A plane crash might have finally solved the mystery behind the gruesome murders of three women 20 years ago.
Roberto Wagner Fernandes was identified on Tuesday (local time) as the victim of a plane crash in Paraguay in 2005.
Fernandes’ identification as the pilot in the crash was part of a lengthy investigation involving multiple police departments and international agencies.
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony told reporters three women were murdered. Kimberly Dietz-Livesey was found dead on a roadside in a suitcase in Broward County, in southeast Florida, in June 2000. In August that year, the body of Sia Demas was found in a duffel bag in Broward County.
“These types of atrocities, as you can imagine, devastate the community and devastate the family,” the sheriff said.
Miami police sergeant Nikolai Trifonov added that a third woman Jessica Good was found dead floating in Biscayne Bay with stab wounds to the chest in August, 2001.
But Miami police ultimately were unable to arrest the killer. They did, however, have a suspect: Fernandes.
Sgt Trifonov said his DNA was found on Ms Good’s fingernails and other enquiries suggested Fernandes was behind her murder.
Fernandes was a Brazilian citizen who resided in Miami.
“Unfortunately, before Miami police were able to interview and interrogate him he fled the country and found himself back in Brazil,” Sheriff Tony said.
Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective Zach Scott said DNA was also obtained from both Ms Dietz-Livesey and Ms Diemas, but unfortunately a scan of a fingerprint database at the time “came back with nothing”.
However, Miami police had DNA matching the same profile Det Scott said, suggesting Fernandes was behind it but by this time he was no longer in the US.
Fears serial killer faked his own death
Det Scott said the US does not have an extradition agreement with Brazil and police were unable to get to Fernandes throughout the joint investigation.
Brazilian authorities did, however, obtain his fingerprints which allowed police to connect the murders of Ms Demas and Ms Good to Fernandes.
In 2005, Brazilian authorities believed Fernandes died in a plane crash.
Sgt Trifinov said police had to confirm whether Fernandes had actually died.
“As we take into consideration that people might fake their death especially after committing a murder, the murders in Broward and possibly others,” he said.
Det Scott added Brazilian authorities had similar suspicions.
“He had amassed a certain amount of enemies,” he said.
“In 1996, he was charged with murdering his wife. He stood trial for that and was later acquitted on a self-defence claim.”
Det Scott said his late wife’s family “harboured some ill feelings towards him” and it is believed they paid some people to kill Fernandes. It led Fernandes to flee to Paraguay.
“There were a lot of questions about who identified the body (and) how the body got back to Brazil,” he said.
How police got their man
To determine whether Fernandes was dead, multiple agencies including Brazil’s national police, agreed to exhume what was believed to be his grave.
“They were able to locate remains inside the grave and those were compared to a DNA standard which was later compared to our crime scene standard, and it was confirmed that he was the suspect in all three of these murders,” he said.
In 2015, a homicide in Palm Beach County, which involved a Cuban citizen as a suspect, saw the suspect flee to Cuba which also does not have an extradition agreement with the US.
He stood trial in Cuba in 2018, Det Scott said for the crime in Palm Beach which he said was “unprecedented” and had “never been seen before” but it “laid the groundwork” for police to approach Brazilian authorities over whether Fernandes, if alive, could stand trial in Brazil over crimes committed in the US.
“I wish we were up here showing you his mugshot,” Det Scott said.
“Unfortunately, we were deprived of that pleasure. Knowing his last minutes on earth were probably full of terror makes me feel a little better.”
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