Rizzuto death signals demise of Mafia clan: experts

Montreal police continue to scour the woods behind the mansion of slain mobster Nicolo Rizzuto, searching for clues left by a lone gunman who shot the elderly Mafioso through a window Wednesday night.

Police search woods near Rizzuto home for clues to shooting of Montreal mobster

Montreal police continue to scour the woods behind the mansion of slain mobster Nicolo Rizzuto, searching for clues left by a lone gunman who shot and killed the elderly Mafioso through a window Wednesday night.

The bold assassination  made headlines around the world and could be the final blow against the once-dominant Rizzuto crime family, whose influence appears to have declined in recent years.

Nicolo Rizzuto was a revered Mafia figure and powerful head of the Rizzuto crime family. ((Reuters))
After an overnight investigation, authorities pulled down orange police tape that cordoned off Antoine Berthelet Avenue, a quiet street in northwest Montreal dubbed "Mafia Row" because it is home to several members of the Rizzuto clan.

But officers with the major crimes unit are still combing the dense pine woods behind Rizzuto's stately mansion, where police believe the gunman lurked before shooting the patriarch through a kitchen window.

"The shot came from someone that was outside the home, probably somewhere in the woods ... and hit the victim in the upper body," said Const. Raphael Bergeron.

Two women, believed to be Rizzuto's wife and daughter, witnessed the murder and were treated for shock. Police have no suspects at this time.

The brazen attack is the latest in a string of assaults against the formidable clan, which lost many members in the wake of a 2006 dragnet that rounded up most of the family's underworld power brokers, including Nicolo Rizzuto himself.

Rizzuto was shot inside his home in Montreal's Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough by a sniper believed to be lurking in the forest behind his home. ((Sabrina Marandola/CBC))
The murder of such a revered figure is highly symbolic, even though it's difficult to say how much clout he still had in the family's business, said Montreal police Cmdr. Denis Mainville, head of the major crimes unit.

"We know that Mr. Rizzuto was an important member of the Italian Mafia, but new players have surfaced in recent months," Mainville said.

Riuzzuto's son Vito is currently finishing a 10-year sentence in a Colorado prison for racketeering, linked to three 1981 murders in Brooklyn against the Bonnano crime family.

Vito Rizzuto's incarceration left a void in the Mafia world, which propelled the power struggle seen in recent years in Montreal. In addition to this year's killings, police are investigating a string of arsons that have targeted Montreal pizzerias and cafes across the island.

This past year, Nicolo Rizzuto's grandson and namesake, Nick Jr., was gunned down in broad daylight on a street in Montreal's N.D.G. neighbourhood, and close family associate Paolo Renda went missing after being abducted from his car in May in Montreal.

Slaying marks turning point for Rizzutos

Many Mafia watchers say Rizzuto's death marks the demise of his crime family.

"It's finished for them in Montreal," said André Cédilot, a seasoned investigative reporter for La Presse newspaper who recently penned a book about the Mafia's ties to Quebec's economy.

Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, a former journalist with Montreal newspaper Le Devoir, said it may be too soon to say that the murder is the final blow against the Rizzuto clan but how the elderly don died is significant.

"It wasn't on the street, but in his home," said Charbonneau, who has written extensively about organized crime. "That says you're not safe anywhere. We can kill you, or kill your father, or kill your son, or kill your friends everywhere."

One Canadian Mafia expert said the motives behind the slaying couldn't be clearer.

"I don't know who killed Nicolo Rizzuto, but whoever did it wants to remove the Rizzuto crime family from the Canadian underworld map," Antonio Nicaso, an author and journalist, said from Toronto.

"I think with his murder, it's like an end of an era in the Canadian underworld."

Murder makes waves in Italy

Rizzuto's execution generated attention around the world, with Italy's major newspapers carrying reports of his murder.

The Sicilian-born patriarch still had strong ties to his home country decades after he immigrated to Canada with his family.

An Italian wire-agency report says the Rizzuto clan has, with the death of its 86-year-old don, suffered a blow that could be fatal.

An Italian arrest warrant was issued five years ago for Nicolo's son, Vito Rizzuto, in connection with one of the biggest public-works projects in Italian history.

Rizzuto is accused of planning to launder criminal money in the project to build a bridge between Sicily and mainland Europe. Italian authorities plan to extradite him once he completes his U.S. prison sentence in 2012.

With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, Radio-Canada