Police have reopened an inquiry into one of Italy’s most chilling mysteries: the apparent suicide of a brilliant young doctor, who was subsequently linked to a clandestine operation on the mafia “boss of bosses”, Bernardo Provenzano.
When 34-year-old Dr Attilio Manca was found dead in his flat in the central Italian town of Viterbo, it seemed an open and shut case. He appeared to have injected himself with a lethal cocktail of heroin and tranquillisers.
But some claimed he was killed to cover the tracks of the then-fugitive mafia boss, and four years on, 10 people have been officially registered as suspects in a murder inquiry, and a police scientific expert has been asked to put names to the fingerprints discovered in Manca’s home.
The reopening of the inquiry, reported yesterday by the newspaper La Stampa, represents a victory for Manca’s parents and their campaign for further investigation of their son’s death. “They were – and are – absolutely sure that their son was not a drug addict, and had no reason to commit suicide,” their lawyer, Fabio Repici, said yesterday.
Some of the circumstances surrounding Manca’s death were puzzling at the outset. The caps on the syringes with which he had apparently injected himself had been replaced. “The doctor, moreover, was entirely left-handed,” said Repici. “Yet, of the two injections marks found, one was on his left wrist and the other on his left forearm.”
It was not until long after his body was found, on the morning of February 13 2004, that his parents recalled another detail, innocuous in itself. The previous autumn, their son had rung them from the south of France to say he had flown there to take part in an operation.
Repici said a friend had pointed out that the timing of Manca’s visit coincided exactly with that of Bernardo Provenzano who, in October 2003, was checked into a clinic near Marseille where he underwent an operation for the removal of a prostate tumour. Manca was a urologist.
“Provenzano’s tumour was removed by means of a keyhole surgery technique. Of that, there is documentary evidence,” said Repici. “It was a technique which, at that time, in Italy, was used by very few urologists. One of them was Attilio Manca.” He had assisted at the first such operation in Italy, in 2001.
His parents and their lawyer believe the dead man’s specialist abilities may well have been known to Cosa Nostra. Though he was practising in Viterbo, Manca came from Sicily, where his parents still live in a town whose local mafia has strong links to Provenzano’s dominant faction.
Provenzano, known as “the Tractor”, was seized in a semi-derelict farm building in April 2006. He had been on the run from the authorities for 43 years.
Police finally closed in on him after finding out about his operation on the Côte d’Azur. One of the people who supplied Provenzano with forged travel documents gave evidence against him.
Repici said 19 sets of fingerprints were found in Manca’s flat. Several belonged to the dead man or the guests at a dinner party he gave shortly before his death. His five guests were put on the list of suspects purely so their fingerprints could be taken and eliminated from the inquiry.
But that left five more sets of prints that had not been identified, and five more suspects from the doctor’s home town on Sicily where, Repici said, his parents had been threatened in an effort to get them to abandon their campaign.