Roberto Wagner Fernandes, who died in a plane crash in Paraguay in 2005, killed three women whose bodies were found in Miami and Broward County in 2000 and 2001, the authorities said.
By Vimal Patel, New York Times Service
A man who died in a plane crash in Paraguay in 2005 was responsible for the deaths of three women whose killings in South Florida remained unsolved for two decades, authorities said Tuesday, citing advances in crime-scene technology and years of detective work across two continents.
The murders started in June 2000, when the body of Kimberly Dietz-Livesey, 35, was found in a suitcase on a roadside in Cooper City, Florida, southwest of Fort Lauderdale, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the 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, the body of Jessica Good, 24, was spotted floating in Biscayne Bay, in Miami.
Dietz-Livesey and Demas had been beaten to death. Good had been stabbed. All three had struggled with substance abuse and had turned to prostitution, detectives said.
After interviewing Good’s boyfriend, the authorities said, they quickly identified a suspect in her death: Roberto Wagner Fernandes, a Brazilian citizen living in Miami who immediately fled to Brazil after the killing.
Fernandes’ abrupt departure for Brazil presented detectives with a series of bureaucratic challenges, said Detective Zachary Scott of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. But he said that “as the years have gone by,” the Brazilian government “has been nothing but helpful in this investigation, partially because Mr. Fernandes’ name has come up in several investigations in Brazil as well.”
A break in the case came in 2011, when investigators matched DNA collected during the investigation of Good’s murder 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 in Brazil with murdering his wife. He was acquitted in that case on a self-defense claim, investigators said, but Brazilian authorities turned over a set of his fingerprints from the 1996 investigation that matched those found at the Florida crime scenes.
Detectives flew to Brazil to take DNA evidence from Fernandes, only to learn that he had died in a plane crash on the way to Paraguay from Brazil in 2005.
Investigators were wary. Scott said at a news conference Tuesday that “there were a lot of circumstantial things that were discovered in Brazil” that led the authorities there “to believe that he may have faked his own death.”
Moreover, Fernandes “had amassed a certain amount of enemies” in Brazil, Scott said. His deceased wife’s family “apparently harbored some ill feelings toward him,” Scott said, “and it was believed that they had paid others to try to kill him,” prompting him to flee the country.
So detectives continued their investigation, working with the Justice Department, the FBI and the Brazilian National Police.
A Brazilian judge was recently persuaded to order the exhumation of Fernandes’ body, investigators said, and his grave was opened in October. Fernandes’ remains were found, and his DNA profile was consistent with the suspect profile created from the Florida murders, investigators said.
Based on Fernandes’ pattern of violent behavior, the authorities said in their statement, “part of this tragic story may sadly still be unwritten.” It is possible, they said, that he was responsible for other killings in the United States. Anyone with information is urged to contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477 or to submit a tip at browardcrimestoppers.org.
The Broward County sheriff, Gregory Tony, said that detectives — some retired, some now deceased — never stopped trying to solve the murders so the families of the victims would know what had happened to their loved ones.
“These types of atrocities, as you can imagine, devastate the community and devastates the families because they have no closure,” Tony said.
He added, “Justice never expires.”
The fact that Fernandes was never brought to justice for his crimes still troubles investigators.
“I wish we were up here showing you his mug shot,” Scott said at the news conference. “Unfortunately we were deprived of that pleasure. Knowing his last minutes on Earth were probably filled with terror makes me feel a little better.”