Real story behind Channel 4 mafia drama ‘the Hunter’ based on ruthless Alfonso Sabella – world news


For Mafia hunter Alfonso Sabella, who was running desperately to save a kidnapped 12-year-old, the acid-burnt remains of the boy’s bed in front of him were too much to bear.

The scene has haunted him day and night for 25 years.

“The image is stuck in my head and I can’t get over it,” he said, taking a puff of his cigarette.

“The child was only 12 years old. He was kidnapped because his father was a “pentito” – a police informant.

“I went there with colleagues when we found out he had been kept in a cave. There was no body to see. It had been completely dissolved in the acid.

“All that was left was his chemical-burnt bed where he slept.”

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Italian actor Francesco Montanari as Barone

Very little else makes Alfonso flex these days. From 1993 to 1999, the magistrate was one of the elite members of the Italian anti-mafia unit.

Often spending years gathering evidence from informants and wiretapping, he has been responsible for the successful conviction of some of organized crime’s most bloodthirsty ringleaders.

Now Alfonso’s book on his work is the inspiration behind Channel 4’s hard-hitting drama The Hunter, starring Italian actors Francesco Montanari and Miriam Dalmazio.

Telling the story of fictional magistrate Saverio Barone’s ruthless fight against the Mafia, there is more than a hint of Reservoir Dogs to the series. An eye-catching torture scene is not for the faint hearted.

A torture scene
A torture scene

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday People, Alfonso, 58, recounts how the crime bosses conspired to detonate him – once with a melon full of explosives, then later with a missile.

Pouring himself a drink in his Naples kitchenette, he explains how living under 24-hour protection and constantly moving around to stay alive was too much of a burden on his marriage.

And, as the biggest popular trial in three decades continues in southern Italy, he insists that it is now up to the next generation to continue their fight.

Alfonso rose to prominence while working at the Palermo prosecutor’s office in northern Sicily – a traditional Mafia stronghold. He was bold and eager for promotion.

“I had gathered evidence that my head of the prosecutor’s office colluded with the mafia,” he explains. “I was told it was a brave thing to do.

Leoluca Bagarella, “boss of the bosses”, was inspired by Brando.
Leoluca Bagarella, “boss of the bosses”, was inspired by Brando.

“People knew it, it’s just that no one had talked about it before.

“I was brought up on bread and justice, as we say in Italian. I come from a family of lawyers – including my mother, Giuseppina, which was not a common job for a woman at the time.

“Even my sister Marzia ended up working in the anti-mafia.

“I didn’t question the decision to take the job and my parents gave me tremendous support.”

In the early 90s, Alfonso had his work cut out for him. Northern Sicily was controlled by the Mafia, often referred to on the island simply as Cosa Nostra – “our thing”.

Alfonso remembers: “You couldn’t do anything, even open a store, without paying money to Mafia.

“There was no escaping them. They ran the drug trade and were rich in money.

“In the 90s there was a very deliberate campaign to kill going on. It was a declaration of war, to show the state that the Mafia held power.

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In 1992, less than a year before Alfonso joined the anti-Mafia unit, the bloodshed was even worse than usual. Two of the most prominent anti-mafia magistrates have been assassinated.

The first was Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was driving home from the airport – 300 kg of explosives exploded in a drain under the highway.

The explosion killed him, his wife and three members of his police escort.

Less than eight weeks later, judge Paolo Borsellino and five members of his escort died in a car bomb near his mother’s apartment building in Palermo.

Mafia bosses in the Sicilian town of Corleone toasted the murders with champagne. In a few days, the government dispatched 5,000 soldiers to contain the threat.

Miriam Dalmazio in the show
Miriam Dalmazio in the show

Bombs went off everywhere – not just in the streets, but in places that were of great importance to Italians, like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Alfonso reveals: “On one occasion, we stopped the explosion of 200 kg of explosives at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

But his new world has resulted in a huge loss of freedom. He was under 24 hour security and always surrounded by bodyguards.

Never long in one place, he lived a hectic life, drifting from one hiding place to another. Telephone tapping revealed that the Mafia was approaching him.

He said: “In a recording of a phone call between two Mafiosi, there was a clear reference to me.

“They talked about a red melon, with explosives and a timer. It was a reward because I had just sentenced the son of a mafia boss to life.

The forensic police unit is investigating the crime scene where Antonio Volpe, Camorra boss, was killed
The forensic police unit is investigating the crime scene where Antonio Volpe, Camorra boss, was killed

“Another time, I found out that a missile launcher was intended for me.

“I wasn’t worried about my life, I was worried about my wife at the time. It was too risky. She moved with our daughter to Milan. It was so difficult for them that we finally broke up.

“At one point I had to hide in a castle in the mountains.

He sent some of the most dangerous and cruel bosses of the Sicilian Mafia to prison. Among them was Leoluca Bagarella – called “il capo dei capi” (the patron saint of bosses).

Bagarella led the Corleonesi Mafia clan, a Sicilian faction that had murdered hundreds of people.

Taking inspiration from The Godfather, he performed music from the Marlon Brando film at his wedding.

There was also Giovanni Brusca, known in Mafia circles as The Swine.

Alfonso at the Palace of Justice
Alfonso at the Palace of Justice after a victory

Alfonso said: “I took a list of all the people who had died for the Mafia since Brusca was 17. We started scrolling through the names and he was like, “This one, yes, this one, no”.

“In total, there were about 200 people he had murdered.

There were also those who had died in massacres he had helped to plot. During his trial in 1997, Brusca admitted to detonating the bomb that killed Falcone.

Somehow Alfonso managed to stay alive and now works at the Court of Naples – fighting the region’s Mafia-like Camorra.

He is the father of a five-month-old daughter and his partner Diana is also a magistrate. But if the bodies no longer line the streets, the mafia is still very present

In January, 350 people were tried in the region of Calabria, in southern Italy’s boot-shaped toe.

It is the largest and most important organized crime trial in over 30 years.

They belonged to the ‘Ndrangheta clan – said to be even more violent than their Sicilian brethren.

The four-year investigation that led to it consisted of gathering 15,000 pages of evidence and intercepting 24,000 hours of conversations via wiretaps.

The charges include mob association, drug trafficking, extortion, loan fraud, disclosure of official secrets and abuse of power – to name a few.

Alfonso says: “The Mafia is much more closed now, but it still has a lot of money. We know so much more about their operations.

“The courts and the police are doing a great job. But when I speak to the younger generation of my country, I regret very much that I was not able to give them a state without the Mafia.

“I wanted to eradicate this tumor from our country. I tell them, now it’s up to you.

â–  Walter Presents The Hunter, first episode on Channel 4, Sunday evening, 11 p.m., then full box set to follow on Walter Presents / All 4

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