How mafia’s ‘last Godfather’ was jailed for life after murder of 12-year-old boy

THE mafia’s “last Godfather” was finally caught today after 30 years as a fugitive.

Matteo Messina Denaro, nicknamed The Ghost, once boasted of “filling a cemetery all by myself”.

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The mafia boss meekly surrendered to cops after being cornered in a hospital in PalermoCredit: EPA
The once dapper don wore a wool hat and sheepskin jacket

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The once dapper don wore a wool hat and sheepskin jacketCredit: EPA

But he surrendered meekly after being cornered in a bar in a hospital complex where he was being treated for cancer.

The once dapper don wore a wool hat and sheepskin jacket as he was led away by armed cops.

In the pouring rain, a gaggle of residents stood and applauded as he shuffled through the clinic doors and was bundled into a black police van.

Finally the “boss of bosses” behind bloodshed and mayhem across Italy would face justice.

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A testimony to his barbarity was how he and associates reacted when mafioso Santino di Matteo began cooperating with police.

In a bid to silence the turncoat, his 12-year-old son Giuseppe was kidnapped, held for two years and then strangled. His body was dissolved in acid.

Messina Denaro ordered the sickening murder of Giuseppe, 12

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Messina Denaro ordered the sickening murder of Giuseppe, 12

Messina Denaro was sentenced in his absence to life in prison.

He was also wanted for more than 50 murders as well as 1993 bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan.

Mafia expert Anna Sergi, a sociologist at University of Essex, said: “I didn’t think I would ever wake up to this news.

“Messina Denaro is such a mythological figure. As long as the boss is unattainable, and no one can catch him, it means that the Cosa Nostra spark is still alive.

“This feels like closure to most people in Italy.”

Italian PM Giorgia Meloni said: “This is a great victory for the state which shows it will never give up against the mafia.”

There had been speculation Messina Denaro may have fled abroad and transformed his appearance with plastic surgery.

Yet it appears he remained among the rugged hills of his native Sicily where he could rely on a network of sympathisers.

He was born into the Cosa Nostra — the syndicate depicted in the Godfather movies starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino — in Castelvetrano in western Sicily.

His father Francesco, known as Don Ciccio, was the head of the mafia in Trapani province and was once Italy’s second most wanted man.

His son — soon known as “Diabolik” after a comic book villain who slaughtered anyone in his way — would go one better.

Bloodthirsty Messina Denaro junior was said to have learned to use a gun aged 14 and committed his first murder at 18.

In 1998 his 78-year-old father was found dead in a riverbed, the apparent victim of a mafia feud. His ruthless son was now the Trapani godfather.

While other mafiosi stayed close to their own family values and rural roots, he was a flash playboy mimicking Hollywood portrayals of the mob.

The dapper mob boss was a notorious womaniser in his heyday

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The dapper mob boss was a notorious womaniser in his heyday
The Sicilian Mafia inspired the famous Godfather films

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The Sicilian Mafia inspired the famous Godfather filmsCredit: Paramount

He was a notorious womaniser who wore Ray-Bans, Versace suits and Rolex watches, drove Porsches loaded with champagne to beachfront clubs.

He reportedly executed rival boss Vincenzo Milazzo and strangled his pregnant girlfriend.

He also allegedly killed a Sicilian hotel owner who accused him of an affair with an Austrian receptionist.

As his notoriety grew he joined the inner circle of Cosa Nostra godfather Toto “The Beast” Riina.

Messina Denaro was a key lieutenant in a murderous terror campaign designed to show the Italian authorities that the mafia ran Italy.

After the arrest Riina and his successors Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore Lo Piccolo, news magazine L’Espresso reported: “He may look like a boy but he is the new boss of Cosa Nostra.

“He is very wealthy, lives life in the fast lane and is a compulsive womaniser and bon viveur.”

Now nicknamed The Ghost, in 1993 he went into hiding — disappearing, according to a prosecutor, “like Bin Laden”.

But he maintained a deadly grasp on his criminal empire. He shunned computers and phones, instead sending commands via secret “pizzini” — pieces of wafer-thin paper hidden between a messenger’s toes.

He passed the time with video games and a series of lovers. At one point he was rumoured to have visited Essex where his daughter was said to be living.

Some believed his freedom was guaranteed with kickbacks to cops and politicians.

Giacomo Di Girolamo, author of a 2010 book about Messina Denaro called The Invisible, said at the time: “How else do you explain the fact that Denaro has been on the run for almost 20 years? He has a network of allies and is always on the move.”

Italian prosecutors seized the fugitive’s assets and targeted his protective ring of friends and relatives, including the arrest of his sister in 2013. But the ancient creed of silence, known as omerta, held firm.

Then yesterday cops surrounded La Maddalena private hospital in Siclian capital Palermo.

The godfather was calling himself Andrea Bonafede — meaning Goodfaith — and had been having treatment at the clinic for around a year.

A member of staff said: “He’d had an operation a few months ago and was back for more tests and chemotherapy. We had no idea who he was or what his background was.”

They added a cop “wearing full body armour as if he was going to war came in and said he was looking for a patient”.

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They went on: “He said to remain calm and that armed officers were on every floor of the clinic.

“The guy actually managed to get out and ran into a local bar but they tracked him down.”

SECRET CRIMES

THE Sicilian mafia — known as Cosa Nostra or “Our Thing” in Italian — is a blood-soaked criminal network dating back to the Middle Ages.

Some believe it may have begun as a secret organisation to help overthrow foreign conquerors such as the Scaracens and the Normans.

The Cosa Nostra became a loose grouping of about 100 “families” headed by a “boss”.

The 1972 film The Godfather and its two sequels were based on them.

They evolved a system of justice based around a code of silence called omerta.

It meant never seeking justice from the authorities and never helping them to solve a crime.

Those who broke the sacred code could expect a violent death.

The mafia orchestrated a terror campaign that included car bombings in Palermo

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The mafia orchestrated a terror campaign that included car bombings in PalermoCredit: AP

Oliver Harvey

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