Hamilton police say one of the three suspects in the killings of Hamilton mobster Angelo Musitano and Mila Barberi, from Vaughan, Ont., was found dead in Mexico this summer.
Michael Graham Cudmore was found in a ditched car on the side of a road in rural Mexico at the end of June according to officers.
"Members of the multi-jurisdictional task force, which was formed to solve the two murders, have received limited information from the Canadian Embassy or Mexican authorities surrounding the circumstances of Cudmore's death," reads a release from Hamilton police.
Det.-Sgt. Peter Thom with Hamilton Police Service told media on Wednesday afternoon he doesn't know how Cudmore died or where, exactly.
"It's rather unusual, we have a Canadian citizen who is wanted on an international warrant basically who was also reported missing by his family, if you remember, and it's because of the missing person status the embassy are able to share information about his family," he said.
"The police [in Mexico] are aware of [the death]. They've been involved. To what extent, I don't know ... if I could share more, I would."
Musitano was shot and killed in the driveway of his Waterdown home in May 2017 while his brother Pat was shot to death earlier this year in a Burlington plaza.
Mila Barberi was shot dead in March 2017 while she sat in an SUV parked outside a business in an industrial area of Vaughan, Ont., north of Toronto. She was picking up her boyfriend, Saverio Serrano, 40 at the time, who police say had connections to organized crime and may have been the intended target.
Investigators announced last year that a number of characteristics linked the shootings of Barberi and Musitano, two months later.
Police say they have spoken with Cudmore's family to assist them in repatriating his body and to learn more about his death. His family said they didn't hear from Cudmore since he fled to Mexico in May 2017.
Police also notified the Barberi family and a spokesperson for the Musitano family about Cudmore's death.
Investigators believe he headed to Mexico with Daniele Carlo Ranieri, who was a person of interest in the deaths who police alleged was head of the Rizzuto crime family's Toronto operations. The Rizzuto family operations are known to be based in Montreal).
Ranieri was found dead in a Mexico ditch in March 2018 and was previously a target in Project Forza, an investigation by York Regional Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take down his crew.
Interpol was watching for both men in case they left Mexico.
External hitmen are 'like lemons... They are disposable'
Thom said Cudmore was a hitman hired by the orchestrators of Musitano's death. He noted Cudmore has various stints in custody around Ontario and would have met high-profile criminals during incarceration.
Antonio Nicaso, a long-time Mafia expert, said that Cudmore was not a major player in the mob world and that both killings, Musitano's and Barberi's, likely involved a hired gun.
"External [hitmen] are often like lemons — squeeze them and throw them. They are disposable," he said.
"The idea of running away in Mexico puts them in a very unsafe situation."
Nicaso added, in general, those who hire an external hitman would worry about them being arrested and sharing information with police.
"The idea of being disposed by the same people who hired them is a possible option," he explained.
"I have a hard time thinking about a possible revenge by the Musitanos in Mexico. They have a hard time striking back locally in Canada, can you imagine Mexico?
Another option is Cudmore ran into the Mexican cartel or other powerful groups in the country.
While Nicaso can't be certain, the chances of Cudmore's death being a catalyst for more violence is low.
One suspect still at large
With Cudmore dead, police say there are still two other suspects in the killings of Barberi and Musitano.
In September 2018, one of them was arrested. This month, Jabirl Abdalla was committed to trial after a preliminary hearing, but his trial date hasn't been set yet.
Upon his initial arrest, a joint investigation involving the RCMP, York and Hamilton police called Project SCOPA identified Cudmore and Daniel Tomassetti as the other men "directly involved in the murders," along with the attempted murder of Serrano.
Tomassetti is still wanted for both murders and his arrest warrant remains on file with Interpol.
He fled to Mexico in January 2018 and has not returned to Canada. Police say his family doesn't know where he is but know "he is scared."
Thom believes Tomassetti is alive.
"If we could get Mr. Tomassetti back and have him and Mr. Abdalla sit through the same trial, that would obviously be a preference," he said.
"If Abdalla's court case is finished before Tomassetti is located or faces trial, we'll have to go through another court case."
Musitano murder sparked more mob violence
After Angelo's death in 2018, more mob violence and targeted killings followed.
Al Iavarone, 50, was shot at his home in Ancaster in September 2018. Police say Iavarone's wife and two adult children were at home at the time of the incident.
Cece Luppino, the son of mobster Rocco Luppino, was gunned down at a Hamilton home owned by his father in January 2019.
Pat Musitano was wounded in a 2019 shooting and had his home sprayed with bullets in 2017. Gunshots killed him on July 10 in broad daylight in a small Burlington, Ont., plaza.
Guisseppe "Pino" Avignone, Pat's relative, was at the scene during the shooting. Exactly one week later, his garage had the word "rat" painted onto it while two cars sitting in the driveway were set on fire.
The Musitano family was one of three major crime families in the Hamilton area, competing with the Papalias and Luppino-Violi families for power.
The story of the Musitanos stretches back to the 1970s, when the family was linked to convictions for bombings and extortion, as well as the hit on mobster Domenic Racco in the 1980s.
Pat and his brother Angelo were charged with first-degree murder in 1997 for the contract killing of local mob boss Johnny "Pops" Papalia and one of his lieutenants, Carmen Barillaro.
The Musitanos reached a deal and pleaded to conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Barillaro. In turn, the charges against them in connection with Papalia's death were dropped.
Both men were sentenced to 10 years in prison and were released in 2007.
Mob experts previously told CBC the brothers may have painted a target on their backs for Papalia's death.
They were protected by the Rizzuto mob family, but after the death of their leader, Vito Rizzuto, the Musitanos became vulnerable. Rizzuto's right hand man, Juan Ramon Fernandez, known as "Joe Bravo" was killed in an "ambush style attack" along with his own confidant, Fernando Pimentel in Italy last May.
Nicaso said Fernandez had ties with the man trying to overthrow Rizzuto, Raynald Desjardins. Pimentel, meanwhile, also had ties to Ranieri as revealed in Project Forza.
Mob violence like 'Pandora's Box'
Experts of the underworld have also said the violence may not stop anytime soon. If rivals think there are more of the Musitano crime family around, they may try to kill them.
Thom said there is Hamilton is at the centre of a power struggle.
"It appears to still be going on. Obviously with recent events, we're still trying to come to an understanding as to who is in play at the moment," he explained.
There may also be people looking to avenge victims from past mob violence in Hamilton, like Luppino and Iavarone.
"It's really unpredictable. It's like a Pandora's Box, you don't know what you'll get when you open the box," Nicaso said.
Stronger crime families from outside the region may also wrestle for territory.
With Hamilton being in arm's reach of Toronto, Niagara and Buffalo, experts say Mafia in the Greater Toronto Area have a potential opening to claim the city's drug routes, gambling operations and expand south of the border.
That move would position them to be near the top of Canada's underworld and give them leverage against the Rizzutos.