Foul Escape for Italian Mafia Boss

A manhunt continued in Italy today after one of the country's most-wanted fugitives, barefoot and dressed only in pajamas, eluded police arrest for the third time Monday.

Mafia leader Giuseppe Setola ducked into the underground sewer system through a trap door under a bed in his hideout near northern Naples early Monday morning, disappearing into the putrid tunnels, accompanied by one of his bodyguards. Hot in pursuit, a number of carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police, clambered down after him after finding the trap door, but they were too late.

Press reports today said Setola made his abrupt getaway into the sewers at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning. After crawling along for about 1.5 miles in the dank, foul-smelling tunnels, he emerged from a manhole in front of a cheese shop and stole a woman's car as she was about to drive off.

The car was later found abandoned in the area close to where another car was stolen shortly afterward. Police believe he is trying to make his way to a "safe house" somewhere in the area controlled by the powerful Casalesi clan, between Caserta and Naples in southern Italy.

Setola, who has already been sentenced to life in prison, is the boss of the Casalesi clan in the Camorra crime organization. Prosecutors believe he is responsible for drug trafficking, extortion and multiple brutal killings in the area.

Setola is on Italy's list of the 30-most-wanted fugitives and is suspected of being responsible for the massacre of six West African immigrants who were murdered in the nearby town of Castel Volturno in September.

Soon after the murders and an ensuing immigrant protest, the Italian government sent in the army to help the local police. Italy's Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, said the Casalesi clan had "declared a war on the Italian state."

Today the manhunt remains on high alert. Road blocks have been set up throughout the area, and the police believe Setola is relying on a local support network to evade capture. A spokesman at carabinieri headquarters refused to comment on the ongoing police operation.

Setola No Stranger to Police Hunts

Setola has been on the run since last April, when he escaped the house arrest he had been granted based on a doctor's certificate that declared him virtually blind. Prosecutors are still trying to ascertain how he was let out of jail on an apparently fake infirmity.

Italian papers today have printed a photo Setola posing as an invalid, wearing dark eyeglasses and a patch over his eye and holding a cane. A witness has reportedly told prosecutors he had seen him driving a motorbike since then, calling his purported health problems into question.

Setola has avoided capture before. In November police arrested a carabinieri officer suspected of tipping off Setola about police operations. The suspected "mole" commanded a carabinieri station near Casal di Principe -- the town in the area from which the Casalesi gets its name.

In the small, abandoned-looking house in the town of Trentola Ducenta from which Setola fled Monday, police found 12,000 euros in varying-size bank notes and Setola's wife, Stefania Martinelli, whom they arrested for possession of an undeclared pistol. She was questioned all night and will appear before the judge tomorrow.

The home was reportedly piled high with trash and appeared in squalid condition. Also found in the hideaway was an anti-anxiety medication, a bottle of Cartier perfume, a book by Pope John Paul II, "Rise, Let's Be On Our Way!" with an adoring dedication from a fellow clan member, and the book "The Gold of the Camorra," an investigative book written about the Casalesi clan.

Neighbors in Trentola Ducenta questioned on Italian state TV turned their backs on a television reporter. "I don't know anything and I haven't seen anything," said one unidentified neighbor.

"Why should I care? I don't even know who he is," said one young man who was interviewed.

Tipped Off by Video Cameras

Italian news programs aired video of Setola's hideaway, filmed after his escape that showed a bedroom furnished with a double bed and a wardrobe and another single bed in the kitchen. Police were seen shining flashlights down the trap door into the sewer, and a number of uniformed policemen were shown rather dejectedly on guard or searching the messy rooms in the house.

The humble home, however, was reportedly fitted with at least two-closed-circuit TV cameras on the outside walls, which were monitored in the kitchen and might have tipped off Setola to the police's imminent arrival.

The prefect of Naples, Alessandro Pansa, a long-time investigator of organized crime in Italy, told reporters today that "the police forces commitment to capture dangerous criminals is unquestionable. ... The capture of fugitives is a bit like a game of roulette: Sooner or later the winning number will be the one."

Monday, one of the magistrates on the Setola case received an envelope containing five bullets accompanied by an anonymous threatening letter, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It was mailed from Marcianise, which is in the Casalesi-controlled territory.