Mafia boss on the run for decades dies just months after capture

L’AQUILA, Italy (AP) — Matteo Messina Denaro, one of the convicted masterminds of some of the Sicilian mafia’s most heinous murders, died Monday in a hospital prison ward, several months after being captured as Italy’s No. 1 fugitive and after decades. the race, Italian prosecutors said.

State radio Rai, reporting from L’Aquila hospital in central Italy, said the many police officers guarding his hospital room had been transferred to the hospital morgue , after the death of Messina Denaro, around 2 a.m. coma since Friday.

The brief statement from the L’Aquila prosecutor’s office on her death does not cite the time of death, but indicates that the prosecutor’s office and that of Palermo, Sicily, are requesting an autopsy, even though it is well known that Messina Denaro was ” suffering from a very serious illness.

A computer-generated image released by Italian police of mafia boss suitor Matteo Messina Denaro.

The burial is expected to take place later this week in Sicily, Italian media said.

Considered by investigators to be one of the most powerful Mafia bosses, Messina Denaro, 61, lived as a fugitive in western Sicily, his stronghold, for at least much of his 30 years in escape the police with the help of accomplice townspeople. . His need for treatment for colon cancer led to his capture on January 16, 2023.

Investigators had been searching for him for years and uncovered evidence that he was receiving outpatient chemotherapy at a Palermo clinic under an alias. Searching the database of Italy’s national health system, they found him and took him into custody when he showed up for a treatment appointment.

His arrest comes 30 years and one day after the capture, on January 15, 1993, of the “boss of bosses” of the mafia, Salvatore “Toto” Riina, in a Palermo apartment, also after decades of hiding. Messina Denaro himself went into hiding later that year.

While on the run, Messina Denaro was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, including helping to plan, with other Cosa Nostra bosses, two bombings in 1992 that killed the Italy’s leading anti-mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Prosecutors had hoped in vain that he would collaborate with them and reveal the secrets of the Cosa Nostra. But according to Italian media, Messina Denaro made it clear he would not speak immediately after his capture. When he died, “he took his secrets with him” about Cosa Nostra, state radio said.

After his arrest, Messina Denaro began serving several life sentences in a high-security prison in L’Aquila, a town in the mountainous central Apennines region of Italy, where he continued to receive chemotherapy for cancer of the colon. But in recent weeks, after undergoing two surgeries and as his condition worsened, he was transferred to the prison wing of the hospital where he died.

His silence is inspired by the example of Riina and the other big boss of the Sicilian mafia, Bernardo Provenzano, captured on a farm in Corleone, Sicily, in 2006, after 37 years in hiding – the longest period of is on the run for a mafia boss. . Once Provenzano was in police custody, the state’s hunt focused on Messina Denaro, who managed to evade arrest despite numerous sightings of him.

Dozens of mob bosses and lower-level foot soldiers effectively presented evidence following a crackdown on the Sicilian syndicate sparked by the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino, bombings that also killed the Falcone’s wife and several police bodyguards. Among Messina Denaro’s multiple murder convictions was one for the murder of a defector’s young son. The boy was kidnapped and strangled and his body was dissolved in a vat of acid.

Messina Denaro was also among senior Cosa Nostra leaders convicted of ordering a series of bombings in 1993 that targeted two churches in Rome, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence and an art gallery in Milan. A total of 10 people were killed in the attacks in Florence and Milan.

The attacks in these three tourist towns, defectors say, were aimed at pressuring the Italian government to relax the rigid prison conditions for convicted gangsters.

Upon Messina Denaro’s arrest, Palermo Attorney General Maurizio De Lucia said: “We have captured the last of the masterminds of the massacre. »

D’Emilio reported from Rome.


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