A man who died in a plane crash in Paraguay in 2005 was responsible for the deaths of three women whose murders in South Florida went unsolved for 20 years, authorities said Tuesday, citing advances in technology at the crime scene and years of investigative work in two countries. continents.
The murders began in June 2000, when the body of Kimberly Dietz-Livesey, 35, was found in a suitcase by the roadside in Cooper City, Florida, southwest of Fort Lauderdale, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Miami Police Department said.
Several weeks later, the body of Sia Demas, 21, was found in a duffel bag near Dania Beach, also in Broward County. A year later, Jessica Good (24)’s body was spotted floating in Miami’s Biscayne Bay.
Mrs Dietz-Livesey and Mrs Demas had been beaten to death. Mrs. Good had been stabbed. All three had struggled with substance abuse and turned to prostitution, detectives said.
After an interview with Ms. Good’s friend, authorities said they had quickly identified a suspect in her death: Roberto Wagner Fernandes, a Brazilian citizen who lives in Miami and fled to Brazil immediately after the murder.
Fernandes’ abrupt departure to Brazil posed a series of bureaucratic challenges for detectives, said Broward County Sheriff’s Office Detective Zachary Scott. But he said that “over the years,” the Brazilian government “has been nothing but helpful in this investigation, in part because Mr. Fernandes’ name has also come up in several investigations in Brazil.”
A rift in the case came in 2011, when investigators collected DNA while investigating Ms. Good’s murder and matched it with the DNA profile of the suspect in the Broward murders, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Investigators said they also learned that Fernandes’ fingerprints were taken in 1996, when he was charged with murdering his wife in Brazil. He was acquitted in that case on self-defense, investigators said, but Brazilian authorities have handed over a set of his fingerprints from the 1996 investigation that matched those found at the Florida crime scene.
Detectives flew to Brazil to find DNA evidence of Mr. Fernandes, but learned that he had died in a plane crash in 2005 en route to Paraguay from Brazil.
Researchers were wary. Detective Scott said at a news conference on Tuesday that “a lot of circumstantial things have been discovered in Brazil,” leading authorities there to “believe that he may have faked his own death.”
In addition, Mr. Fernandes had amassed “a certain number of enemies” in Brazil, Detective Scott said. His late wife’s family “apparently had some bad feelings toward him,” Detective Scott said, “and it was believed they paid others to try and kill him,” prompting him to flee the country.
So detectives are continuing their investigation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Brazilian National Police.
A Brazilian judge was recently persuaded to order the exhumation of Mr. Fernandes’ body, investigators said, and his grave was opened in October. Fernandes’s remains were found and his DNA profile matched the suspect’s profile created from the Florida murders, investigators said.
Based on Mr Fernandes’ pattern of violent behavior, authorities said in their statement, “Part of this tragic story unfortunately remains unwritten.” It is possible, they said, that he was responsible for other murders in the United States. Anyone with information is urged to contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477 or submit a tip at browardcrimestoppers.org.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said detectives — some retired, some now deceased — never stopped trying to solve the murders so the victims’ families would know what had happened to their loved ones.
“Atrocities like this, as you can imagine, devastate the community and devastate the families because they have no closure,” Sheriff Tony said.
He added: “Justice never expires.”
The fact that Mr. Fernandes was never tried for his crimes still worries investigators.
“I wish we were here to show you his police photo,” Detective Scott said at the press conference. “Unfortunately, that pleasure has been taken away from us. Now that I know that his last minutes on Earth were probably filled with fear, I feel a little better.”