Cesare Mori (Pavia, December 22, 1871 – Udine, July 6, 1942) was a prefect (prefetto) before and during the Fascist period in Italy. He is known in Italy as the "Iron Prefect" (Prefetto di Ferro) because of his iron-fisted campaigns against the Mafia in Sicily in the second half of the 1920s.
Mori was born in Pavia and grew up in an orphanage and was only recognised by his natural parents in October 1879 at the age of seven. He studied at the Turin Military Academy. However, he married a girl, Angelina Salvi, who did not have the dowry stipulated by military regulations of the time, and had to resign. He joined the police, serving first in Ravenna, then Castelvetrano in the province of Trapani (Sicily) – where he made his name capturing the bandit Paolo Grisalfi – before moving to Florence in 1915 as vice-quaestor.
At the end of the First World War, the situation of Sicilian criminality got worse when war veterans joined gangs of bandits. In 1919 Mori was sent back to Sicily as the head of special forces against brigandage. In his roundups, Mori distinguished himself for his energetic and radical methods. At Caltabellotta he arrested more than 300 people in one night. The press wrote of a "lethal blow to the Mafia"
In 1920, he returned to the mainland and served in Turin as quaestor, followed by Rome and Bologna. In 1921 he was prefect of Bologna, and was one of the few members of the forces of law and order to oppose the organised thuggery (squadrismo) of the Fascist movement. Mori was removed and sent to Bari. He retired with his wife to Florence in 1922, when the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini took over the government after the March on Rome.
Appointed in Sicily
Due to his reputation as a man of action, he was recalled to active service in 1924 by the Minister of the Interior, Luigi Federzoni. In the same year Mori adhered to the fascist party.
He was successively appointed prefect of Trapani, arriving there in June 1924. He stayed there until October 20, 1925, when Mussolini appointed him prefect of Palermo, with special powers over the entire island of Sicily and the mission of eradicating the Mafia by any means possible.
Mussolini’s drive against the Mafia, the story goes, followed an official visit to Sicily in May 1924 during which he felt insulted by the Mafioso Francesco Cuccia, who publicly proclaimed that Mussolini did not need a police escort because the mere presence of Cuccia would protect him. Mussolini felt humiliated and outraged. However, according to scholar Christopher Duggan, the reason was more political rather than personal: the Mafia threatened and undermined his power in Sicily, and a successful campaign would strengthen him as the new leader, legitimising and empowering his rule.
The fight against the Mafia
Mori took up his post in Palermo in November 1925 and remained in office until 1929. Within the first two months he arrested over five hundred men, a number that would only grow in the following years. In January 1926, he undertook what was probably his most famous action, the occupation of the village of Gangi, a stronghold of various criminal gangs. Using carabinieri and police forces he ordered house-to-house searches, picking up bandits, small-time Mafia members and various suspects who were on the run. He did not hesitate to lay siege to towns, use torture, or take women and children as hostages to oblige suspects to give themselves up. These harsh methods earned him the nickname of "Iron Prefect".
Mori understood the basis of Mafia power. In order to defeat the phenomenon, he felt it necessary to "forge a direct bond between the population and the state, to annul the system of intermediation under which citizens could not approach the authorities except through middlemen..., receiving as a favour that which is due them as their right." Mori’s methods were sometimes similar to those of the Mafia. He did not just arrest the bandits, but sought to humiliate them as well. If he could exhibit a strong central authority to rival the mafia, the people would see that the Mafia was not their only option for protection.
Mori's inquiries brought evidence of collusion between the Mafia and influential members of the State apparatus and the Fascist party. His position, however, became more precarious. Some 11,000 arrests are attributed to Mori’s rule in Palermo. That led to massive amounts of paperwork in order to prepare for the trials, which may have been partially responsible for his dismissal.
Mussolini had already nominated Mori as a senator in 1928, and in June 1929 he was relieved of his duty. The Fascist propaganda proudly announced that the Mafia had been defeated.
As a senator, Mori continued to follow Sicilian affairs closely, and made sure he was always well informed. However, he no longer had any influence and was essentially a marginal figure. He wrote his memoirs in 1932. In 1937 Mori expressed concerns about Mussolini's new alliance with Hitler and was isolated inside the fascist party since then.
He retired to Udine in 1941 and died there one year later, a forgotten figure in a country by then in the throes of the Second World War.