Bernando Provenzano, the mafia chief, who evaded capture so many times in his native Sicily that he earned the nickname "The phantom of Corleone", was not undone by an informant or rival mob member – but by his washing.

Provenzano was captured on Tuesday in a farmhouse outside the town of Corleone, his long-time power base made famous in the film The Godfather.

Police tracked a package of clean laundry that was being delivered to his hideout and moved in when they saw a hand emerge from the door to collect it.

I
nvestigators said cameras with a range of more than a kilometre had been trained on suspected accomplices for several days, as well as the Corleone home where Provenzano's wife and children live.

Evasive

They had closed in on Provenzano's whereabouts by placing wiretaps in packages of messages and bundles of laundry being sent to him.

Only when police were able to confirm who the "old farmer" residing in the previously abandoned farmhouse really was, did they move in.
 

YOU'RE NICKED

Bernando Provenzano is not the first fugitive to be caught in a less than glamorous manner

Ilich Ram?rez S?nchez (Carlos the Jackal)

The Venezuelan-born mercenary was at one stage the most wanted man on the planet, best known for a 1975 raid on the Opec headquarters.

The Jackal was finally captured in 1994 when seeking refuge in Sudan. After being admitted to a Khartoum clinic for liposuction, French Law Enforcement agents moved in and arrested him the moment he had been sedated.

Charged with the murder of two policemen in Paris, he is currently serving a life sentence in France.

Saddam Hussein

The former Iraqi president was overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2003.

He fled Baghdad and for a while was the Ace of Spades in the deck of cards handed out to US troops depicting Iraq's most wanted men.

He was found unshaven and bedraggled hiding in a hole near a farmhouse outside his hometown of Tikrit, surviving largely on Mars bars.

He is currently on trial facing charges in connection with a massacre in 1982.


Provenzano had escaped capture for over four decades by relying on Sicilians' longstanding mistrust of the Italian state.

He slept in islanders' homes, had his children born at local hospitals and even used a false name to bill the public health system for prostate treatment he received abroad.

He evaded police custody by changing location every two or three nights and through a series of strategically-placed "moles".

Born into a poor background, Provenzano rose through mafia ranks on the back of his reputation as a ruthless killer.

While on the run, he was convicted in absentia and given life sentences for more than a dozen murders of mobsters and anti-Mafia investigators.
 
He went by the nickname Binnu (The Tractor) because of his steamroller character and became the undisputed boss of the Sicilian mafia in 1993 after the arrest of Salvatore Riina.

His arrest was greeted jubilantly by police and some local residents alike.

Positive ID

Some officers wept openly with joy, and the 73-year-old was met with shouts of "Bastard! Murderer!" when he was taken by police from a car and into a police building in Palermo.

Italy's national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso, told reporters in Rome that Provenzano "didn't say a word" when arrested, but later acknowledged his identity.

Provenzano first became a
fugitive in 1963

Investigators got a break two years ago when they learnt that Provenzano had twice received treatment for prostate problems at a clinic in Marseilles, France, in 2003.

Descriptions from personnel at the clinic helped the police to obtain a better profile of the mob boss.

Prior to that, the only photos available to police were of him as a young man.

Police told the ANSA news agency that they did not expect a bloody gangland-style battle to succeed Provenzano.

He leaves behind a stable power structure and one of his lieutenants, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, 63, and Matteo Messina Denaro, 43, is expected to take charge.