Sicilian mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro, widely thought to be the last godfather of his kind, was buried Wednesday in a private funeral in Castelvetrano, Sicily. But he won’t be the last leader of Italy’s most famous Mafia organization.
The mobster will likely be remembered for his bloody legacy – sentenced to 20 life sentences in absentia for the murders of 26 victims.
His victims include Nicola Consales, who ran a beach hotel in Sicily, who Messina Denaro was convicted of murdering after he flirted with a girl the mobster had his eyes on.
And there was Antonella Bonomo, the pregnant wife of a rival boss who got in the way. And Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 12-year-old son of a turncoat who was held hostage and tortured for 779 days before being dissolved in acid. And anti-Mafia magistrates Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, blown up in car bombs 57 days apart.
But when Messina Denaro – aka “Diabolik” – was laid to rest in the elaborate marble family mausoleum, the only names being mentioned were those of potential successors.
Italy’s anti-Mafia investigators agree on four or five possible names: Giovanni Motisi, a 64-year-old Palermo boss nicknamed “u pacchiuni” or the “fat guy” – a former hitman for the late “boss of bosses” Toto Riina – leads the pack. He’s been in hiding since 1998 after being convicted of a string of murders including of two police officers.
Also mentioned are Stefano Fidanzati, a 70-year-old drug kingpin, who former anti-Mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso suggests has a good shot at the job, and Giuseppe Auteri, 49, known as “Vassoio” or “tray,” who had been a close associate of Messina Denaro for years while he was in hiding.
“With the death of Matteo Messina Denaro, a life full of violence, plots and mysteries ends,” Grasso told CNN. “An era of Cosa Nostra also ends, but not Cosa Nostra itself… Cosa Nostra changes, evolves, transforms, but remains the main obstacle for a Sicily and for an Italy free from the yoke of violence, blackmail and poverty.”
Before him, Salvatore “Toto” Riina led the bloodiest era of the Sicilian Mafia’s storied history, and hand-picked Messina Denaro to carry out some of his bloodiest crimes, including murdering the anti-Mafia magistrates.
It was that trajectory that led Messina Denaro to the top in 2016. But it was cancer that led to his arrest in a private clinic in Palermo in January 2023 and what eventually put him in his grave.
In keeping with all mob bosses in Italy, Messina Denaro was denied a public funeral, but it was he who shunned the church, writing once in a coded note that he wanted to reject “every religious celebration because it is made up of unclean men who live in hatred and sin,” according to the dossier of his belongings collected by Italy’s anti-Mafia unit.
Messina Denaro, even with his rap sheet of murders, was highly critical of the Catholic church over the clerical sex abuse scandal.
“It is not those who proclaim themselves the soldiers of God who can decide and execute my lifeless body,” said the note that the unit found in his hideout in Campobello di Mazara. “God will be my judge.”
After an autopsy revealed that he died of “natural causes” tied to his battle with colon cancer, his casket was taken in an armored police van from Abruzzo, where he died, to Calabria, where it crossed the strait by ferry. Once in Sicily, his body was transferred to a cedar coffin he had apparently requested in his last wishes, then moved into a hearse with wide windows.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on Wednesday, the hearse was escorted through the backstreets of his hometown to avoid any semblance of a procession, but onlookers lined the streets leading to the cemetery, taking photos as if he was a celebrity.
Police prohibited anyone but the immediate family from entering the cemetery and blocked all the entrances at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, though there were flowers along the road.
Inside the family chapel, his body was laid to rest beside that of his mobster father, Don Ciccio Messina Denaro.
It was the same chapel that had been previously bugged by police when the younger Messina Denaro went into hiding, since the family and associates might feel safe discussing business there. But family members later discovered loose wires from the listening devices and reported the bug to police, according to a police report of the incident.
The private burial lasted an hour and police kept the cemetery closed and guarded all day.