357 searing into his stomach. Nearby, the owner of the Magnum lies
dead, ripped almost in half in the Italian countryside.
A well-known Mafia face is spotted at the scene. So ended the life
of millionaire gunman Valerio Viccei, a man who lived by the gun and, eventually, died by the gun...Young, brilliant, smooth-talking,
glamorous: Valerio had it all. He hit headlines across the world when he
It was the biggest robbery in history. It seemed like the perfect crime:
many ordinary people marvelled at the daring and nerve of the raiders.
Before he died, he wrote his fascinating memoir.
talked-about villains of all time.
Wolf's last stand Thursday April 20, 2000
It ended beneath a grey sky at a bend in a road he knew well.
His prey would have to slow down and Valerio Viccei would pounce.
A mask in one hand, a .357 Magnum in the other, an accomplice at his
side, he parked in front of the farmhouse and waited.
But what turned the bend was a traffic patrol with two curious policemen.
They were suspicious when they saw two strangers watching an
A call to base revealed the Lancia to be stolen.
Enzo Baldini stepped from the patrol car and crunched over gravel
He was 30ft away when the strangers raised their revolvers and fired.
The first shot missed but three followed.
The policeman crumpled as a bullet tore into his leg.
He grasped his sub-machine gun as a figure raced towards him, pointing
Baldini loosed 15 rounds and the figure twirled and toppled.
There was no scream; Viccei was dead before he hit the ground.
"I always wanted to reach something that was top of its field," he once
At a peak of glamour and infamy a lifetime away from the moment
a terrified traffic cop became his nemesis.
His death has shaken Italy. Viccei was not supposed to be sitting
armed in a stolen car waiting to ambush a bank security van.
He was technically serving time but was allowed out during the day
to work in a publisher's office.
The story behind Tuesday's shootout may write the epitaph for Italy's
penal lenience, for Viccei, 45, was no ordinary gangster.
It was he who masterminded the £40m Knightsbridge safe deposit
robbery in July 1987, a spectacular heist dubbed the crime of
Security guard uniforms, metal cutting equipment, walkie-talkies and
the owner's complicity enabled his gang to clear 114 boxes in under
The victims were royalty, celebrities, millionaires and criminals.
No shots were fired and no one was injured.
Viccei, a playboy and serial seducer, had come to London in search of
a big life and he had found it.
"I had a passion for weapons, beautiful women and fast cars," he said.
When he was caught a few days later at the wheel of his Ferrari, traced
by a fingerprint, he became a folk hero.
The Italian Stallion, the Wolf, the gentleman thief -
he exulted in all his nicknames.
In reality, he was an arrogant, vain thug.
The son of a libel lawyer and boutique-owning mother from Ascoli
Piceno, a town near his final shootout, he craved adulation and
never hesitated to use violence.
A thief by 16, he went to university in Rome to study philosophy in the
70s but fell under the influence of the neo-fascist terrorist leader
He joined the youth group Fronta Della Giuventu, daubing swastikas
on public buildings before graduating to bombings.
He racked up a suspected 54 robberies as politics became a distant motive.
Viccei wanted to be a star.
He modelled himself on Al Pacino's Scarface, which he reputedly
watched 58 times.
He had a gold key-ring in the shape of a shotgun.
The combination number for his £700 Louis Vuitton briefcase was
357, after the .357 Magnum.
He moved to Britain in the 1980s and didn't allow broken English to
inhibit chasing women or five armed robberies.
Once captured, he played the master villain. Suave, athletic,
sunglasses, permanent grin, jokes and boasts.
Newspapers drooled over his cunning and charm.
Less attention was paid to dissenters from the myth.
"I found him boring, showing off his Rolex watch and talking about
his fast cars," said Justine Marr, secretary to the Parvez Latif, who
owned the security deposit.
A detective was equally dismissive. "He wanted to be known as the mastermind of the world's biggest robbery.
He has an ego the size of the Old Bailey." It mattered not.
A star was born.
He told the judge: "Maybe I am a romantic lunatic but money was the last thing on my mind."
Only £10m was ever recovered.
Sentenced to 22 years, he languished in Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight
He wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan:
"I love Knightsbridge" around a clown's face with dollar signs for eyes.
Then in November 1992, the Wolf bounded to freedom, although it
was called extradition.
Under the Treaty of Strasbourg, he was transferred to a jail in Pescara
on the Adriatic coast to finish his sentence.
Declaring himself a reformed character, he tried to buy freedom by
claiming to know the truth about Roberto Calvi, "God's banker", who
was found hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London in 1982.
It was a bluff, but it did not matter.
Within three years, he was strolling the beachside cafes on his way to
work at a publisher's office, visiting his flat and returning to jail at 10.30
He told Britain:
"The legal system in Italy may look softer than yours but it is not.
The only difference is that the rehabilitation programme does not
discriminate like in your country."
An autobiography seemed to complete the rehabilitation and Viccei slid
into obscurity, effectively free until gaining parole in 2003.
But in prison, he had befriended Antonio Malatesta, a member of the
Puglia mafia, known as the Sacred United Heart, which specialises
in kidnappings, armed hold-ups and smuggling.
Malatesta was also free to roam while serving time because he had
become a supergrass (a pentito) which is a fast-track to reduced
sentences and priviliges.
Italian justice has made supergrasses and rapid releases for "model
prisoners" central to its fight against organised crime.
Since the first mafioso broke the code of omerta in 80s and started
talking, thousands have followed.
The mafia reeled but cracks are forming.
Dozens of prisoners enjoying semi-liberty have been caught murdering
Pentitis are manipulating prosecutors to ensnare rival clans.
Appeals courts are throwing out their testimony.
The system is breaking down. Tuesday's shootout could be the last
straw. Opposition politicians branded it a scandal. Only by fluke had
They want Viccei's epitaph to be the abolition of supergrasses.
Police yesterday said the pair were planning to either rob a bank security
van or kidnap a scion from one of the area's three industrialist families.
Malatesta tried to flee after they opened fire but was shot, wounded
Viccei, hair flicked with grey, dressed in blue jeans and a green jacket,
was said by police to have approached the prostrate Baldini with the intention of finishing him off when the hail of bullets spun him round;
he landed on his back, blood seeping from his eyes, nose and mouth.
Reinforcements arrived and dozens of police stood above the corpse.
None recognised him.
The master robber was mistaken for an Albanian bandit.
Only hours later was his identity discovered.
By Viccei's own criterion, he died a failure:
"The rule of this game is that if they don't catch you, you are a genius.
But if they do, you are a miserable nobody."