Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro dies in prison hospital months after capture

The 61-year-old, who had spent years living as a fugitive in Sicily, was tracked down by investigators to a Palermo clinic where he was receiving chemotherapy treatment

Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested in Palermo, Sicily. EPA
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Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was once Italy’s most wanted person, died in a hospital prison on Monday, several months after being captured following decades on the run.

The mastermind of some of the Sicilian Mafia’s worst crimes had been in a coma since Friday.

Italian state radio said the heavy police detail that had been guarding his hospital room moved to the hospital morgue after his death at about 2am.

Denaro, 61, had been living while a fugitive in western Sicily, his stronghold, during much of his 30 years of eluding law enforcement, thanks to the help of complicit townspeople.

However, his need for colon cancer treatment led to his capture in January.

Investigators were on his trail for years and had discovered evidence that he was receiving chemotherapy as an outpatient at a Palermo clinic under an alias.

Digging into Italy’s national health system database, they tracked him down and took him into custody when he showed up for a hospital appointment.

His first words to police were “I'm Matteo Messina Denaro”, the ANSA news agency reported. He did not resist arrest, which came 30 years and a day after the January 15, 1993, capture of the Mafia’s “boss of bosses,’’ Salvatore “Toto” Riina in a Palermo apartment, also after decades in hiding. Denaro himself went into hiding later that year.

While a fugitive, Denaro was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, including helping to plan, along with other Cosa Nostra bosses, a pair of 1992 bombings that killed Italy’s leading anti-Mafia prosecutors – Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Prosecutors had hoped in vain he would collaborate with them and reveal Cosa Nostra secrets. But, according to Italian media reports, Denaro made clear he would not talk immediately after capture.

When he died, “he took with him his secrets” about Cosa Nostra, state radio said.

After his arrest, Denaro began serving multiple life sentences in a top-security prison in L’Aquila, a city in Italy’s central Apennine mountain area, where he continued to receive chemotherapy for colon cancer.

But in the past several weeks, after undergoing two surgeries and with his condition worsening, he was transferred to the prison ward of the hospital where he died.


His crimes include two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that killed top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s wife and several of their bodyguards.

Denaro was also involved in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993, and was accused by prosecutors of being solely or jointly responsible for numerous other murders in the 1990s.

In 1993 he helped organise the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held in captivity for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

He also strangled a pregnant woman, according to Italian media.

Denaro, who had a power base in the port city of Trapani, in western Sicily, was considered Sicily’s Cosa Nostra top boss, even while a fugitive.

During his years on the run, he had a series of lovers and passed time by playing video games, according to Italian media reports.

In 2015, police discovered he was communicating with his closest collaborators via the pizzini system, where tiny, folded paper notes were left under a rock at a farm in Sicily.

Investigators spent decades searching the homes and businesses of Denaro’s known allies on the island in their hunt for the mob boss.

Updated: September 25, 2023, 9:26 AM