Code-breaking experts at the FBI are helping Italian investigators to determine whether a Bible found on the Mafia’s “boss of bosses” when he was arrested in Sicily in April hides a secret code, sources said on Thursday.
Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia boss who spent 43 years on the run, had underlined passages in his personal copy of the Bible. Investigators have said these could hold the key to other encoded messages found at his rural hideout.
“The FBI is working with the (Italian) state police to determine whether there are any hidden messages in the Bible,” a U.S. government official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
It will be scrutinized by code experts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., the official said.
Provenzano was found holed up at a farmhouse outside of his hometown of Corleone, made famous by the Godfather movies, after police tracked a package sent by his wife.
He was still the undisputed head of Costa Nostra mob at the time of his arrest at the age of 73.
‘Pizzini’ lend clues
In his hideout were paper notes known as “pizzini” with a scramble of numbers which Italian police cryptologists said referred to people. Police in Sicily made dozens of arrests after Provenzano was caught thanks to some of the “pizzini,” which he used to communicate with followers via runners.
An Italian investigator who has worked on the Provenzano case confirmed that the FBI’s help was being sought, though it was not clear whether the Bible has been sent to Virginia yet.
Provenzano, who was nicknamed “Binu the tractor” for the way he would mow down enemies as a young hitman, has been accused of complicity in dozens of Mafia murders over the more than four decades he was on the run.
Dubbed “the Phantom of Corleone” for evading arrest, he had run the Mafia since the capture of former “boss of bosses” Toto Riina in 1993. Provenzano was sentenced in absentia to life in jail over notorious murders including the 1992 killing of top anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
He is being held at a maximum security prison near Terni in central Italy. Investigators speculate he could be succeeded by Salvatore Lo Piccolo and Matteo Messina Denaro, who have both been on the run for more than a decade.