ROME – Since escaping from Rebibbia prison in Rome 20 years ago, where he faced murder charges, Gioacchino Gammino had managed to escape capture. He fled to Spain, changed his name and severed ties with his family, creating a new life for himself, working at one point as a chef in an Italian restaurant.
But last month Italian investigators finally tracked down Gammino, 61, in a town northwest of Madrid, in part thanks to an unlikely tool: Google Maps.
“They say fortune favors the bold,” said General Nicola Altiero, deputy director of Italy’s anti-mafia investigation department, which led the operation with Palermo prosecutors, explaining how investigators used Google Maps and Street View to help them find Gammino, a Sicilian who was on the Italian list of the most dangerous fugitives.
Palermo investigators declined to say how they tracked Gammino to Galapagar, a town near Madrid, saying aspects of the case are still part of an ongoing investigation.
But Altiero was more open, explaining how investigators had used Google tools to search for a fruit and vegetable store – El Huerto de Manu – who they said may have links to the fugitive, and came across the image of ‘a man standing in front of the store.
The man in the image was the same height and build as Gammino, Altiero said, and investigators noticed the store shared the same phone number as a nearby restaurant – La Cocina de Manu – which had closed. few years ago.
But her social media pages remained online, including one with a photo of the restaurant’s chef standing next to a wood-fired pizza oven.
Investigators applied age-progression technology to an old photo of Gammino to get an idea of ââwhat the fugitive would look like after 20 years, and identified the leader as the wanted man, Altiero said.
Italian investigators contacted the Spanish police unit tracking the fugitives, and on December 17, Gammino was arrested while walking down the street. Altiero said there were further interruptions in the two-decade investigation, but the discovery using Google tools was the key to Gammino’s speedy arrest.
âSeeing the image on Google Maps was a bit of luck, but, in any case, we had other evidence that would have eventually led us to it,â Altiero said. âGoogle Maps allowed us to get there faster. “
Gammino first broke the law in the 1980s when he was investigated for drug trafficking. Investigators believe he was a member of a âstiddaâ clan based in Campobello di Licata, a town east of Agrigento, Sicily. The stidda, which means star in Sicilian, originated from the ranks of the gangsters who, in the 1980s, began to rebel against the leaders of the Sicilian mafia, the Cosa Nostra. A turf war between the Stidda and Cosa Nostra in the 1990s left some 200 dead, according to a statement released by the Antimafia investigative department announcing Gammino’s arrest in Spain.
Gammino was then arrested in 1999 for murder. He was awaiting trial at Rebibbia prison in Rome when, on June 26, 2002, he allegedly walked through the prison entrance door, taking advantage of the commotion created by the film crews while filming a scene for a television series. During his years on the run, he was convicted of murder in absentia and a European arrest warrant was issued against him in 2014.
A Palermo prosecutor declined to say whether Gammino was involved in illegal activities in Spain.
Gammino is expected to be extradited to Italy in the coming weeks to serve a life sentence there, investigators said.