Don’t Mess-ina With Denaro

By Isabella Brady

After a career of thirty years evading law enforcement, Matteo Messina Denaro, a Sicilian mafioso, was detained by authorities on January 16 in Palermo, Sicily. Prior to his arrest, Denaro’s reputation was legendary, having boasted multiple times that “with the people I have killed myself, I could fill a cemetery.” 

Denaro’s career began at an early age. Born in Castelvetrano, Sicily on April 26, 1962, his father, Don Ciccio, was a member of the local clan; his godfather, the mob. In adolescence, Denaro flaunted a passion for video games, comic books and a sense of style. 1989 revealed a new streak in Denaro, and a violent one. Accused of murdering a local hotel owner, Nicola Consales, after the business owner speculated a mafia presence on his staff, Denaro began his career in retaliation to what appeared as a threat to his mistress.

To attain the status of Italy’s most wanted man, many fell victim in Denaro’s path to the pinnacle of the mafia presence. Among the first was a forthright anti-mafia judge, Giovanni Falcone, who was brutally murdered by a car bomb on May 23, 1992. Next, Denaro was connected to a murder in July of the same year, this time, one of the leaders of an adversary clan, Alcamo; the victim, Vincenzo Milazzo. Denaro later brutally turned on an ally, strangling his partner to death when she was three months pregnant.

Heading the Cosa Nostra mafia, the clan’s bloody reputation persisted when Denaro apprehended the son of an outspoken individual who testified on behalf of the former judge, Falcone. The grotesque remains of Giuseppe di Matteo were discovered 799 days after his capture. Di Matteo was twelve years old at the time of his death. Unfortunately, through multiple acts of terrorism in the 1990s and onwards, it is impossible to know all the deaths connected to Denaro’s barbaric career.

However, Denaro’s business was masterfully constructed. Operating through the faces of multiple front businesses, Denaro’s leadership introduced a more modern approach than his predecessors, including Salvatore Riina, an ally from another group who was arrested three decades prior. Alongside crime and attacks, Denaro offered jobs and support to the communities his presence proliferated, creating a double bladed sword of danger and dirty money. Many speculate that had he escaped arrest, he would have invested in the renewable energy industry.

Surrounded by over 100 members of law enforcement, Denaro was captured at a medical clinic while he received a covid test in preparation for a chemotherapy appointment under a false name. Denaro’s leadership despite his crimes was preserved through a system of omertà—or silence—which shielded him from the speculation of authorities. The strategy lay in corruption, as many of his allies were prominent figures in the nearby resorts, businesses, and energy providers. Yet, as the case is examined, many questions remain unanswered. Many believe that Denaro’s capture was calculated, a mutiny by his closest allies to revitalize the domestic terrorist group at the turn of a new era. Others believe that Costa Nostra has collapsed due to the recent arrest, and the group will rapidly dissolve. 

Currently, health care providers tasked with Denaro’s case have been placed under investigation for any tacit involvement in the case. Ironically, just a street away from where the majority of mafia investigations occurred, Denaro lived hiding in plain sight, with periodic retreats to Venezuela, Spain, and England. Nevertheless, some things still ring true when presented with the aged mafioso: all the health staff were surprised to discover his true identity, and remarked that he was always well dressed.

As the tumult of the recent case unfolds, authorities will have lost the final identity associated with the highest tiers of the mafia hierarchy. Without insider information, the search for mafiosos will leave authorities in the dark, without names or faces to reference in their pursuit. In Denaro’s absence, one thing is for certain: the power vacuum left in his wake will either permanently disband the group, or revitalize it with new leaders. Only time will determine the lethality of Denaro’s successors as mafiosos on the stage of a modern world.