“We waited about 35-40 minutes, after which we realized that Tobagi was coming out of the door … He started to cross the road as if to go to the newsstand and we, who were stationed there, so as not to be seen, we left the newsstand itself. But Tobagi did not make that crossing, and this gave us some difficulties, because Fabio and I found ourselves far behind where we were supposed to be and we were, in practice, almost forced to chase the Tobagi. In fact Fabio said “Let’s go”, and he hinted at a jog … I started running too, and arrived four or five meters from Tobagi Fabio said “Piano”. I stopped my run by falling behind, Fabio continued to run instead and immediately started shooting, possibly aiming for the heart, as he then told me ».
The coldness of the killer is also felt at the moment of confession, in the precision of memories and details. «Tobagi took two steps and fell, while Fabio, who had exploded three shots, tried to shoot again, but his 7,65 jammed. I then fired two shots with my 9 short: one from a distance, two or three meters, which I don’t know if the journalist drew; the other while, running, I was passing by him while he was already on the ground, and when I had already had the distinct feeling that he was already dead».
Cold and calibrated, the red terrorist Marco Barbone, just 22 years old, to the point of showing that the coup de grace was unloaded on a corpse; and that the former, perhaps, had missed the target. Anyhow his confession, recorded on the evening of 4 October 1980 in the police station of Porta Magenta in Milan, before the public prosecutor Armando Spataro, he lit a glimpse of the light on the murder of Walter Tobagi, 33 years old, special envoy of the Corriere della Sera. Murdered four months earlier, on the morning of May 28, by a group of self-styled revolutionary guerrillas who claimed the crime with a six-page flyer: “Today an armed unit of the Brigade March 28 has eliminated the state terrorist Walter Tobagi … and hit the psychological counter-warfare technicians. Nothing will go unpunished ».
He did nothing but his job, Tobagi, and he did it with attention and ingenuity, trying to understand the reasons and behind the scenes of the armed struggle that had been bloody Italy for years. Exactly two months before he died, on March 28, 1980, he went to Genoa to tell about the massacre in Via Fracchia: four red brigatists killed in a blitz by the carabinieri in the den indicated by the repentant Patrizio Peci. He wrote an article in which he stressed, among other things, the indifferent reaction of the inhabitants of the alley to the death of the terrorists. And he commented: “It is as if even a feeling of pity can no longer find space, and it is the most disheartening consequence of that perverse strategy that wanted to focus on armed struggle”.
The name of the Brigade that will kill him, March 28, was born “in honor of the comrades who fell for communism” in via Fracchia; a business card chosen by six very young boys (not all “of a good family”, as was said to underline its bourgeois and wealthy origins; but Barbone yes) in the hope of being enrolled by the Br. For this Tobagi was killed, the reporter who regretted the pity lost after the massacre of terrorists. Carefully selected target. «Given his new role in Courier service – explained Barbone in his confession, one week after his arrest – increasingly projected into that of a journalist destined to take on more and more positions of responsibility, Tobagi had been chosen as a target against which the logic and practice of armed struggle imposed annihilation».
The accountant of the political crime dictated in the minutes as if he were writing an ideological document, or a claim, using the same alienating terms, whereby the killing becomes “annihilation”. And he specified: “It is the same logic that even for a Galli one could not think of a crippling, but only of a murder”, where “crippling” means injury to the legs. The local terrorists of forty years ago thought and spoke like this. And they did so: before killing Tobagi, on May 7, 1980, they had hit the journalist de the Republic Guido Passalacqua: “We deliberately shot in the calf to cause a slight crippling,” said Barbone in his first repentant interrogation. Revealing that previously he and his friends had thought of “annihilating” the investigating judge Guido Galli, but gave up the sight of the comrades of the Front line who had the same idea and completed it on March 19 (nine days were missing to the massacre of via Fracchia, and Galli was one of the three magistrates killed in four days between Salerno, Milan and Rome).
In that 1980 massacre the six boys of “March 28” had thought well of “doing something to respond to the repressive tightening of the state”. According to the repentant “emotionally it was thought, at the beginning, of a reprisal against the carabinieri, how to start shooting madly against the first shot in front of a barracks; then it was agreed, more rationally, that the retaliation had to be more qualified and qualifying “. They decided to target the journalists as three years before the Red Brigades. And within the category among those who dealt with terrorism, they focused not on “rough-type” reporters, like those who “practically incited to continue on the path of the death penalty on the ground”, but on the “most intelligent, who with their articles did not have the intent to insult or stir up, but functioned as a probe within the revolutionary left”. In short, those who tried to understand and tell what was happening. Those like Tobagi.
Poodle and his patrol arrived at the envoy of the Courier service after discarding other names: Giampaolo Pansa, Giorgio Bocca, Marco Nozza. “But it is good to specify – Barbone explained – that his identification is certainly not the result of an independent choice of our group. In fact, he could be considered a real “historical target” within the area of armed struggle, his name has always been circulating among the people to be hit».
The repentant revealed a previous plan developed by the so-called assault Communist Departments, without however saying that in 1978, when he was not yet twenty, he was hanging out with the fighting communist formations, he had participated in a Tobagi kidnapping project; another collaborator of justice will reveal it, meanwhile become informer of the carabinieri, from which came the “tip-offs” – undervalued or not – which still today, forty years later, feed the controversy over whether that murder could be avoided .
The public prosecutor Armando Spataro, who collected the deposition of Poodle on 4 October 1980, remains convinced to this day that the investigators did their duty fully, and that there are no shadows on the Tobagi crime; neither on what happened before, nor on the investigation that followed: “The confession, extremely precise, detailed, and preceded by a genuine self-criticism and dissociation from terrorism, was found in every detail. And all the other members of the armed gang, who before and who after, admitted their responsibilities ».
As a premise to his story, Barbone had declared, in his flyer language, that “the armed struggle in Italy produced nothing from the point of view of the political objectives it proposed (seizure of power, long-lasting civil war, construction of the proletarian army); instead it has produced numerous failures in social life, an embarrassment of civil and political life, a loss of the ability of the working class to be a political subject finding himself expropriated from every point of reference acquired so far, due to the practice of armed struggle ».
Even Paolo Morandini, twenty years old at the time of the murder, immediately collaborated with the magistrates, and as Barbone suffered the slightest sentence: 8 years and six months, both on bail three years after the arrests. The other four – Daniele Laus who was 22, Manfredi De Stefano of 23, Mario Marano (the other killer, battle name Fabio) of 27 and Francesco Giordano of 28 – had heavier penalties, up to 21 years in prison. In reality, 28 years of imprisonment were given to De Stefano at first instance, but he died in prison before the appeal process which sanctioned some reductions in punishment. Morandini also died in 2018, the others have long lived new lives.
The rapid release of Barbone and Morandini sparked violent accusations against the magistrates of Milan, with relative allegations on alleged exchanges between promises of freedom and silences on some accomplice (the girlfriend of the time of Barbone) and the hidden principals of the murder, to be sought in journalistic, editorial or political circles. Spataro’s indignation continues: “They are all crap. Legislation for collaborators of justice was applied, essential at that stage to defeat terrorism. Barbone was a very important repentant, the first in the subversive area of Milan, and arrests and repentances in clusters matured after him. There were no pacts, and the investigations on any external principals were done, even on input from the police, but nothing emerged. The story is simply the one reconstructed in the investigation and in the processes “.
It was the head of the Carabinieri Anti-Terrorism Unit, General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, who hypothesized in July 1980 (before Barbone’s arrest) that the 28 March Brigade was “a kind of clot of loose dogs, which they found in the family of journalism some more avid supporters … In my opinion, the reporters are certainly hosting in their ranks someone who has determined an atmosphere that the killers used to kill Tobagi “. After the capture, he himself persuaded Barbone to speak with the magistrates, about his responsibilities and many others: “The confession did not stop at” March 28 “, it went further, we are on 100-120 characters”, he reported to the parliamentary commission on terrorism on February 23, 1982, when the investigation was still in full swing.
Six months later, on September 3, he was also killed by the Church. From another lead, this time mafia. At the Tobagi murder trial in March 1983, Marco Barbone asked the judges “not to recall the tragic dynamic of that morning”; what he had said in the investigation was enough. He preferred to dwell on what happened after the journalist’s execution: “Initially it seemed to us that we had achieved a goal, however after this very first moment the feeling of total collapse had been replaced; to have assumed responsibilities, human rather than political, absolutely disproportionate to any type of logic and justification. I think we all had this feeling. The fact that I have this very personal responsibility to touch the horror of death that we inflicted, at least as far as I’m concerned, has totally knocked me down, destroyed from every point of view. I didn’t even feel able to touch a weapon anymore. “
The killer seems a little less cold, but always rational and attentive to detail. Despite his “complete state of personal discouragement”, he still participated in an armed robbery, and was arrested on September 24th. He asked almost immediately to speak to the general from the Church, to “pay at least a tribute in terms of knowledge”, and in a few days he found himself sitting in front of a magistrate. The accountant of terror had begun to reason about the future: “This choice is above all the way to a return to normality, to free oneself from that dehumanization that necessarily produces armed struggle and that leads to denying oneself, first of all as people”.
Walter Tobagi had sensed it for himself: dehumanization, end of pity, proselytism and lacerations within the armed party. A whirlpool that killed him too.
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