Extracts from the secret correspondence between an elusive godfather and his family gave an insight into the fugitive life of one of the Mafia's most dangerous criminals. Like most ageing men, Bernardo Provenzano had troubles with technology and relied on a bag full of home remedies against cold and flu, typewritten messages published on the 10th anniversary of his arrest revealed.
Provenzano spent 43 years on the run before he was captured a stone's throw from his native Corleone, a town made famous by the Godfather movies, on 11 April 2006. Nicknamed "Binnie the tractor", for decades he was the right-hand man of violent mob overlord Toto Riina before taking up the reins of Cosa Nostra after his boss's arrest in 1993.
He successfully evaded capture for decades partly due to his refusal to embrace modern, traceable communication methods. From his last hideaway, a rundown farmhouse in the Sicilian countryside, he gave orders and kept in touch with contacts using only written messages – know as 'pizzini' –which were hand delivered by trusted henchmen.
Police were led to his hideout after they retrieved a bag of clean underwear sent to him by his wife. Peppered with numerous spelling and grammatical errors, they detailed part of Provenzano's illicit affairs and daily concerns.
In a message published by Il Corriere della Sera, the boss expressed concern at his wife's recently developed cold and told her not to prepare any more oven baked pasta for him until she was better. "My dearest love, I was glad to receive news from you. I am sorry to know you've a cold," he wrote days before his arrest. "Make orange juices with a lot of honey and send some honey jars to me too."
In another pizzino he complained to his son that both his radio and television were not working properly and demanded they be repaired. "I only pressed the 'video' button and everything vanished. Then I think I pressed 'video' again and it came back but always with contrast," he wrote. "What I would like to know from you is if when you turn it on can you see all saved channels or not."
In reply, the son Angelo, who recently made headlines after becoming a tourist guide for American visitors interested in rural Sicilian culture, said the TV was fine apart from a minor issue with the antenna and gave his father detailed instructions on how to overcome the problems he was experiencing. "It happens again that the language changes press the C/E/P button until the message 'ENGLISH' appears on the screen," he wrote.
As police stormed his country refuge they eventually found two televisions sets – one old and one new. Other letters dealt with more serious business, like one addressed to his protégée, Matteo Messina Denaro, instructing him to extort money from a local entrepreneur who had recently won a construction contract.
Ten years on Denaro has become Italy's most wanted man, while Provenzano, 82, has spent the last couple of years in solitary confinement in a prison hospital. Earlier this month judges denied a request to relax the strict prison regime because of the boss's frail health, arguing that he still has the ability to run his criminal organisation.