Matteo Messina Denaro, the Italian Mafia boss who was convicted of many murders and caught in January after spending 30 years on the run, died of cancer, officials confirmed on Monday.
Messina Denaro, 61, was being treated for colon cancer at the time of his arrest. As his condition deteriorated in recent weeks, he was transported to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he had been imprisoned previously.
On Friday, he went into a coma and never recovered consciousness.
“You shouldn’t deny prayers to anyone, but I can’t say I am sorry,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Instagram.
Messina Denaro was found guilty of numerous crimes, including helping plan the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino — crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.
He was also deemed guilty for the 1993 bombs in Rome, Florence, and Milan that killed ten people, as well as assisting in the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to prevent the boy’s father from testifying against the mafia.
The youngster was imprisoned for two years before being slain.
Messina Denaro, dubbed “the last Godfather” by the Italian press, is not thought to have provided any information to police after being apprehended outside a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily, on Jan. 16.
According to medical records obtained by the Italian media, he underwent colon cancer surgery under a phony name in 2020 and 2022. Messina Denaro’s health had deteriorated substantially in the months preceding up to his capture, according to a doctor at the Palermo facility.
Messina Denaro, the son of a mafioso, was born in the southwestern Sicilian town of Castelvetrano in 1962.
He followed his father into the mob and, at the age of 15, was already armed. According to police, he committed his first murder when he was 18 years old.
The Castelvetrano clan partnered with the Corleonesi, commanded by Salvatore “the Beast” Riina, who rose to become the uncontested “boss of bosses” of the Sicilian mafia, known as Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), through his merciless quest of power.
Nicknamed “U Siccu” (The Skinny One), Messina Denaro became his protege 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 himself once claimed to have murdered enough people to fill a cemetery.
“You always need to respect death, because unlike mafiosi, we respect life until death.
But we must not forget Messina Denaro, a murderer, a mass murderer who harmed his land,” Castelvetrano Mayor Enzo Alfano told Adnkronos news agency.
Messina Denaro went into hiding in 1993 after a growing number of informants revealed facts about his mob position, but authorities suspect he never left Sicily.
According to police, he spent much of 2022 hiding in Campobello di Mazara, a village of around 11,000 people near his mother’s home in western Sicily.
He corresponded with other Mafiosi through “Pizzini,” little pieces of paper often inscribed in code that were distributed by couriers and captured by police.
He never married, but he was known to have had several affairs.
Denaro claimed to have a daughter but had never met her.
According to Italian media, the two met after he was apprehended and she consented to take his surname.Despite his reputation, prosecutors have always questioned Messina Denaro’s status as the Mafia’s “boss of bosses,” claiming that he was more likely the head of Cosa Nostra in western Sicily.
According to a government official, his body will be returned to Sicily in the following days for a very private funeral.