Raffaele “the Professor” Cutolo, one of the most feared and powerful bosses of the Neapolitan Camorra, spent most of his adult life in jail. And it was in a prison bed on Wednesday that he was found dead, aged 79.
His imprisonment didn’t deter him from ordering murders, forging criminal ties and sparking a war that left several hundred people dead in the early 1980s. Cutolo, whose life inspired films and songs, transformed his prison cell into his criminal office, from where he recruited thousands of members into the Camorra who, once freed, committed murders on his orders.
“Because of his strong ties with politicians, Cutolo was a piece of the Italianstate,” said the Gomorrah writer and author, Roberto Saviano. “He was very powerful, more than a prime minister.”
Born in 1941, Cutolo was 22 when he committed his first murder. Following a brawl, he killed a young man who had made advances toward his sister. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison, where his criminal career continued in the form of physical assault against fellow inmates. Early on he challenged the alleged first boss of the Camorra, Antonio Spavone, to a duel. Cutolo asked him to come armed with a flick knife to Poggioreale prison’s internal courtyard, but Spavone didn’t show up. That tacit refusal earned Cutolo the respect of the other inmates and bolstered his criminal credentials.
In the Poggioreale prison, at the end of the 70s, Cutolo founded the New Organised Camorra (NCO) with the purpose of renewing the old, rural Camorra. The boss also devised an initiation ritual that included an oath: “The day when the people of Campania understand it is better to eat a slice of bread as a free man than to eat a steak as a slave is the day when Campania will win.”