For a time it seemed Nicolo Rizzuto was the last of the untouchables, or at least that the enemies picking off his family had decided to let the elderly godfather live out his final years.
Mr. Rizzuto was shot dead at his home at dinnertime Wednesday in what may be a stunning coup de grâce against the mob clan he headed for 30 years.
The 86-year-old was shot at 5:45 p.m. at his house on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue, the street where Mr. Rizzuto, his imprisoned son, Vito, and several of his acolytes have lived for years.
Mr. Rizzuto's crime clan has been under attack in Montreal's underworld for several years. A number of high-profile members have disappeared or been killed, including Mr. Rizzuto's grandson and namesake, Nick Rizzuto, who was shot dead standing beside his black Mercedes last December.
"It's the end of the Rizzuto crime family. The killing is probably not over, but the family is finished," said retired RCMP intelligence analyst Pierre de Champlain.
With his trademark fedora, which covered a horseshoe fringe of dyed brown hair, Mr. Rizzuto had largely retreated from mob activities after spending brief periods in jail for racketeering and tax evasion.
Mr. Rizzuto who, as godfather, often settled gang disputes, let it be known he was withdrawing from most activities, according to the authors of Mafia Inc., a recent book on Montreal's mob. The only known living senior leader of the clan is Mr. Rizzuto's son, Vito, who was arrested in 2004 and is serving a 10-year sentence in the United States for his role in the killing of three renegade members of the Bonanno crime family in Brooklyn.
It was Vito Rizzuto who was the real boss of the family for many years prior to his arrest.
"Vito will come back at some point, but it's clearly finished for the family," said André Noël, co-author of Mafia Inc.
"What's stunning is that Nick had already let it be known he was no longer interested, that he was no longer interested in playing a role. It's stunning to see them get rid of someone who was pretty much inactive."
Mr. Noël said Vito Rizzuto's eventual release might trigger more violence, "but it's already a bloodbath." In his book, Mr. Noël documented 40 murders and disappearances among gang members since 2006, when a major police operation hobbled the Rizzuto power structure.
An array of theories have surfaced to explain the siege against the Rizzutos, ranging from an internal revolt among younger gang members to a takeover by Calabrian gangsters from Ontario, acting on approval from New York gangs. An initial theory that Montreal street gangs were flexing their muscles is now largely discredited.
Wiretaps recorded for several years before the 2006 crackdown, known as Operation Colisée, showed the Rizzuto leadership already felt under siege. Their authority was challenged by crime groups, including street gangs that hadn't previously dared to move against their authority. Rizzuto captains, including several who were arrested or are dead, had fearfully ordered armoured cars and collected an arsenal of weapons.
Police said two women were present when Mr. Rizzuto was killed and other reports suggested a child was also present. Thirty-two years ago, Mr. Rizzuto's Sicilian clan eliminated several Calabrian rivals in a series of hits. Agostino Cuntrera, who was arrested in a 1978 murder, was shot dead in June. He was purportedly the acting boss of the family when he died.
In addition to the arrests and murders, dozens of Italian cafés and pizzerias have been firebombed in turf conflicts in recent years.