01/02/2013 02:49 EST | Updated 03/04/2013 05:12 EST

Mafia-related killings jump in 2012

Montreal police have solved only two of the 18 homicides directly related to organized crime last year, according to year-end statistics released Wednesday.

Police investigated a total of 35 homicides in 2012. They say members of the Italian Mafia, biker gangs and street gangs carried out 18 of those killings. The 2012 numbers show that Mafia-related killings were higher than in 2011. Police reported two Mafia-linked homicides that year and five in 2012.

Police spokesman Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière said the return of reputed Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto after nearly a decade in prison may have contributed to escalating violence.

"I'd be lying [if I told] you that we have no reasons to believe it is [related to Rizzuto's return], but we got no indication to confirm this," said Lafrenière.

Lafrenière said groups from different crime organizations often work together for financial gain and solving those cases is a significant challenge for investigators.

"We're still putting in a lot of effort. This is not over for us. It's going to take months or years to find suspects," said Lafrenière.

He said it takes a lot more resources and partnerships with the provincial police and the RCMP to solve this type of crime.

Power struggle

Julien Sher, an investigative reporter with the Toronto Star who has covered organized crime extensively, said witnesses are often reluctant to come forward in these types of investigations.

"My experience with the bikers, with the Mafia, the victims' families don't run to the cops. On the contrary, they want to solve it themselves. They want vengeance," he said.

Sher said the increase in organized crime-related killings shows there are no clear leaders.

"Mafia clans are battling it out along with other crime groups," he said. "The street gangs and the bikers are trying to figure out their place in this."

Rizzuto, who was released from a U.S. prison last October after serving time for his role in the 1981 murders of three Mob captains, must be trying to regain power, Sher said.

"Right now, I see no indication that that trend – that growing death toll of organized crime – is going to stop in 2013," he said.

The last time Montreal saw serious blood shed in the criminal underworld was at the height of the biker wars in the 1990s, when rival gangs were waging public battles for control of the drug trade.

"We saw in the biker wars that, sooner or later, innocent bystanders get killed and that's when public outrage begins."