Could body found on Italy’s Mount Etna help solve long-standing mafia mystery?

Half a century after investigative journalist Mauro De Mauro disappeared in Sicily, the discovery of a body in a cave has raised fresh hopes of cracking one of Italy's mafia mysteries.

People hike on Mount Etna volcano in Sicily, Italy
Sicily's Mount Etna volcano, where a body was found last September. Photo: Guillaume BAPTISTE / AFP

Crime laboratory analysts are expected to perform a DNA test on the corpse, which was found in September on the slopes of Mount Etna by a sniffer dog during a mountain rescue exercise.

Investigators have long believed De Mauro, who had been looking into the suspicious death of powerful businessman Enrico Mattei, was kidnapped and killed by Sicily’s Cosa Nostra organised crime group.

The journalist disappeared on September 16th, 1970, in Palermo.

His daughter Franca, one of the last people to see him alive, called a police hot-line after reading news reports about the recently found body, which dates to the 1970s and has a distinctive nose — just like her father.

The man on Etna, in his 50s, was wearing dark trousers, a light striped shirt, a wool jumper, a black tie, a dark green coat, a winter hat with a pom-pom on it, and black boots, the reports said.

“We expect they will do a DNA test,” the De Mauro family’s lawyer Giuseppe Crescimanno told AFP.

A coin from 1977 was discovered next to the remains, along with a piece of a newspaper from 1978, according to La Sicilia daily — both of which date to after De Mauro’s disappearance.

Franca does not recognise the clothes, nor the comb or watch found with the body, the paper said.

“She is not sure they are not his, she doesn’t rule it out, she just cannot remember them — except perhaps the hat with the pom-pom,” Crescimanno said.

The journalist may have been held by kidnappers for years and have been given different clothes. If the body is a DNA match with De Mauro, he may have died after managing to escape.

Police mountain rescuers can be seen in a video published on their Facebook page this week climbing down a steep, narrow tunnel to the cave, the entrance to which is almost hidden from the outside.

The dog had been supposed to be sniffing out a fictitious missing person for training purposes — but found the real remains instead.

Investigators believe the man, who was in his 50s and about 170 centimetres tall (five feet, six inches), entered the cave voluntarily but found it impossible to climb out again.

His death is not believed to have been violent, the reports said.

De Mauro had been doing research for award-winning director Francesco Rosi’s film about the death of Mattei, who founded the ENI oil company, and who died in a 1962 plane crash likely caused by a bomb.

Mafia boss Salvatore “Toto” Riina was tried over De Mauro’s murder, but found not guilty for lack of proof.

The journalist was kidnapped a few days before Franca’s wedding. After having returned home together from an outing, Franca went inside while her father parked the car.

She turned to see two or three men appear, and get into the car. De Mauro then drove off quickly, never to return, according to the Giornale della Sicilia daily.

The lead investigators on the case would be killed in turn by the mafia years later.

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Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

The notorious mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, captured in January after three decades on the run, has died in hospital in central Italy.

Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro dies after long illness

Matteo Messina Denaro, known as the ‘last godfather’ of the Cosa Nostra mafia and accused of a long series of heinous crimes, died in the early hours of Monday, Italian news agency Ansa announced overnight.

The 61-year-old had colon cancer, for which he had sought treatment while on the run – a decision that reportedly brought him to the attention of the authorities, who arrested him at a clinic in Palermo.

Messina Denaro was one of the most ruthless bosses in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies.

He was convicted by the courts of involvement in the murder of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and in deadly bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993.

One of his six life sentences was also handed down for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the 12-year-old son of a witness in the Falcone case.

Messina Denaro disappeared in the summer of 1993, and spent the next 30 years on the run as the Italian state cracked down on the Sicilian mob.

READ ALSO: Messina Denaro: How Italy caught ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years

But he remained the top name on Italy’s most-wanted list and, increasingly became a figure of legend.

He was arrested on January 16th as he visited a health clinic where he was being treated using a fake identity.

Mafia boss hideout in Sicily

Police officers prevent access to mafia boss Messina Denaro’s hideout in Campobello di Mazara, Sicily. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

He was detained in a high-security jail in L’Aquila, central Italy, where he continued treatment for his cancer in his cell.

In August, Messina Denaro was moved to the inmates’ ward of the local hospital, where his condition had declined in recent days.

This weekend, media reports said he was in an “irreversible coma”. Medics had stopped feeding him and he had asked not to be resuscitated, they added.

His arrest may have brought some relief for his victims, but the mob boss always maintained his silence.

In interviews in custody since being arrested, Messina Denaro even denied he was a member of the Cosa Nostra.


After Messina Denaro went on the run, there was intense speculation that he had gone abroad – and he likely did.

But in the end, he was found to have been staying near his hometown of Castelvetrano in western Sicily.

READ ALSO: Police arrest dozens in major raid on Italy’s youngest mafia

Preparations are already under way for his burial in the family tomb in the town, alongside his father, Don Ciccio, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Don Ciccio was also head of the local clan. He was said to have died of a heart attack while on the run, his body left in the countryside, dressed for the funeral.

Investigators had been combing the Sicilian countryside for Messina Denaro for years, searching for hideouts and wiretapping members of his family and his friends.

They were heard discussing the medical problems of an unnamed person who suffered from cancer, as well as eye problems – a person who detectives became sure was Messina Denaro.

They used a national health system database to search for male patients of the right age and medical history, and eventually closed in.