Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro (right), during his arrest, in Palermo (Sicily), January 16, 2023. UFFICIO STAMPA COMANDO GENERALE CARABINIERI / AFP
In the summer of 1993, it was through a love letter that Matteo Messina Denaro, 30, with the Italian police on his heels, announced the start of his run: “You will hear about me, they will portray me as a devil, but it will only be lies”, he wrote to Angela, his girlfriend at the time, as a farewell. Overnight, the most feared young mafia boss in Sicily becomes a ghost.
For the next thirty years, this brutal man, with a reputation as a playboy, would escape investigators with the same virtuosity as his favorite comic book hero, Diabolik, for whom he made a nickname. Italy knows the photo portrait of him from his wanted poster for homicides, attacks, arms and drug trafficking: an angular face, shrouded in mystery, hidden behind sunglasses. The face of a merciless killer, who has become the symbol of super fugitivesthe most elusive bosses.
But the patient Messina Denaro, aged 61 and consumed by cancer, died in hospital, the ANSA agency reported on Monday, September 25. Several dozen agents used to stand guard around the room of the former “Corléonese” in the San Salvatore hospital in L’Aquila (Abruzzo).
Eight months earlier, on January 16, it was precisely by following the trail of his colon tumor that investigators managed to arrest Italy’s most famous fugitive, while he was going to a medical consultation, under an identity loan, in a clinic in Palermo. Thus ended the career of a man who until then had never set foot in a prison cell, nor even on the dock of a court.
“The beast”, “the skinny one” and the Walther P38
The criminal destiny of Matteo Messina Denaro takes root in Castelvetrano, in the province of Trapani, where he was born on April 26, 1962. Although the fourth of six siblings (and second boy), he grew up as an heir, programmed to succeed his father, Francesco, known as Don Ciccio. A simple farmer, according to his identity papers, “Ciccio” is in reality the mafia boss of this region of western Sicily. A taciturn, ally of the Corléonais, who became the new masters of the island in the early 1980s, at the cost of a bloodbath. At their head, Toto Riina, “the leader of all leaders”also nicknamed ” The beast “ (” the beast “).
It is the “beast” himself who will mentor young Matteo and propel him among the elite of Cosa Nostra. Riina instills in this promising boy, first nicknamed ” The Dry » (“the skinny one”) because of his skinny silhouette, the art of shenanigans as much as express liquidations. With the Walther P38, the ambitious man proves himself. He even exceeds his master’s expectations, but also frees himself from the rules of “men of honor” of the old school, who are generally discreet and rather austere. Messina Denaro is a high roller. He goes out to discotheques, drives a Porsche, parades around in Versace suits, scarf around his neck, gold watch on his wrist.
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