Manfred von Richthofen.
When they hear that name, most folks think of this guy, the famous WWI fighter pilot shot down over the Western Front in April of 1918.
But in São Paulo, in the spring of 2002, everyone would have thought you were talking about someone else: a distant relative of the Red Baron who shared his name - and whose life also came to a sudden and violent end.
Here’s the happy family before the tragedy. The Brazilian Manfred was an engineer. His wife, Marísia, was a psychiatrist. Andreas, their son, was fifteen. Suzane Louise, their daughter, was just short of her nineteenth birthday.
They all lived in a comfortable house, beyond this wall, in the Campo Belo neighborhood of the city.
At the time of the murders, and for the previous three years, Suzane been carrying-on a torrid love affair with a young man her parents deeply disapproved of. Twenty-one year-old Daniel Cravinhos de Paula e Silva didn’t study, didn’t work and had introduced their daughter to drugs.
They pressured her to break-off the relationship. She refused.
And when they threatened to cut-off her allowance, she decided to murder them.
On the night of the 31st of October, 2002, (Yes, I did say it was springtime; this is the Southern Hemisphere, remember?) she took her brother to a cyber-café to meet friends and play video games. Then Suzane, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s brother, twenty-six year old Cristian, went to her home.
Earlier that evening, she’d disengaged the burglar alarm and turned-off the video security cameras. Upon arrival, she actuated the electric gate. They drove into the garage. The men put on hoods and entered the house.
She preceded them up the stairs to her parents’ bedroom, turned on the light in the hall, and verified that Manfred and Marisía were asleep.
Then she went downstairs and sat on the couch, in the living room, while her accomplices set to work with bludgeons they’d previously prepared.
The killers thought to make quick work of it, but they were in for a surprise:
In cases of severe brain trauma, when the individual doesn’t die immediately, the tongue often loses support at the base and drops back into the throat.
Causing a loud and most disturbing snore.
Daniel ran to the bathroom and came back with two wet towels. They put them over their victim’s faces in an attempt to drown-out the sounds. It didn’t work. So he ran down the kitchen, returned with a pitcher of water and set to drowning them with it.
That did it for Manfred, but not for Marisia. So they tied her head into a plastic bag until she finally expired.
Once it was over, Suzane came up for a look – and then she went downstairs and started ransacking the house.
The brothers did the same on the upper floor, all designed to make the house look as if it had been burglarized. But they didn’t do a good job of it. They left valuables, they left cell phones, they left a firearm, all things burglars would be unlikely ever to do. They did, however, take the von Richthofen’s stash of cash, a considerable amount of it in both US Dollars and Euros.
Then they left – and Daniel and Suzane checked-into a motel to establish an alibi.
Just before three in the morning they checked-out. Suzane dropped her boyfriend off, picked up her brother and they went home to “discover” their parents dead.
As the investigation progressed, it was ultimately discovered that, only ten hours after the crime, Cristian had bought himself a motorcycle, paying with thirty-six bills of one-hundred-dollars each. And he couldn’t prove where he got the money.
They grilled him. He broke down. And then the others did too.
The investigation was over within a week.
But Brazilian law is such that, if an individual isn’t apprehended in the commission of a crime, it’s likely they’ll await their trial in liberty – and that’s what happened.
Suzane was free for a year, even launched a lawsuit to take over complete control of her parents’ estate (to the tune of more than five million US Dollars) and she might have won it, too, if investigators hadn’t feared for the life of her brother – and found a revolver hidden in a teddy bear in her room.
In July of 2006, almost four years after the murders, the trio finally went to trial. (There’s a considerable backlog of cases in the Brazilian justice system.)
The lovers were sentenced to thirty-nine years and six months each. Cristian got a year less.
In 2009, Suzane tried to get her sentence changed to house arrest. Her appeal was denied.
She tried again, two years later, with the same result.
But she’ll keep trying, and people who know about these things have told me it isn’t likely she’ll do all of her sentence as hard time.
In 2011, Andreas sued his sister for her half of the inheritance, including the money paid-out on her parents’ life insurance.
Leighton - Monday