Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro’s 30-year bid to evade justice came to a dramatic end today after the Italian ‘Godfather’ was finally arrested – but not without one last attempt to outrun the law.
Messina Denaro, head of the notorious Cosa Nostra gang and nicknamed ‘The Devil’ following a string of brutal murders, was captured when armed police swarmed a private medical facility in Palermo, Sicily, where he was undergoing treatment.
The 60-year-old had tried to outrun the police officers on foot and pushed his way through a series of hospital doors – but he only made it as far as a bar that was part of the same building where he had been seeing doctors for colon cancer checks.
As the officers cornered the now frail mafia boss, Messina Denaro meekly gave them his name before they bundled him into a waiting black minivan in front of shocked patients and medical staff.
Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss, Matteo Messina Denaro (centre), was today arrested at a private hospital after 30 years on the run
Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted Mafia boss who had been on the run for 30 years, was arrested today. Pictured: A mugshot of Messina Denaro from today (left), and the Mafia boss in the 1990s
Messina Denaro, right, is seen in a car with Italian Carabinieri officers soon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily
Members of a Carabinieri police ROS unit outside the Maddalena clinic where Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was captured by special forces in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, on Monday
A composite picture shows a computer generated image released by the Italian police, right, in their efforts to track the mobster down, and a picture of Matteo Messina Denaro, left
Pictured: Police reconstructions of the face of Messina Denaro shared to the public, depicting what he could look like today as an older man, and in costume as a woman
The Mafia boss, who has not been seen in public for three decades, was pictured sitting in a police van wearing a brown leather shearling jacket, a white skull cap and his trademark tinted glasses shortly after his arrest.
Messina Denaro, who had a 12-year-old boy strangled and his body dissolved in acid, was taken to a secret location by police immediately after he was detained.
A trigger man who once reportedly boasted he could ‘fill a cemetery’ with his victims, Messina Denaro was a leading figure in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.
For a mafia boss who evaded arrest for over 30 years, it was his frequent visits to a private clinic that led to his arrest.
Messina Denaro had been sitting in the private clinic waiting to see a doctor for colon cancer tests when he was surrounded and chased by a swarm of armed police officers
A member of staff who asked to remain anonymous told local media: ‘He’d been coming here on and off for about a year. He’d had an operation a few months ago and was back for more tests and chemotherapy.
‘When I turned up for work this morning at 6am it was all quiet and then he arrived to do his Covid test.
‘A few minutes later a police officer wearing full body armour as if he was going to war came in and said he was looking for a patient.
‘He said to remain calm and that armed officers were on every floor of the clinic. We had no idea who he was or what his background was.
‘The guy actually managed to get out and ran into a local bar but they tracked him down and that’s when all hell broke loose.’
Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in 1992 in the murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Pictured: The scene of the murder of Falcone in Palermo, Sicily, in 1992
The mafia boss, who comes from the small town of Castelvetrano in Sicily, also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan which killed ten people the following year
In 1993, Messina Denaro helped organise the kidnap of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo (pictured), in an attempt to blackmail his father into not giving evidence against the mafia, prosecutors say
Messina Denaro, head of the notorious Cosa Nostra gang and nicknamed ‘The Devil’ following a string of brutal murders, was captured when armed police swarmed a private medical facility in Palermo, Sicily, where he was undergoing treatment
Messina Denaro is believed to have become the ‘boss of bosses’ following the death of Salvatore ‘The Beast’ Riina in November 2022. Messina Denaro was the last of three longtime fugitive top-level mafia who had evaded capture.
As news of his arrest spread across Palermo, local residents emerged to applaud and shake the hands of the Italian paramilitary police officers involved in the operation.
The residents were seen cheering and wiping away tears as they felt a wave of relief that Messina Denaro, who had coordinated years of terror in Italy, had finally been detained.
Messina Denaro, who called himself Andrea Bonafede (meaning, ‘Goodfaith’), had tried to run from the private clinic and hide but was caught by the police officers.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed the arrest as ‘a great victory for the state that shows it never gives up in the face of the mafia’.
Messina Denaro faces multiple life sentences. He was sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in 1992 in the murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
The mafia boss, who comes from the small town of Castelvetrano in Sicily, also faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan which killed ten people the following year.
Messina Denaro, 60, who had a 12-year-old boy strangled and his body dissolved in acid, was detained by Italian police at the Maddalena private clinic in Palermo, Sicily
Local residents emerged to applaud and shake the hands of the Italian paramilitary police officers who were involved in the operation (pictured)
The residents were seen cheering and wiping away tears as they felt a wave of relief that Messina Denaro, who had coordinated years of terror, had finally been detained
In 1993, Messina Denaro helped organise the kidnap of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to blackmail his father into not giving evidence against the mafia, prosecutors say.
The boy was held in captivity for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in a vat of acid.
Messina Denaro had been number one on Italy’s most-wanted list but the only known photo of him dated back to the early 1990. A new e-fit was created in 2014 with the help of an informant.
Police said in September 2022 that Messina Denaro was still able to issue commands around the running of the mafia in the area around the western Sicilian city of Trapani, his regional stronghold, despite his long disappearance.
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.
Local residents emerged to applaud and shake the hands of the Italian paramilitary police officers who were involved in the operation that saw Messina Denaro arrested
Messina Denaro also used a five-year-old girl, Attilio Fogazza’s young daughter, to run secret handwritten messages between himself and other mafia top dogs.
Fogazza, who himself is on a murder charge, said in 2016 that Messina Denaro’s second-in-command Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Scimonelli approached his daughter to send the messages.
The right-hand man had taken his daughter for an ice cream and put the messages inside her jacket and backpack.
The daughter and the rest of Fogazza’s family have been living in a secret location under police protection while he cooperates with the prosecutors as they attempt to bring down the ‘boss of bosses’ in the Italian mafia scene.
Fogazza ran a car dealership in south-western Sicily and decided to collaborate with Palermo investigators after he was arrested last December for the murder of Salvatore Lombardo in 2009 who was killed after he stole a van from Scimonelli.
‘One day my daughter said ‘Uncle Mimmo’ had taken her for a gelato and put the messages inside her jacket and her backpack,’ Fogazza told prosecutors in Palermo according to Italian media reports.
Messimo Denaro’s arrest on Monday came 30 years and a day after the Jan. 15, 1993, capture in 1993 of convicted ‘boss of bosses’ Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina, in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run.
Scene of the murder of prosecutor Judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992
Messina Denaro went into hiding in summer of that same year, as the Italian state waged a crackdown on the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.
Italy’s Mafia boss who set the record for the longest time on the lam was Bernardo Provenzano, captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive.
Once Provenzano was in police hands, the hunt focused on Messina Denaro, but despite numerous reported sightings of the boss, he managed to elude arrest, until Monday.
That all three top bosses were ultimately arrested in the heart of Sicily while they conducted decades of a clandestine life won’t surprise Italy’s police and prosecutors.
Law enforcement have long said that such bosses rely on contacts and confidentiality of fellow mobsters and complicit family members to move the fugitives from hideout to hideout, supply basic needs, like food and clean clothing and communication, and a code of silence known as ‘omerta.’