The Crimes of Wallace Souza

A few weeks ago, we did an episode about Pedro Rodrigues Filho, a small time criminal from the southeastern part of Brazil who began to kill in his teens and later became the most prolific serial killer in Brazil. He was a self described vigilante who only stole from and murdered drug dealers and those he considered "bad men.” But it was really something he would just say for his own selfish reasons, for he had no moral conscience. If they had distributed DC or Marvel comics in Brazilian jails, he would have said that he saw himself as Batman or even as the Punisher because of his obsession with revenge.

In this episode, we are going to talk about Wallace Souza, someone who would’ve totally called himself a Harvey Dent when all along he was really Two Face from the beginning. He was a local politician in the state of Amazonas, located in the Northeastern part of Brazil, deep in the middle of the Amazon jungle. He considered himself the voice of the people who were frustrated over increased drug trafficking and rampant violence in the streets. He vowed to lock up the criminals in order to keep the good people of the Amazonas safe. He used his true crime reporting on his daytime TV crime show Canal Libre to show over a million people the incompetence of law enforcement and the crooked politicians who only had their own interests in mind.

I read in El Pais that he and his son Raphael would put on bulletproof vests and participate in house raids armed with pistols. They would film the arrests of petty criminals, and, in at least one occasion, they beat up a suspect, pulling his hair and calling him a bastard before he went to trial. And even then, they were seen as the defenders of justice or the heroes of a comic book.

That was, until Wallace was charged with running a criminal organization. He had allegedly ordered the murders of at least five people, weapons possession, and drug trafficking. The authorities had been investigating him for months prior to his arrest when they noticed that Wallace’s TV show, Canal Libre, suspiciously reported very detailed account of the murders, even as far as getting to the scene of the crime before the police arrived.

His team of reporters would get there so fast that in one instance there would still be smoke coming out of a dead burnt body that the reporter described as “smelling like barbecue”. His reasoning was that he had a 24-hour TV crew waiting until word came in from the morgue. When a body is discovered, they alert the morgue first, and according to Wallace, that is how he got his information. The TV crew would then drive ahead of the ambulances and get there before anyone. He would also position crews in the police station as well.

Wallace denied all charges against him, claiming he had been framed by drug traffickers. He said,”There is a plot against me. Possibly by the organized crime itself, which has great power and is trying to destroy me politically. Unfortunately, through part of the media they are managing to do so. Portraying me as a person linked to crime, when in reality I have spent my entire life fighting against it.”

We have seen many people of power using this kind of rhetoric to further their own agenda by hypocritical statements like these. The way powerful people achieve and then abuse that power has been seen in every society, every culture throughout all of humanity. Brazil has had a huge wave of corruption and abuse of power especially in the last few years with Operation Car Wash, which is one of the biggest corruption scandals that involved many politicians and businesses, including two former presidents. One of them, President Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016 but for a different reason that we’ll get to one day. There’s also the current news of the Brazilian president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, the unapologetic fascist who has been called “Tropical Trump.” I totally recommend reading more on what’s been going on in Brazil. It is fascinating and infuriating. It is our opinion that the good people of Brazil have a lot going against them right now but we are hopeful that they can prevail and thrive one day in the future.

But let’s go back to Wallace Souza.

Wallace Souza was only twenty one years old when he started his career as a police officer in 1979. He then resigned in 1987, self-reported as due to being wrongly accused of a scam involving college exams that he was investigating. But that wasn’t true; he was actually fired when he was caught stealing fuel from police trucks and extorting the criminals that he caught.

He ran for and won state deputy in 1998 in the state of Amazonas and was re-elected two more times in 2002 and 2006, his third term winning a record number of votes.

His increasing popularity was probably due to his popular crime TV show, Canal Libre, that started in 1989. Wallace, along with his two brothers Carlos and Fausto, broadcasted police cases on assassinations, assaults, and kidnappings. The show was very popular and a great forum for the brothers, who had all gone into politics. Carlos was elected deputy mayor in Manaus (the capital city of Amazonas) and Fausto, who was usually the reporter on the scene, as municipal councilor of Amazonas.

Wallace would use the TV show as a platform for him to speak to the Amazonian people. He would give fiery speeches about the incompetence of the police force and the greedy politicians who neglected the people of Amazonia. He would say, “We have to put an end to the scourge of crime and to the politicians who do not fight it.” He promised to be tough on criminals by stating, “The only good delinquent is a dead delinquent.”

Canal Libre continued to earn high ratings thanks to his exclusive crime reports – although it is worth mentioning they had a very popular comedy segment on the show between a puppet and a very angry meat pie seller, Gil and Galerito. You should look it up on Youtube if you haven’t already. It is kinda funny at first, but it gets old real fast and I’m pretty sure they are shouting homophobic slurs, which is not cool.

At this point things were looking up for Wallace Souza, who was powerful, wealthy, highly respected and admired. He was married with four kids. One of them, Raphael worked for his father as a producer on Canal Libre. But what happened next was inevitable.

On October 20th, 2008, Moacir Jorge da Costa, aka Moa, a former federal police officer and bodyguard of Wallace’s, was arrested in connection to nine murders. In his home they found weapons, ammunition and drugs. He claimed that the drugs were planted there by police but changed his story and decided to confess. He told them how Wallace, along with his son Raphael, were responsible for ordering the murders, one of them being a direct order from Wallace to Moa. After the murder took place, Canal Libre’s crew immediately went to film the murder scene all by Wallace’s orders.

Moa was also a witness to a meeting with Wallace and Raphael where they plotted to kill Federal Judge Jaiza Maria Fraxe in 2007. In the meeting, Raphael said that he wanted to just “scare her,” but Wallace disagreed and said “we must do it right.” The assassination didn’t happen because the killer, Luiz Pulga, who was contracted to murder her, refused. Luiz himself was murdered the next year over fears that he would implicate the Souzas. Raphael went to trial for Luiz’s murder in 2013.

According to Moa, Wallace and Raphael put a hit on her because she was involved in ex-military Colonel Felipe Arce’s criminal case, who was one of Wallace’s top men. Felipe had been charged – among many other things – with killing a police officer for twelve thousand reais paid by Ezequiel, a well known drug trafficker at the time, because the murdered police officer knew about the ties between him and the military.

Timeline for Felipe Arce:

  • 2004: Carried out murder of police officer Santos in 2004.

  • 2005: Arrested for involvement in extermination group (murder) in Operation Centurion.

  • 2007: Wallace pleads leniency for his friend Felipe.

  • 2009: Arrested along with Wallace.

  • 2010: Sentenced to two years for conspiracy to commit murder of a federal judge and falsifying social security documents in 2010.

  • 2013: Hired by the Western Regional Policing Command. Fired the next day.

  • 2017: Convicted and sentenced to 33 and a half years for carrying out four murders in 2004.

    Moa’s confession was enough for the police to search Wallace’s mansion he shared with his wife and son, which severely angered Wallace. You could have almost heard the foot stomping when he said, “This does not end here. Remember that you offended the future Ministry of Security!”

The police found 250,000 reales, which is almost 65,000 US dollars. They also found 84 rounds of high-caliber ammunition, used only in the military, and a paper with a list of restricted weapons and recently murdered traffickers. Raphael took responsibility for the money and ammunition and was arrested and charged with weapons possession and ordering the murders.

Wallace tried to justify the money by saying that it was all drawn from his own account. That he needed to save his money for treatment because he had several medical conditions. He was not completely lying about that; he did have Budd-Chiari Syndrome, which is a rare condition. But come on.

Even with all the evidence found in his home, Wallace was not arrested because of “foro privilegiado,” which is an immunity law for politicians and other officials like Wallace. That means Wallace couldn’t be arrested and tried in the lower courts, only in the Brazilian Supreme Court which could take years. About a third of politician’s cases like Wallace’s get dismissed because of a statute of limitations.

But it wasn’t long until they connected Wallace to the murders and drug trafficking with several witnesses and phone calls. He faced the ethics committee and was voted out of parliament by the legislative assembly with sixteen votes in favor, six against and three abstaining. Now that he lost his immunity status, prosecutors were free to charge him with his crimes.

The following Monday after the vote, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he wasn’t home. He was declared a fugitive. Roadblocks were set up and the airports were monitored. Wallace turned himself in after four days and remained in custody until the next year, July 27th, 2010, when Wallace Souza died of a heart attack due to his liver disease. He never went to trial and always maintained his innocence.

Raphael was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Moa was sentenced to 12 years in prison for murder in 2007 and died in a prison riot in February of 2017.

As far as the immunity law granted to politicians and other officials, the Supreme Court voted to change the law earlier this year. Wallace would’ve been easily arrested for murder drug trafficking, since it was not directly involving his public function.

I’ve compared Wallace to Harvey Dent, Two Face and now I’m seeing some Nightcrawler in him (the movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal where he films violent crimes and sells them to journalists and inevitably getting entangled in the crimes themselves).

Wallace, with his police force experience, made his way from radio to TV as a true crime reporter. Wallace and his brothers, nicknamed the Courage Brothers, portrayed themselves as defenders of honest reporting with passionate discourse on violent crime in Brazil. He also lead a double life of drug trafficking and used his political power to make money and gain more power.

It was a simple plan: he has his criminal rivals murdered, gets the exclusive report on the murders, ratings go up, then he turns to the camera and speaks about the increasing violent crime in Amazonas, he vows to listen and protect the people, he gets voted back into office – and repeat.

Waterfall of Death: The Story of the Tequendama Falls

This week we were going to talk about haunted hotels in Latin America, but I didn’t really find much other than a few short articles and youtube videos. They looked a lot like advertisements to me. But as I was looking, I found the Hotel Del Salto.

Many websites and videos claim the hotel is haunted. Many people, including reality tv show “ghost hunters,” constantly attempt to break in and film these “ghosts.” There has been no substantiated evidence of the hotel being haunted, but we can talk about that later because it’s actually not the most interesting part of this historical landmark. The Tequendama waterfall that sits right across from the building is not just breathtakingly beautiful but is also a well-known place for suicides, dating back a hundred years – some even say thousands of years, during the salad days of the conquistadors.

Before we continue, do me a favor and google image Hotel Del Salto Colombia, and Tequendama Falls. It would take all day to really describe it and do it justice. It’s that impressive.

Hotel Del Salto in Tequendama, Colombia, sits 30 kilometers or 18 ½ miles outside of the capital city of Bogota, across from the waterfall, hence the name Salto, meaning “falls.”

The hotel, previously called The Castle of Bochica, was built by order of the President of Colombia at the time (between 1923 and 1927) by the architect Paolo de La Cruz with some design elements by Carlos Arturo Tapias. Now, Wikipedia and a lot of articles online call it the Mansion of Tequendama. There are a lot of inconsistencies in the timeline of the hotel, but I assure you, many of them are wrong. Check out the tour of the Casa Museo Tequendama from the Fundación Porvenir.

The hotel was built upon an existing train station because the Tequendama Falls was a popular tourist destination. How could it not be – it’s beautiful and grandiose. Just to give you an idea on how tall this waterfall is, Niagara Falls is 170 feet high while El Salto Falls is 515 feet high. If you were to jump, it would take six seconds.

The Castle of Bochica operated as a hotel until the 1950s, when the administration sold it with the rail station that operated to and from Bogota and it was turned into a restaurant. The structure was finally abandoned by the 1986 and was, of course, vandalized by kids, drugs addicts, and drifters. But that all changed in 2009, when they renovated the whole structure and released it as the Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture.

So that is the history of the hotel. As I said before, the waterfall is famous for an unusually high amount of suicides. Why? Probably because it’s picturesque and romantic. And maybe it could help their mourning families to not have pay a costly burial bill if they didn’t want to search for the bodies. We can only speculate, because each individual’s story to the Falls is entirely unique.

What became somewhat of a suicide trend began with a taxi driver. In 1943, Eduardo Umaña jumped from the waterfall and very soon after, his coworkers volunteered to searched for his body. After nine attempts, they were able to recover the body and give him a proper burial. The news of the suicide and the search party got a lot of attention throughout the country.

I read in an article that while Eduardo’s coworkers were recovering his dead body, a young blond man with a scar on his cheek walked up to the Virgin of Suicides statue that sits near a rock that reads “Your problems have a solution. Jesus Christ says: I am the way and the truth and the life.” The young man opened a book and started reading to the statue. According to witnesses, some bus passengers nearby saw the man and started shouting to him. He looked up from his book and noticed they were getting off the bus and running over to him. He jumped into the abyss instantly.

There was one incident in January of 1941, where a policeman, Jose Suarez, and his girlfriend were visiting the waterfall. He gave her a kiss, took off his hat, gave her a piece of paper and jumped off the cliff. The girlfriend, Isabel, was shocked at first and tried to jump herself but was held back by a security guard.

According to El Tiempo, another incident happened in July of 1946 with a man and a woman. They jumped together after being married for only four days. They left suicide notes; one read, “I would like to live, but my destiny is to terminate my life as it’s beginning. Love forces me to say goodbye to this thankless world.” That note was written by Gloria Osorio Rocha, who was twenty-four years old at the time.

The other suicide note was from Roberto Bunch, a twenty-five-year-old army corporal who was already married to another woman. His wife, Concha Rodriguez de Bunch, had already borne him two children and was pregnant with the third at the time of the suicides.

His suicide note read, (loosely translated) “Señores of the press and the police: You reap what you sow. I have now done it and therefore I must pay. I must confront the Beyond to avoid society’s judgement on me. Those who suffer from my death, a thousand apologies. What can a man do when all the paths are closed? To the señores of the press, I beg you not to be too harsh in your criticism.”

But they were! As days went by, the search party couldn’t find the bodies and the press was starting to speculate if the newly married couple actually didn’t jump – that maybe they had staged their deaths and run away to Venezuela, Panama or even Miami. The press was relentless until, ten days after the disappearance, Roberto and Gloria were caught and detained. Roberto was charged with desertion and bigamy and I do believe they stayed married and had a son afterwards. Then broke up and Roberto moved in with another woman, who had a daughter with him.

This next story starts with a public rivalry between two big newspapers back in 1963: El Tiempo and El Espectador, which were and are today the number one and number two newspapers in the country, respectively. Both newspapers had noticed a rise in suicides at the waterfall and dispatched someone to stay at the Tequendama in case a new suicide happened so that they could to take the story to Bogota to be printed first.

Adolfo Neuta, a photographer for El Tiempo, was their Tequendama correspondent while Carlina Garibello reported to El Espectador. Carlina was actually not a journalist but rather a fritanguera, a woman who cooked and served fried foods like papas criollas (fried potato), bocados de carne de cerdo (fried pork bites) and more. The two knew of each other but didn’t really acknowledge one another.

Then one day, a sad looking man walked up to them. He asked if they had seen some friends of his he was meeting with. They said they hadn’t, so he bought a couple of papas criollas and walked up to the waterfalls. Ever since he walked in, the two knew something was up and kept following him with their eyes. The stranger dropped an envelope in the grass and jumped off the waterfall without hesitation.

Carlina and Adolfo raced to get the envelope and snatched it at the same time. They wrestled for the letter until they both tumbled and fell to their deaths. If you want to read more about it, please read Felipe González Toledo’s book 20 Crónicas Policíacas. He was an amazing journalist and true crime writer who had worked for both El Tiempo and El Espectador.

Now some people claim that the souls of the dead who had jumped or fallen are haunting the hotel. Tourists have said they have heard disembodied voices and whispers of regret. Some have seen silhouettes of people falling off the cliff in the fog. There’s no real evidence of that, of course. But some blogs have hilarious fake photos that are photoshopped or – my personal favorite – a photo of a guy standing in the window with a mask on.

The foundation that restored the hotel into the museum that it is today denies any kind of ghost activity. They have clearly stated over and over again they are not interested in paranormal tourism but rather focus on environmental awareness. The Bogota River had been so badly polluted in the last few decades that the hotel and then restaurant had to shut down and left it abandoned until the foundation took over. The Tequendama Falls may have had a dark past, but now with all the efforts of the foundation, the future's looking bright.

The Murder of Emely Peguero

This week, we are going to talk about a current news story that has been getting a lot of press in the Caribbean, especially in the Dominican Republic, where the murder took place. That’s right. A murder of a sixteen year old pregnant girl. The story has sparked a lot of controversy especially in the last week because of the rise of femicide and the Dominican Republic’s strict laws against abortion and the religious stance of the community. It has led to riots and acts of violence in the streets. This is happening right now as we are recording this episode.

According to Listin Diario, there have been fifty femicides since January of 2018. Many of them were killed by former lovers. Machismo in this day and age is still rampant in the latino community, and this story has pushed it to the forefront.

This happened just last year in 2017 in Cenovi, on the outskirts of the city of San Francisco de Macoris, north of the capital, Santo Domingo. It’s a small city with a population of under 18,000 people that had been rarely heard of until just last year.

At 8:30 in the morning on August 23rd, 2017, Emely Peguero got into a car with her boyfriend, Marlon Martinez, and was never seen again. According to Marlon, he had dropped her off at a gas station and saw her get in a motoconcho, which is a motorcycle taxi service. She was heading to a prenatal appointment to obtain some results because she was five months pregnant with Marlon’s child. She was only 16 years old while Marlon was 19.

Emely’s family went to the police in the evening when they realized that she was not responding to text messages and phone calls which she always did. By the next morning or some say 48 hours later, Marlon along with his mother, Marlin Martinez, called a press conference in their home to answer any questions. They never went to the police.

Marlin sat quietly staring at the floor while his mother went on to say how concerned they were about her disappearance. She went on to say, “she was the girlfriend of my son,” then corrected herself and said, “is the girlfriend of my son.” Then she turned to the camera and passionately pleaded for Emely to come home. Marlin sat there the whole time with a scared expression on his face. He knew he fucked up.

Soon after, Marlin went to his girlfriend’s family home and confessed. The family took him to the police station where he was arrested. Now it’s unclear whether he confessed to knowing where she was or that he himself had a part in the murder. Or if she was murdered at all! Emely’s family were desperate for answers.

So what happened to Emely on August 23rd? Before we get to that, let’s start with who Emely Peguero was. She was Cenovi native who lived with her parents and three older siblings. She was an intelligent, sweet young girl who wanted to grow up to be a lawyer and represent victims of domestic abuse. She was ambitious despite coming from a humble family who were very poor and of a lower class than her boyfriend Marlon’s family. She and Marlon met as young children and had many mutual friends since they lived in the same area, some of whom even reported that they lived across the street from one another.

They started dating and now this is where it gets weird. Some news sources said that they had been dating for four years prior to the murder, but that would’ve made them 12 and 15, respectively. That makes it very strange, but I suppose it’s possible. I don’t know, it’s weird. What we do know is that she got pregnant at 15.

Their families welcomed each other into their lives, except for Marlin, Marlon’s mother. She was a prominent figure in local politics and very wealthy. She looked down upon the Peguero family and her son for dating a very young poor girl. She never warmed up to Emely or her family, hoping that Marlon would one day forget her and move on when he started college.

Something else that no one really mentions, Emely was only 15! The age of consent in the Dominican Republic is 18, but sometimes in small towns, these things happen. And, as can happen with young kids without the benefit of sex education, Emely got pregnant.

This was terrible news for Emely who wanted to go to law school and have the life she always wanted. Not only was she a minor, but abortion in all circumstances is illegal in the Dominican Republic, a predominantly conservative and religious country. It is one of six countries in the world who prohibit abortion even to save the life of the mother. It became a constitutional amendment by an overwhelming majority vote of 128 to 34 by congress. And not just that, but as of October of 2012, women who seek medical help after an abortion can be prosecuted and imprisoned. Someone helping another person get an abortion also gets imprisoned – for four to ten years! I don’t just mean doctors and nurses who perform the abortion, friends and family. If you took a woman to get an abortion, you will land in jail.

So what was Emely going to do? She was raised Catholic and was very religious. Even though this was bad news, she wanted to keep the baby. She confronted Marlon, who told her to hide the pregnancy for a while until they come up with a plan. And that’s what she did for five months. Marlon told his mother and naturally, she was very angry at her son for his carelessness. She told him to take care of it because there was no way he was going to lose his future over this.

Remember, Marlon comes from a wealthy family. His mother, Marlin, was working in the Dominican Revolutionary Party. His dad, who he didn’t live with, paid for his private school, expensive gifts and vacations. On top of that, he had a promising life ahead of him. And even though abortion is very illegal, he had to find ways to get her to abort her baby, including convincing her to do it willingly.

Okay. Let’s get to the day. August 23rd, 2017. This is from Marlon’s confession. He did not take her to a gas station as he had previously said. Instead, he drove her to his mother’s other apartment in the city. It was there where he gave her something to drink that would induce an abortion. What it was or where he got it from is a mystery to this day. He then said she started to feel sick and passed out. He held her and accidentally dropped her which is what caused her to hit her head. He panicked and fearing the consequences he put her body in a sack, carried it downstairs and threw it over a bridge nearby. He then called his mother and told her what he had done.

Now, that story is so not true. What probably happened was that he either forced her to drink the liquid or had someone perform an abortion there. She may have resisted and he may have hit her. Her autopsy said that she suffered a blunt force trauma to the head as well as a punctured uterus.

But he did throw her off a bridge. Maybe that’s why she sustained the blunt force trauma to her head.

Anyway, he told his mother. She was furious. But mainly furious that he did not hide the body well enough. WTF. On August 24th, the next day, she called up her brother Henry and her friend Simon Bolivar Ureña, also known as El Boli. They came by and took her body, put it in a suitcase and dumped her on the curb of a street, Cayetano Germosen, in the provincia Espalliat, about an hour away from Cenovi.

Marlin also approached the security guard of her building and asked him if she could see footage from a camera that points at the front door. According to the security guard, she saw the footage of her son walking out with a large sack. She immediately started screaming furiously. A few days later, the tape mysteriously disappeared and no one has seen it since. And that’s when they pleaded on national TV for her return.

On August 28th, five days after her disappearance, the police traced the geolocation of Emely’s cell phone to Marlin’s other apartment in San Francisco de Macoris. They searched the apartment and found blood on a mattress and towels.

With all of the evidence and motivation pointing to Marlin, she turned herself in to police on August 30th, stating that she was really just coming in for questioning. When Marlon heard of his mother being detained, he gave his not so true confession to knowing about Emely’s death. The very next day on August 31st they found her body. News quickly spread and her family rushed to the site and saw it for themselves. There’s a video of it somewhere online, but it’s night time and blurry and probably not a good idea to go looking that stuff up. It’s your choice though.

This is when this became international news. On Twitter, #WeAreAllEmely was trending. Even Cardi B shared a post of a picture of Emely saying, “What would you do to keep a clean image and reputation? Make a five months pregnant sixteen year old girl get an abortion, then kill her, put her in a luggage and throw her in the garbage so they don’t find out your 19 year old son got a minor pregnant? RIP EMELY. Rest In Peace, there will be justice. You brought the country together.”

At this point both mother and son were in jail along with Simon Bolivar Ureña, who was released about seven months later after cooperating with police. Henry Martinez, Marlin’s brother who had also helped move the body, escaped to New York but was eventually arrested in March of 2018, when he landed in the Dominican Republic airport. He was released not too long after under the condition that he testify in court.

The trial was long and exhausting for the Peguero family. Her father, Genaro, was even arrested to trying to bring in a gun to the courtroom. There have been massive protests and rioting outside the courtroom. It got so bad that Marlin had to wear a bulletproof vest and helmet since many of the protestors were throwing rocks at her.

Marlon had always maintained that it was an accident and that his mother is innocent. Marlin has said, “I acted like a mother”. She claims that her love for her son is the reason why she acted the way she did. She also told the press, just a few days ago from today, that she was propositioned by the Peguero family’s attorney, Jose Hoepelman, to pay five and a half million pesos ($109,000 USD) for her freedom. She said that if she gave the money by 10 that morning, the day of the sentencing, she would go free.

The sentencing happened on November 8th, 2018. Marlon was sentenced to thirty years in prison and the mother Marlin to five years in prison. They each slapped with a ten million peso fine ($200,000 USD) to compensate the Peguero family as well as cover legal costs. According to the Dominican Penal Code, Marlin’s actions were not complicit in the murder because Emely was already dead. Since she supposedly was not there at the time of the murder she can not be considered guilty of murder, according to the Constitution. She is however guilty of hiding a dead body and child abduction.

And the story continues. The protests and riots are happening right now. People have been arrested for protesting and starting fires. Emely’s father, Genaro, physically attacked one of Marlin’s lawyers as well. The family’s own lawyer, Hoepelman, like Tom Hagen, yelled right after sentencing, “The Dominican Republic will continue to be garbage!” There is a lot more awareness over the rights of women in the Dominican Republic, and what happens next is up to the people.

Guillermo Del Toro

In this special episode we are going to talk about Guillermo Del Toro. As many of you may know, he’s a legendary writer, author, producer, director, makeup effects artist, and more. He’s worn every hat in the film industry. A rebel since he was a child, he read comic books, drew his own monsters, owned several snakes and mice, and read Alarma!, a Mexican magazine that featured gore and violent crime scene photos that are used to shock people. But Guillermo wasn’t trying to shock. In fact, his motivations seem to be more romantic goth: appreciating the grotesque as beautiful, not just to do it but to really understand the story behind every creature, art work, life. He is primarily known as the director of Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 1 and 2, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water.

He has been highly regarded within the industry and considered an artist, not just some director for hire. He brings his own creations to life, whether it’s in his dialogue, storyboarding, or set design. As he’s said himself, he creates a story where the audience is not a tourist, but rather a traveler.

Guillermo was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and raised in strict Catholic household with his parents and brothers. He started making Super 8 movies with his brother using his Planet of the Apes action figures. One of his earliest childhood movies was of a serial killer potato who dreamt of conquering the world. The deadly potato kills his mother and brothers, then walks out of the house onto the street where he is run over by a car. In high school, he made one about a monster that crawls out of a toilet only to find people around him despicable, which makes the monster descend back to the sewers in disgust.

He graduated from Centro de Investigacion y Estudios Cinematograficos in Guadalajara and made ten short films, two of which you can find: Doña Lupe and Geometria. It was at this time that he met his mentor, Dick Smith. Guillermo wrote to him explaining him that he was a young director from Mexico who couldn’t find nor afford an American special effects makeup artist where he was. He needed help with his first feature film, Cronos, and realized he needed to take Dick’s courses because he had to do all the art, paint and sculpting. What he ultimately learned from Dick Smith was to strive for realism. Make the monster a real monster, go for reality instead of effect. A lesson that has stayed with Guillermo for decades since.

He worked on a Twilight Zone-esque show called La Hora Marcada, writing, directing and doing special makeup effects for several episodes while still trying to get his first feature film off the ground. After 8 years, he finally released Cronos in 1993, a horror fantasy film about an older man who owns an antique shop and leads a seemingly ordinary life with his loving wife and sweet granddaughter, Aurora. One day he and Aurora find a special device from hundreds of years ago that makes man young and immortal. Upon discovering its special power, the older man, Jesus Gris, soon gets killed by the nephew of a dying wealthy industrialist who will stop at nothing to get to the fountain of youth.

Now he does get killed, but he is immortal. Jesus is condemned to live without freedom because of his newfound vampirism that’s never talked about but implied in the film. Also, the notion of resurrection is present, given that his name is Jesus and his killer’s is Angel, played by Ron Perlman. This was Guillermo’s first movie with Ron, a classically trained actor who had already won a Golden Globe. Because of the fragile budget of movie, Ron had to take a deep pay cut and trust Guillermo that he would get paid eventually. Luckily, the movie was a success and they established a deep friendship that has lasted decades.

Ron Perlman has talked about how he grew to love the story of Cronos. He had received a parcel from Guillermo, and in it was the script and a letter about his great appreciation of Ron’s work in unknown fringe projects. Ron started reading it at the gym on his exercise bicycle and noticed a young filmmaker behind him. She asked him what it was that he was reading, and he said, “It’s the weirdest little vampire movie I’ve ever seen. But it’s also the smartest. Never in a million years would it ever get greenlit in Hollywood. And just for that reason alone, I’m going to fucking do it.”

(Taken from GDT’s Cabinet of Curiosities)

After the success of Cronos, he was finally welcomed by Hollywood to produce a big budget film, Mimic, starring Mira Sorvino, that was released in 1997. He has often talked about his discontent with the outcome of the movie and his arguments over production with the Weinstein brothers. They tried to take over the movie, tell him what to do, and even hire a second unit director to shoot more “cheap scares,” because to them, the movie wasn’t scary enough. Even after it came out, the fight got worse! It’s a bit of gossip, but interesting nonetheless.

James Cameron had just won his Oscar for Titanic and was backstage with his statue when Harvey Weinstein came up to him to congratulate him on his win. Harvey went on about how he respects artists in the film industry but James stopped him right there and told him he knew all about Guillermo’s experience with the Weinsteins. James said he almost hit Harvey with his Oscar. It got close to that!

We’d like to get into the making of Mimic, but there are so many movies to talk about so we should skip over to what may be Guillermo’s favorite project of all time: The Devil’s Backbone, a film about an orphanage run by a doctor and Franco rebel widow set at the end of the Spanish Civil War. The main protagonist, 11-year-old Carlos, arrives at the orphanage without any idea that he is being left there indefinitely. He gets to know the other boys and stands up to the oldest, Jaime, who dares him to fetch a jar of water in the middle of the night, which is strictly prohibited. It’s there in the quiet night where he finds out there’s a spirit nicknamed “The One Who Sighs” that haunts the area. The spirit whispers to Carlos a prophetic warning that many will die soon. Soon the boys reveal that one of their friends, Santi, had been missing for some time, since an unexploded bomb landed on their courtyard. They think it may have scared him and he could’ve run away and ultimately kidnapped and murdered for parts.

Back then, many young boys and girls were being abducted, killed and sold for their bones, fat, and blood. We did an episode on Enriqueta Marti, the Vampire of Barcelona. The story of a young five year old girl who was abducted by Enriqueta in Barcelona for that same reason.

In the film, a doctor explains how he keeps fetuses in jars with spices and old rum. He then sells them to soldiers in town to cure their illnesses and impotence. Some of these fetuses were born with Spina Bifida, which they called The Devil’s Backbone. The ones who were not meant to be born but meant to heal. As Doctor Casares explains, it is all mere superstition, just like the ghost the boys keep talking about.

The other main characters in the film are Conchita and Jacinto, the epitome of good and evil. They are a young couple waiting for enough money to escape to Ibiza to set up a farm. Jacinto is a former orphan turned caretaker who abuses anyone who gets in his way. And even though they are all on the same side of the Republic, Jacinto can’t help but destroy the only place that has ever accepted him. The film ends beautifully with the answer to the first question, the first line of the movie: “What is a ghost?”

Guillermo first started coming up with the Devil’s Backbone story in 1980. He attempted to write it again after he made Cronos. According to him, the first thing that he created was the ghost in the story. The result was the ghost of a young boy who looked more like a broken porcelain doll with traces of a skeleton and a head injury with blood flowing upwards, indicating how he died.

The fetuses came from Guillermo’s experience visiting embalmers he had befriended when he was young. He recalls one instance where a new pile of fetuses arrived stacked up to his waist. He went on to say, “Humans could not possibly have souls; even the most blameless lives ended as rotting garbage.” Even though Guillermo was raised Catholic, he then called himself a lapsed Catholic and then later, an atheist. He believes that maybe nothing happens after you die, but he also believes that there are so many mysteries in the universe that nobody can truly be sure. He say that his own spirituality lives within his storytelling and art.

The Devil’s Backbone was a huge success thanks to Pedro Almodovar for believing in Guillermo and producing the film. Guillermo got out of the Mimic failure rut and moved on to another great achievement. Pan’s Labyrinth, released in 2006, is a story of a young girl named Ofelia who goes to live with her pregnant mother and her step-father, the evil Fascist Captain Vidal. They are stationed in a border post to fight off any guerrilla rebels even though the Fascist Nationalists have won. She almost immediately encounters an insect-like fairy who leads her to a labyrinth. It’s there where she first meets the Faun. He tells to her that she is the lost princess Moanna who had one day snuck out of her kingdom of the underground realm to the human world, a place she dreamed of. She loses all memory of herself and her kingdom and soon dies of pain and misery. Her father, the King, does not give up hope for his daughter and knows her soul will return one day. The Faun had been sent to give her three tasks to get her back to her home, where she belongs.

The setting of the border post, where Captain Vidal is fighting the rebels hidden in the woods, may represent the border between the human world and the fantasy world that only Ofelia sees. It can be easily interpreted that maybe this girl tries to find an escape from her reality. She carries around fairy tale books with her everywhere she goes and has no friends her age. That’s an Alice in Wonderland parallel that does make sense. But what Guillermo might be saying is that there’s no clear line to what is fantasy or reality. The Faun and the fairies come into her bedroom and the Captain walks into the Labyrinth at night just like the maid and doctor, who are allies with the rebels and live with and work for the Captain. Like the tide, they come in and out of different realms. I’m not high.

Doug Jones, who has portrayed a lot of the creatures for Guillermo’s films, played the part of the Faun and the Pale Man. When he was offered the part of the Faun, Doug said “but I don’t speak Spanish.” Guillermo said, “I don’t care if you can count to ten in Spanish, I need you in that role.” Doug learned the entire dialogue phonetically in Spanish including Ofelia’s because he couldn’t hear her through his costume.

The Pale Man was the most frightening part of the whole movie. The eyes rest on a plate in front of him and only wakes up when Ofelia disobeys and eats a grape. He then grabs his eyes from the plate puts them in the eye sockets of the palm of his hand. He advances to her threatenly with his hands outstretched and his eyes staring at her. It’s another example of how eyes are important to fairy tales and myths, the cyclops, the gorgons, the blind witches that share one eye, etc.

While making the movie, he ran into a couple of options: an old man with stumps on his wrist and his wooden hands on the plate where he puts them on when awakened, or the eyes. They had already made a sculpture of the man and it was set and ready to go until Guillermo asked his wife over dinner what she thought. She said, “Go with the eyes,” and he agreed.

Even when Ofelia disobeys, she is still given another chance to go back to her home and be a princess. Her mother died during childbirth and her step-father had her locked and guarded in her room. Her final mission is to get her baby brother from the Captain’s room and take him to the Labyrinth to the Faun. When she manages to escape with her baby brother, the Faun asks for a drop of blood from the innocent, the baby. She refuses and makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Guillermo’s decision to end the movie the way it did had to do with the fact that we can change the world in small ways because in the end, we are insignificant beings. But it is our actions that can make a bigger change. Consider the Captain, who only cares about being remembered so much that he obsesses over his watch. Even if he is an important captain in the Spanish civil war, he will be forgotten, as opposed to Ofelia, who gets rewarded in the end.

Guillermo went on to make Hellboy 2 and Pacific Rim, which were fun and enjoyable. But his next movie after Crimson Peak was the highly regarded film, The Shape of Water. Released last year, in 2017, it’s another fairy tale but this time featuring an adult deaf mute woman set in 1962. Elisa meets a strange half-man half-fish creature at the government laboratory where she works as a cleaning woman. As a lonely person who cannot speak, she befriends the creature known as “the Asset” to the government. The Amphibian Man (Hombre Pez) was brought in by Richard Strickland, who frightens Elisa and abuses the Amphibian Man horribly.

He is soon given orders to kill the Amphibian Man to study him further since they have no use of him alive. The government is looking to get ahead of the Soviet Union in the Space Race and in espionage, having no idea one of their scientists is a Soviet spy who shows his courage as a scientist even if he is working for the other side.

Guillermo has said he was influenced by Creature from the Black Lagoon and it broke his heart that the story didn’t end well for the Creature. He wanted a story of a janitor woman who falls in love with a sea creature and procures the help of her friends, her next door neighbor, Giles, and her coworker, Zelda. The three of them are very different from each other except of one thing, oppression. Elisa is deaf-mute, Giles a homosexual, and Zelda a black woman married to a chauvinist. These three manage to help the Amphibian Man escape in the hopes of releasing him back to his home in the water even with the American and Soviet governments chasing them.

Guillermo’s original idea was to make the movie black and white and silent. But then he thought of the set design. The first and last underwater sequences of the movie are all smoke, high speed, wires, and wind called Dry For Wet, which gives the film a dreamlike quality, explaining Elisa’s character and her mysterious past as an orphan found by a river.

Guillermo has already begun working on a new, darker adaptation of Pinocchio to be released in 2021. We are excited to see what he’s going to do next, and to finish this off, here’s a quote by Guillermo that describes his work perfectly:

“To celebrate love in all its forms – or rather, lack of form. The shape of water is the shape of love, it has no shape it breaks through every barrier. It’s the most powerful thing in the world.”

Pedrinho - Killer of Criminals

Pedro Rodrigues Filho is a Brazilian serial killer, a self-described vigilante who was convicted of 17 murders and sentenced to 128 years in prison, although he later went on to kill more while in prison, making his number of victims anywhere from 71 to 100. He’s one of Brazil’s most notorious murderers, who, for the first time, I know it’s weird to say, but he’s really good at it. Not to compliment him or his intentions in any way – he is still taking a life away. But his motivations are strictly to murder “bad people.” Those bad people, according to him, are people who had wronged him or his family, who have hurt women and children, and any man who tried to kill him.

The question is, does Pedro think he’s a bad person? Or is this mere justification to satisfy his pleasure in killing? Whatever it is, it all might’ve started before he was even born. His father, Pedro Rodrigues Sr., would often beat Pedrinho’s mother while she was pregnant with him. The beatings were so severe that he was born with an injured skull.

Pedro Rodrigues Filho, who we will call by his nickname, Pedrinho, was born on June 17th, 1954, in Santa Rita do Sapucai, which is in the southeastern part of Brazil.

There isn’t really anything said about Pedrinho’s childhood and family except for his interviews after he was captured. He did say he lived in poverty all his life and mentioned having to kill monkeys to make shirt collars and fishing to feed his starving family. According to him, he had his first urge to kill when he was 13 years old when he physically attacked his older cousin. His cousin had punched him in the eye while they were playing at an old sugar cane mill. Pedrinho quietly swore revenge and waited for the perfect moment to push his cousin through the sugar cane press as hard as he could. He wanted his whole body to go through the press but only his arm got caught up to his shoulder and stayed there until family members came to rescue the boy. Pedrinho ran but got caught but didn’t spend more than two nights in jail. Pedrinho laughed when he told that anecdote years later.

Now that he had that taste of “justice,” he was ready to really murder someone. He got that chance at age 14, when he murdered the deputy mayor of a neighboring town of Alfenas. His reason was that Pedrinho’s father had been unjustly fired by that man from his job as a night guard because he had been accused of stealing food from the school kitchen. Although he had stolen a Nescau, a chocolate bar, the day guard was stealing a lot more food. So his father took a gun and waited at the door of the deputy mayor’s house. When he arrived, he shot him twice and walked away. A month later, he would do the exact same thing to the day guard.

Soon after, he ran away to São Paulo in the town of Mogi das Cruzes, where Neymar is from. Unimportant fact right there for you (Note: Juan didn’t know who he, was so I should say Neymar is a famous Brazilian soccer player).

The stories during this time period for Pedrinho are sketchy, but we do know he definitely met a woman named Botinha, who was the widow of a well known drug trafficker. Pedrinho continued her deceased husband’s business by trafficking and drug dealing which included murdering all his rivals à la Godfather. He didn’t enjoy trafficking and immediately stopped when Botinha was executed by police during a drug transaction.

He then met Maria Aparecida Olympia and moved in with her while continuing to burglarize drug dealer’s homes. But the inevitable happened when Maria was shot and killed by drug dealers from Jacarei. Pedrinho felt he had to seek revenge.

He went to Jacarei to the drug dealer’s brother’s wedding with two other people. He told them they were going to murder the drug dealer and to make sure every man in the wedding gets a bullet, but no women or children. They ended up killing seven people and wounding sixteen. He wasn’t even 18 years old yet and he had murdered ten people.

Pedrinho was finally arrested for murder on May 24th, 1973. The police put him in the back of the police truck with another criminal, a rapist, not realizing who they were really dealing with. Within minutes Pedrinho had already killed him. We’re not sure how accurate this story is, along with so many others. It seems that local people like adding color to their criminals. That’s how a man becomes a legend and is regarded as a bad ass motherfucker. I have a very good example of one told by Pedrinho himself in an interview with Marcelo Rezende.

One night, a prison guard came up to him and delivered bad news. His mother was killed by his father. She had been stabbed twenty one times with a machete. Pedrinho was devastated and soon got permission to see her body at the morgue. It was there where he swore revenge over her punctured body. Lucky for him, his father had be incarcerated in the same prison as his son!

Pedrinho’s account of how he murdered his father is a little nebulous. He said he took a guard’s gun, locked the guard in his cell, walked up to his dad’s cell block, took out a knife and stabbed him twenty two times. The number of stabbings were very specific because his father had stabbed his mother twenty one times. And if that weren’t enough, he cut out a piece of his heart, took a bite out of it, chewed it a couple of times and then spit it out and threw the rest to the floor. He even mimed the action while being interviewed about it.

Pedrinho continued to murder while in prison because as he said before, they were “bad” and “outlaws” who deserved to die. He targeted rapists, pedophiles, child murderers, anyone he deemed to be “bad”. He got so popular while in prison that people would send letters to ask him to murder someone who raped or killed their loved ones and he would go on and do it! The justice system had been broken in Brazil for quite some time, so people were taking matters into their own hands.

That still does not justify the killing because that gives Pedrinho the power of judgment over someone’s life. Also, many of the men he killed in prison hadn’t even been convicted yet, and some of them were still awaiting trial! The criminal justice system is another even bigger problem than a serial killer who’s been called the Brazilian Dexter. Brazilian prisons are overcrowded, underfunded, and corrupt.

The capacity for a prison like Pedrinho’s stays the same while new prisoners come in. The New York Times reported that in Brazil there are 3000 new inmates per month. Guards let the prisoners do whatever they want since they are incredibly outnumbered and could get killed. They hand the keys to the inmates and just secure the outside. There are usually dozens of prisoners in small cells where they don’t even have enough room to lay down in conditions that are deplorable and unsanitary. A way to stay safe is to join a gang who will provide protection and even money for an attorney. It’s easy to smuggle weapons, cell phones, drugs, and basically anything to continue drug trafficking from the inside. It doesn’t make a difference whether they are in or out.

Stories differ on if Pedrinho was directly involved with gangs or whether he was respected or hated. He did say he had a hard time making friends in prison and recounted the time he was attacked by five prisoners at once and was forced to kill three of them. And there was the time he killed his cellmate because he snored too loudly.

Remember, these stories from cellmates, guards or even himself, are still to be taken with a grain of salt. Many serial killers are known to exaggerate their murders for the sake of looking more menacing and evil. Not to mention the amount of tattoos on Pedrinho, there’s more tattoo than skin. On one of his arms there’s even a tattoo that says “Mato Por Prazer,” which means “I kill for pleasure” in Portuguese.

He stayed incarcerated for 34 years, from 1973 until April 24th, 2007. He was released under a Brazilian law that states that no one can be incarcerated for more than 30 years. An old law from 1940, where the average age expectancy was 45 years old. But he served an extra four years for his murders in prison.

It really sounds crazy to release a well known psychopathic serial killer, but they had to adhere to the law. As backwards as it sounds, many other countries have the same prison term limits. Like Pedro Lopez, the Colombian child killer who murdered around 300 young girls all around South America. He was finally captured in Ecuador and served 14 years in prison because of their prison limit law of 16 years. He got out two years early for good behavior. They then handed him over to Colombian authorities where they kept him in a psychiatric institution and released just three years later. And now know one knows where he is.

Pedrinho lived for three years outside of prison and worked as a housekeeper and caretaker in Camborui, in Santa Catarina, which is south of São Paulo. But on September 15th, 2011, he was arrested by police on charges of causing six riots and false imprisonment many years ago when he was in prison.

He told reporters that he had been living a quiet life in Camboriu, working hard and being well liked by the neighborhood. His neighbors did say he was a nice and gentle man who didn’t bother anyone and felt he did his time for his crimes and should be left alone. No one had a bad thing to say about him.

He also did admit that crime did not pay. If it weren’t for his criminal life, he would’ve tried to be someone in life. But he also justifies his actions by saying he never killed the wrong person. The reasons why he survived in prison for 34 years was because he would kill the outlaws. That and always having a knife on him to defend himself. Even he has mentioned himself how surprised he is that he is still alive.

And maybe he is a tired old man who doesn’t feel the need for revenge killing anymore. He already lost his mother, girlfriend and a wife, not mention his father (even if he did kill him himself). Today he is 64 years old: a man who was born with a fractured skull, grew up in an abusive household, and had no issue with robbing and murdering gangsters and drug dealers. He wouldn’t prey on women or children and, in fact, loathed the men who did.

What he did was terrible – all of the crimes he committed were absolutely horrendous. However, he does get a lot of support from people because he’s like The Punisher to them. Or Batman. Although, Batman does not kill people, but he does hunt them down now that his parents died tragically in his youth. Pedrinho is not the Batman. He is a criminal and a murderer who is almost certainly a psychopath.

He gave himself the power of deciding life or death, which no man should do. Of course, living in that kind of environment where there is practically no policing and no laws being upheld, where you always have to watch your back, a man like Pedrinho would absolutely act out in the best way he could. He did mention that many times he killed to defend his life.

To this day, Pedrinho continues to serve in prison and could possibly be released in 2019.

Rufina Cambaceres - The Woman Buried Alive

For several centuries, many people have been mistaken for dead and have awakened in their own coffins. There’s much evidence of this, such as scratch marks from inside coffins and corpses with wounds on their hands and feet from trying to get out until they finally suffocate or die of a heart attack. The story of Rufina Cambaceres, a young woman from a wealthy family, has become a popular story in Argentina most likely because of unfounded, salacious rumors.

Rufina is currently buried in the La Recoleta cemetery, which is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I've been there before, but I never went inside. This was a long time ago. I remember that the LMFAO song was really popular. “Party Rock Anthem” was playing near Eva Perón's grave, I wish I was joking.

Remember that this kind of thing – burying people alive – happened all the time, or at least enough times in which people have developed ways for the seemingly dead to alert others in case they wake up, like tying a string to your finger that’s attached to a bell above ground. They would even hire workers to stay near the grave for weeks in case it rang. There is a story of an unnamed guy who was also buried in La Recoleta with a mechanism installed in his coffin to open it in case he woke up. However, he never had to use it because when he died he was really dead.

Most recently in 1995, Fabrizio Caselli patented a modern security coffin. Its design included an emergency alarm, an intercom, a flashlight, a breathing apparatus, as well as a heart monitor and a stimulator. There are no documented cases of anyone being saved by a security coffin. In addition, most people embalm, so the chances of waking up in their coffin are almost impossible.Now on with the story. Rufina Cambaceres was born on May 31, 1883 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was the daughter of the famous writer and politician Eugenio Cambaceres. Eugenio was the son of a French chemist who emigrated to Argentina and his mother was a local woman of English descent. Eugenio participated in politics briefly before resigning to write literature.

He married Luisa Bacichi in 1881, a dancer from Italy, which was part of the Austrian Empire at that time. Immigration from Europe to Argentina had become enormously popular at that time. Immigrants came mainly from Spain and Italy to find a better life, and Luisa was one of them. Their marriage was scandalous since she was an immigrant and not in high society, while Eugenio came from a wealthy family. Although his father, as I said before, was a French immigrant, in those times immigration was a divisive issue in Argentina.

They had a daughter, Rufina, who grew up in Argentine high society and unfortunately never got to really know her father. Eugenio died in 1889, when she was only six years old (although some say he died a year earlier). Who knows, but in any case, he died of tuberculosis when Rufina was very young.

She led a relatively quiet life until her 19th birthday. Now this is where the story really begins. In 1902, Rufina had just had a party at her house to celebrate her day. After the party ended, she went up to her room to get dressed, as she was going to an opera with her mother. There are stories of her mother, Luisa, hearing Rufina scream and running upstairs to her daughter's room, but most likely Rufina collapsed and was found unresponsive by a maid. They sent for doctors who declared her dead, stating a heart attack as the cause. At this time, there were many rumors about what happened – even a scandalous rumor that her boyfriend was having an affair with her mother, Luisa, and upon learning of this from a friend, she died of a heart attack! There is no evidence that this is true, but it is juicy gossip to say the least.

Although Luisa probably never had a relationship with Rufina's boyfriend, she had many relationships after Eugenio's death, including the birth of the illegitimate son of the future president of Argentina, Hipólito Yrigoyen (pronounced Irigollen), named Luis Hernán Yrigoyen. Rufina's half-brother Luis was five years old when she died. It's not important to the story, but there it is.

Anyway, they had a funeral for Rufina and buried her in a mausoleum in La Recoleta, near where they had buried her father. A few days after the funeral, a cemetery worker noticed that the lid of the coffin had been moved. He thought that maybe some grave robbers tried to break into the coffin. But after opening the lid, he noticed something much worse. Rufina had wounds around her face and hands.

We don’t know exactly what happened when she awoke, but we can imagine she awoke to find herself trapped in a heavy marble coffin and most likely screamed and pleaded. Not only is she in a damn coffin, but she's running out of air, which means she must’ve woken up not long after the funeral. It could’ve been that very night.

According to the Popular Science website, a normal and healthy person might have between 10 minutes and an hour, or between six hours and 36 hours, depending on who you ask, before settling in a premature grave. So one thing is for sure, it would not be long. It all comes down to the amount of air available in the coffin itself. The smaller you are, the longer you will survive because you will occupy less space, which means more space for oxygen. The moment your oxygen supply goes away, that is the end. Swimmers or marathon runners with excellent lung capacity can gain an extra minute of breathing, if that.

But again, the lid had moved, so maybe there was a small space for air. She could have been there for days. The cemetery worker noticed the the lid that been moved a week after her funeral. So it’s possible she could have died of anxiety, a panic attack. It has happened here in New York. A 26-year-old woman named Danielle Goldberg died when a blackout in 2010 left her trapped in the elevator of her apartment building in Staten Island. She was stuck there for maybe an hour. But she had a congenital heart defect, so it’s not a common occurrence.

As for Rufina, it turns out that she did not die at home, but in the same coffin where she woke up. What happened to her when she was in her room on her birthday was a catalepsy, which is “a medical condition characterized by a trance or seizure with a loss of sensation and awareness accompanied by body stiffness,” according to Google. This is something real that has happened to people. It is a symptom of certain nervous disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson's. I'm not sure of the causes, but it can happen to anyone, although it's very rare.

Did you ever read "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe? The narrator develops catalepsy and is afraid of being buried alive by mistake. He becomes obsessed with his fear and even goes so far as to build a tomb made with equipment that allows him to get help. Then the narrator wakes up in total darkness. He screams but soon realizes that he is in a bed on a boat and had just awakened from a terrible nightmare. The story ends well with him overcoming his fear. It’s a fantastic short story. I also suggest reading “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1839. And definitely watch the movie starring Vincent Price. One of the characters in the book and the movie also suffered from catalepsy. And guess what happens to her. They bury her alive and she then comes out of the grave – but it's too late, she's gone crazy. As the last line of the story reads, "And the deep and humid tarn closed sullenly and silently on the fragments of the 'House of Usher.' ”

Aaaand back to Rufina. She died in the worst way possible at only 19 years old. You can visit her in her new coffin in the same place where she died more than a hundred years ago in La Recoleta. There is a large life-size statue of her that was built soon after. The statue resembling the young woman is appropriately standing at the door of her mausoleum, appearing to be able to walk out. Rufina's grandmother, upon hearing the news, traveled from Italy to pay for the new coffin and statue.
Some people have said they’ve heard screams or sometimes singing from inside the coffin. Premature burials, as they call it, have been occurring since the beginning of time with the first recorded premature burial in the 14th century. Rufina's was the first in Argentina. More recently was an incident in 2005 in which a body bag was sent to the Matarese Funeral Home in Ashland, Massachusetts. The funeral director saw that the 39-year-old woman was alive and called paramedics. She’s doing fine now!

This other incident is not so happy. In 2014, a woman in Greece was buried alive, six feet under and everything. One hour after the funeral, some people walking nearby said they heard screaming and loud thuds. They called the authorities and dug up the coffin. But when they reached her it was too late. She had had a heart attack. She was suffering from cancer and her medication is what they think made her look dead. Doctors even did heart failure tests before the burial to make sure that she was dead.

Do you want to know how it feels? You can join the Six Feet Under Club in San Francisco and Austria. They bury you or if you’d prefer, you with your partner, for 45 minutes. Although I think it might be a sex thing with them.

Or if you’re more scared than turned on, join The Society for Prevention of People Being Buried Alive that started in the mid-19th century. An organization for taphophobics with a fascination with and/or fear of premature burials.

And to end this unsettling topic, a last image of what you’d find if you were to open a coffin of a premature burial: not only do people have bruises all over their body, but they also scratch their faces and tear their skin and fingernails out. They tear out all their hair and clothes and sometimes break bones trying to get out. And they’re most often found lying face down.