Reputed Mafia patriarch Nicolo Rizzuto killed

An 86-year-old alleged Mafia patriarch, Nicolo Rizzuto, was gunned down in his Montreal home, the latest blow to a once-formidable criminal organization.

Rizzuto was shot at least once at around 5:40 p.m. EST Wednesday, according to police. Rizzuto was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived.

Montreal police Cmdr. Denis Mainville said it was difficult to say just how much clout the elder Rizzuto still had within the family, but he was a symbolic and revered figure.

"We know that Mr. Rizzuto was an important member of the Italian Mafia, but new players have surfaced in recent months," Mainville said.

Nicolo Rizzuto's son, Vito, is currently in prison in Colorado for racketeering related to three Mafia murders. Police said late Wednesday that they would be open to meeting with Vito Rizzuto about the series of attacks against his family.

The Rizzutos came to prominence in Montreal with a violent coup against the Cotroni family, their Calabrian rivals, in the 1970s. They had tentacles reaching into untold businesses considered legitimate, including bars, restaurants and construction companies.

The clan was brought to its knees in a massive 2006 police dragnet in which scores of alleged mobsters were arrested. It appears to have received its coup de grace over the last year. The family and its associates have been targeted in a series of slayings that crime analysts consider an attempt to end its hold on power.

Nick Rizzuto Jr., Vito's son and Nicolo's grandson and namesake, was shot to death outside his Montreal home last Dec. 28.

Paolo Renda, 70, a top lieutenant and a member of the Rizzuto family by marriage, mysteriously vanished close to his Montreal home in May. Renda was considered the No. 3 in the operation, the "consigliere" or councilor, and is married to Nicolo Rizzuto Sr.'s daughter, Maria.

Another high-ranking member, Agostino Cuntrera, was gunned down in June.

One Canadian Mafia expert said the motives behind the slaying couldn't be clearer.

"I don't know who killed Nicolo Rizzuto, but whoever did it wants to remove the Rizzuto crime family from the Canadian underworld map," Antonio Nicaso, an author and journalist, said from Toronto.

"I think with his murder, it's like an end of an era in the Canadian underworld."

The upscale Montreal neighborhood was blocked off by police tape and crawling with police cars. Police were searching a forested area behind the home for clues.

A neighbor expressed surprise at the news of Nicolo's killing. Although other members of the family had been killed or disappeared in recent months, he thought the great-grandpa would be spared.

"Not with the old man. He was 86 years old, you figure he's out of the situation," said the neighbor, who identified himself as Paul.

"I don't know why they went to that extent of going after the old fella."