World War II figure. She received world-wide notoriety during World War II as the mistress of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. At the end of World War II while attempting to escape from Italy to Switzerland to go Spain, she was shot in the chest by Communist partisans in Mezzegra and died as she defend Mussolini with her body. He was executed immediately afterwards. Although countries in South America offered a sanctuary for the couple, they headed to north to Switzerland in a poor attempt to reach Spain. Born into a well-to-do family, her father was Dr. Francesco Petacci, the private physician of the Roman Catholic Pope Pius XI. Her sister Miriam was a well-known actress. Her brother Marcello, who was a follower of Mussolini, was executed while trying to escape at the end of the war. As a young girl, she studied music and was the student of noted violinist Corrado Archibugi. As a 14-year old, she wrote a letter dated April 7, 1926 to Mussolini after an attempted assassination on his life, and this was the first of many letters she wrote to him. On April 24, 1932, she had a chance meeting at a resort of Benito Mussolini and repeatedly sought the attention of a 49 year old, 5'6” married man with five children, who had at least two mistresses and a child by one of them. In 1934, she became the bride of an Italian military officer, Lt. Riccardo Federici, and by 1936, the couple were separated as a divorce was not allowed by the church. She began visiting regularly Mussolini at his office as he did not want any scandal for political reasons. Although others called him “Il Duce” or “the leader,” she called him affectionately “Ben,” as their relationship grew closer. In 1939 he moved with her to a 32-room villa in Rome, which had a swimming pool, tennis court, terraces with gardens, and a bomb shelter. After the fall of Fascism, the villa was confiscated as it was purchased with state funds; the villa went into a state of decay and eventually demolished. When Allied Forces landed on the Italian mainland, the Fascist Grand Council turn against Mussolini, ousting him from power. At the fall of Fascism, she was arrested on July 25, 1943 but released on September 8th. She left Rome with other colleagues traveling to Northern Italy where Nazi Forces were in control. The Italian Social Republic was established under Nazi rule. She lived in a villa near Mussolini and was guarded by Nazi SS officers. On April 23, 1945 her family escaped to exile by plane to Spain leaving her and her brother Marcello in Italy. She knew that Mussolini's reign was over and the end near, but she would stayed with him. The two moved to Milan with false identification papers with plans to travel by a truck convoy to Switzerland. She had packed her suitcase with clothes and money as if she was going on holiday instead of escaping from what could be a death sentence to escape into exile. At 7 AM on April 28th, their Nazi-driven truck was intercepted by a band of Communist Italian partisans. The Nazi soldiers were released, but the Italians were held. She and “Ben” were executed, but her brother escaped but later was also “mowed down with machine gun fire” while his family watched. Her brother's body was added to the pile in the truck that contained her corpse and that of Mussolini's. The next day on April 29th the corpses were transferred to Milan where they were put on display in a city park. After the corpses had been mutilated by thrown rocks, shot with bullets, beaten with bats and other inhuman acts of behavior by a raging crowd, the bodies of Petacci, her lover “Ben” and four others were tied with ropes and hoisted six feet off the ground, with their bodies dangling by their ankles at the site of an old gas station in Milan. She was placed by her lover. While her dull cadaver eyes stared into space, her skirt fell down around her face revealing to the crowd a bare torso without panties; at this point, a person in the crowd stepped forward securing the skirt in place around her legs with a rope covering the nude female body. With all this, her stockings did not have a run in them showing her graceful legs in her expensive black pumps. To document this gruesome end of her life, photographs were taken and made available to media sources. At 1 PM with the combined protest from the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Milan and the American military arriving by 2 PM, the bodies were taken down, placed in wooden coffins, and taken to the city mortuary. An examination of her corpse revealed that Petacci had been executed by 9mm bullets, which adds to the mystery of the weapon used. At first, she was buried in Milan on April 30th under the name of Rita Colfosco, a pseudonym she had used in the past in correspondence with her sister. After learning of Mussolini's fate, Adolph Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945 and his body was burnt. In 1956 her corpse was exhumed by the Petacci family, when they had returned from their Spanish exile back to Italy. Today, her remains rest in Rome's Verano Cemetery in a pink marble tomb topped with a white marble statue. In 2015 her tomb was declared by the cemetery in a state of decay and neglect from her family, but by 2017 was restored from citizen's funding. Gossip has it that her corpse was exhumed by her family to retrieved from the hem of her skirt hidden jewels, which may have been stolen from slain Jews. Part of the correspondence between her and “Ben” and her diary have been release by the Italian Archives but some believe these are not actual her documents. Several movies have been made about her life, even a song was written about it. R.J. Bosworth's 2017 book “Claretta: Mussolini's Last Lover,” tells her story in detail.
Bio by: Linda Davis
1904–1972 (m. 1934)