Italian hustler who was convicted of murdering Pasolini in a case which is still shrouded in mystery
GIUSEPPE PELOSI, who has died in Rome aged 59, was the only person convicted of the murder in 1975 of the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini; few people now believe that the official verdict arrived at the truth over the maestro’s killing, about which there have been numerous theories.
At about 10.30pm on November 1 1975, a Saturday night, Pasolini drew up in his Alfa Romeo sports car outside the Gambrinus bar by Rome’s main station, Termini. The writer and director, then 53, was perhaps at the peak of his fame as the turbulent priest of Italian cinema.
In films such as The Gospel According to Matthew (1964), he had denounced many of the orthodoxies of life in an increasingly consumerist Italy. The film that he had just finished making, Salò, an allegory of fascism, would come to be regarded as among the most shocking in the medium, featuring as it did repugnant scenes of sexual degradation.
Pasolini was homosexual and asked the teenage rent boys in the doorway of the bar if any of them fancied a ride in his car. His offer was accepted by the 17-year-old “Pino” Pelosi. They drove to a trattoria where Pasolini bought the boy a meal. At 11.30 they headed for the rowing lake at the port of Ostia, where the director had previously shot footage.
Two hours later, a police patrol stopped Pelosi, who was driving the Alfa the wrong way up the coast road at 100mph. He said that he had stolen the vehicle, but the next morning Pasolini’s corpse was found. The writer had been savagely beaten and crushed by being run over with his car. A ring that Pelosi said he had lost was found under the body.
While on remand, Pelosi allegedly confessed to his cellmate that he had killed Pasolini. He subsequently told police that Pasolini had tried to sexually assault him with a stick (as happens in Salò). He had beaten the director with it before driving off in the dark in a panic. When he appeared in court with bulging bruises on his face, the press dubbed Pelosi “Pino the Frog” and gleefully portrayed Pasolini’s death as a minatory fable of a sordid underworld.
Although the trial judge (the brother of the prime minister Aldo Moro) concluded, on forensic advice, that others had also been present at the killing, Pelosi was convicted of it and given a term of nine-and-a-half years.
He was released in 1983. At once he returned to his career of crime, being caught burgling a flat and then stealing a post office van, although the charges were dropped. The next year, however, he was found guilty of planning to hijack another carrying a billion lire. In all, he was to spend 22 years – more than half of his adult life – in prison. His last conviction, for a drugs bust, was in 2005.
That year, Pelosi began to change his story. He appeared on Italian state television to say that he not been directly involved in Pasolini’s death, which he had witnessed being committed by three unknown men with Sicilian accents. There had long been doubt about his conviction – the police had not kept the crime scene clean and Pelosi had little blood on his clothes when arrested. However, the authorities decided not to reopen the case when it was learnt that Pelosi had been paid for the interview.
None the less, many concluded that the Sicilian assassins included the two Borsellino brothers, drug dealers and far-right activists, who had died of Aids in 1991. Their names had been linked to the murder in 1975 by the journalist Oriana Fallaci, after they had boasted of their involvement to an undercover policeman, but they claimed later to have been lying.
In a memoir published in 2011, Pelosi then stated that, whereas he had hitherto insisted that he had never met Pasolini before the fateful night and had no idea who his client was, he had in fact begun seeing him regularly in the summer. He claimed that he had noticed the Borsellinos following the car on a motorcycle, but had not been able to say so before because of threats against his family.
He also said that he had only pleaded guilty on the advice of his lawyer who had told him he would be out in a month. Pelosi later spoke to the director Abel Ferrara, who in 2014 released a documentary about Pasolini’s death, starring Willem Dafoe. Ferrara noted that Pelosi changed his story every time more money changed hands.
Millions of words have been written about the case, with three main theories emerging. The first has it that the Borsellinos killed Pasolini, having perhaps lured him to the lake with the promise of returning reels of Salò that had been stolen from the set, perhaps by Pelosi.
Their motivation may have been hatred of Pasolini’s politics, as well as his homosexuality. Alternatively, they might have been being used by shadowy forces of the Right who, in a decade of much political violence, were engaged in a covert battle with the Left. More specifically, it is claimed that Pasolini was planning to expose industrial corruption at the heart of the state in his next book.
More banally, Pasolini may have been the victim of a shakedown by Pelosi and his friends at the bar which had simply gone wrong. The ring which had been found belonged to “Johnny the Gypsy” – Giuseppe Martini – a long-standing friend of Pelosi’s and later his cellmate.
When a judge reconsidered the case in 2015, she ruled that at least five people had been involved in Pasolini’s murder (although, in common with most other theories, she did not consider how two hours had elapsed between the alleged assault and the official time of Pelosi’s arrest). Even so, the case was definitively closed that year and the truth is unlikely ever to be known.
Giuseppe Pelosi was born in Guidonia, north-east of Rome and close to Tivoli, on June 28 1958. Later the family moved to a housing estate in Tiburtina, a working-class district of the capital. His father had a job delivering parcels, and his sister in a butcher’s, but the family’s means were always straitened.
Pino left school at 12 and, though worked at his uncle’s bakery, he was soon better known to the police as a petty thief and prostitute. His nickname was Pelosino (beardless), punning on his surname which means hairy, but despite his youth by the time he met Pasolini he had already had three spells in borstal, the last for car theft.
In recent years he had worked as a street cleaner, gardener and in a cooperative with other former prisoners. Latterly he had run a café in Testaccio, at the foot of the Aventine Hill, though he had been suffering from lung cancer for some time.
He married his much younger girlfriend three weeks before his death.
Pelosi, right, during his murder trial in 1976; and, far right, the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini who, shortly before his death, had just finished making a shocking film about fascism