Graziano Mesina, the Sardinian Scarlet Pimpernel


A wanted poster offering a 10 million lira reward to anyone who can assist in his capture

The following post is a translation of the Italian Wikipedia page for Graziano Mesina which you can find here. All credit to the original author/s. Later updates and most of the photos come from the Sardinian newspaper L’Unione Sarda.

Dubbed the Sardinian Scarlet Pimpernel, Graziano Mesina is probably the island’s most famous outlaw. He has spent 40 years of his life in prison, almost 5 years on the run and 11 under house-arrest. He also provided the inspiration for three films, all produced in the late 1960s, which focused on the phenomenon of Sardinian banditry: Carlo Lizzani’s Barbagia, Piero Livi’s Pelle di Bandito and Marcello Fondato’s The Protagonists.

Born on April 4 1942 to Pasquale and Caterina Mesina in Orgosolo, an autonomous region of Sardinia, Graziano (“Grazianeddu” to his friends) was their penultimate child out of ten. Following in his father’s’ and brothers’ footsteps he began his career as a shepherd, although not before being expelled from school at the age of ten; “I made it to the fourth year of elementary school, then I threw stones at our teacher and they sent me to watch over the animals”.

His first brush with the law soon followed when, at the age of fourteen, he was arrested for assaulting a police officer and illegal possession of a stolen firearm. There are conflicting reports about this incident; one newspaper article states he received a judicial pardon while Mesina insists that he was given a five-year sentence, of which he served three before being released early.

In 1960 he was arrested again for using a firearm in a public place. The Carabinieri (Italian military police) brought him in but Graziano was able to force open his cell door and escaped. A fugitive hiding out in the mountains of Orgosolo, he was eventually persuaded by his family and his lawyer to turn himself in. He was sentenced to six months incarceration, with another month added on for the firearms charge, and taken to Nuoro prison.


Graziano Mesina in the 1960s

In July of the same year, while Graziano was still inside, Pietrino Crasta a businessman from Berchidda, was kidnapped and murdered. An anonymous letter sent to the police claimed his body was buried on a piece of land in the Lenardeddu area which at that time was being rented by Graziano’s brothers to graze their sheep. On July 12 the police found the body.

Graziano Mesina’s brothers (Giovanni, Pietro and Nicola) and some neighboring shepherds were arrested and charged with the murder. A fourth brother, Antonio, managed to escape and went about gathering evidence to prove his brothers’ innocence.

In January 1961 Graziano Mesina was released from prison. On the 24th December of the same year shepherd Luigi Mereu, the uncle of one of the Mesina’s accusers in the Crasta case, was shot with several rounds from a pistol and seriously wounded in a bar in Orgosolo. According to the Mesina’s, Mereu had set it all up to try and frame them.

Graziano Mesina was arrested for the shooting and sentenced to sixteen years in prison; he protested his innocence declaring that there was no evidence, further stating; “If I’d wanted to kill him I would have, but I didn’t. I’ve never killed anyone”. He was incarcerated in Nuoro prison. On July 12 1962 the three brothers, Giovanni, Nicola and Pietro Mesina were released from prison having spent two years behind bars.

mesina corriere della sera

Graziano Mesina in the 1960s

Escapes and New Arrests

From Nuoro prison he was sent to the Sassari Tribunal to answer for charges of attempted murder and damage to a neighboring pasture, events which occurred in the Ozieri countryside. His neighbour had killed his dog, Meruledda, the keeper of his flock. On the first count he justified himself saying he mistook it for a fox but then changed his story, according to Mesina, insisting that it had stolen some grapes. Mesina dismembered the dog to see if it had eaten any grapes but he didn’t find any so he attacked him. This incident would later become the subject of a song by Franco Trincale. During the transfer for his upcoming trial he managed to free himself from his handcuffs and escaped, jumping from the train at Macomer station, but was soon recaptured by some railroad workers.

September 6, he managed to escape while being treated in St. Francesco di Nuoro hospital, climbing over a window ledge and dropping down into a long water tunnel where he stayed hidden for three days. The search involved over two hundred officers. He remained a fugitive in the mountains for three months. At the end of October his brother Giovanni was murdered and, clearly intended as an insult, his body was placed alongside his bitter enemy, Salvatore Mattu, who had also been murdered. In an attempt to avenge his brother, on the night of November 13 1962 Mesina entered a bar and, according to his lawyer’s statement, shot and killed Andrea Muscau with a machine-gun, the person who he held responsible for his brother’s death, even though it was later discovered that he wasn’t involved. He was arrested again and sentenced to 24 years for first-degree murder.

In January 1963 he attempted to escape from Nuoro prison but his plan was foiled. After a short period spent in Alghero prison he was transferred to Porto Azzuro prison. In the summer of 1964 Mesina was awaiting trial in Sardinia. He tried to escape from the bathroom of a moving train but was caught soon after. According to Mesina he gave himself up voluntarily; “I turned myself in. I liked that police officer, I didn’t want him to get into any trouble”. Although newspapers from the time report that he had instead been captured by the police.

He was transferred to Volterra where he pretended to be insane and managed to get transferred to Montelupo Fiorentino criminal asylum. Here, once again, he planned his escape but with little success. Towards the end of 1964 he was transferred yet again, this time to Viterbo where he again tried to escape and was eventually transferred to Spoleto.


Montelupo Fiorentino Criminal Asylum

He tried to escape from Spoleto but was caught. In 1965 he was sent to Procida penitentiary where he remained for three months before being brought back to Porto Azzuro. Transferred to Sassari for trial, he attempted to break a hole in the floor of the train but he failed to escape. September 11 1966, while serving time in Saint Sebastian prison in Sassari he managed to pull off one of his most famous escapes. Along with another inmate, Miguel Atienza, a young Spanish deserter from the French Foreign Legion who had escaped from Corsica and had been arrested in Sardinia caught trying to steal a car (it later transpired that his real name was Miguel Alberto Asencio Prados Ponte, the son of an office worker). They managed to escape successfully, scaling a 7-metre wall and jumping down into the main street in the centre of Sassari. Once outside they hailed a taxi and causally asked the driver to take them to Ozieri, some 50km away.

Miguel Atienza

Miguel Atienza

So began a long period of criminal activity for the pair of them. In the Golfo Aranci area they kidnapped land-owner Paolo Mossa who was eventually released after they were promised the ransom would be paid. On the 11th May, disguised as policemen, they set-up a fake roadblock and kidnapped Peppino Capelli, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the meat industry. Their hostage was only released after the family paid a ransom of 18 million lira. The two outlaws were responsible for a series of kidnappings; Campus, Petretto, Moralis, Canetto, Papandrea and, as their crime spree increased, so did their fame and reputation as tough but generous outlaws; “He gave me 1000 lira and told me to buy some sweets and go home, I don’t kidnap children”, recounted the younger Petretto who was ambushed along with his father and freed immediately.

The death of Atienza and long detention

On the 17th June 1967 Mesina and Atienza were intercepted by the “baschi blu” (a special task force sent in by the government to crush the bandit uprising) who surrounded them in the hills of Osposidda near Orgosolo. During the shootout Atienza killed two police officers before he was fatally wounded. Mesina was absolved of any blame in the deaths of the two officers.

mesina roadblock capture

L’Unione Sarda 27th March 1968 (“Mesina captured at roadblock”)

On the 26th March 1968 he was captured during a routine police roadblock near Orgosolo. He was taken to Nuoro Badu e Carros prison. From this moment on Graziano Mesina began a long period of detention in various Italian prisons. He was first imprisoned in Volterra and then transferred to Regina Coeli in Rome. He wasn’t heard from again for eight years. With his arrest the Sardinian bandit uprising finally came to an end.

Aside from spearheading a rise in criminal activity which lead to the “Blue Basques” being sent to the island, his arrest also enabled the creation of an industrial center in Ottana which helped create jobs and foster the economic revival of the entire area.

On the 13th May 1976 his brother Nicola was murdered in the “Funtana Bona” area: Sicarios forced him out of his truck along with two co-workers. They shot Nicola and distanced themselves, casually telling the two workers to continue on their way. Despite Mesina’s pleas he was refused permission to attend the funeral.

messina escape lecce

L’Unione Sarda, August 1976 (“Escape from Lecce Prison”)

Along with ten other convicts, on the 20th August of the same year he lead an escape from a maximum security prison in Lecce, nicknamed “Li Bobò”.  One of the escapees was the leader of the extreme left-wing terrorist group N.A.P, Martino Zichitella.

mesina unione sarda 20 aug 76

L’Unione Sarda, August 1976 (“No trace of Graziano Mesina”)

He spent his time as a fugitive in Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Bologna and Trento. On the 26th January 1977 he participated in the kidnapping of businessman Mario Botticelli in the Ascoli Piceno province. On the 16th March 1977, he was arrested in Caldonazzo in Trento during a house search. He spent his detention in the prisons of Favignana, Trani, Fossombrone, moving on to Cuneo and Novara where he remained for two years. Towards the end of 1982 he was transferred to Porto Azzurro.

In 1984 he obtained a three-day pass and for three hours a day he was allowed to visit his mother in Orgosolo. On the 12th April he was granted a 12-hour pass to visit his brother in Crescentino in Vercellese. Once the 12 hours were up he did not return to Vercelli prison.

He met Valeria Fusè in Milan, a young woman who had started writing to him when he was in Novara prison. They took refuge in an apartment in Vigevano. On the 18th April they were both arrested by the Carabinieri. Transferred to a maximum security prison in Novara, he was sentenced to an additional six months while Valeria was cleared of any wrongdoing.

On the 18th October 1982 he was granted a conditional release and, after 29 years in prison, he settled in San Marzanotto, a district of Asti. During his time in Asti Mesina met Indro Montanelli who was interested in the life of Sardinia’s most famous bandit. Montanelli offered Mesina support and suggested he write a book about his numerous escapes.

The Kassam kidnapping and pardon

In 1992, during the events surrounding the kidnapping of the minor Farouk Kassam, Graziano Mesina intervened during a leave period, assuming the role of mediator in an attempt to negotiate the young boy’s release from a group of Sardinian bandits, previously responsible for the kidnapping of young Ismaelita in Ponte Corvo on the 15th January (and eventually released in July).

The circumstances of his release have never been completely made clear. The police and the government’s version of events, denying any ransom was ever paid, contradicts Mesina’s comments in a number of interviews where he claims they paid around a billion lira for the hostage’s release, with Mesina helping the boy’s family carry out the kidnappers’ requests.

mesina farouk trial

Graziano Mesina testifying at the Farouk trial

On the 4th August the Surveillance Tribunal revoked its concession of a conditional release following the discovery of a Kalashnikov, two pistols, a revolver, two hand grenades and five thousand rounds of ammunition in Mesina’s apartment. He was arrested along with two other people.

Suspected of planning another kidnapping, Mesina was once again incarcerated in Voghera prison and given a life sentence. Regarding these new judicial proceedings Mesina has always insisted there was a plot against him by the Secret Service due to his involvement in the Farouk kidnapping.

In 2001 the Asti Tribunal rejected a request for release presented by Mesina’s defense. The Sardinian bandit has proved an unusual case in Italian judicial history, having received three life-sentences for three separate offenses of 24, 8 and 6 years in prison respectively.

Nel 2001 il tribunale di Asti respinse la richiesta di scarcerazione presentata dai difensori di Mesina. Il bandito sardo è stato un caso particolare nella storia giuridica italiana, avendo ricevuto la condanna all’ergastolo a causa di tre diverse condanne rispettivamente di 24, 8 e 6 anni di carcere, in applicazione della legge che prevede il cumulo delle pene per reati differenti.[19]

In July 2003 he asked for an official pardon, giving his lawyer a mandate to take his request directly to the President of the Republic.

On the 25th November 2004, having been granted a pardon by the then President of the Republic, Carlo Ciampi, and by the Minister of Justice, Roberto Castelli, Mesina left Voghera prison and returned to Orgosolo a free man. In total, Mesina had spent 40 years in prison, almost 5 as a fugitive, and 11 under house-arrest.


Graziano Mesina released from Voghera prison in 2004.

After his release

After his release Mesina returned to his birthplace of Orgosolo and embarked on a career as a tourist guide, accompanying tourists exploring some of the most impenetrable areas of the Barbagia region, complete with a piglet, where he had spent time as a fugitive. Together with a group of partners in 2007 he opened a travel agency in Ponte San Nicolò, a province of Padova.

New arrest in 2013

Just a few weeks before Mesina’s latest arrest in 2013, a gang of thieves stole and burnt his Porsche Cayenne but after realising who the car belonged to they sent him an apology message: “We didn’t know it was yours”.

In June 2013, at 71 years of age, he was arrested in Orgosolo. According to the investigation he was preparing a kidnapping with his gang: he had already carried out surveillance missions and given precise details about the hostage to his accomplices, as confirmed by police wire-taps. Furthermore, the judicial authorities in Cagliari believed him to be the head of a powerful organization involved in drug smuggling, kidnappings and robberies. He also faced charges of criminal conspiracy.

In December 2016 his official pardon was revoked and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. L’accusa ha chiesto per Mesina una condanna a 26 anni di carcere.

“Grazianeddu” is thought to be the boss of an organization which had contacts with a Calabrian crime syndicate which operated out of Milan that was able to smuggle up to 15kg of heroin into Sardinia per trip. Mesina, now 74 years old, the charismatic leader of a gang of around thirty people, has always defended himself denying any responsibility: “I’ve never touched drugs and I wouldn’t even recognise them if I saw them” he said in court on the 5th May 2016 and denied ever being a member of a gang,  “not even when I was a fugitive”.

Lunedì 27 Febbraio 2016 Al via oggi a Nuoro il processo nei confronti di Graziano Mesina, accusato in concorso con altri di aver simulato il furto della sua Porsche Cayenne, nel marzo 2013, e averla poi incendiata allo scopo di truffare l’assicurazione.

Il giudice, dopo aver accolto la lista dei testi del pubblico ministero e della difesa – rappresentata dalle avvocatesse Maria Luisa Vernier e Beatrice Goddi – ha rinviato l’udienza al prossimo 30 maggio.

Mesina, che è stato condannato di recente a 30 anni per associazione a delinquere, non era presente in aula.

L’auto di Grazianeddu era stata incendiata e ritrovata in una cava dismessa del Montalbo qualche giorno dopo il presunto furto.



Alla sbarra per un delitto di 42 anni fa
Graziano Mesina assolto dall’accusa

25 Ottobre 2016

L’ex primula rossa del banditismo sardo Graziano Mesina è stato assolto al processo che lo vedeva imputato come mandante del delitto di Santino Gungui, 37 anni, avvenuto a Mamoiada la notte di Natale del 1974.

Il pubblico ministero Giorgio Bocciarelli aveva chiesto l’ergastolo, ritenendo – sulla base di alcune intercettazioni risalenti a qualche anno fa – che Grazianeddu avesse ordinato l’omicidio dal carcere.

Questa mattina però è arrivata la sentenza del Gup di Nuoro, Claudio Cozzella, che ha assolto Mesina per non aver commesso il fatto.

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Graziano Mesina

(Edit: Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was the founder of the Feltrinelli publishing group, one of the biggest publishers in Italy with bookshops on high streets all across the country.)

According to documents unearthed by the Stragi Commission in 1996, in 1968, four years before his death, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli fled to Sardinia in an effort to establish contact with various left-wing elements fighting for the island’s independence. Among Feltrinelli’s intentions was a plan to transform Sardinia into a Mediterranean Cuba. One of the publisher’s plans was to entrust Mesina, then a fugitive, with leadership of the rebel army. Mesina was ultimately persuaded not to join Feltrinelli’s initiative thanks to the intervention of Massimo Pugliese, a Secret Service officer credited with bringing down the initiative.







Unione Sarda - Volti Mesina

L’Unione Sarda, August 1978 (“A fugitive with too many faces”)


mesina holding biog

Graziano Mesina holding his autobiography ‘I, Mesina’ (1993)

Graziano Mesina, che interverrà alla kermesse raccontando le sue esperienze e le sue numerose evasioni. «Sono stato soprattutto un solista. Sarei riuscito a scappare dal carcere anche più di frequente se non mi fossi fidato troppo dei miei amici e compagni. Comunque adesso dominano i gruppi, le bande. Data la struttura economica, gli investimenti e il notevole impegno che un’organizzazione richiede, maturano tante illusioni. E pure la convinzione assolutamente erronea e infondata che si possa facilmente farla franca».



See all photos above

23232 (pardon, falcone 1990s)

One thought on “Graziano Mesina, the Sardinian Scarlet Pimpernel

  1. Pingback: The Protagonists/I Protagonisti | One Man and His Droid

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