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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 December 2005, 10:39 GMT
US mafia godfather Gigante dies
Vincent Gigante is taken away
Vincent Gigante escaped the clutches of the law many times
One of the most famous mafia godfathers in the US, Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, who spent much of his life avoiding prison, has died in jail, aged 77.

He was, according to the New York Times, the last great mafioso of the 20th century.

For years, Gigante evaded prison by concocting an elaborate mental illness.

He routinely wandered the streets of New York's Manhattan, shuffling along in slippers and a tattered bathrobe, muttering incoherently.

This bizarre behaviour earned him the title "the Oddfather", but also helped to keep him out of jail, as a series of juries were convinced that Gigante was indeed insane.

But in 1997, he was finally convicted of racketeering, and in April 2003 he admitted to a court that his behaviour had been a ruse to stay out of prison.

Heart disease

He died in a medical prison in Springfield, Missouri, on Monday morning, said a spokesman for the facility.

The cause of his death was unknown, although he had had heart disease, the spokesman said.

Vincent Gigante in 1957

His death was confirmed by the FBI, whose agents worked for decades to bring him to justice.

He was born in the Bronx in 1928 to Italian immigrants, and given the nickname "Chin" - short for Vincenzo.

The ex-boxer became part of the powerful Genovese mafia family, eventually winning the patronage of ambitious mobster Vito Genovese.

Gigante carried out an attempted hit on the boss of the family, Frank Costello, in 1957.

The frightened Costello refused to name his attacker in court, and left Genovese to take over the mob.

Mumbling quietly

When the FBI closed in on Gigante, he feigned mental illness to escape conviction for police-bribery in 1970.

From then on, his act became more elaborate. Federal agents once found him standing naked in a shower, holding an umbrella.

Relatives - even including his brother, a Roman Catholic priest - insisted he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

At his trial in 1997, for conspiracy to murder other organised crime figures, racketeering, and extortion, he sat in a wheelchair, mumbling quietly, apparently unaware of what was going on.

It took the testimony of six turncoat mobsters, and FBI tape recordings in which the so-called Oddfather was heard conversing in a perfectly normal way, to convince the jury of his guilt.

He was jailed for 12 years, but it took until 2003 for the Chin to admit his sham.

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