By David Amoruso
Posted in 2006 - Updated in 2016
Read: Cosa Nostra boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano dead at 83
Bernardo Provenzano was born on January 31, 1933 in Corleone, Sicily. After the second World War Provenzano joined the Mafia Family of boss Michele Navarra and became an enforcer for Luciano Leggio in that Family. In a short time Provenzano and another young man named Toto Riina, who would later become known as one of the most vicious Mafia bosses ever, became Leggio's most trusted enforcers. They were feared and had a reputation. Leggio said of Provenzano: "he has the brains of a chicken but shoots like an angel". He also gained the nickname "The Tractor", because "he mows people down". With people like Riina and Provenzano and his own fearsome reputation Leggio grew more powerful and eventuelly became a threat to Navarra. Navarra acknowledged the threat and decided it was time to eliminate Leggio so he could continue his rule. Navarra sent a group of his men to ambush Leggio and whack him, they failed and only wounded him, with the help of Riina he escaped. Now it was Leggio's turn to strike. He put together a group of hitmen, which included Provenzano and Riina, to take out Navarra. And Leggio's group of hitmen succeeded where Navarra's men failed, Leggio's group ambushed Navarra while he was driving back from a meeting. The group of young assassins riddled the car in which Navarra sat with bullets. In the end the car was pumped with 112 bulletholes and Navarra and another person who happened to be along for the ride were dead. With Navarra out of the way Luciano Leggio became the new Godfather.
Navarra's death made a lot of Mafiosi unhappy and not only because they lost an ally but also because it was a breach of the Mafia code that you didn't whack your boss. These Mafiosi as well as Navarra supporters who wanted to avenge their boss made it very dangerous for Leggio and his two enforcers Provenzano and Riina. In the early 1960s the heat became too much for Provenzano, sensing that he would soon be arrested or whacked he took off and disappeared in the countryside of Sicily. While he was on the run he became the father of his two sons and spent his days looking over his shoulder. The Italian authorities had declared him a missing person and eventually thought he was whacked and his body would soon be found. But they couldn't be further from the truth. While on the run Provenzano had continued his criminal career, a career that came to new heights when his old pal Toto Riina became the new boss. While Riina took care of the violent aspect of mob business and stept into the front, Provenzano was hidden taking care of the money aspect of mob business. Provenzano made sure everybody paid and all the Mafiosi got their share.
As the drug money came flowing in a powerstruggle started over who was to control it. Riina went on a rampage in a war that would leave 800 Mafiosi dead. And when the government decided that it was enough and started cracking down on the Mafia Riina hit back. Two top prosecutors were killed by bombs. Anyone who opposed was found dead. The campaign of terror that was supposed to scare off the people and government had the opposite effect, the government went on even harder and the public was now in their favour. The people had seen the brutal image of the Mafia and were sickened by it. As the hunt for Riina became more intense Provenzano was still hidden from everybody and presumed dead. When in 1992 his wife and children returned from the countryside and back in the open, talk about Provenzano's death flared up. However without a body who could be sure.
On January 15, 1993 in Palermo, Sicily Toto Riina was arrested by Italian police. The arrest of Riina placed Provenzano at the top of a criminal empire under fire by competition and law enforcement, changes needed to be made. Under Provenzano the Sicilian Mafia steered away from it's terror tactics towards the government and went back into the underworld. Out of sight the Mafia restructured, returning to it's roots. Under Provenzano the Sicilian Mafia had once again become the invisible power and had expanded it's interests while keeping clear from law enforcement. Provenzano commanded his troops via cryptic, handwritten notes transported by key members. There were occasional visits and very occasional summits with Mafia leaders, but otherwise Provenzano was a ghost, presumed dead but feared to be running the most powerful Sicilian Mafia in decades. Police believed he spent most of his time in western and central Sicily going from one safe house to the other. In January of 2001 police intercepted several letters by Provenzano to his family. Proof that he was still very alive. The letters were as close as police got to Provenzano he seemed unfindable. While other bosses and Mafiosi had been caught one by one Provenzano had now been on the run for over 40 years.
Then on April 11, 2006 the unbelievable news broke: Bernardo Provenzano had been captured. Provenzano was arrested while hiding in a farmhouse near Corleone in Sicily. Authorities said their lucky break came when they tracked a package (it turned out to be clean laundry) that had been sent to Provenzano by his wife, who lived in Corleone. Provenzano put up no resistance and acknowledged his identity after first denying it. He appeared surprised to be caught, police said. He was flown to Palermo and taken to the main police station there.
Provenzano will live the last years of his life in prison. He had been sentenced in absentia to life in prison for more than a dozen murders including the murders of anti Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
Also read: Italian Prison Too Tough On Mafia Boss Provenzano?
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