In Italy, it is called the “Saviano effect,” the intense national focus on the Camorra elicited by Roberto Saviano’s 2006 best seller, Gomorrah, which traced the rise of the Campania region’s violent and economically mighty clans.
But while Saviano, 29, has become a household name — appearing regularly in the Italian news media even after death threats have forced him into hiding — others have spent years quietly covering, and uncovering, the same polluted terrain.
One of the most respected is Rosaria Capacchione, a veteran reporter for Il Mattino, a daily newspaper in Caserta, outside Naples, who since the mid-1980s has reported on the short lives, violent deaths and intricate finances of the members of the Camorra’s ruling families, particularly the Casalesi, as those who hail from the town of Castel di Principe are known.
Recently, that has led to another kind of “Saviano effect.” In March, Capacchione was given a police escort after a Camorra defendant in a high-profile trial issued a death threat against her — as well as against Saviano and a magistrate, Raffaele Cantone, both of whom already had constant police protection.
Capacchione hates having a police escort. “I lost all the freedom I had,” she said glumly last week, sitting at her desk at Il Mattino, in a concrete office block in nondescript downtown Caserta.
“The funny thing is, I’ve had much more serious and clear and evident threats over the years. But there wasn’t the Saviano phenomenon,” she said. “The rest of the world didn’t know that the Camorra or the Casalesi existed,” she said, adding, “I’ve been doing this job since before Saviano was born.”
Under the Camorra, in recent decades the Campania region, which surrounds Naples, has become the hub of an international criminal web involving drug trafficking, illegal waste dumping, public works fraud and money laundering through semi-legitimate businesses like supermarkets and game parlors.
In her first book, The Gold of the Camorra, which appeared in November and is already on Italian best-seller lists, Capacchione tracks the careers of four of the Casalesi’s most brilliant criminal minds — Francesco Schiavone, Francesco Bidognetti, Michele Zagaria and Antonio Iovine. The first two are serving life sentences; the others are on Italy’s most wanted list.
Using trial transcripts and her own reporting, she shows how the bosses profited from contracts to build a high-speed train to Naples, through construction and through cartels that distribute sugar and other basic commodities to Campania. Thanks to the Camorra, the region also has high rates of cocaine addiction and elevated cancer levels from toxic waste dumping.
“I didn’t want to write a book, but Rizzoli practically forced me to,” Capacchione said, referring to her Italian publisher. Instead, she sees herself as a beat reporter, uncomfortable with the “media circus” that erupted after she was threatened.
Capacchione, 48, was born and raised in Caserta and still lives there today. She has heavy, Levantine eyes, a smoker’s voice and a small, sparkling cross around her neck. Reserved and at times sardonic, she sometimes smiles and occasionally laughs. But to be in Capacchione’s presence is to absorb an intensity — and fatalism — born from years spent covering a violent, seemingly intractable conflict.