Could body found on Italy’s Mount Etna help solve long-standing mafia mystery?

Half a century after investigative journalist Mauro De Mauro disappeared in Sicily, the discovery of a body in a cave has raised fresh hopes of cracking one of Italy's mafia mysteries.

People hike on Mount Etna volcano in Sicily, Italy
Sicily's Mount Etna volcano, where a body was found last September. Photo: Guillaume BAPTISTE / AFP

Crime laboratory analysts are expected to perform a DNA test on the corpse, which was found in September on the slopes of Mount Etna by a sniffer dog during a mountain rescue exercise.

Investigators have long believed De Mauro, who had been looking into the suspicious death of powerful businessman Enrico Mattei, was kidnapped and killed by Sicily’s Cosa Nostra organised crime group.

The journalist disappeared on September 16th, 1970, in Palermo.

His daughter Franca, one of the last people to see him alive, called a police hot-line after reading news reports about the recently found body, which dates to the 1970s and has a distinctive nose — just like her father.

The man on Etna, in his 50s, was wearing dark trousers, a light striped shirt, a wool jumper, a black tie, a dark green coat, a winter hat with a pom-pom on it, and black boots, the reports said.

“We expect they will do a DNA test,” the De Mauro family’s lawyer Giuseppe Crescimanno told AFP.

A coin from 1977 was discovered next to the remains, along with a piece of a newspaper from 1978, according to La Sicilia daily — both of which date to after De Mauro’s disappearance.

Franca does not recognise the clothes, nor the comb or watch found with the body, the paper said.

“She is not sure they are not his, she doesn’t rule it out, she just cannot remember them — except perhaps the hat with the pom-pom,” Crescimanno said.

The journalist may have been held by kidnappers for years and have been given different clothes. If the body is a DNA match with De Mauro, he may have died after managing to escape.

Police mountain rescuers can be seen in a video published on their Facebook page this week climbing down a steep, narrow tunnel to the cave, the entrance to which is almost hidden from the outside.

The dog had been supposed to be sniffing out a fictitious missing person for training purposes — but found the real remains instead.

Investigators believe the man, who was in his 50s and about 170 centimetres tall (five feet, six inches), entered the cave voluntarily but found it impossible to climb out again.

His death is not believed to have been violent, the reports said.

De Mauro had been doing research for award-winning director Francesco Rosi’s film about the death of Mattei, who founded the ENI oil company, and who died in a 1962 plane crash likely caused by a bomb.

Mafia boss Salvatore “Toto” Riina was tried over De Mauro’s murder, but found not guilty for lack of proof.

The journalist was kidnapped a few days before Franca’s wedding. After having returned home together from an outing, Franca went inside while her father parked the car.

She turned to see two or three men appear, and get into the car. De Mauro then drove off quickly, never to return, according to the Giornale della Sicilia daily.

The lead investigators on the case would be killed in turn by the mafia years later.

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Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

In its latest mafia sting, Italian police took down a large 'Ndrangheta ring in southern Calabria, placing 56 people under investigation including a regional councillor and a former head of the regional tourism board.

Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

The early-morning blitz by over 300 police focused on areas of Calabria – Italy’s poorest region – under the control of the Mancuso clan, a powerful branch of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta, many of whose top operatives are among hundreds of defendants in an ongoing ‘maxi-trial’.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

READ ALSO: ‘Ndrangheta: It’s time to bust some myths about the Calabrian mafia

Besides alleged mafia members, the operation also snared businessmen, a regional councillor released from prison days earlier, a former head of the regional tourism board and two civil servants, police said.

The incarcerated boss of the clan, Luigi Mancuso, also known as “The Supreme”, is the biggest mafioso in the massive mafia trial that started in January 2021.

Still, police said, his clan and affiliates, including the La Rosa and Accortini families, have continued to dominate illegal activities in the Vibo Valentia province, which is located right on the toe of Italy’s boot and is widely known as the ‘Coast of the Gods’ due to its stunning coastal views.

One mafia scheme involved the infiltration of a foreign tour operator in Pizzo Calabro, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

No one talks

In Calabria, the extent of the ‘Ndrangheta’s reach in the local economy has made it near impossible to eradicate it.

By controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in power and wealth. It has extended far beyond its rural roots and now operates internationally, with illegal gains reinvested in the legitimate economy.

In the area around Vibo Valentia, extortion of local businesses and the fixing of public tenders is also common.

The allegations against those arrested Thursday include the transport and sale of stolen farm machinery to Malta and Romania, police said.

The sting carried out on Thursday extended to other parts of Calabria, Palermo in Sicily and as far as Rome and Milan, police said.

READ ALSO: Meet Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor leading Italy’s battle against the mafia

In a press conference, anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, whose efforts to defeat the ‘Ndrangheta have forced him to live under police escort for over 30 years, called the group a “fierce mafia syndicate” controlling areas around the tourist resort of Tropea.

Francesco Messina, who leads Italy’s organised crime investigative unit (DAC), cited the economic power of the clan, which relies locally on “substantial” extortion activity.

The “total absence” of complaints to authorities was striking, Messina said, underscoring the ‘Ndrangheta’s power to intimidate.

By Alexandria Sage