Convicted Cosa Nostra “boss of bosses” Bernardo Provenzano, who reputedly led the Mafia’s powerful Corleone clan, died Wednesday, a decade after his capture in Sicily following decades of hiding in the countryside, a lawyer said.
In recent years, Provenzano, 83, had been held under strict security measures at a Milan hospital.
The lawyer, Rosalba Di Gregorio, had cited Provenzano’s increasing physical frailty and mental infirmity in several failed attempts to persuade anti-Mafia prosecutors to ease the prison conditions intended to prevent mobsters from wielding power from behind bars.
The reputed “capo dei capi” (top boss) was arrested in 2006 after 43 years as a fugitive. He had been convicted in absentia of more than a dozen murders, as well as being part of the Mafia’s leadership who ordered the 1992 bombings that, in separate attacks, killed Sicily’s top two anti-Mafia investigators, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He was also convicted of being a mastermind behind Mafia bombings in 1993 in Rome, Milan and Florence, including one attack near the Uffizi art gallery.
Provenzano was also convicted of being among those giving the order for the 1982 murder in Palermo of Carabinieri Gen. Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, who had been dispatched to the Sicilian capital by the Italian government to lead the state’s uphill war against the Mafia.
While young, Provenzano received the nickname “The Tractor” for determination displayed in a mob career that began as a hitman. He was believed to have taken over the leadership of the Sicilian crime syndicate after the 1993 arrest of a fellow longtime fugitive boss, Salvatore “Toto” Riina.
While in charge, investigator say Provenzano helped the Mafia dig its tentacles deeper into the lucrative world of public works contracts in Sicily, turning the mob into more of a white-collar industry of illegal activity, lessening its dependence on traditional money-makers like drug trafficking and extortion.
He essentially thumbed his nose at authorities, who were trying to hunt down a man whose last photo was a confident-looking young man, in a jacket and tie, hair brushed back from a broad forehead, taken decades earlier.
The man who had for years been Italy’s No. 1 fugitive was betrayed not by an informer or a rival mobster, but by clean laundry. Police had tracked a package of clothes to a farmhouse on the outskirts of Corleone, the hilltop town that had inspired the fictional crime family name in “The Godfather.”
Police had noticed the package leave his wife’s house in Corleone, then be delivered to a series of addresses until it finally was driven to the farmhouse. When someone put a hand through the door to take in the laundry, police swept in, nabbing Provenzano, who had been living in the farmhouse with a shepherd who doubled as his housekeeper.
In his decades on the run, Provenzano had counted on Sicilians’ centuries-old mistrust of the state to help him, as he slept in islanders’ homes. His children were born in local hospitals. He even sent the national public health care system a bill for prostate treatment he had abroad under a false name.
Investigators said Provenzano gave his henchmen orders with written notes — not trusting phone conversations for fear of being monitored by police. The notes, found at the farmhouse along with a typewriter Provenzano was believed to have used to write them, later became the basis of a book by Sicilian best-selling author Andrea Camilleri.