Mafia 'boss of bosses' dies aged 87 in Italian hospital for prisoners

Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, one of Sicily's most notorious Mafia bosses, was serving 26 life sentences

Mafia 'boss of bosses' dies aged 87 in Italian hospital for prisoners

Mafia "boss of bosses" Salvatore "Toto" Riina, is seen behind bars, during a trial in Rome. Picture by: Giulio Broglio/AP/Press Association Images

One of the most feared Godfathers in the history of the Sicilian Mafia has died in a hospital for prisoners at the age of 87.

Salvatore 'Toto' Riina was serving 26 life sentences for a reign of terror that spanned decades - and he is thought to have ordered the murders of more than 150 people.

He had been in a medically induced coma after his health deteriorated, according to Italian media. He had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer.

Riina was one of Sicily's most notorious Mafia bosses, and was nicknamed The Beast during his time in charge of the crime group Cosa Nostra.

He was born to a poor farmer in Corleone in 1930. When he was 13, his father and seven-year-old brother were killed while trying to extract gunpowder from an unexploded American bomb.

Riina killed his first victim when he was 19 in order to join his local Mafia ring.

Starting on the bottom rung in the Mafia, Riina worked his way up from foot soldier to Luciano Leggio. In 1969, he was arrested and tried on several murder charges but freed because of jury intimidation.

He went on the run in the same year - and after becoming the acting boss of the Corleone crime family, Riina went on to lead the entire Mafia while in hiding.

Between 1981 and 1983 he sought to wipe out his rivals in Palermo, before cementing his rule by eliminating his allies too.

The most high-profile murders he ordered were in 1992, when two anti-Mafia judges who had brought more than 300 mobsters to trial were assassinated.

Among the most brutal killings was of a 13-year-old boy who was kidnapped to stop his father telling Mafia secrets. The teenager was strangled and dissolved in acid.

Riina evaded capture while living in Sicily for more than two decades, even after he had been handed multiple life sentences when a fellow mobster turned state witness.

Riina was captured in his own apartment in 1993, and sentenced to 26 life terms.

He had even registered his four children under their own names in a local school without being caught.

Riina asked to be released from prison in July on the grounds of poor health, but a judge said his care in the prisoners' wing of the hospital would be as good as on the outside.

His daughter posted an image of a woman's mouth with a finger over her lips and the word "shhh..." after the news broke.

A public funeral has been ruled out.