The Buzz

The Shocking Story of How Mussolini Died

At 3 am on Sunday, April 29, 1945, a yellow furniture truck stopped at the Piazzale Loreto, a vast, open traffic roundabout where five roads intersected in the northern Italian city of Milan. This industrial center had been held for only four days by Communist partisans, but from 1919 on it had been the spiritual headquarters of the Fascist Party founded there by former journalist and World War I Army mountain corps veteran Benito Mussolini.

In a very real sense, his first political career, ended the day before by his demise, had now come full circle as Mussolini’s dead body was dumped from the van onto the wet cobblestones of the empty roundabout, followed by those of 16 other men and a lone female, his mistress since 1933, Claretta Petacci. All 18 people, their dead bodies thrown out by 10 men, had simply been murdered by Communist Party execution squads in hails of gunfire.

Without any sort of trial, 15 men were shot in the back at the town of Dongo on the shore of Lake Como, with Marcello Petacci slain in the water as he swam in vain for his life.

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As for the Fascist Duce (Leader) and his lady, how, where, why, and by whom they were shot are all still unsolved mysteries even today. While the executions of the men were thinly disguised, politically motivated assassinations, the killing of Claretta Petacci was and remains a shameful, common criminal act by ruthless men who had power over her and wrongfully exercised it—no more and no less.

By 8 am, word had gotten around the city via a special newspaper edition as well as bulletins on Radio Free Milan that the hated Duce, revered just four months earlier at public rallies by this very same citizenry, was dead and available for scorn in the Piazzale Loreto. It was there, on August 13, 1944, that the Fascists, egged on by the German SS, had shot 15 partisans. This day’s butchery had been allegedly in revenge for that earlier deed.

A large, ugly, depraved, and nasty crowd of civilians and partisans gathered and quickly got out of control; neither fire hoses nor bullets fired in the air could deter or disperse it.

Two men kicked the late Mussolini in the jaw while another put a pendant in his dead hand as a mock symbol of his lost power; a woman fired five pistol shots into his head as retaliation, she asserted, for the same number of her dead sons, all slain in Il Duce’s series of imperialistic wars since 1935. A fiery rag was thrown in his face, his skull was cracked, and one of his eyes fell out of its socket.

Another woman hitched up her skirt, squatted down, and urinated on his face, which others spit on with abandon, while yet a third brought forth a whip with which to beat his battered corpse. A man tried to stuff a dead mouse into the former Italian premier’s slack, broken mouth, chanting all the while, “Make a speech now!” over and over again.

Pushed beyond hatred and emotional endurance, the angry mob stormed forward and actually trampled the 18 bodies where they lay.

When a burly man picked up the slain Duce by the armpits and held him for the throng to view, the latter chanted, “Higher! Higher! We can’t see! String them up! To the hooks, like pigs!” Thus it came to pass that the bodies of Il Duce, his mistress, and four others were tied with ropes and hoisted six feet off the ground, their dangling bodies lashed by the ankles to the crosspiece of an unfinished Standard Oil gas station that has long since disappeared.

As the sole female corpse was raised, the belle of that gruesome ball’s skirt fell downward around her face, revealing a panty-less torso to the taunts of the crowd. Some accounts say that a woman, others say a male partisan chaplain stepped forward and placed a rope taut around her legs, thus securing her skirt in place for the cameras of the world to film.

A woman gasped aloud, “Imagine, all that and not a run in her stockings!”

Il Duce’s face was blood splashed, and his famous mouth gaped open, while Claretta’s eyes stared dully into space. The former Fascist Party secretary, Achille Starace, dressed in a jogging suit for his daily run, was brought forth, faced the dead, and incredibly gave the stiff-armed Fascist salute to “My Duce!” He was then shot in the back by a four-man firing squad.

Just then, the rope holding the dead body of Francesco Barracu snapped, and his corpse hit the ground below with a sickening thud; Starace was strung up in his place like a piece of meat beside the others. Next, Mussolini’s rope was cut, and he fell to the cobblestones on the top of his head, his brains oozing out onto the wet street.

At 1 pm, the combined protests of the Catholic cardinal of Milan and the just arriving American military government succeeded in having the bodies taken down, placed in plain wooden coffins, and sent to the city morgue.

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