Wanted for 30 years by all the police in Italy, the powerful Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro, who died in prison at the age of 61, was a ruthless assassin, the last representative of the old guard of Cosa Nostra.
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“With the people I killed myself, I could fill a cemetery,” this great firearms enthusiast is said to have boasted to a friend, according to comments reported by the Italian press and which contributed to build the reputation of this killer, who committed his first homicide at the age of 18.
Nicknamed Diabolik, named after a criminal protagonist of a famous Italian comic book of which he himself is a fan, this man sentenced to life imprisonment six times was the undisputed leader of Cosa Nostra in the province of Trapani, in the west of Sicily, even if its power extended as far as Palermo, the capital of the island.
Born on April 26, 1962 in Castelvetrano (south-west), he was immersed in organized crime from childhood: his father, Don Ciccio, was the head of the local clan, highly appreciated by the “capo dei capi” Salvatore Riina (1930- 2017), the boss of Corleone nicknamed “the beast” for his ferocity. Matteo will also form close ties with Riina.
In 1992, he was part of a group of thugs that the latter sent to Rome to assassinate the anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone. They are finally called back by “the beast”, who will have the judge killed in a bomb attack on May 23 near Palermo.
This important decision is taken with the agreement of other sponsors, including Messina Denaro, who in 2020 will be sentenced in absentia to life in prison for his involvement.
His cruelty has nothing to envy of that of the “wild beast”: in July 1992, after having participated in the murder of Vincenzo Milazzo, the head of the Alcamo clan, he also strangled his partner, who was three months pregnant.
As head of the Castelvetrano clan, this myopic man with thick glasses is the faithful ally of the Corleonesi clan, immortalized on film in “The Godfather” and led by Riina, in the murderous war of Cosa Nostra against the State.
After Riina’s arrest in January 1993, Messina Denaro continued his strategy of all-out terror, providing logistical support to organize attacks in Florence, Milan and Rome that same year, which left ten dead and around a hundred injured.
“He was the last of the men who implemented the Cosa Nostra strategy of violence and attacks (…) and the assassination of Falcone and Borsellino. He was always part of the group of leaders who decided all of this,” Roberto Saviano, a Neapolitan journalist and writer specializing in the mafia, explained to AFP at the time of his arrest.
“Pizzini”, these messages written on small pieces of paper | AFP
Faced with an avalanche of investigations for mafia association and multiple homicides, he chose to disappear into thin air during the summer of 1993, while continuing to manage his criminal empire in the shadows.
In November 1993, he was one of the organizers of the kidnapping of little Giuseppe Di Matteo to force his father Santino to retract his testimony on the assassination of Falcone.
After 779 days of detention, “Diabolik” and others gave the order to kill the 12-year-old child, who was strangled. His body is then dissolved in acid.
In 1994 and 1996, the testimonies of repentants shed light on his role within Cosa Nostra. In 2000, at the end of the maxi-trial against the mafia called “Omega” in Trapani, he was sentenced in absentia to life in prison.
During his run, he manages his “business” by communicating through “pizzini”, these messages written on small pieces of paper appreciated by mafiosi for their discretion. In his hideout were found, in addition to biographies of Putin and Hitler, products derived from the famous film “The Godfather”, notably a poster of Al Pacino, but also a magnet with Marlon Brandon and another representing a boss in a tuxedo with the inscription “The godfather is me”.
In 2015, prosecutor Teresa Principato estimated that if he had been able to evade the police for so long while traveling easily it was only because he was protected “at a very high level”, without however specifying the nature of this protection. “We have had confirmation of its presence in Brazil, Spain, Great Britain, Austria,” she was surprised.
The amount of his fortune, built on drug trafficking, games of chance, but also renewable energies, was estimated by some Italian media at several billion euros.