She was the daughter of Vincenzo Maresca, a Camorrista who controlled their hometown Castellamare di Stabia, south of Naples. The family was known as the Lampetielli, the lightning knives, for their expert use of switchblades and made their money in contraband cigarettes. She was the only girl in a family of four brothers. Tiny, pretty, and spoilt, she was nicknamed Pupetta (Little Doll). At the age of 19, she won a beauty contest and became Miss Rovegliano, a suburban village of Naples.
She was courted by a wealthy and powerful local guappo, or Camorra boss, from Palma Campania, Pasquale Simonetti, known as Pasquale 'e Nola, who worked in the fruit and vegetable market in Naples and dealt in smuggled goods. On April 27, 1955, they married.
Simonetti’s style and power bothered other Camorristi, and one day in 1955 he was shot by Gaetano Orlando, a hitman commissioned by his rival Antonio Esposito, another Camorrista. The six months pregnant Pupetta was devastated. She believed the police knew who the perpetrator was but were not prepared to do anything about it. On August 4, 1955, she drove to Naples with her younger brother, Ciro. When they met Esposito, she reached into her handbag and pulled out a Smith & Wesson .38. Holding it with both hands ("I was afraid I would miss," she explained later), she opened fire and killed Esposito in broad daylight.
On October 14, 1955, she was arrested. The trial started in April 1959 at the Court of Assizes in Naples. The killing and the following trial made international headlines. At the trial, she defiantly declared: "I would do it again!" and the whole courtroom burst into cheers.
One newspaper called her "The Diva of Crime" and for the first time in history the Court in Naples permitted microphones to be used so that the crowds could hear what was going on. Proposals of marriage flooded in and one musician was composing a song in Pupetta's honour called La legge d'onore – the Law of Honour. Nevertheless, she was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, later reduced to 13 years and 4 months by the Court of Appeal.
Pupetta Maresca gave birth to her first child in prison. She was pardoned in 1965, but "Madame Camorra" as she was dubbed, continued to be involved in criminal activities. She became the lover of yet another Camorra boss, the drug baron Umberto Ammaturo, and gave birth to twins. She supported his criminal business. In 1974, when her son was 18 he was abducted and murdered. His death remains a mystery, but she believes the assailant was Ammaturo – who denied knowing anything about his death.
Their separation in 1982 did not mean the end of Pupetta’s Camorra activities. In February 1982, during the war between the Nuova Camorra Organizzata (NCO) and the Nuova Famiglia (NF), she made an appearance to defend her men at a press conference in which she publicly defied the ruthless Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo, the head of the NCO. Cutolo had imposed a ‘tax’ on every case of smuggled cigarettes and the Maresca’s resisted. In 1978 Ciro, Pupetta’s favourite brother, was shot. He survived but while in prison in 1982, Cutolo’s men threatened him again.
Later in 1982, she was arrested with Ammaturo for the murder of forensic scientist Aldo Semerari, and extortion, crimes she still denies. However, Ammaturo who was initially acquitted, later confessed to the murder after becoming a pentita on June 1993. Pupetta Maresca served four years in prison and now lives alone in Sorrento.
Pupetta Maresca’s life has been the subject of several films:La sfida (The Challenge) (1958), by Francesco Rosi, based on the story of Pascalone and Pupetta Maresca, with Rosanna Schiaffino as Maresca
Il caso Pupetta Maresca (1982) (TV film), with Alessandra Mussolini as Pupetta Maresca. Maresca did not agree with the film and was able to prevent its broadcast. Only 12 years later, in 1994, the film was screened on Rai Tre.