Death of Pinelli by Flavio Costantini

HAD THE interrogation reached a crucial point or was it proceeding according to the usual routine? Was he excited or relaxed? Had the suspect’s alibi fallen apart or did it still stand? Was the atmosphere in the room calm or violent? Was the window shut, partly open or wide open? These are questions that cannot be answered with certainty because the witnesses contradicted themselves time and time again. Contradicting each other and themselves. The final hours of Giuseppe Pinelli’s life are locked in the accounts of his police interrogators, whom a large segment of public opinion holds responsible for his death.

The truth was laid to rest with Pinelli in Musocco cemetery in Milan and later, in 1981, in Carrara cemetery.

That night Inspector Luigi Calabresi, officers Vito Panessa, Giuseppe Caracuta, Carlo Mainardi and Pietro Mucilli and carabinieri lieutenant Savino Lograno were interrogating Pinelli on the fourth floor at police headquarters. Then the anarchist railwayman flew through the window.

At midnight on 15 December, L’Unità reporter Aldo Palumbo left the pressroom at headquarters for a cigarette.  He was standing in the courtyard when he heard a thud, followed by a further two thuds. Something had bounced off the cornice of a number of storeys. Palumbo raced over to find a body sprawled in the flowerbed. He raced off to fetch the police and his colleagues. Was this at midnight or several minutes before midnight? Or were we already into 16 December? Another unresolved question.

Milan Police Headquarters (re-enactment of circumstances of Pinelli's murder)

The exact time of Pinelli’s fall was to become another teaser in this tortuous tale. Was the request from headquarters for an ambulance made before Pinelli ”fell”, or afterwards? That is a mystery. One that Gerardo D’Ambrosio attempted to clear up with his celebrated finding of “active misfortune” that left everyone in the clear while fully rehabilitating Pinelli. D’Ambrosio wrote:

“Pinelli lit up a cigarette offered to him by Mainardi. The air in the room was unbearably stale, so he opened the balcony window and went over to the rail for a breath of fresh air. He suddenly suffered a dizzy spell, made a clumsy attempt to save himself, and his body tumbled over the rail into the void.”

Milan Police Headquarters (re-enactment)

There you have it all.

Gerardo D'Ambro, Examining Magistrate (right) in Police HQ courtyard

D’Ambrosio gave no consideration to the huge contradictions in the police statements. According to them, Pinelli threw himself from the window exclaiming: “This is the end for anarchy!” The police rushed to stop him. Panessa claimed he managed to grab Pinelli and was left holding one shoe. But the reporters near the corpse saw a shoe on each foot. Also, Pinelli’s hands and arms were uninjured. Had he fallen, he would have raised them instinctively to shield his head.  There was no sign of the injuries (bleeding from the nose and mouth) normally encountered in such cases. None of these contradictions were of any relevance to Judge D’Ambrosio.

Milan Police Headquarter — scene of the crime

D’Ambrosio merely uttered a few critical words regarding the conduct of the interrogators.

To recap: Pinelli was arrested at the Circolo Scaldasole with Sergio Ardau at 7.00 pm. on 12 December and followed them, voluntarily, to police headquarters on his motorbike. His first interrogation did not take place until midnight. They asked him about that “nutcase Valpreda”.

Ardau was transferred on Saturday, 13 December, to San Vittore prison, while Pinelli remained in Special Branch custody.

On the morning of 14 December a police officer telephoned Pinelli’s wife to say: “Madame should let the railways know her husband is unwell and will not be reporting for work.” His tone was friendly: no need to complicate matters with his employers. At 9.30 a.m. on Monday 15 December the anarchist was visited by his mother, Rosa Malacarne, who found him calm, smiling and relaxed. At around 2.30 pm. his wife, Licia, had a telephone call from the political squad: “Madame should ring the railways and tell them her husband has been arrested pending inquiries. Do you understand? You should say he is under arrest.” No more fair play: Pinelli ought to know his job was at risk.

At 10.00 pm., there was another call, this time from Calabresi himself: “Madame should look for her husband’s pass-book.” (The railway worker’s log, recording his travels. Ten minutes later, Licia Pinelli telephoned police headquarters back to say she had found the passbook and at 11.00 pm., an officer arrived to pick it up. Calabresi had another card to play. He resurrected the possibility that he might be implicated in the train bombings on the night of 8-9 August (as Allegra had tried to do some time before).

Pinelli’s last interrogation took place in Calabresi’s room. The inspector himself claimed he left the office before midnight — before Pinelli went through the window — to bring his superiors up to date with how the interrogation was progressing.

Shortly after 1.00 a.m. on 16 December, a couple of reporters went to Pinelli’s home to tell his wife that her husband had had fallen from a window at Milan police headquarters. She immediately telephoned Calabresi: “Why didn’t you tell me?” To which the inspector replied: “We hadn’t time. We have a lot of other things to be doing…”

Investigators examine the crime scene

Pinelli, in the meantime, had been taken to the Fatebenefratelli hospital where three reporters Camilla Cederna, Corrado Stajano and Giampaolo Pansa turned up. Cederna managed to interview Nazzareno Fiorenzano, the duty doctor, who said: “There is no discernible cardiac activity, no pulse, horrific abdominal injuries, a series of gashes on the head. We have tried everything, but nothing can be done. He won’t last long.”

It was 7 April 1970, four months later before Fiorenzano was questioned by the deputy prosecutor, Giuseppe Caizzi. It was this man, Caizzi, who was to wind up the investigation into Pinelli’s death on 21 May 1970.

And the outcome? No culpability. Pinelli had died as the result of “a wholly accidental circumstance.”

The file was passed to the chief examining magistrate Antonio Amati who closed the file on 3 July. On 17 July, in a courtroom all but closed for the holiday period, Caizzi applied to have another file closed: the application by Pinelli’s wife and mother to bring a case against police chief Marcello Guida.

On what basis? We have to return to the night of 15-16 December and to the office of police chief Guida (who had been Mussolini’s governor on Ventotene prison island in 1942). With Guida are Allegra, Calabresi and Lograno. It is the early hours of 16 December as the press are ushered in to hear Guida declare apropos of Pinelli’s death: “He was strongly implicated in abetting the massacre … he was an individualist anarchist … his alibi had fallen through … what else can I say? … he saw that he was done for … an act of despair … in short, a sort of self-incrimination.”

These are the contemporaneous notes Cederna wrote in her note-book.

Camilla Cederna, journalist (L'Espresso), author of the 'Open letter to Inspector Luigi Calabresi'. She was also wrote the book 'Pinelli: una finistra sulla strage' ('Pinelli: a window on the massacre')

Then it was Allegra’s turn. His view of Pinelli had changed recently, because some reports had shown the anarchist in a new light. In his view he was possibly implicated in the Piazza Fontana bombing. This was noted by L’Unità reporter Renata Bottarelli.

Bottarelli also noted Calabresi’s contribution to the press conference: “First he told us that at the time of the fall he was elsewhere; he had momentarily gone to Allegra’s office to brief him on the crucial progress that, he reckoned, had been made during the comparison of evidence. He had in fact cited his dealings with a third person whom he obviously was not in a position to name, leaving him with the impression that knew a lot more than in fact they did. He observed that Pinelli seemed startled and, disturbed by this, ordered the interview be suspended while he briefed Allegra on this turn of events. It was not, in any case, a proper interrogation.”

Chief Inspector Dr Luigi Calabresi

Calabresi later gave a different version of events. But, on the morning of 16 December Guida issued a statement that was, to say the least, bewildering:

“I swear to you that we didn’t kill him! The poor wretch acted in accordance with his own ideas. When he realised that the State, which he fought against, was closing in on him, he did as I would have done — were I an anarchist”.

Remember, though, that Pinelli’s alibi had not in fact fallen through: under questioning, Mario Pozzi had confirmed that Pinelli had played cards with him on the afternoon of 12 December, and a grinning Pinelli had thanked him for it.

Nearly a month later, on 8 January 1970, Calabresi told reporters: “We were caught off guard by his action, not least because we did not think that his position was serious. As far as were concerned, Pinelli was still a decent guy and would probably have been going home the next day […] I can say that we did not regard him as a key witness, but merely as someone to be heard.”

Someone to be heard, yet someone who was being held illegally. His police detention should have expired on the evening of 14 December and the magistrate charged with the investigation, deputy prosecutor Ugo Paolillo, knew nothing about the arrest. Just as he was also in the dark about Valpreda’s having been moved to Rome. In fact, Paolillo had already had the investigation taken out of his hands. From now on everything would be decided at police headquarters in Milan and in the Rome courts.

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