Accused of murder, Gioacchino Gammino, 61, escaped from Rebibbia Prison in Rome 20 years ago and has since lived as a fugitive. He fled to Spain, changed his name and severed ties with his family, creating a new life and at one time working as a chef in an Italian restaurant.
But last month Italian investigators finally managed to locate him in a city northwest of Madrid, thanks in part to an unexpected tool: Google Maps.
“They say that luck favors the bold,” said General Nicola Altiero, deputy director of the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigations Department, which carried out the operation in conjunction with Palermo prosecutors. He explained that investigators used Google Maps and Google Street View to track down Gammino, a Sicilian whose name was on Italy’s list of most dangerous fugitives.
Investigators in Palermo declined to comment on how they tracked Gammino to Galapagar, a city near Madrid, saying that some aspects of the case are still part of an ongoing investigation.
But Altiero didn’t hesitate to reveal more. He explained that investigators used Google tools to look for a grocery store, El Huerto de Manu, which they believed might have links with the fugitive. And by chance they found the image of a man in front of the store.
The man in the picture was the same height, weight and build as Gammino, Altiero said, and investigators noted that the phone number for the grocery store was the same as the phone number for a nearby restaurant, La Cocina de Manu, which had closed its doors a few years earlier. .
But their social media pages were still online. One of them featured a photo of the restaurant’s chef beside a wood-burning oven used to bake pizzas. The researchers applied age-progression technology to an old photo of Gammino to get an idea of what the outlaw would look like after 20 years and identified the chef as the wanted man.
Italian investigators contacted Spanish police hunting fugitives, and Gammino was arrested on December 17 as he walked in the street. Altiero said that other clues had been found in the two decades of investigation, but that the discovery made with Google tools was crucial to Gammino’s quick detention. “Running the image on Google Maps was a fluke, but anyway we had other evidence that would have led us to it eventually,” said Altiero. “Google Maps got us there faster”
Gammino started having problems with the courts in the 1980s, when he was investigated for drug trafficking. Detectives think he was a member of a “stidda” clan based in Campobello di Licata, a town east of Agrigento, Sicily. The stidda (star, in the Sicilian dialect) attracted members of the ranks of mobsters who in the 1980s began to rebel against the leaders of the Sicilian mob, the Cosa Nostra.
A territorial war between the stidda and Cosa Nostra would have left about 200 dead, according to a statement by the Anti-Mafia Investigation Department announcing the arrest of Gammino in Spain.
Gammino was arrested in 1999, charged with murder. On June 26, 2002, while he was being held in Rebibbia prison, awaiting trial, he reportedly walked out the front door of the prison, taking advantage of the commotion created by crews filming a TV series. During his years on the run, he was convicted in absentia of willful murder, and in 2014 a European arrest warrant was issued against him.
A prosecutor in Palermo declined to say whether Gammino was involved in illegal activities in Spain. According to investigators, the expectation is that he will be extradited to Italy in the coming weeks to serve a life sentence.
Translation by Clara Allain