Sicilian Mafia’s ‘Last Godfather’ Dies, Ending Violent Reign at 61

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Marking an epochal close to a reign of terror, Matteo Messina Denaro, widely regarded as the “capo di tutti capi,” or the boss of all bosses within the Sicilian Mafia, has passed away at the age of 61. Denaro, a figure synonymous with the sinister underbelly of Italy’s crime world, led a life tainted with blood and violence.

Denaro’s notorious reputation earned him the moniker “the last Godfather” in media circles, marking him as Italy’s most sought-after fugitive for two decades. His reign came to an abrupt end in January, in the sterile confines of a cancer clinic in Palermo. His decades in hiding ended while battling the deadly colon cancer that eventually claimed his life.

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The reign of Cosa Nostra, the clandestine Sicilian criminal organization Denaro belonged to, is far-reaching. From orchestrating protection rackets, managing prostitution rings, and heading illicit drug trade to regulating illegal gambling practices, Cosa Nostra has managed to ensnare societies far beyond the Mediterranean island. Its influence particularly resonated with the formation of the American Mafia, which came to adopt myriad tactics and stances of its Sicilian counterpart.

Denaro, the orchestrator of many shocks to the Italian state, was handed a life sentence in absentia in 2002. His crimes included the ruthless assassinations of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino a decade prior. Notably, Denaro was at the helm of the Cosa Nostra during its deliberate attacks on the Italian state, which included the horrifying bombings in Florence, Rome, and Milan in 1993. These incidents resulted in the tragic loss of ten lives and subsequently sparked national outrage.

As the dust of Denaro’s dramatic capture in a Palermo medical facility settles, it signifies an end of an era for the crime syndicate. Yet, we can’t help but wonder, as the Sicilian Mafia struggle to reconcile with this sudden fall from power, will this prove to be an opportune moment for a new underworld order to thrive?

Born into a life of crime on April 26, 1962, Denaro was the progeny of a renowned Mafia boss. His career started as a hitman, after which he swiftly climbed the ranks under the notorious boss, Salvatore Riina, or “The Beast.” With over 50 murders suspected under his belt, Denaro chillingly quipped that he had “filled a cemetery all by himself.”

Following his capture, authorities discovered an ailing and frail man who willingly confessed his identity, signifying an exhaustion born out of years spent in evasion. According to Italian media, he fell into a permanent coma on Friday. His last days, were however, marked by an unprecedented meeting with his daughter.

In the words of Enzo Alfano, the mayor of Castelvetrano, Denaro’s death symbolizes an end to an era of ruthless harm inflicted by a man on his land. It remains to be seen when Italy can cleanse itself off the crippling mindset of illegality and impunity, a legacy left behind by Denaro and his ilk.

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