Authorities in Sicily exhumed the presumed body of a legendary Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano in an attempt to put to rest doubts that the corpse isn't that of the outlaw who terrorized the island's countryside in the 1940s.
Ever since the bullet-riddled body was buried at a cemetery in Sicilian countryside 60 years ago, doubts have swirled whether it was the outlaw himself who was buried there.
Some have even alleged that Giuliano escaped a police dragnet and the body of a slain lookalike was buried in his place in Montelepre cemetery in the rugged hills south of Palermo.
The Sicilian Mafia is widely believed to have used the bandit, dubbed the "King of Montelepre," to combat a peasant rebellion against landowners in the years immediately following the Allied occupation of the island in World War II.
"If it's not Giuliano's body, then 60 years of history will have to be rewritten — not just Sicily's, but also Italy's," said Giuseppe Casarubbea, a Sicilian historian who persuaded Palermo prosecutors to reopen the file on the bandit's alleged assassination by Carabinieri paramilitary police in a house in the town of Castelvetrano on July 5, 1950.
Among those gathered for the removal of ribs, a thigh bone and teeth in Montelepre was Rosalia Pisciotta, sister of Gasparre Pisciotta, Giuliano's top lieutenant in his gang of bandits, who at one point bragged of killing his commander but later was generally believed to have betrayed his whereabouts to police.
Pisciotta is buried in the same cemetery. He died in 1954, after drinking strychnine-laced coffee in his cell in a Palermo prison, further fueling the mystery swirling around Giuliano's demise.
Pisciotta was serving a prison sentence for participating in a Giuliano-led massacre of labor organizers, peasants and local Communist politicians in 1947.
"Go away, my brother is dead. Don't disturb him," screamed Rosalia Pisciotta, apparently worried the probe would lead to the exhumation of her brother's remains.
Giuliano's nephew Giuseppe Sciortino told reporters at the cemetery he still held hope his uncle was alive somewhere. If alive, the outlaw would be 88.
It could take weeks before the results of scientific analyses, including DNA tests, are known, coroner Livio Milone told The Associated Press.
Palermo Prosecutor Antonio Ingroia told reporters at the scene that initial inspection of the body found signs the corpse had been autopsied before death and had fracture marks on parts of the body where Giuliano was said to have been shot in a blaze of police gunfire.
During the occupation of Sicily by U.S. troops at the end of the World War II, Giuliano was considered the guerrilla chieftain of a separatist campaign for an independent Sicily.
Some historians say that Giuliano believed the Americans would back the movement, but the separatist campaign eventually died out without success.
Associated Press reporter Francesca Prosperi contributed to this report from Rome.