Infamous killer missing in Cyprus

Self-styled Al Capone escapes from clinic in Cyprus and flees police in a Hollywood-style shoot-out.

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NICOSIA // One of Cyprus's most notorious killers, known as "Al Capone", has been on the loose for a week after escaping from a plush private clinic where reportedly he had been enjoying a life of leisure. His three prison guards were said to be snoozing at the time. It was 2am. The scandal has hogged local headlines, left the authorities reeling and kept the police busy with a huge, but frustrating, manhunt on the small island where violent crime is rare. The justice minister has resigned - falling on one's sword is extremely rare in Cypriot politics - while the government has appointed an independent commission to investigate the blunders that allowed Capone, whose real name is Antonis Kitas, to make an escape that was as farcical as it was sensational. He was the fourth convict to escape police custody in the past 12 months. But there is speculation that Capone, 42, did not intend to break free at all. One theory is that he hoped to slip back into the clinic after taking part in a robbery or gangland hit. If so, that plan went awry within minutes when his getaway car chanced upon three police patrol vehicles a kilometre from the clinic. The police thought his car looked suspicious - although they had no idea who was in it - and attempted to cut him off. It was only when Capone emerged brandishing a silencer-equipped gun that an astonished police officer recognised he was facing the killer. Capone fired at the police, but his weapon jammed. He then rammed their cars and sped off in a volley of gunfire, accompanied by three accomplices who helped his escape from the outside. Capone had been residing in a Nicosia clinic, where he was being treated for a gastrointestinal ailment, since June. There is public dismay at reports that he had a US$360 (Dh1,322)-a-day room which he ensured had a good view. The rumour mill has been in overdrive all week. Some reports suggest Capone was injured in the shoot-out, others that he died and his body was dumped. There is also speculation he fled to the breakaway Turkish-controlled northern part of the divided island where he planned to flee to China with his pregnant Chinese wife, whom he married from behind bars two years ago. She often stayed overnight with him at the clinic. However, he neglected to bring her with him on the night of his escape when she was at the clinic. She has been remanded in custody and claims to know nothing of the breakout. "It's a miracle he didn't escape before this," said Andreas Demetriou, whose wife was being treated at the same hospital. Capone was often seen in the clinic's cafeteria or lolling casually in its corridors, Mr Demetriou told state radio. Eyebrows were also raised after it emerged that Capone, who has spent the past 14 years behind bars for the brutal murder of two foreign women, had somehow paid for his stay in the clinic with thousands of dollars in cash out of his own pocket - although he fled with an outstanding bill of $49,000, which was due to be settled this week. Capone, who anointed himself with his self-aggrandising alias, began life as a low-life and dim-witted petty thief who initially was regarded as an irritant rather than a scourge. In 1986, while doing a spell in the juvenile wing of Nicosia's Central Prisons, he escaped but was caught and completed his term. It was another seven years before he made headline news when he led a botched armed robbery on a jewellery store. It was at his trial for gun possession in that case that he blurted out information that eventually led to his conviction as a rapist and double murderer. Capone said he had information about a Swedish mother of two who had gone missing from her home in the tourist resort of Ayia Napa where she was married to a Cypriot nightclub owner. Capone, who at first claimed he had no involvement in her murder, volunteered to help police find her body, which was discovered after a 29-day search, badly decomposed, in a landfill rubbish site. He was convicted with a fellow Cypriot of kidnapping, raping and strangling 28-year-old Christina Constantinidou before dumping her body. A Swedish journalist who covered the trial remembers Capone slouching in the dock and grinning when particularly grisly evidence was presented. "His lack of remorse and emotion was chilling," Eva Boss said. Capone and his fellow culprit were also found guilty of abducting, raping and murdering Oxanna Lisna, a 21-year-old Ukrainian dancer who worked in Ayia Napa. Her body was found at the bottom of a well. "These were two horrific murders and anyone who committed them must have a sick mind. He [Capone] was a very dangerous person," said Marios Matsakis, a Euro parliamentarian for Cyprus who was the coroner and main prosecution witness in both murder cases during which dental records were accepted as evidence for the first time in Cypriot courts. Mr Matsakis said in an interview from Strasbourg that Capone's escape was "an absolute scandal and totally unacceptable". One of Capone's getaway accomplices, who was arrested, told police the killer had not planned to escape and the Cyprus Mail quoted a justice ministry source suggesting that Capone believed he could soon be eligible for parole and had no reason to imperil his chances of an early release. Cyprus does not yet have a parole system but there are discussions to introduce one. Whatever Capone was planning to do on the night he slunk out of the clinic it is most unlikely he intended to visit and grieve over the graves of either of his victims. No family member ever stepped forward to reclaim the body of Oxanna Lisna, his young Ukrainian victim. She lies buried in an obscure grave in a cemetery in the coastal town of Larnaca.