The right-wing activist and politician who stole the corpse of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini more than a half century ago has died, his son said Monday. He was 88.

Domenico Leccisi died Sunday at a retirement home in Milan after a battle with heart and respiratory problems, his son Gabriele said.

In 1946, Leccisi and two other Italians marked the first anniversary of the death of "Il Duce" by digging up Mussolini's body at night from an unmarked grave in a Milan cemetery. The theft sparked a nationwide manhunt for the group.

The three entrusted the body to two monks who buried it at a monastery near the northern city. Authorities located the remains there and returned them to the family years later for burial in Predappio, Mussolini's birthplace.

Mussolini was captured and shot by partisans in April 1945 as he tried to flee northern Italy along with the retreating German forces.

The bodies of the dictator, his longtime mistress Claretta Petacci and other Fascist officials were displayed to a jeering crowd hanging upside-down from a gas station in a Milan square.

Leccisi's son said his father was motivated to steal the body by what he believed was a "shameful" display.

"He was not a Fascist," Gabriele Leccisi told The Associated Press. "He was more of a sympathizer of Mussolini."

Leccisi was sentenced to six years in jail for stealing the body, but benefited from an amnesty passed for some Fascist-era crimes, his son said. He worked as a right-wing journalist and later served as a lawmaker with a neo-Fascist party in the 1950s and 1960s.