Twenty years ago, we had a brutal serial killer in our midst, and no one noticed — not police, not the public. This guy was a real-life “Dexter,” flying under the radar. But commend the South Florida detectives who would not let it go.
A private pilot, flight attendant and tour bus driver, Roberto Wagner Fernandes also stabbed to death three South Florida women then treated their bodies like trash, stuffing them in suitcases and duffel bags and dumping them in the bay or on the side of the road.
He was lucky, too. He was also accused of killing his own wife in the mid-1990s, but was acquitted in Brazil. That’s when he headed for Miami, as so many criminals seem to do.
DNA from Fernandes’ grave in Brazil finally connected him to all the local murders.
The gripping question for South Florida homicide detectives’ cold-case units now becomes: Did the Brazilian national leave even more victims here? Fernandes lived in Miami in the late 1990s and managed to flee home in 2001 without raising any red flags that would stop him.
Tuesday morning, Broward Sheriff’s Office detailed the horrific case in a gripping news release that reads like a draft for an eight-part Netflix series:
“Over a 14-month span ending in 2001, three South Florida women were brutally murdered, their bodies publicly discarded.”
Faded from front pages
The individual cases made headlines in the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel and local television stations, but soon receded into the background.
“However, thoughts of the victims and what they suffered never left the minds of dogged homicide detectives from the and the Miami Police Department,” the BSO news release said.
It goes on: “It took two decades of relentless investigative work, required intergovernmental cooperation at the highest levels across two continents and involved exhuming the remains of an individual to finally determine that the three women were murdered by a single person, a suspected serial killer.’’
According to the BSO, the story began on June 22, 2000, in Cooper City, when the body of Kimberly Dietz-Livesey was discovered inside a suitcase along a roadway.
Several weeks later, on Aug. 9, the body of Sia Demas was found stuffed in a duffel bag along a road near Dania Beach.
A year later, on Aug. 30, 2001, the body of Jessica Good was recovered floating in Biscayne Bay in Miami.
Suspicion for Good’s murder fell on Fernandes, who returned to Brazil.
Detectives figured out that the three cases shared similarities, and as those from the BSO and Miami Police worked together, clues emerged. DNA evidence collected from all three crimes pointed to one as-yet-unknown killer.
A major break came in 2011, when DNA from the Miami homicide matched the suspect’s DNA profile collected from the Broward murders.
That led to Fernandes in Brazil, but detectives learned he had died in a twin-engine plane crash in 2005.
Still, it does not end there. Investigators worked closely with the Brazilian National Police, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to exhume his body to make sure he was not faking his death. They found that Fernandes, indeed, was dead.
For now, the best news is that the relatives of the women Fernandes killed can now have an answer to their likely most important question: Who did this? The “why,” however, might never be known. However, what’s is known is that serial killers compulsively — sometime methodically — snuff out lives.
These detectives did a phenomenal job, not letting this case rest. We now urge other cold-case detectives to take a closer look at their own files of unsolved cases. How many more people are still wondering whether their daughters, sisters, wives or mothers came across a monster like Fernandes?
If you have a lead, any lead, call Det. Zachary Scott at 954-321-4214 or contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS (8477) or online at browardcrimestoppers.org. You can remain anonymous.