As the German defeat became apparent in the spring of 1945, Mussolini was unclear about which way to go and hesitated between withdrawing to a last desperate defence in Trieste or in the Alpine region of Valtelina, or seeking refuge in Switzerland.
As there was no concrete plan for either possibility, and he tried in vain to negotiate with the Allies a conditional capitulation.
Unsuccessfully Mussolini tried to organize a column of 5,000 men to defend him for fear of Wehrmarcht actions against him. He failed to do so with the limited military force he managed to gather.
Finally, he decided to flee, northwards and without a destination, disguised as a soldier in a German convoy under the command of Lieutenant Schallmayer of the Luftwaffe.
In Como he left his wife Rachele and his small children, although he did take with him his lover Clara Petacci and his brother Marcello, who pretended to be the Spanish consul and wife. Other fascist leaders, such as Alessandro Pavolini and Nicola Bombacci, were also part of the column.
The convoy was detected near the town of Dongo at half-past six in the morning on April 27 by a group of communist partisans of the Garibaldi Brigade led by Urbano Lazzaro.
On the morning of the 28th, Mussolini and Clara Petacci met in a peasant house in Dongo and a group of communist partisans led by Walter Audisio arrived from Milan with orders to execute them. Although Mussolini believed at first that Audisio was coming to free them, they went as far as the village of Giulino di Mezzegra where, by the Via XXIV Maggio, and in front of the doors of Villa Belmonte, they were shot at 16:10.
Once they were out of the vehicles, Audisio read a brief sentence in the name of the Italian people and then raised his machine gun to kill Mussolini. Audisio ordered, "Get down!"; Petacci embraced Mussolini and tried to get in the way. Although the machine gun jammed, shots were fired from another machine gun borrowed from Moretti, and Pettaci fell dead. Right after that Mussolini opened his jacket and shouted: "Shoot me in the chest!" Audisio shot him in the chest with the same machine gun. Mussolini fell by five shots but did not die and was breathing heavily. Audisio came up with his revolver and finished him off with a clean shot to the heart.
The corpses were moved in the afternoon of the same April 28th in a truck to Milan. On the way, no one was allowed to go near the bodies until they arrived on the 29th at Piazza Loreto in that city. There they were subjected to all sorts of outrages by the crowd. The police service then hung the bodies upside down in a gas station in the square.