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08.09.13

The Mafioso Next Door

Surprise: your neighbor is a Sicilian crime boss who’s been on the lam for 19 years. Nico Hines on the Italian fugitive found hiding out near London—and why he might go free.

Behind the neat hedgerows of a British suburban street, the Skinners and their two grown-up children were seen as good neighbors and the successful owners of a small travel business. To Italian investigators, however, Marc Skinner, 64, was better known as Domenico Rancadore—the alleged boss of a notorious Mafia crime family.

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Sicilian Mafia boss Domenico Rancadore, who lived in London and went by the name Marc Skinner, was arrested August 7, after 19 years on the run. (Handout)

Rancadore, who was convicted in absentia for his links to the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, has been on the run from Italian justice for nearly 20 years. His neighbors in Uxbridge, a leafy town on the western outskirts of London, said he had been a familiar figure in the area for more than a decade; he was often seen in a sharp suit behind the wheel of a Mercedes or a black Jaguar.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, his apparent former life caught up with him. British police officers entered a courtyard in front of his house where a CCTV camera watches over visitors. By the time they knocked on the door, Rancadore, known as the Professor in Italy, was attempting to flee through a gate in the back of the property.

He was soon apprehended and taken into custody—despite initially giving his name as Skinner.

Joan Hills, 76, who lives on the same street, says she had known the man for years and described him as an excellent neighbor. “I don’t believe it,” she tells The Daily Beast. “He was a homely man, and that’s all I’m saying!”

According to the Italian authorities, he was also a senior figure in the Sicilian Mafia and one of Italy’s most wanted fugitives.

“In the 1990s he played the role of chief of the Cosa Nostra in Trabia, Palermo,” said a spokesman for Italian Interior Ministry in a statement. “Several cooperating witnesses have referred to him as a leading member of the Palermo Mafia ‘family,’ with a senior managerial role in the Caccamo ‘commandment.’”

In 1994 he was accused of extortion and criminal activity, but his whereabouts were unknown. He was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison at a trial that was held in his absence. The 19-year hunt for the Mafioso came to an end this week when Scotland Yard, working with Interpol and two Italian law enforcement agencies, finally apprehended him under the terms of a European arrest warrant.

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The house where Sicilian Mafia boss Domenico Rancadore was apprehended is seen in Uxbridge, north London, on August 8. Considered an important member of the Sicilian Mafia group Cosa Nostra, Rancadore had been wanted by Italian police for 19 years and was on Rome’s list of most dangerous criminals. (Justin Tallis/Getty via AFP)
“He was a homely man, and that’s all I’m saying!”

British officials, however, said he may escape extradition to Italy. At a hearing in a Westminster court Wednesday, District Judge Quentin Purdy said the warrant may have to be dismissed on a technicality. “There are concerns about the validity of the warrant that has come before the court,” he said. Euan MacMillan, Rancadore’s lawyer, argued that there were “significant deficiencies” in the legal document.

It is thought the Italian authorities may have known that Rancadore was living in London for some time, but were unable to draft an extradition request that would have been accepted by a judge in Britain.

The British justice system is one of the reasons London is attractive to Mafia bosses, according to John Dickie, a professor at University College London and author of Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. “London is a good place to come for Mafiosi. The property market and the city are good money-laundering opportunities, and the U.K. doesn’t recognize Italy’s key anti-Mafia law,” he said.

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Domenico Rancadore's wife, Anne (right), and daughter, Daniela Skinner (left), arrive home after Rancadore, 64, who is wanted by the Italian authorities, was arrested by British police at his home in Uxbridge, London. (Steve Parsons/Landov via PA)

During the court hearing on Thursday, Rancadore’s lawyer argued that his client had moved to London freely with his family in 1993 after the collapse of an attempted prosecution in Italy. “He was married in Italy in 1976. His children were born in the U.K. His wife is a U.K. citizen. He returned here following the proceedings in Italy,” MacMillan said.

He argued that Rancadore had been a law-abiding citizen since moving to London with his wife, Anne Skinner, and two children, Daniela and Giuseppe, now 33 and 36. The judge rejected a request that he be granted bail.

“That is a man who takes flight as soon as he sees the police are there,” he said. “He clearly wasn’t found with ease. He has now been found, but that doesn’t mean he won’t disappear again. It’s taken a great deal of effort to find him.”

British and Italian officials are now dreading the prospect that legal technicalities may allow him to disappear once again.