A Mafia boss who spent nearly three decades evading law enforcement before he was arrested in January has died while receiving medical treatment, according to Italian media reports.
Matteo Messina Denaro, who is thought to have ordered dozens of Mafia-related murders for the Cosa Nostra crime group, died at the San Salvatore hospital in L’Aquila, central Italy, where he had been treated for colon cancer, public broadcaster Rai reported Monday.
Messina Denaro was moved to the prison hospital last week and was in a medically induced coma at the time of his death, according to the hospital.
Messina Denaro was given several life sentences in absentia for his many crimes, most notably in 1992 for his involvement in the murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He received his most recent life sentence in 2020 for fatal bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 1990s, and for the murder and torture of the 11-year-old son of an enemy who gave evidence against the Cosa Nostra.
Before he died, cases for the murders of Falcone and Borsellino, and for the murder of 11-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo were in the process of being brought before higher courts.
Messina Denaro continued to deny any involvement in the Cosa Nostra, despite the convictions.
Having been a wanted man for nearly 30 years, he was the Cosa Nostra’s longest-hiding fugitive.
The January police raid at the Maddalena clinic that ended in his capture involved more than 100 agents with the anti-Mafia Carabinieri.
Messina Denaro – known as Diabolik – is regarded as one of the successors of Bernardo Provenzano, who was famously arrested while in hiding in a farmhouse outside Corleone, Sicily, in April 2006.
Crime was a family affair for Messina Denaro, born to a known Mafia boss in Sicily on April 26, 1962. Among those arrested in the 2009-2010 crackdown was his brother, Salvatore Messina Denaro, who refused to testify about his whereabouts.
In 2013, his sister, Patrizia Messina Denaro, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, a term she is still serving, for being a member of the Mafia.
Though Messina Denaro had been in hiding for nearly 20 years, whispers of his failing health had been circulating in Sicily for months before his arrest earlier this year. There were hints of a “deal” to bring him back to the surface in exchange for better cancer care.
While on the run, Messina Denaro worked closely under Provenzano until the latter’s death in 2016, leading the way for Messina Denaro to be considered the top boss.
Felia Allum, professor of comparative organized crime and corruption at the UK’s University of Bath, said in January that Messina Denaro was the last of an old generation of Mafia bosses.
“He represents the final link between the belligerent and overt Cosa Nostra of the early 1990s and the silent, business-like Mafia of the 21st century,” she said at the time.
Messina Denaro is survived by his 27-year-old daughter, Lorenza Alagna, whose mother was one of Messina Denaro’s many lovers. All of his reported romantic partners have been questioned by police and are under investigation for harboring a fugitive.
Alagna initially refused to visit her father behind bars, but on May 10 went to see Messina Denaro to introduce him to her baby – the convicted mafioso’s only known grandchild, the prison spokesperson said at the time.