The Murder and Trials

A group of ex-First World War soldiers from Milan appear to have been responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the secretary of the Socialist Party on the afternoon of 10 June 1924. The group was made up of Amerigo Dumini, Albino Volpi, Giuseppe Viola, Augusto Malacria and Amleto Poveromo. The responsibilities of Filippo Panzeri and Aldo Putato have never been confirmed, in spite of them almost certainly being present at the kidnapping. The Austrian Otto Thierschald was a fundamental part of the group too., in providing information. These men formed the so-called Ceka, a specialist group controlled by the fascist leaders and used against opponents who proved to be particularly hostile. They had already been used against both dissident fascists, as well as liberal and republican members of parliament.

The Ceka group was run by the head of the Cabinet press office Cesare Rossi, and the administrative secretary of the national fascist Party Giovanni Marinelli. But their activities couldn’t have been carried out without the support of the men at the top, the head of the police, Emilio De Bono, who gave them false documents, thus ensuring them a cover and impunity.

The arrest of men from the Ceka group, thanks to a series of witnesses, aroused such amazement and outrage all over the country that the stability of the fascist government was threatened. Protest marches were organized and frequent special editions of the newspapers sold like hot cakes. Mussolini ordered Rossi, Marinelli, and De Bono to resign, to relieve the growing pressure on his government. Aldo Finzi, already involved in the casino question, was replaced as Under-secretary to the Home Office.

The public prosecutor took over the investigation of the kidnapping and murder, and the case was assigned to Mauro Del Giudice, president of the investigation office, together with the deputy prosecutor Guglielmo Tancredi. The investigation moved forward quickly when Matteotti’s jacket was found on 13 August 1924, a few days before the discovery of his body in the thick woods of Quartarella, a few hundred metres from via Flaminia. Examination of the body proved that Matteotti died in the car used in the kidnapping and his death was almost definitely caused by a knife wound to the heart.

Many scholars believe the speech Matteotti gave on 30 May 1924 in which he strongly contested the validity of the 6 April elections , led to the fascist aggression which resulted in his death. Matteotti denounced the beating of candidates from the opposition, the polling stations manned exclusively by fascists, and the fact that candidates were even prevented from entering the polling stations. He also showed what happened in 6 out of 15 wards, where signatures which should have been made in the presence of a solicitor actually took place with no legal supervision.

However a purely political motive for the murder left some questions unanswered: particularly the care taken with the documents that Matteotti had with him at the time of the kidnapping, which were never found . Matteotti and his staff knew that after his speech on 30 May he was going to speak again, on the budget this time, a speech which would be very critical of the government’s ineptitude and manipulations.

It is also highly likely that Mussolini feared an attack on the stipulation of the agreement with Sinclair Oil, an American oil company that laid hands on 100 thousand hectares of Italian land in May 1924. During negotiations it emerged that the company had co-interests with other companies and had bribed government officials in the United States: The Teapot Dome scandal. Matteotti took great interest in the question, and even wrote a long article (“Machiavelli, Mussolini and fascism“) which the British magazine “English Life” only published after his death, in July. In the article he said he was certain that the agreement between the Italian government and Sinclair was concealing bribes in favour of some high-ranking fascists, and that this money was used by the fascists to finance their own newspapers.

Rossi and Marinelli can be held responsible for the organization of the crime, De Bono and Finzi for hindering the investigation and suppression of evidence, but this responsibility should be extended to Mussolini, who was their superior and point of reference. After the case was closed Mussolini was hostile to those who said fascism was responsible (Rossi and Finzi) but benevolent towards those who waited to see the outcome of events: Marinelli and De Bono. During their detention, when they were on the run, and above all in the following years Mussolini had large sums of money paid to Matteotti’s killers, clearly to buy their silence. Letters from Dumini to his lawyer clearly show that he was involved: the Tuscan squad member was convinced he was carrying out the leader’s orders sent via Rossi and Marinelli. He wrote: “ a crime undoubtedly committed by us, but it was ordered- and we carried it out, like many others before- with blind obedience, and after we had been guaranteed absolute impunity”. There were two investigations into the Matteotti case between 1924 and 1925: by the Prosecution office of the Rome Appeal Court, and by a Senate investigation commission set up in the High Court to try Emilio De Bono. The former was forced to stop work in December 1924, after Giuseppe Donati, editor of the Catholic magazine “Il Popolo” denounced the head of the police, and a judgement of nonsuit was requested for all sixteen charges against him.

The records then went back to the magistrates court, even though meanwhile the president Del Giudice had been replaced and Tancredi replaced by Nicodemo Del Vasto, the brother-in-law of Roberto Farinacci, who was the fascist party’s political secretary. On 9 October 1925 the public prosecutor requested the indictment of Dumini, Volpi, Viola, Poveromo, and Malacria for murder. The government decided to have the trial in the nearby town of Chieti, to avoid any public protests. On 18 January 1926 however, the Matteotti family, associated with the public prosecutor, decided to withdraw from the trial. The significance of Farinacci’s presence as Dumini’s lawyer was clear: fascism was directly responsible for the murderers’ defence, The court considered the murder to be manslaughter, even taking into consideration the victim’s weak constitution as a mitigating circumstance, and totally excluded the business motive. Dumini, Poveromo and Volpi were sentenced to 5 years , 11 months and 20 days. When the amnesty came into force on 31 July 1925 Malacria and Volpi were set free, while the others spent two more months in prison.

On 27 July 1944 Act of Parliament n159 reopened the case when the sentences of the Rome court on 1 December 1925 and the Chieti one on 24 March 1926 were considered non existent. The only surviving defendants accused of the actual murder present in court were Dumini and Poveromo. Viola and Malacria ( who died in March 1934) were considered fugitives. Mussolini was charged with complicity in the kidnapping and murder, as well as for setting up the Ceka group, and was held to be the instigator of the countless punitive raids carried out by the violent group. Cesare Rossi got away with amnesty, while Dumini, Viola and Poveromo were sentenced to life imprisonment, later commuted to thirty years. Poveromo died in a Parma prison in 1952; Dumini was pardoned and finally freed on 23 March 1956.

Valentino Zaghi