Salvatore Misdea and the Pizzofalcone murders

by Leonardo Quagliuolo

On April 13, 1884, the first day of Easter, at the Nino Bixio barracks, sul mount Echia, a young Calabrian soldier, Salvatore Misdea, shot his fellow soldiers and seriously injured others. The motive that caused Misdea's anger was a heated discussion with other soldiers, originally from northern Italy, about Calabria.

He was made a psychiatric report on the occasion of the trial by the famous as discussed Cesare Lombroso, together with professor Leonardo Bianchi.

Girifalco, birthplace of Salvatore Misdea
Girifalco, birthplace of Salvatore Misdea

The fact

A simple soldier in military service, he was born in Girifalco, Calabria, in 1862, a year after the Unification. On 25 January 1883 he was assigned to the 19th “Brescia” infantry regiment, at the barracks still present today in Pizzofalcone.

On April 13 of the following year, the twenty-two-year-old Misdea had a heated quarrel with fellow soldiers, in particular with the northerners Codara, Storti and Zanoletti, who were arguing with two other Calabrian soldiers, Colistri and Trova. The cause was precisely the region of origin of the latter.

Corporal Roncoroni intervened, ordering them to be quiet and return to their duties. According to the reconstruction of the events proposed by Lombroso, Misdea would have also responded abruptly to Roncoroni, grabbing him by the jacket, and then regaining himself, recognizing that he was dealing with a superior.

Shortly after, he would resume heated arguments with Codara, who, fed up with his fellow soldier's brawling attitude, would give him a slap. Misdea, furious, would have unsheathed the saber he wore on his belt, if other soldiers had not restrained him, continuing, however, to rant violently against the fellow soldier who would have provoked him.

After the situation was pacified by another superior, Sergeant Cane, the soldiers went to the dormitory.

Suddenly, a shot. Zanoletti, one of the northern soldiers who had started the discussion with the Calabrian soldiers, fell to the ground, wounded. Other shots caused serious injuries to three soldiers present. Three others managed to get out of the dormitory and, fleeing, hid in the bathroom.

Misdea, blinded by rage, would have chased them, but, unable to find them, moved by anger and frustration, he started shooting from a window overlooking the courtyard. Some, to try to avoid the bullets, threw themselves to the ground, others from walls, some of which would have suffered fractures, in order to save their lives.

Continuing the patrol, Misdea shot a sergeant, only to meet, shortly after, the soldier Cundari. He would have told him "Don't worry, I won't kill you because you're from Calabria. "

That night of terror, they were shot by Misdea 52 rifle shots, Cesare Lombroso reports in a publication of 9 June 1884, 13 people between wounds from shots and wounds from escape attempts and 7 deaths.

It took more than eight soldiers to hold him back, he was restless: he would have kicked, punched, insulted and tried to bite those present. Once taken to his cell, he would have made a delusional speech, saying he wanted to take revenge and want to burn people alive, then eat their livers and finally commit suicide.

Calm down, he later confessed to attempting three civilian murders before enlisting. He continued his stay in the cell drinking and eating very little and "continuing to show signs of imbalance“.

Furthermore, it seems that he had gods further precedents, dating back to when he was 17 and 18 years old, for wounding with a firearm and theft and his violent and threatening behavior was already known, to the point that some soldiers would have refused to sleep near him.

Lombroso's process and analysis

About a month after the events, the May 9, 1884, the trial against him began at the Court of Naples. Many witnesses were heard and the famous Cesare Lombroso was called to make a psychiatric examination. The latter classified Salvatore Misdea as a "crazy“, That is, an individual characterized by epileptic impulsivity. He did a detailed clinical examination:

Cesare Lombroso, psychiatrist hired to do an expert opinion in Misdea
Cesare Lombroso

Lombroso describes Misdea in a terrifying way: “1.63 meters by 56.2 kg, before (the trial) she weighed 59. Abundant hair, very thick hair, scars on the arm, on the face, on the skull. Head keeled forward, very flattened forehead, microcephalus, huge and asymmetrical cheekbones, asymmetrical eyelids, slightly cross-eyed, clearly asymmetrical ears, protruding, crooked, spaced teeth, some missing, even. " And the speech continues with detailed medical findings on the soldier, such as, for example, craniometry, details on the condition of his internal organs or the heartbeat.

The two have a long conversation, which Lombroso reports in detail, including considerations. "When he talks, especially about his companions or about the wrongs received, not only is his facial expressions altered, but he also shakes his fingers and hands vigorously..”

The picture drawn by the well-known criminal anthropologist shows a shrewd but impulsive man who favors hatred and violence, with facial spasms clearly visible when dealing with topics that shock him, such as the fact that, among the victims caused, there was a young Calabrian soldier, who he hit erroneously, which made him burst into tears. It is described with a "instinctive need to harm“. Numb and apathetic in most cases, with contradictory answers (before he would have said "I love Calabrians and Sicilians"And then that he hates them, but does not want to hear them spoken of badly). Without fear of death or the penalty that would be imposed on him.

He ends his report with "It is absurd to boast of crimes, of hating everyone, including the mother, of wanting to kill one's brother. And that wanting to pass for crazy. And with whom? With the officer on guard, with the director of the prisons, who certainly (if he is not insane) must understand they will report it and aggravate his situation..”

Following the meeting with Misdea, Lombroso publishes "Misdea and the new penal school“, With the collaboration of the famous psychiatrist Leonardo Bianchi, shortly after the trial. The work develops with a long series of analogies between Misdea and past clinical cases, in order to clarify in the most complete way the murderous fury that struck him, on that fateful April 13, and to justify the diagnosis.

In the final part of the work, Lombroso searches for the most profound causes of the prisoner's condition, focusing on his origins: he describes the country of origin of Misdea, Girifalco, of which he makes a terrifying representation: a small and backward reality, with a bad climate and frequent marriages between relatives, "There are a great many epileptics […] the crime is so strong that there are few who have not seen prison. […] It is not uncommon to rape women and sometimes rape on public roads. Girifalco was home to several brigands.”The discussion on Misdea, before pronouncing the definitive diagnosis, focuses on the family.

Evidently Misdea is irresponsible for two serious illnesses, moral madness and epilepsy, not to mention those other causes which in any case could have influenced the free will of her actions, such as inheritance, provocation, barbarism of the country and of the family, trauma, alcohol, age etc. But had there been a hundred causes, they would not have found grace for him, in the world, nor credibility. "

The sentence

Following the psychiatric examination, Salvatore Misdea was sentenced to death by shooting, with dishonor. Just the year before, 1883, the same treatment was reserved for the soldier Pietro Radice, who had killed a corporal and wounded another soldier. In his last night of life, he showed himself, according to Lombroso, surprisingly kind and with a strong Christian spirit. He confessed, ate a lot, publicly apologized to fellow soldiers and superiors and even his family, showing sincere repentance.

On 20 June 1884, at dawn, he was taken to Bagnoli. It is always Lombroso who reports that, before the sentence, he would have attempted suicide several times and that it is a typical behavior of this kind of subject to be contradictory: in fact, "he hopes for grace until the end, even a minute before the guns are leveled against him“.

He was tied up, blindfolded and placed, from behind, on a chair, as per the practice for this type of sentence and it was there that he died. Lombroso was not allowed to carry out the autopsy or to visit him before the shooting.

It seems that his last words were: "This only I ask, that you make me come a group of my enemies to shoot me and then they will see how I will know how to die.". Other sources report that he told the soldier who blindfolded him "Now you will see how a Calabrian dies“, Mind Lombroso speaks of pleas for forgiveness.


Misdea's case caused a huge stir when it was reported in the press. Numerous publications were made, following the death sentence, in favor of the soldier, arguing that the reason for his sentence was anti-southern racism and that his murders were dictated by the exasperation of living in an environment so strongly hostile to him and to those who , like him, he comes from southern Italy, in a country that has not yet metabolized the idea of being united.

The year following the sentence, 1885, a provision was made that soldiers could not take their weapons from the armory in their spare time except out of necessity.

The famous founder of the newspaper also talks about it "The morning“, Edoardo Scarfoglio, which originally published in installments, "The novel of Misdea“, Presenting their point of view. The case was resumed in 1978, with a RAI drama entitled "The poor soldier“.

The military psychiatrist Placido Consiglio, said of the case treated by Lombroso "the fact of Misdea gave Lombroso the key to understand the intimate relationships between madness, epilepsy and criminal moral madness, and to Bianchi and Penta to study the psychic primitiveness of some categories of delinquents, so it was the starting point of works and images countless for the observation of the morbid nature of many serious military offenders, all grouped in the specific category of misdeism“.

In fact, the term "misdeism”To indicate deviant behavior caused by the pressure conditions of the military environment.

-Leonardo Quagliuolo

For more:

Misdea and the new penal school“, 1884, C. Lombroso, L. Bianchi


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