Weird Stuff, Guns & Money: Inside The Hideouts Of Mob Bosses And Fugitive Warlords
After the capture this week of Sicilian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, police revealed some notable contents of two of his hideouts after 30 years on the run. There's a long history of discovering the secret lairs and bunkers of the world's Most Wanted bad guys.
Expensive watches, perfumes, designer clothes and sex pills. A day after top Sicilian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was captured after 30 years on the run, police revealed some of the possessions found in the Palermo apartment where he’d been hiding out under a false name.
By Wednesday, Italian daily La Stampa was reporting, police had found a second hideout near Messina Denaro's hometown in the Sicilian province of Trapani, with a secret vault hidden behind a closet, where jewelry, gold and other valuables were found.
Such revelations are inevitably part of the aftermath of the capture of a "Most Wanted" figure like the 60-year-old boss of bosses, both offering a peek into the life of a fugitive and possible clues about his personality.
The items in Messina Denaro’s hideout confirmed his reputation for a lavish lifestyle and expensive taste. It contrasted with his own predecessor as Cosa Nostra’s “capo dei capi,” the low-key Bernardo Provenzano, who was holed up in a small cabin in the Italian countryside when he was caught in 2006 after 43 years in hiding.
Here’s a look at some of history’s most notorious hunted-down criminals and warlords, and what was discovered in the bunkers and hideaways where they would meet their fate:
Bernardo Provenzano — Ricotta on a plate
Mugshot of a young Bernardo Provenzano
At the time of his arrest, Bernardo Provenzano was living in a tiny, old farmhouse in the countryside just outside of Corleone, his hometown. In the hideout, police found a typewriter, a poster of a statue of the Virgin Mary, some ricotta and provola cheese on a plastic plate, the keys of an old Fiat Panda parked outside and a black cat.
The typewriter was famously used to write tiny "pizzini" notes to lieutenants delivered by messengers, since Provenzano made sure never to use a telephone or computer to protect his whereabouts.
Pablo Escobar — collection of cars and hippos
A hippo in Pablo Escobar's former private zoo.
Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar got the most out of his incalculable wealth, which he was hiding in plain view, protected by his own private army. Escobar owned a handful of luxury properties, including the 5,500-acre Hacienda Nápoles estate in Puerto Triunfo, Colombia.
When he was finally tracked down and shot to death by Colombian security forces in 1993, authorities got a close-up of the true extent of his possessions.
The main complex included two swimming pools, a private airstrip and a race track for Escobar's collection of luxury cars. He also built a zoo to house animals including elephants, ostriches and, most famously, four hippos. The invasive animals escaped after his arrest and have since grown to a herd of about 140, damaging the local ecosystem and occasionally attacking people.
The palace has since been transformed into a luxury hotel and theme park.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán — Tunnels, trash & DVDs
Drug lord Joaquin ''El Chapo'' Guzmán escaped police by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, in 2014.
Apparently inspired by Escobar, Mexican drug kingpin Guzmán also maintained a private zoo — large enough that he used a "little train" to travel around and look at his collection of lions, tigers and other exotic animals, a former gang member testified.
But the Sinaloa home where Guzmán stayed before his most recent arrest in 2016 was a dump – filled with trash, empty soda cans and takeout food containers, as well as a tunnel hidden inside a walk-in closet.
Photos taken of the scene also show rented DVD copies of the TV series Reina del Sur, about a young Mexican woman who becomes a drug lord, played by actor Kate del Castillo. In a bizarre twist, Guzmán had met del Castillo in the mountains of Durango, Mexico, alongside American actor Sean Penn, while the crime boss was on the run after his second arrest and escape from prison.
Another of Guzmán’s safehouses, raided in 2014, also featured a tunnel concealed underneath a bathtub, which allowed Guzmán's quick escape during the raid. The Mexican state lottery raffled off the property in 2021.
Whitey Bulger — Retiree cards, cash and grenades
James ‘Whitey' Bulger was the head of Boston's Irish mob and an FBI informant.
After 16 years on the run, Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested in 2011, holed up in a modest Santa Monica, California apartment with his girlfriend Catherine Greig.
Police found stacks of cash totalling $822,000 hidden in the walls, which were decorated with framed photos of cats, a world map and a poster of the American flag with the caption “God Bless America.”
Bulger had amassed an extensive collection of military non-fiction and had a whole shelf of books about organized crime — including several about himself and the South Boston Irish mob.
Police also released photos of a closet in the apartment filled with bottles of hand soap and cleaning products, lined up in neat rows. Along with a cache of weapons — including handguns, assault rifles and a grenade — police also found two American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) ID cards, made out under Bulger and Greig’s false identities.
Toto Riina — Crystal chandeliers
Totò Riina being arrested in 1993
Nicknamed “'u Curtu” (“The Short One”) or “The Beast,” the Sicilian Mafia boss Toto Riina, who was the original mentor of Matteo Messina Denaro, spent years as a fugitive in Sicily. When he was finally arrested in 1993, he had been living for years with his family in a villa in a residential area of Palermo.
The house had six bathrooms, a pool, palm trees in the garden, crystal chandeliers and a safe room — but nothing was found in there, as police waited more than two weeks before searching the home.
By that time, the villa had been ransacked by Riina's men, who destroyed furniture and emptied the home, including the archive of Cosa Nostra’s illicit businesses and allies which had been stored in the safe room.
Muammar Gaddafi — Array of bizarre artifactsFormer Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi visiting Belarus in November, 2008
Libyan rebels raiding deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli in 2011 found a variety of bizarre artifacts — including a scrapbook with photos of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a model of a human skeleton, a jet ski and a couch adorned with a gold-colored carving of a mermaid that resembled Gaddafi’s daughter Aisha.
The property, one of several he owned around the world, also included a fish pond, swimming pool (with pool toys and poolside bar) and hot tub — and next to them, a hedge concealing stairs leading down to a bunker protected by steel doors.
Inside, rebels found a surgical operating room and x-ray machine, as well as copies of Playboy and Vogue and an empty case of Corona beer.
Osama bin Laden — Disney and Chomsky
Pakistani police officers stand guard outside the compound of Osama bin Laden as authorities demolishing the house in northwest Pakistan's Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.
When Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. army forces in 2011, he had been living in a large house within a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan for at least five years.
The three-story house was modestly furnished for Bin Laden and his family, with several bedrooms and kitchens, a room which served as a classroom for his children and a balcony with a two-meter-high privacy wall.
There was no internet or phone connection, but the Navy SEALs found some video games and Disney movies, about 100 flash drives where he saved his correspondence, documentaries about himself and a library, ranging from conspiracy books to left-wing author Noam Chomsky’sNecessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies.
According to Reuters, a “fairly extensive” pornography collection was also recovered, but the release of the files has always been denied by the CIA, even after multiple Freedom of Information requests.
Concrete walls topped with barbed wire circled the perimeter, with two security gates. Inside the walls, authorities found a well-kept vegetable garden and rabbits, chickens and a cow.
The Government of Pakistan demolished the compound in February 2012.
Adolf Hitler — News reports and smashed paintings
The entrance of Hitler's bunker in the destroyed Reich Chancellery in Berlin, pictured after the end of the Second World War.
The most infamous historical bunker, Adolf Hitler's führerbunker in Berlin, was almost destroyed after the war by East German authorities, who were concerned it would become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.
Photos taken after Soviet forces took control of the bunker in 1945 show the space looted and burned, including copies of news reports and a smashed painting — reportedly a 16th century work stolen from Milan. The remains of the bunker are now buried underneath a parking lot.