‘Last Mafia Godfather’ Matteo Messina Denaro Dead at 61

Posted on: September 26, 2023, 04:48h. 

Last updated on: September 27, 2023, 01:39h.

Matteo Messina Denaro, believed to be the “capo di tutti capi,” the boss of all bosses of the Sicilian Mafia, has died at age 61.

Matteo Messina Denaro, Cosa Nostra, Sicilian Mafia
Matteo Messina Denaro, pictured after his arrest in January. The notorious Mafia boss launched a terrorist bombing campaign against the Italian state in the 1990s and was suspected of murdering at least 50 people. He was finally caught while visiting a cancer clinic in Palermo after 20 years in hiding. (Image: EPA)

Dubbed “the last Godfather” by the media, he was Italy’s most wanted man for 20 years before his capture last January while undergoing chemotherapy for the colon cancer that claimed his life.

The Cosa Nostra is a secret Sicilian criminal society that controls protection rackets, prostitution, drugs, and illegal gambling. Its sphere of influence stretches far beyond the Mediterranean island at the tip of Italy’s “boot.”

It had a direct influence on the formation of the American Mafia, which adopted many of its customs and codes.

War Against State

Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to life in prison in 2002 for the 1992 killings of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. At the time, the Cosa Nostra was waging an open war with the Italian state.

Messina Denaro was also convicted of masterminding terrorist bomb attacks in Florence, Rome, and Milan in 1993. The bombings killed 10 and sparked widespread public outrage.

He symbolized the state’s impotence against organized crime during his two decades on the run. Mafia experts described his arrest at a medical facility in Palermo, the Sicilian capital, as the end of a myth that the crime syndicate would struggle to come to terms with.

‘Filled a Cemetery’

Messina Denaro was born in Sicily on April 26, 1962, to a known Mafia boss. Nicknamed ‘‘Diabolik,” after a comic book criminal who couldn’t be caught, he began his criminal career as a hitman. He quickly rose through the ranks under the ruthless boss, Salvatore Riina, known as Belva, or “The Beast.”

Messina Denaro was suspected of more than 50 murders. He once boasted that he “filled a cemetery all by himself.”

When 100 agents of the anti-Mafia Carabinieri raided the health facility where he was being treated in January, they found a figure who was sick and frail and who readily admitted his identity. Messina Denaro was tired of running.

On Friday, he slipped into an “irreversible coma,” according to Italian media. During his last days, his daughter, whom he met for the first time after his arrest, was by his bedside.

“A man who has done so much harm to his land has died,” said Enzo Alfano, the mayor of Castelvetrano. “It will be decades more before we culturally put an end to a mentality, a culture – sometimes rampant – of illegality, of impunity, which he, his acolytes, and others before have been cultivating for too long.”