‘THE LAST GODFATHER’ DIED. The life of capo Matteo Messina Denaro could well serve to inspire a new film saga or a series about the mafia. Who died on Monday at the age of 61 in Italy, he was a ruthless killer who spent 30 years on the run after a campaign of violence that helped build the bloody reputation of the Sicilian criminal organization.
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Messina Denaro suffered from colon cancer for which he had been treated during his time as a fugitive, a decision that caught the attention of the authorities, who arrested him in January of this year at a clinic in Palermo.
“With the people I’ve killed myself, I could fill a cemetery,” he boasted, a statement impossible to confirm but one that speaks to the legend that surrounded him.
Messina Denaro helped spread terror on behalf of Cosa Nostra and over the years was sentenced to six life sentences, including for his role in the 1992 murder of anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone and deadly attacks in Rome. , Florence and Milan in 1993.
He was a loyal lieutenant of Salvatore ‘The Beast’ Riina, leader of the Corleonesi clan immortalized in the ‘Godfather’ films, and who died in prison in 2017.
WHO WAS MESSINA DENARO?
Known by the nicknames ‘U siccu’ (the thin one, in the Sicilian dialect) or ‘Diabolik’ because he liked the well-known thief from the famous comic. Born on April 26, 1962 in Castelvetrano, southwestern Sicily, Messina Denaro grew up in the heart of organized crime.
His father, Don Ciccio, was the head of the local clan and his godfather was also a member of the mafia.
Messina Denaro, at the time of his arrest last January.
Little by little he rose through the ranks in Cosa Nostra and investigators considered that he became the ‘boss of bosses’ of the Sicilian mafia from his hiding place after the arrest of Toto Riina, just 30 years ago, and later of Bernardo Provenzano, who was on the run from justice for 38 years.
EFE reported that Messina Denaro had been a fugitive since the summer of 1993, when in a letter written to his then girlfriend, Angela, after the mafia massacres in Rome, Milan and Florence, he announced the beginning of his life as a fugitive from Justice. “You will hear about me (implying that I knew that soon after his name would be associated with serious bloodshed) and you will paint me as a demon, but it is all falsehoods,” he wrote.
Messina Denaro had his headquarters in the province of Trapani, western Sicily, but his influence reached as far as the regional capital, Palermo, at the time of his arrest on January 16, 2023.
He had been on the run since 1993, fleeing what would become a decades-long repression by the Italian state that would drastically erode the power of Cosa Nostra.
The police finally found him when he was visiting a clinic in Palermo to receive cancer treatment.
Messina Denaro was a fugitive for 30 years.
A MOVIE CAPO
A fan of Rolex watches and designer clothing, comics and video games, Messina Denaro had a reputation as a ‘playboy’ and once appeared on the cover of an Italian magazine with dark glasses and the look of a rock star.
After his arrest, memorabilia from the movie ‘The Godfather’ was found among his belongings, including a magnet featuring a mafia boss in a suit and the words ‘The Godfather, that’s me.’
But his crimes were horrible and the list of his victims was long, including a child whose body he dissolved in acid and a pregnant woman.
Messina Denaro’s first run-ins with the law began in 1989, when he participated in a bloody fight between two clans.
A robot image created by the Italian police of the face of mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, captured on January 16, 2023 in Sicily. (AFP).
In 1992, he was part of a group sent to Rome by Riina to try to kill Falcone. They were removed when the mafia boss decided on another approach.
Finally, Falcone was murdered with a car bomb near Palermo on May 23, 1992, a crime for which Messina Denaro was sentenced in 2020 in absentia to life imprisonment.
Other crimes marked him as especially ruthless, even by mafia standards.
In July 1992, after participating in the murder of Vincenzo Milazzo, head of the rival Alcamo clan, he strangled Milazzo’s partner, who was three months pregnant.
After Riina’s arrest in January 1993, Messina Denaro continued its strategy of total terror, providing logistical support to bomb attacks in Florence, Milan and Rome, which left 10 dead and a hundred injured.
In November 1993, a court later declared, he was one of the organizers of the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, then 12 years old and whose father had testified about Falcone’s murder.
The boy was held for 779 days before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
The revolver of the Cosa Nostra boss, found in one of his hiding places. EFE/Carabinieri
Messina Denaro had disappeared from the public scene in the summer of 1993, but in later years, statements by informers shed some light on his activities.
In 2000, after a mega-trial against the Sicilian mafia in Trapani, he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for murder and mafia association.
During his decades as a wanted man, Messina Denaro managed his affairs by communicating using the ‘pizzini’ system, in which messages were left on small pieces of paper.
He had numerous sources of income, from drug trafficking to gambling, both in Italy and abroad.
In 2015, Teresa Principato, an Italian prosecutor who was tracking him, declared that authorities had confirmed his presence in Brazil, Spain, the United Kingdom and Austria.
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