Crime & Justice

Brazilians absorbed by case of missing ‘woman of the abandoned house’

By Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Jul 18 (EFE).- The “woman of the abandoned house,” a Brazilian fugitive from US justice whose story has garnered widespread attention in Brazil thanks to a highly successful podcast, has mysteriously gone missing once again.

The case of Margarida Bonetti dates back to the 1970s, when she and her husband Rene emigrated to the United States along with a domestic employee they had “received” as a “wedding gift” and subsequently held in conditions analogous to slavery for two decades.

A victim of physical and psychological abuse and deprived of her freedom for years, the live-in slave managed to flee with the help of some neighbors in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her testimony then led the FBI to investigate the couple.

Rene Bonetti was sentenced to six years and five months in prison in August 2000.

But Margarida, a descendant of a wealthy family, fled to Brazil and started a new life as resident of a delapidated two-story house in the affluent Sao Paulo neighborhood of Higienopolis.

Journalist Chico Felitti of the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper brought her story to light with “The Woman of the Abandoned House,” which has since become Brazil’s most-streamed podcast on the Spotify platform.

Starting with the launch of the first episode one month ago, Internet users have become increasingly captivated by the life of Margarida, a reclusive woman who rarely left her home and always wore a white facial cream every time she was seen peering out from a window.

The house in which she lived for many years in self-imposed exile has now become a pilgrimage site for dozens of Sao Paulo residents and curiosity-seekers wanting a photo outside the weed-infested residence.

“In the podcast, we hear the story of a woman who abused another Brazilian in the United States and hid away here. We came mainly out of curiosity,” Murilo Sans said outside the house that was built in the 1920s and 1930 and now has the word “escravista” (slaver) painted on its walls.

I came here because I was curious to know what it was like, if it’s really what the media are saying … No one knows to what extent it’s true and what’s a lie,” Alexandre Anglioto, a delivery man, told Efe.

Bonetti recently left the house amid the sudden media and popular attention and her whereabouts is now unknown, lending fresh intrigue to Brazil’s new favorite soap opera.

According to local media reports, one of Bonetti’s sisters told Sao Paulo’s Civil Police that Margarida left the house after a bullet struck one of its windows, an alleged incident police are currently investigating.

The enigmatic “woman of the abandoned house” has never faced trial in Brazil.

What remains unclear, according to Felitti, is whether the US did not ask for help from the Brazilian authorities or if that request was made and the Brazilian authorities failed to act on the matter. EFE


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