Born in Castellomare di Stabia, close to Naples in the Italian region of Campania, she was the only girl of five children. She was always nicknamed ‘Pupetta’ which translates as ‘Little Doll’.
Her father, Alberto Maresca was a notorious and violent smuggler.
Her uncle Vincenzo was a Camorrista (a leader of the Camorra – the Mafia), who ruled Castellomare di Stabia. When she was born, he was in prison for murdering his own brother Gerardo.
So, Assunta was born into a very violent family. She grew up to be tiny, very pretty and extremely spoiled by her extended family. The family were known locally as ‘Lampetielli’ (Lightning Knives), due to their propensity to use switchblade knives whilst making their fortune from contraband cigarettes.
She was thrown out of school for attacking a classmate with a knife. After she visited the girl in hospital to ‘apologise’, the girl withdrew all charges.
At 19, Assunta won a beauty contest and became ‘Miss Rougliano’ a village near her hometown. She started to be courted by various Mafia bosses, but her heart was set on local market trader (fruit and veg), Pasquale Simonetti.
Pasquale wasn’t quite as innocent as he seemed. His sideline was making money out of fencing smuggled goods.
Nevertheless, in April 1955 Assunta and Pasquale got married in Pompei Cathedral (in the modern town but very close to the Roman ruins). She was already pregnant.
He promised Assunta he would give up crime. His wedding gift to her was his Smith and Wesson revolver – proof of his intentions to go ‘straight’. But he never had the chance.
Two months later, on the 16th of July 1955, Pasquale was shot dead in Naples by a hitman commissioned by a rival Camorrista, Antonio Esposito, a former partner in crime of her husband.
She was devastated. The police did nothing. She accused them of being frightened.
So, she took the law into her own hands. She got her younger brother Ciro to drive her to Naples in his black Fiat.
There, in a bar by the railway station, she met Esposito. She pulled her wedding gun out of her handbag and shot him dead at point blank range – 29 shots. She said, “I was afraid that I would miss.”
It took four years for the police to gather enough evidence to bring her to court.
Her trial in a Naples courtroom made both national and international headlines. Her supporters were called ‘Pupettisti’ and her detractors ‘Antipupettisti’.
She initially pleaded she had done it through both passion and self-defence, saying Esposito planned to kill her next. The judge dismissed this argument saying it was just part of a wider Mafia gang war.
She then said in court, “I would do it again.” Most of the people in the courtroom cheered. She then took full responsibility, realising this would enhance her image.
It was the first trial in Italian history to use microphones – so that everybody both inside and outside the courtroom could hear what was going on. One Italian newspaper labelled her ‘The Diva of Crime’. It was a label she chose to keep.
There was also a hit song in Italy about her – ‘The Law of Honour’.
Nevertheless, Pupetta was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment – later reduced by the Court of Appeal to 13 years and 4 months.
Ciro was sentenced to 12 years for aiding and abetting although the Court of Appeal acquitted him, saying he had no idea what his sister’s intentions were.
Her son, also called Pasquale was born in prison. He was always nicknamed ‘Pasquelino’.
Because of her tiny stature, other prisoners tried to push her around. But not for long. That was a big mistake. Because of her toughness (and her external connections), by the time she was released she was acknowledged as the ‘leader’ of all the prisoners.
She was eventually pardoned but upon release maintained her criminal activities. She became known as ‘Madame Camorra’ (Mrs Mafia).
She opened two clothes shops in Naples, which she ran when she wasn’t Mafia-ing. She also starred in a film about her life.
She became the lover of another Camorra boss, drug baron Umberto Ammaturo. She had twins with him, called Roberto and Antonella.
But he hated Pasquelino, being jealous of his mother’s attentions. As Pasquelino became a man he had frequent arguments and fights with Ammaturo.
Aged 18, Pasquelino was abducted and murdered. After a fight with Ammaturo, where the latter threatened to kill him, he was invited to a meeting of conciliation at a building site next to the Naples flyover – and he was never seen again.
Assunta accused Ammaturo of murdering her son. He denied it, but was arrested, nevertheless. He was soon released due to lack of evidence and the murder was never solved.
Amazingly, she stayed with him until 1982, but when she left him the Mafia Wars broke out. She fought with the Cotolo clan.
Her brother Ciro was shot and wounded and then she was accused of killing her own right-hand man, Ciro Galli, who was trying to modernise her Camorra.
Then both Assunta and former lover Ammaturo were arrested and put on trial for the murder of neo-fascist forensic scientist Aldo Semerari. Ammaturo was found innocent and released but she was found guilty and sentenced to four years, despite continual denials of involvement.
In court she was accused of being one of the Naples Mafia ‘Godmothers’. The others were Rosetta Cutolo (‘Eyes of Ice’), Anna Mazza (‘The Black Widow’) and Ermina Giuliano (‘Celeste’). She wasn’t happy being put in the same category as the others. She was the first female Camorra boss in Naples.
Meanwhile, Ammaturo fled to Peru where he set himself up as a cocaine baron. Eventually he was extradited back to Italy where he turned state witness.
He admitted he had murdered Aldo Semerari and that Assunta had nothing to do with it – so she was released.
Being a ‘state witness’ was breaking the ‘Omerta’ (the Code of Silence). This is an automatic sentence of death.
Ammaturo was given a new identity under the witness protection programme. Now in his eighties it is believed he is living in Sicily.
Upon release she gave up Mafia activities and returned to her clothes shops. However, as being ex-Mafia, all of her assets were seized by the state.
The writer of her biography said she was still a liar, a manipulator of people and someone who revelled in her notoriety and loved attention. And yet…on a personal level she was very likeable.
She tried to justify the Mafia’s influence in the Naples area. “The state let the people down. Somebody had to do something.”
She lived her last few uneventful years, alone in Sorrento, where she was a recluse. She died her hair a garish shade of crimson red and wore out-of-date clothes that she considered seductive. To all extents and purposes, she seemed like a typical old lady surrounded by trinkets and photos of her children and grandchildren – except for the display case containing the gun with which she had committed murder.
The actress who played her in a television series, Manuela Arcuri, visited her – and the two became close friends.
It was said that her good looks had concealed a ruthless, violent streak.
RIP – Ruthless Italian Pupetta