- Convicted Italian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was stricken with a serious illness, died in a hospital prison ward.
- Denaro’s death comes just months after authorities managed to arrest the mastermind responsible for some of the Sicilian Mafia’s most heinous murders.
- Denaro was convicted of dozens of murders and was involved in a string of bombings in 1992 that killed Italy’s top anti-mafia prosecutors.
Matteo Messina Denaro, a convicted mastermind of some of the Sicilian mafia’s most gruesome murders, died Monday in a hospital prison ward, several months after he was arrested as Italy’s No. 1 fugitive and after decades on the run, Italian prosecutors said.
State-run Rai radio, broadcasting from L’Aquila hospital in central Italy, said the heavy police detail guarding the hospital room was moved to the hospital morgue after Messina Denaro died at about 2am. Doctors said he had been in a coma since Friday.
The brief statement on his death from the L’Aquila prosecutor’s office did not give a time of death, but said both the office and that of the prosecutors in Palermo, Sicily, were requesting an autopsy, even though it was known that Messina Denaro had ” afflicted with a very serious illness.”
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The burial was expected to take place later this week in Sicily, Italian media reported.
Reputed by investigators as one of the Mafia’s most powerful bosses, Messina Denaro, 61, lived on the run in western Sicily, his stronghold, during at least much of the 30 years he eluded law enforcement thanks to the help of complicit townspeople. . His need for treatment for colon cancer led to his arrest on January 16, 2023.
Investigators had been on his trail for years and had discovered evidence that he was receiving chemotherapy as an outpatient at a Palermo clinic under an alias. Searching Italy’s national health system database, they tracked him down and took him into custody when he showed up for a treatment appointment.
His arrest came 30 years and one day after Mafia “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina was arrested in a Palermo apartment, also after decades in hiding, on January 15, 1993. Messina Denaro himself later went into hiding that year.
While on the run, Messina Denaro was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, including helping to plan, along with other Cosa Nostra bosses, two bombings in 1992 that killed Italy’s top anti-Mafia prosecutors — Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino .
Prosecutors hoped in vain that he would cooperate with them and reveal Cosa Nostra secrets. But according to Italian media reports, Messina Denaro made it clear that he would not speak immediately after the arrest.
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When he died, he “took with him his secrets” about Cosa Nostra, state radio reported.
After his arrest, Messina Denaro began serving multiple life sentences in a maximum-security prison in L’Aquila, a city in Italy’s central Apennine mountain region, where he continued to receive chemotherapy for colon cancer. But in recent weeks, after undergoing two surgeries and with his condition deteriorating, he was transferred to the hospital prison where he died.
His silence fell on the examples of Riina and another top Sicilian mob boss, Bernardo Provenzano, who was captured in a farmhouse in Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 37 years in hiding — the longest on the run for a Mafia boss. . Once Provenzano was in police custody, the state’s manhunt focused on Messina Denaro, who managed to elude capture despite his numerous reported appearances.
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Dozens of low-level Mafia bosses and foot soldiers turned state’s evidence after the crackdown on the Sicilian syndicate sparked by the murders of Falcone and Borsellino, bombings that also killed Falcone’s wife and several police bodyguards. Among Messina Denaro’s multiple murder convictions was one for murdering the young son of a porter. The boy was kidnapped and strangled and his body disintegrated in a tank of acid.
Messina Denaro was also among several top Cosa Nostra bosses 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 Florence and Milan bombings.
The attacks in these three tourist towns, according to the turncoats, were aimed at pressuring the Italian government to ease the rigid prison conditions for convicted mobsters.
When Messina Denaro was arrested, Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Maurizio De Lucia, said: “We have arrested the last of the masterminds of the massacre.”