PROFILE: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro’s reign of terror

Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested on Monday after 30 years on the run, is known for shocking violence which has fuelled the bloody reputation of the Cosa Nostra mafia.

PROFILE: Ruthless Sicilian mafia boss Messina Denaro's reign of terror
Italian anti-mafia police officers after the arrest of Matteo Messina Denaro on January 16th in his native Sicily after 30 years on the run. (Photo by Alessandro FUCARINI / AFP)

“With the people I have killed myself, I could fill a cemetery,” he is said to have boasted.

The quote is impossible to confirm, but speaks to the legend that surrounds him.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests ‘most wanted’ mafia boss after 30 years on the run

Known as Diabolik, after an Italian comic character, he was the undisputed leader of the Cosa Nostra in the Trapani province of western Sicily.

But his power extended further, including to the capital Palermo, where he was arrested.

A fan of Rolex watches and designer clothes – as well as comic books and video games – he had a reputation as a playboy, and was once featured on an Italian magazine cover in dark glasses, looking like a rock star.

But his list of victims was long and his crimes horrific, not least the murder of the teenage son of a turncoat.

The boy was kidnapped and held captive for two years and his body then dissolved in acid.

Born on April 26, 1962, in Castelvetrano, in southwest Sicily, MessinaDenaro grew up in the heart of organised crime.

His father, Don Ciccio, was the head of the local clan and his godfather, who attended his baptism, was also a member of the mob.

His first run-ins with the law began in 1989, when he took part in a bloody struggle between two clans.

He was accused that year of murdering Nicola Consales, a hotel owner who complained to an employee of always having “these little mafiosos under our feet”.

Unfortunately, the employee was Messina Denaro’s mistress.

In 1992, he was part of a mob group sent to Rome to try and kill anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.

READ ALSO: How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

The group was eventually recalled by Toto Riina, the Corleone boss dubbed “the Beast”, who decided on another approach. Falcone was murdered in a car bomb near Palermo on May 23, 1992.

Messina Denaro himself was ruthless throughout his career.

In July 1992, after taking part in the murder of Vincenzo Milazzo, the head of the rival Alcamo clan, he strangled the latter’s partner, who was three months pregnant.

The two bodies were buried in the countryside.

As head of the Castelvetrano clan, he was allied to the Corleonesi clan, who were immortalised in the legendary Godfather films.

After Riina was arrested in January 1993, Messina Denaro continued his strategy of all-out terror, providing logistical support to bombings in Florence, Milan and Rome that year, which killed 10 people and wounded around 100.

In November 1993, a court later found, he was one of the organisers of the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, then 12, whose father was a member of the powerful Cosa Nostra clan and was involved in the murder of antimafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone – and had given testimony about the killing.

In one of the most notorious Cosa Nostra incidents, the boy was held for 779 days before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

READ ALSO: Family of child dissolved in acid by Siclian mafia to receive €2 million

Messina Denaro had disappeared from public view in the summer of 1993,beginning what would be 30 years on the run from accusations including mafia association, murder, theft and possession of explosives.

In 1994 and 1996, statements from mobsters who turned state witness shed some light on his role within Cosa Nostra.

In 2000, after a ‘maxi-trial’ against the Sicilian Mafia in Trapani, he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment.

During his decades as a wanted man, Messina Denaro managed his affairs by communicating under the pseudonym “Alessio” through the pizzini system, where messages were left on tiny bits of paper.

His whereabouts and his activities during that time were subject to intense rumour, including that he had plastic surgery to render his appearance unrecognisable.

He had numerous sources of revenue, from drug trafficking to gambling, both in Italy and abroad.

READ ALSO: How the mafia uses violence to influence Italian politics

In 2015, an Italian prosecutor on his trail, Teresa Principato, said he had likely eluded capture for so long because he was protected “at a very high level”.

She did not say whether this meant Cosa Nostra, politicians or institutions.

“We have confirmation of his presence in Brasil, Spain, Britain, Austria. He travels for extremely high-level business, and his return to Sicily isirregular and increasingly infrequent,” she told Il Fatto Quotidiano daily at the time.

In 2020, several of Messina Denaro’s collaborators were arrested, tightening the net around the boss.

And in October that year, he was again sentenced in absentia for his role in Falcone’s murder.

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Why one Sicilian town has put the price of its €1 homes up to €3

The cheap homes hotspot of Sambuca di Sicilia has launched its latest property offer, selling off 12 abandoned properties - this time for the symbolic price of €3.

Why one Sicilian town has put the price of its €1 homes up to €3

Over the last decade, Italy’s famous one-euro home offers have been making headlines internationally – and they show no sign of stopping.

Perhaps no town in Italy has been quite as successful at selling them as Sambuca di Sicilia, a village in the eastern part of Sicily.

The town, with a population of around 5,000, first came into the spotlight five years ago for being among the first to offer abandoned houses for one euro.

READ MORE: Can you still buy Italy’s one-euro homes in 2024?

The mayor reported a “property stampede” at the time as his council was inundated with enquiries from around the world.

It repeated the process two years later in 2021, when the price started from two euros. The village is now on its third batch of sales and is upping the starting price again – this time to three euros.

According to newly-elected mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo, who introduced the first offer as deputy mayor in 2019, the price is going up by one euro every time because “we just want to make it clear that by numbering these batches, more sales will likely follow in coming years.”

The cheap home offers had been “a hit so far” among foreign buyers, and the town had timed the latest sale to coincide with the tourist season, he told CNN.

“Tourists and interested buyers currently travelling to Italy, and those planning a trip in spring and summer, can come take a look,” he said.

MAP: Where in Italy can you buy homes for one euro?

Cacioppo told The Local in 2022 that cheap property sales had boosted the local economy by €100 million in two years.

The 12 properties included in this year’s €3 offer are currently under the ownership of the town hall, having reportedly been abandoned following an earthquake in 1969.

Cacioppo first announced the latest round of sales in November, telling Sicilian regional press: “We continue to believe that the one-euro house project is the right way to create development.”

As with all of Italy’s famous cheap home offers, the true cost involved is slightly more than the symbolic price of €3.

The purchase process varies by town, but in Sambuca’s case this is just the starting bid in an auction process, with houses in previous years being sold for anything between one and 25,000 euros.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about Italy’s one-euro homes

Those taking part in the auction are required to pay a deposit of 5,000 euros and must commit to renovating the property within three years, at their own expense.

Anyone interested must submit their application by 1pm on August 5th in a sealed envelope containing a bank transfer receipt for the €5,000 deposit and a photocopy of an identification document, according to the town council’s instructions.

More information about the offer is available on the council’s website.

Please note The Local is unable to help you purchase a one- (or three-) euro home in Italy. Although please let us know if you decide to make an offer!