e was known as the “Beast” and the “Boss of the Bosses” in the Sicilian Mafia, where he led a scorched-earth campaign during which more than 150 people were killed on his orders.
But Salvatore Riina has now met his own demise: The 87-year-old former boss of the Cosa Nostra died of natural causes on Friday morning in the prison ward of a hospital in Parma, northern Italy, the country’s justice ministry announced.
Born in Corleone, Sicily, Riino—who was also known as Toto—joined the local branch of the Mafia at 19, committing a murder to gain entry. He quickly rose through the ranks and took over the leadership of the Corleonesi faction in the 1970s, when his predecessor was arrested and imprisoned.
Riina earned a reputation for brutality during his leadership of the group, ordering the assassinations of high-profile figures including judges and police officers. In the 1980s, his Corleonesi faction became the ruling family of the Sicilian Mafia after wiping out their opponents in a bloody campaign.
His group also carried out mass-scale attacks that killed members of the public: Riina ordered the bombing of an express train from Naples to Milan on Christmas Eve, 1984, killing at least 16 people. The attack was meant to distract Italian security forces from probing the Sicilian Mafia after a Mafia turncoat had testified against them.
Riina spent decades on the run from law enforcement and is infamous for targeting two magistrates—Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino—who had made it their mission to bring down the Mafia. The magistrates orchestrated the so-called Maxi Trial, which lasted from 1986 until 1992, in which Riina was among 475 mafiosi indicted for a variety of crimes, based on evidence from Mafia bosses-turned-informants.
Falcone, his wife and three police officers were killed after a car bomb exploded outside Palermo in 1992. Borsellino was killed two months later, along with five police officers, outside his mother’s apartment block in Palermo, again by a car bomb. Riina purportedly ordered both attacks.
The Beast’s crimes finally caught up with him in 1993, when he was arrested after a member of the Sicilian Mafia collaborated with authorities. He was convicted of multiple murders and, at the time of his death, was serving 26 life sentences. But he was dangerous even while incarcerated. In 1993, Riina purportedly ordered the kidnapping and murder of the 11-year-old son of an informant. The boy was strangled and his body dissolved in a barrel of acid.
Riina was considered such a danger to society that he was held under the special “Article 41-bis prison regime” law. The law imposes especially tough conditions on dangerous prisoners: they spend 22 hours of each day in their cell and have no contact with other prisoners, nor access to reading materials.
In his later years, Riina suffered from various health problems. He reportedly suffered more than one heart attack in 2004 and suffered from kidney cancer. Italy’s Supreme Court ruled earlier in 2017 that Riina’s jail terms should be relaxed as he neared death, but calls for him to be released into house arrest were met with protests from the families of his victims.