The Treacherous Songs of Brazil’s Lustful Sirens

     The Treacherous Songs of Brazil's 
Lustful Sirens

    Brazil can be a dangerous
    place for foreign dreamers. We have
    seen a good example recently of how things can go terribly wrong.
    A 56-year-old Swiss language teacher was thrown from the seventh
    floor of his apartment in Rio. A 30-year-old manicurist who was
    his long-term girlfriend admitted being involved in the crime.
    by: John

    About 18 months ago, a reader sent me an e-mail asking for practical advice
    about a town in the Northeast of Brazil which is notorious for its sex tourism

    He said he was planning
    to spend a couple of weeks there with a girl he had "met" through
    the Internet and if they got on well he might marry her. He also asked if
    he would be able to buy a Portuguese phrase book on arrival since he spoke
    no Portuguese and the girl spoke little English.

    This man was middle aged,
    divorced and had a grown-up daughter. I was astonished by his naivety and
    carelessness and, although it was none of my business, I warned him he could
    find himself in great danger and should be extremely careful.

    I don’t know if he ever
    found happiness and a new wife but, as I have written before ("Dream
    on. This is not Brazil!" –,
    many naïve foreigners dream of coming here and escaping from reality,
    generally in the arms of a luscious brown-skinned tropical beauty.

    While she is catering
    to his sexual fantasies, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the surf is
    rolling onto a nearby deserted beach, the palm trees are swaying gently in
    the breeze, an ice cold caipirinha is within reach on the bamboo table
    in their beach hut.

    And the berimbau
    is twanging away hypnotically in the background where the local lads are practicing
    capoeira on the whitewashed ramparts of an old colonial fort, the fishermen
    are returning with their catch which will shortly be served up as a moqueca
    capixaba in the local restaurant by a smiling mulatta waitress with gleaming
    white teeth and swaying hips, and all is well with the world.

    Maybe a place like this
    does exist outside the imagination of these frustrated males but in reality
    Brazil can be a dangerous place for these foreign dreamers.

    We have seen a good example
    recently of how things can go terribly wrong and the Brazilian dream becomes
    a hideous nightmare. Reto Franz Ullmann, a 56-year-old Swiss, who worked as
    a language teacher, was thrown from the seventh floor of his apartment in
    Leme right in the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s tourist district.

    A post mortem revealed
    that he had been tortured before being flung out of the window. He had been
    gagged, strangled with telephone wire, slashed with a knife and some of his
    fingers had been broken. For once the police were efficient and arrested two
    girls, one a teenager, who admitted being involved in the crime.

    One of them, Regina da
    Silva, was the man’s long-term girlfriend, a 30-year-old manicurist, who police
    say planned the killing to get hold of US$ 16,700 the victim had brought from
    Switzerland just two days previously.

    This sum is an absolute
    fortune in a country like Brazil where the official minimum wage is around
    US$ 85 a month. Someone earning the minimum wage would have to work for 16
    years to attain this amount.

    A manicurist is one of
    a typical dead end "job" for girls who have dropped out of school.
    Other alternatives are becoming a domestic maid or a prostitute.

    Killer Boyfriend

    Although the manicurist
    had been going around with the Swiss for five years police say she had a local
    boyfriend who was a convicted robber and drug trafficker. She tricked the
    Swiss into believed that her boyfriend wanted German lessons and he entered
    the flat with her.

    She said her boyfriend
    attacked the older man because he would not reveal where the money was. She
    also claimed the victim had jumped out of the window. The boyfriend is still
    on the run and is believed to be hiding in the Morro São João
    favela in the north of the city where he is, to all intent and purpose,
    beyond the arms of the law.

    Two other cases spring
    to mind. About four years ago I met a young Norwegian student while waiting
    for someone outside the MASP museum in São Paulo. We got chatting and
    he told me he was on a study exchange and had been here three months.

    He enthused about the
    local girls and said he had been pleasantly surprised at how easy it had been
    to find a girlfriend. We exchanged cards and went our way. About a year later
    I saw his picture staring out of the crime pages of a newspaper.

    According to the story,
    he had been missing for five weeks during which time no-one had heard from
    him. College friends said he had gone off with a girlfriend who lived in the
    interior of the state and had just disappeared.

    I never learned the fate
    of this young man but think there is a fair chance that he was lured or kidnapped
    to some deserted spot by the girl and met a bloody end at the hands of her
    real boyfriend or associates.

    A more recent case which
    gained more publicity concerned a middle-aged Irishman who was a director
    of the British school in São Paulo. According to news reports at the
    time, he spent much of his spare time hanging around gay bars and had a liking
    for rough trade. One evening he returned to his apartment in the company of
    a younger man and was brutally murdered.

    What is interesting in
    these three cases is that the victims were living here and presumably had
    legal permission. The two older men obviously spoke Portuguese and were familiar
    with Brazilian culture yet they paid a price for mixing with the kind of people
    they would not have spent a moment of their time with in their own countries—younger,
    uneducated criminally-inclined people from poor backgrounds.

    If these people can lose
    their direction in Brazil what must it be like for someone like my correspondent
    who thought he might come down here and find a wife in a matter of weeks.

    Easy Targets

    Foreigners are not the
    only victims of this kind of crime. Older Brazilian homosexuals are often
    tortured and murdered by younger toughs and kidnapping is very common.

    However, foreigners are
    often easier victims since they are generally better off, have fewer prejudices
    than Brazilians, are often politically correct and are far from the restraining
    influences of their home cultures.

    One final example shows
    that even people who should in theory be completely safe can end up losing.
    About two years ago a group of six Portuguese businessmen came to the Northeast
    to have a good time. They were met at the airport by a Portuguese who was
    related to one of the men.

    He had been living in
    Brazil for a couple of years and had urged his relative to come and have a
    holiday and bring some friends. Instead of going to their hotel the Portuguese
    said he had arranged a meal in a local restaurant owned by a friend where
    there would be lots of sexy girls.

    When the group arrived
    at the so-called restaurant instead of being hugged and kissed by local lovelies
    they were trapped in a room by a gang which shot and bludgeoned them all to

    No mercy was shown even
    though some of the men pleaded for their lives and offered to hand over all
    their money and goods. Within hours of arriving in Brazil the bodies of this
    group from the "mother country", all of whom spoke the language
    and were expecting to receive lavish hospitality, were being dumped into a
    mass grave which was concreted over.

    John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987
    and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and
    finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações –
    – which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
    and foreign clients. You can reach him at

    © John Fitzpatrick

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