Brazilian goalkeeper Bruno carries guilt over kidnap and murder of former lover

Brazilian goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza. [Agencies]

There was nothing to lose.

Flamengo trailed Rio de Janeiro rivals Fluminense 2-0 in a Brazilian league game played on a warm afternoon, May 27, 2010.

When a free-kick was given near the opposition box in the 90th minute, Flamengo goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza fancied his chances.

His right-footed shot curled over the wall and hit the top-right corner of the net. It was his fourth career goal, but he barely celebrated - and defending champions Flamengo would still suffer defeat.

A month later, it would all be a distant memory.

Bruno would be behind bars, accused of ordering the kidnapping and barbaric killing of a woman.

Newsrooms in Brazil were busy on June 25, 2010.

But it wasn’t all because of the World Cup group game in which Brazil and Portugal were battling to avoid facing tournament favourites Spain in the knockout stages.

They were dealing with disturbing domestic news: police sources leaked that Flamengo captain Bruno Fernandes de Souza was one of the prime suspects in the disappearance and death of actress and model Eliza Samudio.

Bruno was not with the national team in South Africa, despite being one of Brazil’s best goalkeepers at that time. He had not been picked by austere manager Dunga, who was reportedly unimpressed by Bruno’s showboating in a 2009 domestic match.

Still, the goalkeeper was one of the stars of Brazil’s arguably most popular team. There had even been rumours of a move to AC Milan.

It wouldn’t have been out of place to speculate that Bruno - then aged 25 - would make his international debut in the near future. Many thought he could be wearing his country’s number one shirt at the 2014 World Cup, which Brazil would host.

This would all soon become a footnote in a grisly tale that was about to unravel.

Bruno and Eliza had a brief relationship. Testimonies of friends from both sides say they met on May 21, 2009 at a sex party. In August that year, she told the player she was pregnant.

In court, Bruno would later say he broke things up after Eliza refused to have an abortion. At the time, he was dating dentist Ingrid Cavalcanti, whom he would wed in 2016 while in jail, and he was still married to childhood girlfriend Dayana Rodrigues, with whom he had fathered two girls.

His disagreements with Eliza would soon become a legal matter: in that same August she filed a paternity and child support lawsuit against the Flamengo captain.

The move soured the relationship.

On October 13, Eliza reported to Rio police that Bruno and some of his friends - including his inseparable childhood companion Luiz Romao, known as Macarrao (Spaghetti) - had kidnapped her and forced her to take medication to induce an abortion.

She also accused the men of beating her up and told officers that Bruno pointed a gun to her head.

Bruno openly accused Eliza of lying about the aggression. “It’s not the first time she’s lied to get me in trouble,” he said in a statement.

“She cannot cope with the fact I do not want to be in a relationship with her. I will not give this lady the 15 minutes of fame she wants so much.”

There was an investigation. Rio police who specialised in violence against women recommended issuing Bruno with a restraining order. A judge ruled it out. Forensic examination results were inexplicably delayed.

For Bruno, 2009 ended with him lifting the Brazilian Championship trophy after Flamengo mounted a comeback from the lower end of the table to win their first title in 17 years.

Finally, in August 2010, the results of those forensic exams were released. They indeed showed “traces of aggression”. But by then, Eliza had already been missing for at least two months.

In February 2010, Eliza gave birth to a baby boy in Sao Paulo, where she had been living with a friend. She named him Bruno.

Flamengo’s goalkeeper categorically refused to assume the baby’s paternity and to submit himself to a paternity test.

Without financial help, mother and child relied upon the support of friends. But then the player’s stance seemed to change.

According to journalist Leslie Leitao, author of Unsavable, a best-selling book on the Samudio case, Eliza was told by Bruno he would finally settle things out.

“He only asked her to stop talking to the press,” Leitao wrote.

Bruno even rented a suite at Rio’s exclusive Transamerica hotel for mother and child on May 11. In reality, the goalkeeper was just buying time.

“Bruno played his last match for Flamengo (a 2-1 defeat by Goias on June 5, 2010), knowing that Eliza had been kidnapped,” Leitao added.

According to Leitao, Bruno made the decisive move actually just moments before entering the pitch, when he called his friend Spaghetti. Phone records obtained by investigators back this up.

A family court appearance had been scheduled for June 11, when both parties were supposed to discuss arrangements for child maintenance payments and the DNA exam.

On June 4, however, Spaghetti called Eliza’s mobile from outside the hotel.

Spaghetti pretty much acted as Bruno’s personal assistant and had already paid Eliza’s expenses in cash. He would say in court that the woman was told she would receive a lump sum payment from Bruno.

The catch was that the cash was at Bruno’s ranch hundreds of kilometres away - and that he needed to drive both her and the baby there.

Spaghetti was accompanied by Jorge Sales, a 17-year-old cousin of Bruno who had been under the goalkeeper’s tutelage after getting in trouble with drug dealers in the poor neighbourhood where he lived.

It was Jorge who told the police the gory details of Eliza’s ordeal.

After being beaten up, she was driven to Bruno’s Rio mansion - he was away playing for Flamengo. But he turned up the following evening.

Bruno would later tell the court that he and Eliza had a conversation and agreed to travel to the ranch. Eliza was kept there until June 10. On that afternoon, she and the baby were taken to a house in another city, Belo Horizonte.

There, she was asphyxiated by Marcos Aparecido, a former policeman hired by Spaghetti to handle the killing. Her body was then quartered and fed to dogs.

Associates of Bruno, who included his ex-wife Dayana, then tried to hide the baby from the police after searches for Eliza started.

The baby - Bruninho - was located by police officers in a slum in Ribeirao das Neves, on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte.

Eliza’s body has never been found.

Bruno handed himself in to Rio police on July 7. By then, investigators had already obtained enough evidence to link him to the heinous crime.

In his trial, he never admitted to having ordered Eliza’s killing and blamed Spaghetti for the ordeal. He did, however, admit that he had been informed of the crime - and consequently lied about it while police looked for the missing woman.

He was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2013. Spaghetti was sentenced to 15 years, and since 2018 has been serving his time in an open prison. He and Bruno have severed ties.

Aparecido was punished with 36 years in jail, 22 years for Eliza’s killing and 14 years for a previous murder for which he was already being tried.

In July last year, a court in the state of Minas Gerais granted Bruno the right to serve the rest of the sentence in a semi-open system, which allows prisoners to sleep at home.

But even before his partial release, rumours and news about a return to football started.

Murdered model Eliza Samudio. [Agencies]

Bruno was born on December 23, 1984 in Ribeirao das Neves, a working-class city in southeast Brazil.

He was only three months old when his parents left him with his paternal grandmother and moved thousands of miles away up north. Eighteen years would pass before Bruno met one of his parents again.

Like many poor Brazilian kids, he saw football as a way to escape a life of poverty. He was 12 when he started at the academy at Venda Nova, a Belo Horizonte feeder club. Due to his height - 6ft 2in - the boy was an easy pick for the goalkeeper’s position.

His professional debut came in 2004, at regional powerhouse Atletico Mineiro.

There were already signs of a volatile temper. A year later, Bruno spent a night in jail after getting into an altercation with students and supporters of city rivals Cruzeiro, who allegedly taunted him. In early 2006 he was detained again for dangerous driving.

But on the pitch, things were going fine and there were talks with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. Bruno, however, ended up in 2006 at Corinthians, the Sao Paulo club who six years later would beat Chelsea to win the Fifa World Club Cup.

In that same year, 2006, he finally saw his mother again, courtesy of a Brazilian TV show that helped reunite them.

Bruno had not served one year of this sentence before he made the headlines again.

Montes Claros, a minnow club in Minas Gerais, Bruno’s home state, announced in February 2014 that they had signed the player. That, however, would require a transfer to a local prison, which was denied by a judge.

Three years later, while temporarily released from prison by a Brazilian Supreme Court order, another Minas Gerais club, Boa Esporte, signed Bruno.

It led to nationwide protests and the departure of three team sponsors, but the club went through with the move and Bruno played five matches before going back to prison, in another Supreme Court decision.

Since his latest partial release, a number of clubs have expressed interest in signing the disgraced goalkeeper, but pressure from supporters and sponsors have barred him from another return.

A famous case came in January 2020. Feira de Santana, a club from Brazil’s northeast, backed down after an emotional plea on live TV by presenter Jessica Senra.

“I believe many people deserve a second chance. But forgiving someone does not mean forgetting what a person did and what she did in our lives,” she said.

Femicide has become one of the most active topics of human rights discussions in Brazil.

The latest stats show that more than 1,310 women were killed in domestic violence incidents Brazil in 2019 alone.

Legally, nothing prevents Bruno from getting back to football.

“He is looking to be reintegrated to society. All he can do is play football,” says Mariana Miglorini, the player’s lawyer.

This is a line repeated by the player. In the rare interviews he has given, Bruno, now 35, has repeatedly implied he is having his shot at resuming life denied.

“People do not want to give me an opportunity. They don’t want to let me work,” he told TV channel Record in January.

“They talk about me on social networks but who is going to put food on my table?”

For Sonia Moura, Eliza’s mother, this is a moral situation.

“He committed a heinous crime and it’s absurd that he can now become an idol for children and teenagers,” she told Brazilian magazine Epoca in February.

“Courts allow him all his wishes, while I can’t even find my daughter’s remains.”

In one of the few times the child has spoken publicly, she revealed that the boy has panic attacks when he hears from his father.

“My grandson once told me he could never trust his father. He doesn’t feel hatred, as he thinks that he cannot hate someone he doesn’t know,” the grandmother told UOL Esporte.

“But if it depended on me, Bruno would never get anywhere Bruninho.”

Bruno still wants to reconnect with his son.

“I would like to tell him everything that happened and ask for forgiveness,” he told Record TV.

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