HE was known as the Last Godfather and boasted he had “filled a graveyard all by myself” with his brutal crimes.
Now Sicilian don Matteo Messina Denaro has met his own end, at the age of 61.
Sicilian don Matteo Messina Denaro has died at the age of 61[/caption]
Denaro was responsible for some of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by the Cosa Nostra[/caption]
The mafia boss was arrested in January after 30 years on the run[/caption]
The mafia boss, who was arrested in January after 30 years on the run, died in hospital in the Central Italian city of L’Aquila suffering from cancer.
A notorious womaniser who flaunted his wealth with Porsche cars, Rolex, Armani and Ray-Ban sunglasses, Denaro was responsible for some of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by the Cosa Nostra.
Among them was a terrorist-style 1993 bombing campaign that killed ten, including a nine-year-old girl and her baby sister.
Known as “the Skinny One”, the ruthless crime boss was linked to more than 50 murders and was also involved with the killing of a child who was kidnapped, strangled then dissolved in acid.
The mayor of L’Aquila, Pierluigi Biondi, said Denaro’s death “puts the end to a story of violence and blood”.
It was “the epilogue of an existence lived without remorse or repentance, a painful chapter of the recent history of our nation”, he added.
It may also be the final nail in the coffin for the romanticised image of the Sicilian mafia.
It’s grip on criminalhas been slipping since the 1990s, due to a police crackdown and a vacuum left at the top, partly caused by Danero’s three decades on the run.
Anna Sergi, criminology and organised crime professor at the University of Essex, says even Denaro was not the all-powerful figurehead of legend seen in Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Don Corleone in classic 1972 mob movie The Godfather.
She said: “Denaro was not a real boss. There hasn’t been a true boss of all bosses for two decades.”
If Denaro failed to achieve the far-reaching power he craved, it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Born in Trapani, Sicily, he was the son of regional mafia boss Francesco Messina Debaro, known as Don Ciccio, and was taught to handle a gun at 14.
He rose quickly through the ranks of the Cosa Nostra and committed his first murder at 18 before becoming the protege of Totò Riina, the boss of bosses, gaining a reputation as a relentless womaniser and a ruthless killer.
During a 1991 affair with an Austrian receptionist who was working in a hotel on the island, he heard her manager, Nicola Consales, complaining about the “little mafiosi” hanging around the lounge.
Consales was shot dead in Palermo shortly afterwards.
A year later, Denaro invited Riina’s rival, Vincenzo Milazzo, to a meeting before shooting him and strangling his pregnant partner, Antonella Bonomo.
When one of Denaro’s fellow gangsters, Santino Di Matteo gave evidence over the attempted murder of a policeman, Denaro and other mafia bosses ordered the kidnap of the informer’s 12-year-old son, Giuseppe.
The boy was held captive for two years before being strangled then his body was dissolved in acid.
A crackdown by prosecutors in the early Nineties led to Riina declaring war on the state, with Denaro as one of his deadliest frontmen.
Former mafia man Tommaso Buscetta was persuaded to give evidence against the mobsters, by judge and prosecuting magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, leading to mass trials in which 338 were convicted.
Revenge was swift and bloody. In May 1992 Falcone was killed in a bomb attack near his Palermo home.
Borsellino was murdered by a car bomb in front of his mother’s apartment in Palermo two months later.
Denaro had a hand in both murders and when Toto Riina was arrested, in January 1993, he and other mafia bosses colluded in a horrific bombing campaign across Florence, Milan and Rome.
The first explosion, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, killed five, including a nine-year-old girl, Nadia, and her two-month-old sister, in May 1993. Two months later a bomb outside a contemporary art gallery in Milan killed five more.
The bombings — including two more in Rome — also injured 93 people.
Denaro disappeared after the attacks but in 2002 he was convicted, in his absence of murder and sentenced to life in jail.
While he continued to be a figurehead for the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, he eluded police by hiding in plain sight, even living with his mother in 1995 as well as spending two years in a hideout near Bagheria with lover Maria Mesi, who he met on a holiday in Greece.
She was later jailed for three years for helping him.
Denaro and other mafia bosses ordered the kidnap of Giuseppe di Matteo, 12, and held him captive for 779 days before strangling him and dissolving his body in acid[/caption]
By now he had also fathered a daughter with lover Francesca Alagna, although he claimed he had never met the child.
With traditional Italian Mafia families losing their grip on the drugs trade, Danero changed the business model and began to invest in legitimate enterprises, including green energy, using an electrician as a front for a wind power company worth £1.5billion.
He also made millions from construction firms, tourism and a salami company, using frontmen to funnel the cash through to him, as well as moving into oliveproduction with the business Fontane D’Oro, which was seized in 2014.
Denaro also invested in a supermarket chain owned by Giuseppe Grigoli, who had the exclusive franchise for Spar stores in western Sicily.
Grigoli was arrested in 2008 and Italian authorities seized more than £600million in assets, traceable to Messina Denaro, including 12 businesses, 220 property holdings including villas and apartment blocks, and land totalling 60 hectares.
As Denaro’s business empire grew, and he remained out of the grasp of the authorities, Italian police brought in as many associates as they could, with 140 suspects arrested in 2011 alone.
Police finally caught Denaro after wire taps revealed he was suffering from colon cancer and they tracked him to a clinic in Palermo, where he was receiving treatment under the name Andrea Bonafede.
When he was arrested he was wearing a sheepskin coat, a designer Franck Muller watch and his trademark Ray-Bans.
The death of the man dubbed the Last Godfather, eight months after his arrest, marks the end of an era for the Cosa Nostra.
But experts say the real death knell was sounded in the “Second Mafia War”, when the arrests of Riina and his successor Provenzano, which allowed Denaro to seize power, also caused in-fighting which saw the organisation broken into regional chapters.
Expert Anna says: “In the Nineties the Sicilian Mafia was severely harmed not just by state, but by the actions of its very own boss Totò Riina, whose vision of the mafia in the end didn’t really benefit the organisation.”
She adds that the bombings were Riina’s attempt to fight back and break the state’s crackdown, but it badly backfired.
Anna said: “The Sicilian mafia has lost a lot of criminal power. Nowadays they no longer dominate drug trafficking, and by losing that, they also lost a lot of money.
“They still launder money in the wind energy market, for example, or in the hospitality sector . . . but the military side of the Sicilian mafia is no longer predominant, because it almost led to the organisation’s self-destruction.
“Yes, the old families still exist and have some power on the territory, but it’s mostly a local power.”
One former Sicilian commissioner told how other families of the Cosa Nostra have a “crisis of both affiliates and of money”.
Francesco Forgione, ex-president of Italy’s anti-mafia commission, said: “While Messina Denaro staked everything on big business, wind, food distribution, tourism, there was a crisis in the neighbourhoods of Palermo”.
He added prestige was so low they “don’t dare even to ask for a €200 protection payment”.
With police watching their every move, they have been unable to set up a Commission, or Cupola, which is attended by the heads of each family and is the way a new leader is usually chosen.
The last one, in 2018, was rumbled by the Italian police when the attendees simultaneously switched off their mobiles, and 46 were arrested.
Anna says any would-be successor to Denaro will already be known to the authorities — but says the real damage was done by his arrest.
She added: “What the mafia really lost with Matteo Messina Denaro’s arrest, is the organisation’s ‘mythological’ ethos. They were proud of having their boss on the run for so long.”
Although she says Denaro was far from the ultimate Godfather, he could be the last Don with such widespread notoriety.
She said: “The Cosa Nostra’s flaw was that it always placed a lot of pressure and a lot of power in the hands of one man, a person the other bosses will always turn against.”
She added that its new structure as a federation, rather than one crime organisation, means no absolute leader will emerge.
“That’s why Denaro is the last one of whom we know the name,” she explained.
“He’s the last one with the identity of that time. There can’t be another.”
Denaro and mafia bosses colluded in a horrific bombing campaign across Florence, Milan and Rome in 1993, pictured the aftermath of the attack on the Uffizi Gallery[/caption]
The bomb attack that killed Falcone near his Palermo home[/caption]
Denaro shot Vincenzo Milazzo and strangled his pregnant partner, Antonella Bonomo in 1993[/caption]
Rival boss Vincenzo Milazzo pictured[/caption]
Paolo Borsellino was murdered by a car bomb in front of his mother’s apartment in Palermo[/caption]
The car bomb that killed Borsellino in 1992[/caption]
Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in classic 1972 mob movie The Godfather[/caption]