'Dead man walking': Mobster Pat Musitano has been shot and killed. What happens now?

Pasquale (Pat) Musitano was killed on Friday in Burlington, Ont. Mafia experts say the notorious Hamilton mobster was living on borrowed time long before the fatal shot was fired.

One of the most powerful organized crime families in Hamilton loses figurehead

Halton Regional Police confirmed Pat Musitano, presumed head of the Musitano crime family, was shot and killed in Burlington, Ont., Friday afternoon. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Pasquale (Pat) Musitano was killed Friday, but Mafia experts say the notorious Hamilton mobster was living on borrowed time long before the fatal shot was fired.

Close calls and brushes with death had stalked the scion of the Musitano crime family for years.

He survived one shooting that peppered his home with bullet holes in 2017, and another, just over a year before his death, that sent him to hospital with multiple gunshot wounds.

"He was a dead man walking," said Antonio Nicaso, a Mafia expert who teaches courses on organized crime at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"In the world of the Mafia, revenge does not lapse. Revenge does not have a statute of limitations."

Ultimately, the 52-year-old couldn't escape those who were gunning for him. On Friday, he was shot and killed outside a strip mall in Burlington, Ont., west of Toronto.

Halton Region police confirmed Musitano was killed and said another person — who Nicaso said is believed to have been the mobster's close friend and bodyguard — was wounded and remains in hospital in serious condition.

Investigators are searching for a male suspect who fled in a newer model grey four-door sedan "similar to an Infiniti Q50."

The vehicle will have "fresh damage" on the driver's side near the doors, say police, who are asking anyone who spots it to contact them.

Musitano's death marks the end of a string of violent attempts on his life, but it also raises questions about what will happen next now that one of the most powerful organized crime families in Hamilton is suddenly without a figurehead.

"With the playing field in the underworld being wide open, you're going to have a lot of different groups trying to make a power play," said Stephen Metelsky, a criminology professor at Mohawk College in Hamilton and a retired police sergeant.

'Those people never forget, never forgive'

The story of the Musitanos stretches back to the 1970s, when the family was linked to convictions for bombings and extortion, as well as the hit on mobster Domenic Racco in the 1980s.

Pat and his brother Angelo were charged with first-degree murder in 1997 for the contract killing of local Mob boss Johnny "Pops" Papalia and one of his lieutenants, Carmen Barillaro.

Angelo Musitano, right, and his brother Pat are shown leaving court in 1998. Pat was killed in a shooting on Friday in Burlington, Ont., while Angelo was killed in a targeted shooting outside his home in 2017. (Hamilton Spectator)

The Musitanos reached a deal and pleaded to conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Barillaro. In turn, the charges against them in connection with Papalia's death were dropped.

Both men were sentenced to 10 years in prison and were released in 2007.

Nicaso said he thinks other underworld figures never forgave Musitano for Papalia's death.

Mobsters can hold grudges for years, quietly hunting targets and harbouring "festering feelings of revenge" he said. In the world of the Mob, waiting 23 years for vengeance is nothing. 

"There have been cases where revenge has come after 50 years," Nicaso said. "Those people never forget, never forgive."

Metelsky also traced Musitano's killing back to that of Papalia, pointing out the two deaths are "eerily reminiscent" of each other.

"Both mobsters [were] gunned down on the street in broad daylight," he said.

The organized crime specialist said Angelo's death in 2017 meant his brother's days were numbered, and the repeated attempts on Musitano's life were "foreshadowing" his death.

"The planning and scheming to kill Pat started the day after he survived last year," Metelsky said.

Musitano knew his death was coming, according to the professor.

"There's no retirement plan in the Mob," he said. "There's typically three exit options in the Mafia: You go to jail, you're murdered or you put on a government jersey and become a co-operating witness."

Hard to predict what's next

Nicaso said he's not sure what the next chapter will bring for organized crime in the area.

Mobsters around the world are less visible today and more focused on making money, he said. The two warring factions within the Rizzuto family have reportedly reached a silent agreement to focus on business, not violence, he noted.

"My instinct is to say [Musitano's death] was a kind of mission to revenge a betrayal that took place in 1997 ... but you never know," Nicaso said. "They may have some other issue and may continue with the violence. It's very difficult to predict."

Regardless, the next moment will be one to watch.

Musitano's death means the family, or at least its namesake, is "completely decimated," Metelsky said.

Halton police are searching for a male suspect and a grey sedan with damage on its driver's side door. (David Ritchie)

It's a situation that's left a power vacuum in the underworld and no shortage of groups that might try to fill it.

"Hamilton is a very ripe geographical area for all kinds of criminal rackets," Metelsky said, with a location nestled close to Toronto and just a short drive from Buffalo and the U.S. border.

"Will the violence stop? No," he said. "The problem is the violence never stops."


Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca