‘The last Godfather’, captured after 30 years on the run, dies at 61

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Rome: Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died.

Denaro, 61, was suffering from cancer at the time of his arrest. As his condition worsened he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he was initially held.

Denaro had requested no aggressive medical treatment, the Italian news agency ANSA reported, adding that medics had stopped feeding him after he was declared to be in irreversible coma.

Top Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, centre, lsoon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily on January 16.Credit: Carabinieri via AP

He was convicted of numerous crimes, including for his role in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked the country and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.

Sicilian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, was on the run for 30 years.Credit: Carabinieri via AP

He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to try to dissuade the boy’s father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held for two years, then murdered.

Dubbed by the Italian press as “the last Godfather”, Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private health clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on January 16.

According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name. A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Denaro’s health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.

Matteo Messina Denaro aged 43 in 2006. His career of crime is said to have started with his first murder at 18.Credit: AP

The son of a mafioso, Denaro was born in the south-western Sicilian town of Castelvetrano in 1962. He followed his father into the mob and at 15 was already carrying a gun. Police say he did his first killing when he was 18.

The Castelvetrano clan was allied to the Corleonesi, led by Salvatore “the Beast” Riina, who became the undisputed “boss of bosses” of the Sicilian mob, known as Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), thanks to his ruthless pursuit of power.

Nicknamed “’U Siccu” (The Skinny One), Denaro became his protégé and showed he could be just as pitiless as his master, picking up 20 life prison terms in trials held in absentia for his role in an array of mob murders.

He once claimed to have murdered enough people to fill a cemetery.

He went into hiding in 1993 as a growing number of turncoats started providing details of his role in the mob, but investigators believe he rarely wandered far from Sicily.

Police say he spent much of 2022 hiding in Campobello di Mazara, a town of about 11,000, a short drive from his mother’s house in western Sicily.

He communicated with other mafiosi via “pizzini”, small pieces of paper sometimes written in code distributed by messengers, some of which were intercepted by police.

He never married, but was known to have a number of lovers. Denaro wrote that he had a daughter, but had never met her.

Despite his notoriety, prosecutors have always doubted that Denaro became the Mafia “boss of bosses”, saying it was more likely that he was simply the head of Cosa Nostra in western Sicily.


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