Two Mafia-linked shootings last year – one that killed an innocent woman in Woodbridge, Ont., and a second that targeted a notorious mobster in Hamilton – were carried out by the same hit man, police now say.
At a news conference on Tuesday, investigators from York Regional Police and the Hamilton Police Service announced a joint-forces investigation into the separate shooting deaths of 28-year-old Mila Barbieri last March and 39-year-old Angelo Musitano last May.
The two shootings share the same "modus operandi," Hamilton Police Homicide Detective Sergeant Peter Thom said, marking the first time police have publicly linked the cases, after a string of Mafia-style violence last year across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
However, without a motive in either case, it's unclear whether the killer is an enemy or simply a hired hit man – a trend that Canadian organized crime author and expert Antonio Nicaso says appears to be increasing.
After studying hundreds of hours of seized surveillance footage, investigators believe the gunman was the same man in both cases and was, at some point, seen driving the same black Honda Civic.
In both cases, Det. Sgt. Thom said, the suspects conducted "sophisticated and extensive surveillance" before the shootings.
Ms. Barbieri was killed in broad daylight on March 14 in a parking lot in an industrial area of Woodbridge. A masked gunman jumped out of the passenger side of a black Jeep Cherokee, darted across the lot and fired repeatedly into the black BMW she was sitting in. The shooter then ran back to the waiting Jeep and fled the scene. Police said he and his driver then ditched the Jeep, setting it on fire before taking off in the black Honda Civic.
Ms. Barbieri wasn't involved in organized crime, police said on Tuesday, and is not believed to have been the intended target.
Her boyfriend, Saverio Serrano – the son of a notorious Canadian Mafia figure and cocaine importer – was also in the car with her that day, The Globe and Mail reported in an investigation last year. The 40-year-old survived the shooting and his identity was never publicly released by police.
Mr. Serrano's father, Diego – who was charged in a Mob takedown two years ago – was sentenced last week to four years and six months in prison for two counts of cocaine trafficking and one count of possession of the proceeds of crime.
The Globe also reported last summer that the Serrano family had been doing business through the medical marijuana industry with an Etobicoke man named Tony Sergi, who was gunned down in his driveway just two weeks after the shooting of Mr. Serrano and Ms. Barbieri. Mr. Sergi's murder also remains unsolved.
On May 2 last year, Mr. Musitano was also gunned down in the driveway of his suburban home in the Waterdown area of Hamilton. The killer fled in a burgundy Ford Fusion, which police found abandoned a few blocks away. But they said surveillance footage shows the shooter previously driving the same Honda seen in the Woodbridge case. Det. Sgt. Thom said multiple people were involved in stalking Mr. Musitano before he was killed.
The Musitano crime family is infamous in Hamilton. In the 1990s, Mr. Musitano and his brother Pat were charged with first-degree murder for the deaths of Hamilton Mob boss Johnny (Pops) Papalia and his associate Carmen Barillaro – both of them shot by hit man Ken Murdock.
The brothers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in Mr. Barillaro's death. The charges relating to Mr. Papalia's murder were withdrawn as part of the plea deal. Police have also said they believe Mr. Musitano was involved in two restaurant bombings in the 1990s.
Pat Musitano's house was sprayed with bullets a month after his brother was murdered. Police said the family is not co-operating with the investigation.
Both the Musitano and Serrano families have historical ties to the 'Ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia), however Mr. Nicaso said that would not be enough to suggest the shootings are connected.
He said the spike in violence over the past year reflects the instability in the Canadian underworld after the death of Mob boss Vito Rizzuto in 2013.
Organized crime is "stronger when there is no violence," he said, because that draws attention. "The best scenario [for them] is one where there is no violence."