Matteo Messina Denaro, the convicted mastermind of some of the Sicilian mafia’s most heinous slayings, is dead.
It comes only months after Italy’s number one fugitive was caught following decades on the run.
Reporting from L’Aquila hospital in central Italy, Rai state radio said police officers guarding Messina Denaro’s hospital room moved to the morgue after the don died at about 2am on Monday.
Doctors said the mobster had been in a coma since Friday.
Reputed by investigators to be one of the mafia’s most powerful bosses, Messina Denaro, 61, had mainly been hiding out in western Sicily, his stronghold, during his 30 years on the run, thanks to the help of locals.
His need for colon cancer treatment led to his capture on January 16, 2023.
Investigators were on his trail for years and discovered evidence he was receiving chemotherapy under an alias as an out-patient at a Palermo clinic.
Digging into Italy’s national health system data base, they tracked him down and took him into custody when he showed up for an appointment.
His arrest came 30 years and a day after the January 15, 1993 capture of the mafia’s “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina in a Palermo apartment, also after decades in hiding.
Messina Denaro went into hiding later that year.
While a fugitive, he was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, including helping to plan, along with other Cosa Nostra bosses, a pair of 1992 bombings which killed Italy’s leading anti-mafia prosecutors — Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
Prosecutors had hoped in vain he would collaborate with them and reveal Cosa Nostra secrets.
But according to Italian media reports, Messina Denaro made it clear immediately after his capture he would not talk.
When he died, “he took with him his secrets” about Cosa Nostra, state radio said.
After his arrest, Messina Denaro began serving multiple life sentences in a top-security prison in L’Aquila, a city in Italy’s central Apennine mountain area, where he continued to receive chemotherapy.
But in his last weeks, after having two surgeries and with his condition worsening, he was transferred to the prison ward of the hospital where he died.
His silence hewed to the examples of Riina and of the Sicilian Mafia’s other top boss, Bernardo Provenzano, who was caught in a farmhouse in Corleone, Sicily, in 2006, after 37 years in hiding — the longest time on the run for a mafia boss.
Once Provenzano was in police hands, the state’s hunt focused on Messina Denaro, who managed to elude arrest despite numerous reported sightings.
Dozens of lower-level mafia bosses and foot soldiers did turn state’s evidence following a crackdown on the Sicilian syndicate sparked by the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino – in bombings which also killed Falcone’s wife and several police bodyguards.
Among Messina Denaro’s multiple murder convictions was one for the slaying of the young son of a turncoat.
The boy was kidnapped and strangled and his body was dissolved in a vat of acid.
Messina Denaro was also among several Cosa Nostra top bosses convicted of ordering a series of bombings in 1993 which targeted two churches in Rome, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence and an art gallery in Milan.
A total of ten people were killed in the Florence and Milan bombings.
The attacks in those three tourist cities, according to turncoats, were aimed at pressuring the Italian government into easing rigid prison conditions for convicted mobsters.
When Messina Denaro was arrested, Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Maurizio De Lucia, said: “We have captured the last of the massacre masterminds.”
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