of Benito Mussolini and a one-time caretaker at the premises of Nuova Repubblica. At the rallies that were held from time to time in the Piazza Duomo, Sottosanti was known simply as “Nino the fascist” or “Nino the Mussolinian”.

At 2.00. pm., Pinelli and Sottosanti left to change a 15, 000 lire money order for Sottosanti, reimbursing him for his travel expenses. The order was drawn on the Croce nera account with Bureau No 11 at the Banca del Monte in Milan. First they stopped for a coffee at a bar in the Via Morgantini. The pair went their separate ways in the Via Pisanello, where the bank was located. Sottosanti left for Pero where Pulsinelli’s parents lived. According to Lucio Pulsinelli’s statement, he arrived there at 4.30 pm.

Pinelli caught the No 13 to the Porta Garibaldi station where he posted a letter to Paolo Faccioli, another of the anarchists arrested in connection with the 25 April attacks.

Giuseppe Pinelli (1969)

The letter was a simple one, but it says a lot about Pinelli:

“Dear Paolo, this is a belated reply to your letter as I have little time available to write as I would like to do. But, as your mother will have explained to you, we will be keeping in regular contact and up to date on everything.  I hope the situation with the lawyers has been cleared up. I should like you to carry on working, not for the sake of any privileges it might earn, but to keep your mind occupied, hour after endless hour. The time you spend studying will certainly not be enough to fill your day. I have invited the comrades from Trento to keep in touch with those from Bolzano to avert any duplication of activity. Anarchism is not violence — which we reject — but we are loath to be subjected to it either. That is a reasonable and responsible position and the bourgeois press also accepts that. We can only hope that the bench will grasp it as well. No one can fathom the magistrates’ conduct in your case. Since your mother does not want me to send you money, I will send you books, non-political ones as they would only return political ones. Have you read ‘Spoon River Anthology’, a classic of American poetry. As far as other books go, you must let me have the titles. Here, on the outside, we are trying to do our best. Everybody sends you their best wishes, with special best wishes from me and in hope that we shall see each other soon. Yours, Pino.”

At this point a reconstruction of Pinelli’s afternoon becomes complicated. A few patrons of the bar in the Via Preneste — Mario Magni, Mario Pozzi, Luigi Palombino and Mario Stracchi — insist that Pinelli played cards with them from 3.00 to 3.30 until around 5.00 – 5.30, confirming the alibi Pinelli gave to brigadiere Carlo Mainardi, who questioned him.

But the examining magistrate, Gerardo D’Ambrosio, in his findings of 27 October 1975 (the one that cleared all those connected with Pinelli’s death, inventing a new category in world medicine — “active misfortune”) argues that these witnesses are confusing events with the previous day. He focused on the fact that the bar owner, Pietro Gaviorno, refuted their statements and insisted that Pinelli had coffee with a stranger and then left.

D’Ambrosio found a conflict in the timing of Pinelli’s movements, mainly due to the fact “that public security officer Carmine Di Giorgio insisted he was almost certain that he did not play cards that day. “Di Giorgio was another patron of the bar and his “near certainty” carried much more weight than the certainty of the others. D’Ambrosio was able, therefore, to argue that the latter were confused:

“Moreover, it is not insignificant, apropos of the errors concerning the day of the card game, that Pozzi, Palombino and Stracchi were present when Magni was interviewed by reporters. The suggestion which might have flowed from that is evident.”

In any event, after playing cards, or not, Pinelli made his way to the Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa premises at 31 Piazzale Lugano where he met Ivan Guarnieri, another Croce nera (Anarchist Black Cross) member, and another young anarchist, Paolo Erda. At what time? Sometime between 5.00 and 6.00 p.m.

Pinelli travelled by motorbike, a Benelli, as usual. It was past its best, but it was his pride and joy. He drove to the Circolo in the Via Scaldasole, arriving shortly before 7.00 p.m. This was a recently opened anarchist meeting place in a basement of a crumbling apartment block close to the Porta Ticinese. There was much restoration work yet to be done. Pinelli also wanted to speak to an anarchist recently arrived from Sardinia, Sergio Ardau, whom he knew he would find there.

Before reaching the Circolo, Pinelli, a chain smoker, stopped to buy some cigarettes. It was from the tobacconist that he first heard the news about the Banca dell’Agricoltura.

Circolo Ponte della Ghisolfa (31 Piazzale Lugano, Milan)

Pinelli found Ardau at the Via Scaldasole, but he was not on his own. With him were three police officers led by the deputy head of the Milan political police squad, Dr. Luigi Calabresi.

“Ah, so you’re here too”, said Calabresi to Pinelli. “Come to headquarters. You can follow us on your bike.”

Ardau was escorted to a car by the police. En route, Calabresi told Ardau: “There is a definite anarchist hand in these attacks.” Then he asked after “that criminal nut-case Valpreda,” adding:

“You two are good guys, but you have to face the fact that louche types like this nutcase Valpreda with his gang of youngsters and their criminal hotheadedness force us to take serious steps that may well backfire on you as well. We cannot tolerate any longer that which we tolerated in the past. Remember, 14 people have lost their lives and don’t you or anybody else tell me that it was the fascists. This is an anarchist job, there’s no question about that. You should be helping us to track them down and stop them before they kill again.”

This was the conversation as remembered by Sergio Ardau. Pinelli, meanwhile, was following behind on his motorbike. It would be his penultimate trip. His final journey would be from a fourth floor window of police headquarters in the Via Fatebenefratelli.

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