In the hectic days of post-WWII Italy, which abounded in mafia wars, high-profile assassinations, and terrorism of both the far-left and far-right (in a period of social tension that would escalate to be the Years of Lead, lasting well into the 1980s), it would be easy to think that one more murder wouldn’t easily shock the public opinion.

But this one did. On the evening of August 4, 1955, Antonio Esposito, leader of the Neapolitan Camorra, was shot and killed by the beauty queen and wife of another mafia leader, Assunta Maresca, in revenge for the murder of her husband on Esposito’s orders.

What moved the public to follow the case with attention (and, sometimes, extreme passion) was not only the fame of the accused as a Grande Bellezza, the incredible beauty of her day but because of her impenitent and proud stance in facing the press.

Hop along and join us as we revise ten essential facts about Assunta’ Pupetta’ Maresca, the Mafia’s faithful wife.

10 The Lampetielli

Assunta Maresca was born in Italy, in a Neapolitan family that had close connections with the Mafia.

Nicknamed “the Lampetielli,” “the lightnings,” for the speed at which the members would swing a knife: her father was a trafficker of cigarettes, her uncle was then in prison for the killing of another one of his brothers.

Assunta herself had four other brothers, and she was the only girl: beautiful and a bit spoiled, she was called ‘Pupetta’ or Little Doll.

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9 Beauty Queen Gone Bad

Her beauty was recognized by everyone in her natal town, Castellammare di Stabia (in the Bay of Naples and near Sorrento). She was sent to a beauty pageant celebrated in a suburb of Naples called Rovegliano.

Her beauty triumphed over all her contenders, and she was crowned Miss Rovegliano in 1954, at nineteen years of age.

In the celebration, she caught the eye of a local Mafia leader, Pasquale Simonetti, who traded in fruits and vegetables but had made a living from cigarette smuggling and other criminal activities.

Pupetta was interested in his advances, and they married in April of the next year, at the Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei.



8 A Camorrista's Wife

But Pupetta’s happiness was about to be cut short. Though nearly everyone in the small town of Palma Campania, Simonetti’s natal village, had attended the wedding to wish the bride and groom long years of happiness, some rivalries and hates ran too deep to be stilled by tales of new love.

And though Pupetta, wishing for them to live a peaceful life, had begged and made Simonetti promise that he would stop his criminal activity, his criminal past wouldn’t so quickly leave him alone.

7 Simonetti Is Killed

And so, in July of that same year and barely some months, after they got married, the past did catch up with Simonetti.

Antonio Esposito (a long time acquaintance of Simonetti and one of the attendees to their wedding) ordered local hitman Carlo Gaetano Orlando to kill him over some business disagreements that Esposito and Simonetti had been having.

Gaetano did his dirty work, and on July 16, 1955, Simonetti was shot dead by him in broad daylight in Naples’ central market. Assunta was six months pregnant with his child.

6 Vendetta!

The grieving wife, who had so dearly hoped to live in peace with her husband, was crushed on hearing the news.

She furthermore was sure that the police knew who her husband’s killer was (she knew!), but that they were unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

So, alongside her favorite brother, Ciro, Pupetta drove to Naples. On broad daylight, as her husband’s killer had done, the heavily pregnant woman opened fire on Esposito with the Smith & Wesson .38 that Simonetti had symbolically given to her on their wedding day when he pledged to change his life.

5 Pregnant And Arrested

Two months later, she was found by the police and arrested, alongside Carlo Gaetano Orlando and her brother Ciro Maresca, and taken into custody in the prison of Poggioreale, Naples. There she gave birth to her and Simonetti’s child: a son, by the name of Pasquale Jr.

Only four years later she was finally put on trial, and by then, the public opinion had already divided itself into two groups: the Pupettisti, who supported her, and the Antipupettisti, who (to put it mildly) weren’t.

4 And The Crowd Goes Wild!

But her trial, independently of the public debate on her actions, was universally considered a cause célèbre on account of her defiance against her judges.

In front of a massive audience (both inside and outside the courthouse, where the sound of microphones used inside reached the expectant crowd), she declared to the judges: “I would do it again!” upon which the audience broke into cheers.

Questioned on the events, she further stated why she had held the gun with two hands: “I was afraid I would miss.”

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3 Madame Camorra

Very soon, “Madame Camorra,” as she was nicknamed by the national and international press covering the events, started receiving hundreds of marriage proposals.

Even a now probably lost song was written about her, La Legge D’onore. The beautiful murderer received as well, however, a sentence of eighteen years in prison, alongside her brother’s twelve years and Carlo Gaetano Orlando’s thirty years.

She would later be pardoned in 1965, after which she married another Mafia boss and continued a career in crime.

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2 Pupetta Today

Today, Assunta “Pupetta” Maresca, an eighty-five-year-old woman, lives quietly between Castellammare and Sorrento’s apartments.

She has made some public apparitions, mostly to acknowledge films and series in which she has been portrayed as recently as 2013. Her son with Simonetti, Pasquale Jr., died in 1974 during an ambush.

He had pursued the same criminal career as his father; she still has her twins, Roberto and Antonella, with another Mafia figure, Umberto Ammaturo.

Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo

1 A Popular Figure

Numerous works of art reference the life of Pupetta, out of which stand the 1958 film La Sfida (The Challenge), the 1967 film Delitto a Posillipo (Crime In Posillipo), in which she portrays herself in a modified account of the events that made her famous, and the 1982 TV film Il Caso Pupetta Maresca (The Case Of Pupetta Maresca), in which Alessandra Mussolini portrayed her, none other than the granddaughter of the ex-dictator of Fascist Italy, Benito Mussolini.

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