Criminal Profile: Matteo Messina Denaro

Not so humble beginnings

Matteo Messina Denaro was born on April 26th, 1962, in Castelvetrano, Sicily, into a family with strong ties to the Mafia. He was the fourth born into a family of six.

His father, Francesco Messina Denaro a.k.a Don Ciccio, was the Capo Mandamento of Castelvetrano, this essentially meant that he was the Head of the Castelvetrano territory. Don Ciccio started off as an armed guard for the extremely wealthy and powerful D’Alì family. He eventually became the overseer of their estate, much of which was eventually handed over to his son, Matteo.

Fun fact: In Italian the word “Denaro” means money, making it the perfect surname for a Mafioso.

Becoming the Boss of Bosses

Matteo grew up around the influence of La Cosa Nostra and learned to use a gun at the age of 14. At age 18 he was already working as a bodyguard and hitman. After the natural death of his father in November of 1998, at age 36, Matteo became the new Capo Mandemento of the Castelvetrano area and its neighbouring cities. By 2001 he took over the leadership of the mafia in the province of Trapani. He was said to have commanded approximately 900 men, and reorganised the 20 mafia families in Trapani into one single Mandemento. The Trapani mafia was considered extremely powerful, second only to the families of Palermo.

Money Money Money

Denaro earned a share of his money through legitimate business, he owned vast olive groves and had stakes in a Sicilian supermarket chain. As for dirty money, that was gathered by skimming off the top of public construction contracts – which was easily done because the family owned substantial sand quarries. As with most modern organised crime collectives, Denaro was involved in the international drug trade. According to the DDA of Palermo he had contacts with Columbian drug trafficking cartels and his illicit networks extended beyond Italy, some as far as Germany and Belgium.

No Mafioso’s portfolio of crime would be complete without including the famous “protection money.” Denaro received hefty sums of cash through an extensive extortion racket that forced business owners to pay a “pizzo” or protection money.

Fun Fact: The term “Pizzo” is derived from the Sicilian word “Pizzu” meaning “beak.” This originates from the phrase “To let someone whet their beak.”


Most Notable Crimes

Around 1991, Denaro was smitten with a young Austrian woman that worked in the hotel where he was staying in Selinunte. One day Denaro supposedly overheard her boss and owner of the hotel, Nicola Consales, complaining to her about “these little mafiosi under our feet” Shortly after, he was shot dead. Denaro was involved in the 1992 bombings that killed anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Due to the media storm surrounding the case, Denaro went into hiding a year later. In 1993, Denaro murdered one of his rival bosses, Vincenzo Milazzo. He then proceeded to strangle Milazzo’s 3-months-pregnant girlfriend to death.

“I filled a cemetery all by myself” – Matteo Messina Denaro

The Torturing of a 12 year old

Denaro helped to organise the kidnapping of a 12 year old boy. In November of 1993 the mafia kidnapped Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 12-year-old son of a mobster-turned-state-witness – Santino Di Matteo. At the time, Santino was being held in police protection in the Italian mainland since he agreed to testify against his former associates. Disguising themselves as police officers, La Cosa Nostra members arrived at Giuseppe’s horse-riding school and told him that they would take him to see his father. They abducted him and held him captive for nearly 800 days before murdering him. In the duration of those two years Giuseppe was confined to cages in derelict farmhouses, tortured, and used as a pawn to turn his father. The kidnappers even sent photographs to Santino of his son mid-torture – battered, bruised and terrified. Giuseppe’s parents tried desperately to negotiate and made several attempts to track him down, but with Santino bound by law to testify, they never stood a chance at seeing their son again. In January of 1996 Giuseppe’s captors strangled him to death then forced his emaciated little body into a bath of nitric acid so his body would never be found.

Where is the Boss of Bosses now?

After 30 years on the run, Matteo Messina Denaro was finally caught on the 16th of January 2023. At the time of his capture he was estimated to be worth a whopping €4 billion. Denaro is currently being held in a maximum-security prison in L’Aquila, in central Italy. He is due in court this year for multiple murder charges. He will be represented by his niece Lorenza Guttadauro, the daughter of his sister Rosalie. Who is the new Boss of Bosses? Police have not yet named a suspected successor.

It can be difficult to understand the scope of Matteo Messina Denaro’s crimes. When looking purely at the numbers of victims that died at the hands of this powerful criminal, we often become desensitised to the humans behind the statistics. Matteo Messina Denaro strangled a pregnant woman to death, he was partially responsible for the torture and subsequent death of an innocent teenage boy, and murdered two magistrates that were trying to change Italy for the better.

No one was safe from his reign of terror.