FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—A Brazilian man who died in a plane crash in South America in 2005 is responsible for the slayings of three Florida women two decades ago, authorities said Tuesday.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said DNA matches conclusively identified the culprit as Roberto Fernandes, who fled to Brazil in 2001 shortly after his final victim’s body was discovered in Miami. At that time, police wanted to question Fernandes in connection to the killing, but Brazil has no extradition treaty with the U.S.
Tony said at a news conference that “justice never expires” even if decades pass for a cold murder case. He also described Fernandes as a “suspected serial killer” who may have other victims.
“Cold cases typically sit for months, maybe even years, before they are resolved,” Tony said.
The first victim discovered on June 22, 2000 in Cooper City, Florida, was Kimberly Dietz-Livesey, whose badly beaten body was crammed into a suitcase along a road. On Aug. 9, 2000, the body of Sia Demas, also beaten to death, was found stuffed in a duffel bag along another road near Dania Beach, Florida. A year later, on August 30, 2001, the body of Jessica Good was recovered floating in Biscayne Bay in Miami. She had been fatally stabbed.
All three women had substance abuse problems and turned to prostitution to support their habits, investigators said.
One fingerprint and some DNA samples were discovered at the 2001 crime scene but no match was initially found in criminal databases. It wasn’t until authorities ran the evidence through Brazilian authorities that a match came up for Fernandes, officials said.
“That was a key piece of evidence,” Broward sheriff’s Detective Zach Scott said at a news conference.
In Brazil, Fernandes had been acquitted of killing his wife on a self-defense claim. Scott said the wife’s family was bitter about the case and may have sought to have Fernandes killed in retaliation, leading to his decision to flee to Paraguay.
That’s when Fernandes died in a plane crash, his body returned to Brazil for burial. A judge there was persuaded recently to order the body exhumed, where Florida investigators were able to obtain a DNA sample after concluding he had not faked his death.
“It did take some time to confirm his death,” said Miami police Sgt. Nikoli Trifonov. “People do fake their deaths.”
There may be additional victims. In the U.S., Fernandes worked for a Miami tour company and also as a flight attendant at times, officials said.
“I believe there are other cases out there. There is no limit as to where he could travel,” Scott said.
By Curt Anderson