The years of Saint Robert - Rondolino – Rosso (1820-1920)
Cascina Simonetto, put up for sale by the heirs of Carlo Benedetto Bertelli d'Asti, was bought in 1820 by Count Cesare Ballada di Saint Robert (1781-1857), who studied mathematics in Genoa and became an important botanist.
At the age of forty-five, when he suddenly lost his sight, he wrote the book Lamentations of a Poor Blind Man with Christian Thoughts. Upon his death Cascina Simonetto was inherited by his daughter Carolina, married to Michele Rondolino.
Their son Ferdinando was born in 1850, heir to Cascina Simonetto and future husband of Albina Gianoli (1863-1933).
Ferdinando Rondolino graduated in law in 1850 and began his career as a magistrate, which he later gave up to devote himself to the study of history and to the “Azione Cattolica” (Catholic Movement).
His many works include a book of medieval studies written in collaboration with Riccardo Brayda, Villabasse, its Tower and its Gentlemen (1887) and a historical novel set in Villarbasse in the fourteenth century, The Court of Acaja (1884).
Ferdinando Rondolino died in Turin in 1929 in his house in Via Bogino, but Cascina Simonetto had already been sold in 1920 to Massimo Gianoli, first cousin of Albina.
Part of Cascina Simonetto was home to the Rosso family for a hundred years (1820-1920).
The family patriarch was Giuseppe Rosso (1835-1911) and his father before him.
Giuseppe Rosso married Giuseppa Frassi, with whom he had four children: Gabriella, Ferdinando, Luigi and Bartolomeo.
The last member of the Rosso family to be born at Cascina Simonetto was Ferdinando’s third son, who was born on the farm on 17th July 1921 and baptized with the name of Massimo, in honour of Mr. Gianoli, his godfather.
The years of Massimo Gianoli (1920-1945)
Massimo Gianoli (1880-1945) bought Cascina Simonetto in 1920. He was forty years old. A law graduate and passionate about agriculture, he occupied a leading position with Agip Piemonte, where he remained until the outbreak of World War II.
In the hands of Massimo Gianoli, Cascina Simonetto became a model farm in the 1930s, with its cutting-edge architecture and production systems.
20th November 1945
Ever since that day the name of Villarbasse has systematically appeared, at first in the chronicles, and then in the history and in the collective imagination.
The reconstruction of that tragic night is found in court documents, in the long trial that ended with the alleged culprits being sentenced to death.
The story is well known: four armed men, their faces covered with handkerchiefs, crept into Cascina Simonetto on the evening of 20th November 1945. It was dinner time and in the large kitchen the maids were putting the finishing touches to a typical Piedmontese dish: bagna cauda.
The housekeeper recognised one of the four bandits: a young man who had worked at Cascina Simonetto during the previous summer.
Along with three accomplices, he organized the plot, convinced that in the safe of the villa there was a large sum of money.
But when he was recognized, the planned robbery turned into murder. The eight people who were at Cascina Simonetto that night were struck down with a steel bar and thrown into a water tank with a concrete block tied to their ankles. Later on, the husbands of two of the maids went to the farm to look for their wives, who were late going home. They too were thrown into the water tank with the others.
At dawn the next day, 21st November, the farmhouse appeared to be uninhabited and the whole case was a complete mystery. The people had disappeared, the dog had disappeared. Only a crying baby was found, grandson of the farmer.
Various assumptions were formulated, including abduction. The whole area was searched and investigations were conducted by the Police, the Carabinieri, the dreaded allied army commanded by Captain Marshall, groups of former partisans and volunteers from the valley. Prayers were said at the local church.
The bodies were found eight days later, not in a remote gorge in the area, but on the actual farm, in a rainwater tank.
The rest of the story concerns the inquiries, that eventually led to the suspects through a series of fortuitous circumstances and thanks to the determination and intelligence of the investigators.
Four months after the massacre, three of the four killers had been caught and the murder reconstructed in detail through the confessions of the accused.
The leader of the gang was later found dead in Sicily, probably executed by local criminals.
The trial for the massacre at Cascina Simonetto started on 3rd July 1946 at the Court of Assizes and ended with the judgment delivered on 5th July: the death sentence. The execution took place at the Basse di Stura shooting range in Turin on 4th March 1947.
The names of the victims of Cascina Simonetto are remembered by a plaque in the cemetery of Villarbasse: Massimo Gianoli, Teresa Delfino, Antonio Ferrero, Anna Varetto, Marcello Gastaldi, Renato Morra, Fiorina Maffiotto, Rosa Martinoli, Gregorio Doleatto, Domenico Rosso.
The transition: Ferrero - Garelli - Barbero (1945-1960)
Three months after the massacre, in February 1946, some people were willing to move into the farmhouse at Cascina Simonetto to run the farm.
Their names were Giacomo and Gina Ferrero, a young married couple in their early twenties.
On 5th May of that year, their first son Bruno was born at Cascina Simonetto; today he is a Salesian priest and writer. Five years later their second son Piero was born.
The Ferrero family lived at Cascina Simonetto until 1953.
At that time the main house was also rented.
Ettore Garelli, a graduate in Business and Economics who worked at the Turin Superintendency of Finance, moved into the farmhouse at Cascina Simonetto in 1946 with his wife Buba and their two-year-old son Guido.
Ettore and Buba had met and married during the war: he was in the Italian Army, while she was active in the Serbian Partisan Brigades.
Ettore Garelli was a member of an esoteric group known as "Idea Spiritualista". The group, made up of twelve members, included a medium, Libia Martinengo, a young woman who channelled the philosophical and esoteric teachings from a spiritual entity. The group met in Turin in Via Magenta and in the great hall at Cascina Simonetto.
Among Mr. Garelli’s acquaintances was Gustavo Rol, who visited Cascina Simonetto and came into contact with the "intelligent spirit" of the people who had lost their lives on that tragic November night.
The Garelli family lived at Cascina Simonetto until the end of 1960.
After the Ferrero family left the farmhouse to start their own business in town, another family came to live at Cascina Simonetto.
The Barbero family from Lagnasco (in the province of Cuneo) moved to Cascina Simonetto in November 1953.
There were seven of them: Giuseppe (born in 1896) with his wife Angela (born in 1905), three sons, Giovanni, Giuseppe and Francesco, aged fifteen, twenty-four and twenty-five, and two girls, Giovanna and Teresa, aged twenty and twenty-two.
In February 1955, Giuseppe’s wife Giovanna had twins, Roberto and Guido, and then just six months later, in July, Mrs. Buba Garelli also gave birth to twins, Vera and Paola.
The Barbero family lived at Cascina Simonetto from 1953 to 1960.
New owners, new name: the Oberto family (1961-1990)
In 1961 the property was purchased by the Oberto family.
Daniele Oberto (born 1903), owner of a professional firm in Alpignano, and his wife Angela Ballabio (born 1911) had nine children born between 1933 and 1948.
One of the first things that the new owners did was to change the name of the house, which they renamed La Pervinca (The Periwinkle), as a tribute to the little blue flowers that grow in the garden. They wanted to break with the past, with the deadly story that had so profoundly marked the fate of that place. They wanted to forget.
Along with its new name, the farmhouse also acquired a new personality.
Part of the land was sold, the barn was emptied, even the vineyard, that required continual maintenance, was uprooted.
La Pervinca became a weekend and holiday retreat for Daniele and his wife Angela, their children and grandchildren. Over the years it was the venue for a series of baptisms, communions, graduation parties, birthdays and weddings.
Daniele Oberto died in 1986 and at the end of the Eighties his heirs put the property up for sale.
Recent history: the Grosa family (1990 up to today)
In 1990 the property was bought by two brothers, Aldo (born 1924) and Sergio (born 1927) Grosa.
Aldo Grosa, who was very fond of this place, spent the last years of his life at Cascina Simonetto, where he was reunited with his wife Franca, after twenty years of separation.
At the age of 84, Aldo passed away peacefully at Cascina Simonetto, bequeathing the property to his daughter, Marinella.
In 2013 the original name of the property was restored: Cascina Simonetto.
Texts and photographs taken from: La casa ritrovata - Storia (e storie ) della Cascina Simonetto di Villarbasse - Effatà Editrice, 2013
( The house that has recovered – Cascina Simonetto in Villarbasse: history and stories, 2013, Effatà Editrice)
The photos are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the permission of the author and publisher.