What’s unfolding in South Africa is tragic, no matter how the investigation plays out. Whether Olympian Oscar Pistorius, the fastest man on no legs, accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend or something more foul was afoot, a 30-year-old woman has died far too young.
While the eyes of the world are upon Pretoria, perhaps looking for the next great O.J. Simpson courtroom drama, a high-profile athlete across the world sits in prison awaiting trial. The details of this case are simply stunning.
Prosecutors allege that Bruno Fernandes, then the first-team goalkeeper for Brazil’s most popular club, Flamengo, had his ex-girlfriend Eliza Samudio, who claimed the star was the father of her child, kidnapped and killed.
Bruno’s early life is a tragedy of its own. Born in a favela, a Brazilian shanty town, Bruno’s father was a drug trafficker killed on the job; his mother, once accused of attempted murder, abandoned him when he was three days old. Through hard work and raw talent, Bruno began starting for Flamengo at age 23, making $1 million a year. He became team captain and led his club to a national championship in 2009. He was huge.
That’s when he met Eliza Samudio, an actress who appeared in adult films and known soccer groupie. They dated. Bruno had been seen beating her in public. When she told him she was pregnant, she claimed Bruno tried to force her to terminate the pregnancy. Four months after giving birth to Bruninho, whom she claimed was his son, Eliza vanished. Gone, without a trace.
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The story goes, according to since-recanted confessions by Bruno’s alleged co-conspirators, Eliza in early June 2010 climbed into a Range Rover with Bruno’s cousins. She and her infant son were driven seven hours through the night and held captive in one of Bruno’s homes. After several days the pair was moved, into the custody of a contract killer named Bola, who then strangled her, according to one of the cousins. Eliza was then chopped up and fed to dogs, her bones buried in concrete and never recovered.
Unbelievably, Bruninho was originally going to be executed as well, but after a change in plans, he was found in a nearby favela with Bruno’s friends.
On July 7, 2010, after confessions from his cousins, Bruno was arrested and charged with kidnapping, formation of a criminal gang and murder. He faces more than 60 years in prison. At his pre-trial hearing he publicly denied any wrongdoing, saying he thought Eliza was going to Sao Paolo. His cousins recanted their confessions, and with no body found, his lawyer claims there’s no evidence of a murder, despite her blood being found in his Range Rover.
After several trial delays, and defense lawyers alleging there can be no murder trial without a murder, the next phase of the trail is set for March.
UPDATE: In May, Bruno was sentenced to 22 years in jail.
Bruninho now lives with his maternal grandmother.
ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap reported on this story for E:60 back in 2012. It is a terrific piece of journalism, a riveting must-watch.