On Monday, Italian officials announced the death of Matteo Messina Denaro, the 61-year-old Mafia boss who evaded capture for nearly three decades. Denaro succumbed to colon cancer at San Salvatore Hospital in L’Aquila, central Italy.
Background and Arrest
- Born on April 26, 1962, in the southwestern Sicilian town of Castelvetrano, Denaro followed in the footsteps of his father, a recognized mafioso.
- Eluding the grasp of law enforcement for 30 years, he was ultimately captured outside a private health clinic in Palermo, Sicily, on January 16.
- At the time of his arrest, he had been battling cancer, a condition that severely worsened in the months leading up to his capture.
Crimes and Convictions
Denaro’s criminal record paints the picture of a merciless mobster:
- He played a crucial role in planning the 1992 assassinations of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, events that jolted Italy and instigated a severe crackdown on the Sicilian mob.
- In 1993, Denaro was linked to bombings in Rome, Florence, and Milan, resulting in 10 fatalities.
- His dark acts include the abduction and subsequent murder of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, intending to prevent the boy’s father from testifying against the mafia.
Despite numerous convictions, including several life sentences, Denaro remained a fugitive, masterfully avoiding capture. Many of his trials and subsequent sentences occurred in absentia.
Mafia Operations and Legacy
- Denaro was a pivotal figure in the Cosa Nostra, the renowned Sicilian mob. However, experts argue that he might not have ascended to the topmost position within the mafia’s ranks, challenging his title as the “boss of bosses.”
- Italian media often referred to him as “the last Godfather.” This title signifies the closing of a chapter, as Denaro represented the bridge between the aggressive Cosa Nostra of the early 1990s and the discreet, corporate-like Mafia of the 21st century.
- His modus operandi included communicating with fellow mobsters through “pizzini” – coded messages written on small pieces of paper.
- Even in hiding, he remained close to home. Police reports indicate that Denaro spent a significant portion of 2022 in Campobello di Mazara, a mere stone’s throw from his mother’s residence in western Sicily.
CNN experts, at the time of his capture, stated that Denaro’s influence within the Mafia had considerably waned.
Implications of Denaro’s Death
With the death of Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy confronts the end of an era dominated by the oppressive shadow of a man whose criminal empire caused anguish and despair for countless victims and their families. His demise prompts several questions regarding the future of organized crime and the power vacuum it might create.
The Aftermath of Cosa Nostra
- Without Denaro, the Cosa Nostra faces a potential leadership vacuum. Experts believe the mafia’s structure could undergo significant changes, with younger and more modern mobsters possibly ascending to power.
- As turncoats had started to expose the mafia’s operations and members, there may be a push within the organization to embrace a lower profile approach, focusing on business-like ventures and distancing from overtly violent acts that draw attention.
Law Enforcement’s Response
- Authorities are on high alert, anticipating potential infighting within the Cosa Nostra for control or possible alliances with other criminal syndicates to bolster strength.
- Investigations into Denaro’s vast network of connections are still ongoing, with the hope of dismantling remnants of his empire and preventing any resurgence.
Family Ties and Final Days
For Denaro, criminal activities were a family enterprise:
- His brother, Salvatore Messina Denaro, was apprehended in the 2009-2010 crackdown but declined to disclose any information regarding Matteo’s whereabouts.
- In 2013, his sister, Patrizia Messina Denaro, was sentenced to a 14-year imprisonment for her association with the Mafia, a term she continues to serve.
Before his death, there were whispers in Sicily about Denaro’s deteriorating health. There were speculations of a “deal” that might bring him into the open in exchange for enhanced cancer treatment.
Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini commented on Denaro’s death: “You shouldn’t deny prayers to anyone, but I can’t say I am sorry.”
Italian officials have confirmed that Denaro’s remains will be returned to Sicily in the coming days, where a strictly private funeral awaits.