Cortazzone, the parish priest killed with six bullets while growing peppers in the garden

from Frederick Ferrero

A carabiniere, after the inspection said: «This is a crime in many ways without cause. Whoever killed was stationed and struck with care. As if, to shoot, he had been a madman »

Cortazzone is a village in the Asti Monferrato bordered by the Via Francigena, where the birthday of the centenary grandmother makes news. In 1990 the village parish priest was don Guglielmo, born Guglielmo Alessio, 70 years old, born in the tiny Municipality of Piea. Shepherd of souls said to be mild-mannered; also a bit of a pessimist, with a crepuscular character, perhaps disillusioned by the evils of the world and by the emptiness of the human being. On October 15th he was picking peppers in the land of Varasone, which he tended near the rectory; not seeing him return, the neighbors warned the neighboring peasants. They found him in the middle of the garden, dead. There and then, it was thought of a hunting accident: the area was frequented by several hunting enthusiasts. The autopsy of Professor Baima Bollone, however, gave another response: the don had been killed on purpose, not with a rifle but with a 357 Magnum, not with one shot but with six bullets, all targeting the chest. A voluntary murder, an execution. Shots fired from the bottom up, as if they had been fired by someone lurking and crouching. There was no sign of a struggle, although the parish priest was missing the wallet in which, according to the sisters, he probably still kept the six hundred thousand lire of his recently withdrawn pension. No one had witnessed the events or seen people approaching or leaving the garden that afternoon.

The victim’s car, a worthless red Fiat 127, was still parked at the side of the plot. Among the first elements collected in the investigation file, the complaints of the priest for the presence, in that land, of a group of nomads who used to insist on asking him for money and other utilities. But that a denial could lead to such a ruthless impulse reaction was not thought plausible. Talking to locals, it emerged that Don Guglielmo was really the last person to turn to for a crime against property: to celebrate fifty years of priesthood, the civic administration had taken care of paying for a frugal refreshment; some church volunteers had given him a robe and chalice for services, along with a commemorative plaque. If the robbery of the wallet was not considered a reasonable lead, there was nothing left but to think of other motives. The accurate scanning of the life of the prelate only led to the identification of a tense relationship with an inhabitant of the town, a house painter who had recently moved to Brianza. He had had financial difficulties and it was hypothesized that a request for help was not accepted but his alibi was unassailable.

It took months to move the investigators’ work: in the spring of 1991, a pistol of the same make and model as the one used for the murder was found, not far from the town, buried in a reed bed. The ballistic examination confirmed that it was the weapon used by the priest’s killer: the serial number was visible and was traced back to the theft of the pistol suffered, a few months before the events in Cortazzone, by a Milan security guard. Additionally, an incomplete print was isolated. To which a name was connected: Zordan Diorgievic. A young offender specialized in lending himself as a driver for “hits” in Lombardy, Piedmont and Tuscany. The rest of his crew had already been in prison for a few months. Above all, this Ljubisa Vrbanovic, known as Manolo. Then his younger brother, Miso. It had not been possible to capture Manolo’s partner, Ivica Bairic, who had committed suicide in order not to end up in the hands of the agents. Except that the crimes for which the four were arrested had nothing to do with the poor country priest: after a firefight with the Belgrade police, after yet another robbery, Manolo had confessed to a bloody crime unfortunately forgotten by most, the Pontevico massacre.

On the night of August 15th 1990, the four had broken into the villa of the Viscardi family, in the province of Brescia, killing everyone: their father Giuliano, their mother Agnese and their children, Maria Francesca and Luciano. Only the third son, Guido, had survived because he had recently married and was living in another house. The Brescia trial established that the gang had “enjoyed” playing shooting with the poor family, guilty of not keeping the money and goods at home that the robbers were convinced they would find. And the chilling modality of that action recalled the words of a carabiniere, after the inspection of the murder of Cortazzone: «This is a crime in many ways without cause. Whoever killed was stationed and struck with care. As if he had been crazy to shoot.” Or one who took pleasure in taking life. For the killing of poor Don Alessio, only Diorgievic was sentenced to life imprisonment in Italy, because there was proof of the use of the pistol. Elements were missing to nail the others. But, in the meantime, the material executor was already on the run in Yugoslavia. Only two months had passed since the massacre in Brescia and no one could think that that gang around Cortazzone was the same one that trailed a trail of robberies and crimes, motivated by nothing more than the lust for blood. Manolo, never convicted of the death of Don Guglielmo, according to the Serbian authorities died in 2014 in prison.

The survivor of Pontevico still has doubts about the actual death of the “yellow-eyed” criminal, as reported in the news. If the gang really killed a village priest in the province of Asti, however, the reason why he had chosen precisely that village and precisely that don with a humble existence and devoted to the poorest escapes. This story is missing a piece that, in all likelihood, no one will tell. A 2015 book, “Life of a parish priest, history of an era” (Athens editions of Canavese) tried to restore justice to the works of a simple and genuine man, good and “authentic witness of the word of Christ”, as well as to give meaning to his death, citing a crime that occurred some time earlier in the area as a possible source of the murderous expedition. But it remained a conjecture.

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November 22, 2022

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Cortazzone, the parish priest killed with six bullets while growing peppers in the garden