Matteo Messina Denaro is profiled on Netflix’s new series, World’s Most Wanted, as one of the world’s most notorious fugitives and wanted criminals. One of the episodes of the true crime docu-series focuses on the 58-year-old Italian mafia boss Denaro, whose name means “money” in Italian.
Denaro is widely believed to be the “boss of all bosses” following the arrests and deaths of other Sicilian mafia leaders and he has been a fugitive for over 25 years, since June 1993. Despite the authorities tightening the net around many key figures in the Italian criminal organization, Denaro has managed to evade captivity and is believed to be in hiding in the province of Trapani, Sicily, where he has a lot of allies.
Since he has lived most of his life as a fugitive with no known sightings in over 25 years, a lot about his life is shadowy, with only some information available through informants or arrests of collaborators.
Here’s what you need to know about Matteo Messina Denaro’s family:
1. Denaro Was Born in Castelvetrano in a Notorious Family & His Father Was Also a Mafia Boss
The mafia leader was born on April 26, 1962, in Castelvetrano, a town in the northwest of Sicily, Italy. It’s a town of just over 30,000 people located in the province of Trapani. Denaro is considered one of the world’s most wanted and appears on Europol’s wanted website for his mafia ties, homicides, theft and for transporting and using explosives for the purposes of mass murder and destruction.
However, he’s not the first in his family to be associated with the Italian mafia, as the Denaro family is a notorious Sicilian crime family and his father was also a mafia boss. According to the American Federation of Scientists’ Open Source Center, Denaro’s father was the late Francesco Messina Denaro, known as Don Ciccio. Don Ciccio was the Trapani mafia boss and closely allied to notorious mafia leaders Salvatore “Toto” Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.
His father was first an armed guard to a wealthy family in the Trapani province before becoming an estate overseer to Riina. At the time of Denaro’s father’s death on November 30, 1998, he was the head of the family in Castelvetrano and the head of the mafia commission in all of Trapani, roles that Denaro subsequently filled. One Italian news article wrote that Francesco was found dead on a riverbed about 48 hours after the arrest of his son, Denaro’s brother Salvatore. He was also on the run for over 8 years at the time of his death from natural causes, a heart attack. Every year on the anniversary of Francesco’s death, an obituary is published in the Sicilian newspaper Giornale di Sicilia signed by his loved ones, a stark reminder of Denaro’s presence.
2. He Has a Sister, Patrizia, Who Was Arrested in 2013 For Her Ties to the Organization
In December 2013, a massive anti-crime operation in Sicily ended in the capture and arrest of some of Denaro’s close family members, including his sister. Patrizia Messina Denaro was 43 years old at the time of her arrest, about seven years younger than her infamous brother. Patrizia and other family members were accused by the police of remaining in contact with the fugitive and helping him run the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia.
An investigator who spoke to the Guardian under the condition of anonymity said, “To understand Matteo, you should meet his sister. She is aggressive, determined and happy to use her surname to scare extortion victims. It was her first arrest, and although she didn’t say much, she was defiant and communicated with her eyes, which is a Sicilian thing.”
3. He Has a Brother, Salvatore, Who Was Arrested in 2010 Along With 18 Others Suspected of Assisting Denaro
Denaro’s brother Salvatore was arrested with 18 others as part of a large police operation named “Golem 2.” The group was accused of assisting Denaro as a fugitive and for their ties with criminal organizations. A police statement reported in France24 accused them of managing Denaro’s secret correspondence “in order to help him remain on the run” and continue to run the Cosa Nostra organization.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said in a statement that these arrests brought them a step closer to catching Denaro himself. “We have dismantled the postal system of the most dangerous boss,” he said. “The net is closing in on him and I’m optimistic we’ll be able to capture him soon.” However, Salvatore was eventually released on probation after serving seven years and returned to Castelvetrano, where he is able to live in his home under special conditions, including staying at home in the evenings and reporting weekly to the police station.
In May 2020, Salvatore was charged €5,000 when officers discovered that he was not at home during the evening hours of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. under his probation terms.
Salvatore was previously arrested in November 1998 for his mafia ties. At the time, he was an employee at the Banca Sicula and then Comit.
4. He Has Had Many Romantic Partners But Has Never Married, & Had a Daughter in the Mid-1990s
Denaro has never married and has not had a long-term relationship known to the public, preferring instead to have multiple partners. For this lifestyle, he has often been referred to as the Italian mafia’s playboy. Prior to going into hiding, Denaro had an affair with an Austrian receptionist at a resort and ended up murdering the hotel manager when he spoke up against the relationship, the Globe and Mail reported.
One of his partners mentioned in some news reports was Maria Mesi. Denaro was in hiding with Mesi for a while and she would supply him with video games. The two were reported to have traveled to Greece together on holiday, with Denaro using a fake name. Mesi was arrested in 2000 and charged with concealing a fugitive after authorities found a series of notes exchanged between Mesi and Denaro.
He had a daughter from his relationship with Franca Alagna, who is Denaro’s only known child and was raised in Castelvetrano, his hometown. Her exact year of birth is unknown, with outlets reporting 1993, 1995 or 1996. During his correspondence with Antonino Vaccarino, Denaro wrote about his daughter and told Vaccarino that he had never met her.
5. Many of His Relatives Were Arrested for Their Connections to Denaro & One of His Cousins Shared Information
In the same operation that led to Denaro’s sister’s arrest, authorities also managed to catch his nephew and two cousins, Reuters reported. Authorities were lucky when they discovered that one of Denaro’s cousins, Lorenzo Cimarosa, was interested in sharing information. Cimarosa is the owner of a building company and he told authorities that many in his family were tired of the lifestyle and secrecy.
“My family and I are tired of the arrests, convictions and confiscation of assets we endure for Matteo Messina Denaro, who thinks only about himself,” he said. He shared information about the companies owned by Denaro and the role that Patrizia played in the organization, sorting through the correspondence to and from Denaro.
Although Denaro’s exact medical condition is unclear, it is reported by the Open Source Center that Denaro suffers from severe myopia or a retina disease and sought treatment under a false name at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain, in both 1994 and 1996 while he was in hiding. There is some speculation in the media that he may now be blind in one eye.