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Brazilian Novel Brings Back 50-Year-Old Massacre and Indicts Police for Torture

Brazilian writer Miguel Jorge and movie director João Batista de Andrade

Brazilian writer Miguel Jorge and movie director João Batista de Andrade

The images of the dreadful event that shook the city on the morning of
December 6th, 1957, are still fresh in the memories of its citizens. Swimming in
puddles of blood were the corpses of Wanderley Matteucci, his wife Lourdes
Pinheiro, and four young children, in the bedroom of his home, located at the
74th Street, at the back of the “São Mateus” warehouse, owned by the victim.
(1)

The passage above is just one of the many reports published by the newspapers in the city of Goiânia, about an episode known as “The 74th Street Crime”, in which the couple Wanderley and Lourdes Matteucci, and their children Walkíria (6 years old); Wagner, 5; Wolney, 4 and Wilma (8 months) were brutally murdered.


Except for Wagner, who was hanged with a tie and stabbed, all the other members of the family were killed with an ax. The only survivor was Wânia Márcia, who was also their daughter and was, at that time, around two years old.


The first suspect arrested was Rubens de Oliveira, also known as Alberto D’Lassere. He was captured in Salvador, in the state of Bahia, where he confessed to be the one who committed the crime. However, after being transferred to Goiânia, he denied his guilt. He was the main suspect just because he left the city on the dawn of the day that the crime took place.


The second suspect was Pedro Vaz, whose name was, in fact, José Lázaro da Silva, commonly known as Lazinho, but he couldn’t have committed the crime, because he was in jail in the city of Patos de Minas, in the state of Minas Gerais, at that time.


Afterwards, they arrested Wilson Matteucci, Wanderley’s brother, and Santino Hildo da Fonseca, accused of being hired by Wilson to kill the family. Both also admitted they were guilty.


Following his arrest, Santino told the police that Francisco da Silva Rocha helped him to murder the Matteucci family. Then, he made a detailed report of the crime, which read like a movie script.


Another suspect was named by Maria Cardoso da Silva, maid of the family. According to her, Gercino, Lourdes’ brother, had threatened to kill the couple after they had an argument.


The fact that all the accused people promptly confessed to the crime can be explained by the torture sessions they experienced:


“Yesterday, around 10 o’clock, after being slapped and hardly punched, Santino confessed to be the only killer. (…) The reporters got the information that Wilson Matteucci confessed under continuous beatings inflicted on him by the police, and was also subjected to all kinds of torture known by the law agents. (…) Francisco da Silva Rocha, the supposed accomplice of Santino, didn’t take part in the crime. We know, however, that he didn’t show up to defend himself, because he was afraid of being beaten up.” (2)


The newspaper Ed. Extra published that Wilson “was forced to stand up for hours and hours on the top of open tomato sauce cans, with wide open arms, holding two bricks on the palms of his hands”, and that Santino “was severely beaten up and tortured with a paddle, on his hands and buttocks.” (3)


In the course of the judicial process, Wilson and Francisco denied everything and were finally acquitted on October 14th, 1964, after staying in jail for a long time. Santino, however, didn’t deny his guilt, for he was “warned that he would be killed if he intended to contradict what he had ‘confessed to’ previously” (4), and was sentenced to 74 years and 10 months. He was just released on May 27th, 1976, but even then he alleged he was innocent.


The facts exposed above, especially the transcription of the statement made by Santino, inspired Miguel Jorge to write his novel Veias e Vinhos (Veins and Wines).


In 1981, the book was awarded by APCA (Association of Critics of Art from the State of São Paulo). It also won the 4th National Literature Contest sponsored by the Office of General Education, Cultural Foundation and the Caixa Econômica Bank from the State of Goiás.


Veias e Vinhos is divided in 39 chapters and brings an epigraph that expresses its content very well: “How many terrible things are committed in the name of justice.” (5)


Its cover was made by the plastic artist Siron Franco, who was the first person to enter the house of the Matteucci family after they were killed. He was a friend of the children murdered, was around 10 years old at that time, and, everyday, he used to call them to go to school:


“Because nobody answered that day, I went to the back of the house and saw a hole on the wall. I remember that after I went inside, while walking, I kicked an arm. I tried to go outside, but I couldn’t.” (6)


The narrator in the book is, initially, the only daughter that wasn’t murdered, named Ana by Miguel Jorge. In spite of the fact that she was very young, and not even being able to speak many words, she is the one who tells the details of how her father (Matheus), her mother (Antônia), and her brothers and sisters (Mário, José, Vilda and Valmira) were killed, as well as the fact that the murderers had wiped their hands, covered with blood, on the walls and then went to the kitchen to drink some beer and eat sausage.


An ax and a dagger were used to commit the crime, but Ana wasn’t killed just because one of the murderers lost his courage when he walked to the cradle, in order to kill her, and she said: “daddy”.


Then, Ana starts telling the story of her family before the day of the crime.


Her parents owned a warehouse called “São Judas,” located in the Popular neighborhood, where they were helped by Pedro, Matheus’ brother. Antônia had constant nightmares and was pregnant with a fifth son. Matheus had another daughter with a woman who lived in the city of Belo Horizonte, and he intended to bring her to live with them. At the beginning of the story Matheus’ mother, who is a little crazy, also lives with them.


Ana tells all the details of the story from the day of the crime until the day she was born, which takes place in the 17th chapter. Following that, we learn what happened after the tragedy.


Pedro is the main suspect. The alleged reason for it was the fact that he hated Matheus, and blamed him for the suicide of their mother, who took formicide in 1952. Pedro is tortured until he confesses:


“They took him from there and hung him on the pau-de-arara (one of the most common “instruments” to torture people), upside down. His statements start to hesitate at the same time that his right eye began to fail. The interrogation became more and more brutal. The soldier and the police chief laughed. They used all sorts of techniques and many possibilities for torture.” (7)


After facing a new hearing, Pedro denied his participation in the crime and, to escape from new torture sessions, he accuses Altino da Cruz and Felisbino Primo da Silva. After that, Altino is tortured and even goes through a kind of hypnosis session, carried out by an investigator called Raimundo Quirino, so he would sign the confession of his guilt. Even Ana is taken to see him to evaluate her reaction, but she hugs him, not expressing any kind of fear.


Pedro is acquitted by the jury of the city of Goiânia, on February 5th, 1963, and again on October 14th, 1964. In this same session, Altino is convicted to 74 years and 10 months.


While in jail, Altino starts to write a diary and decides to try to find out the real guilty ones. After more than 18 years, he finally gets his conditional freedom.


Although the novel is clearly based on the “74th Street Crime”, Miguel Jorge affirms that his book “isn’t a journalistic report, but a work of fiction novel.” (8)


However, we can classify it, more accurately, as a nonfiction novel, which is the kind of novel that presents “narratives, where verifiable information, in the form of a report, are dressed in narrative techniques, typically used in fiction.” (9)


The genre predominated in Brazil during the decade of 1970s, along with the magical realism, as an immediate consequence “of the political censorship that, prevented reporters from writing what they knew, and forced them to find in literature the space that was denied to them.” (10)


The nonfiction novel is a genre that was inspired by the book In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote in the USA, in 1966, which, coincidently, also tells the story of the murder of a whole family. (11)


Rildo Cosson, in his book Romance-Reportagem: O Gênero, states that a nonfiction novel follows realist narrative processes and shows, among others, elements such as memories; flash-backs; true date, location and documents; premonition; stream of consciousness; and social denunciation.


In Veias e Vinhos, Miguel Jorge elects Ana, the only survivor of the slaughter, as the main narrator. She is responsible for telling the beginning of the story, by remembering the day of the crime and starting a long flash-back that shows the daily life of her family until the fatal day.


However, Ana is not the only narrator. The same role is played by her father, Matheus, her brother, Mário, and her uncle Pedro. This interweaving of narrators “allows for the existence of many intersections in the plot and, consequently, the mutual validation of all them.” (12)


Sometimes the narration is made in the third person, but the first person predominates and the narrator is always omniscient.


The true dates and locations are present in the novel and can be checked through documents and reports published in the papers at that time, which also published statements used in detail in the plot of Veias e Vinhos.


Premonition is expressed by the character Antônia, who has constant nightmares, as described below:


Antônia dreamed that two men wanted to kill her, and saw herself dead, slashed. She wanted to cry, but had no voice. She wanted to run, but her legs didn’t obey her. Finally, she tried to hide, but they caught her with a fishing net as if she were a wild animal. Then she tried to distinguish a voice that talked louder than the others, a commanding voice, a voice that chased her through the whole dream. Antônia didn’t know how to explain for how long that torture had lasted. An eternity? She woke up suffocated in screams and tears. (13)


The stream of consciousness is clearly present in the book, especially in its last chapter, where, ignoring the existence of paragraphs or punctuation, the character Altino expresses his thoughts, while in jail.


The social justice critique, very common in nonfiction novels, is also strongly present in Veias e Vinhos. Miguel Jorge uses the book to denounce the disregard and incompetence of the police. For example, the guns used to commit the crime and the fingerprints of the murderers were simply ignored; the fact that all the suspects were tortured; and, above all, the prison of an innocent man, who was kept in jail for almost twenty years.


Miguel Jorge even visited Santino in the prison for three times, and all of them he said he was not guilty. When he was set free, in 1976, he, once more, alleged he was innocent.


All the facts presented above allow us to conclude, undoubtedly, that Veias e Vinhos belongs to the nonfiction novel genre.


The book was used as a source for a documentary called O Caso Matteucci (The Matteucci Story), made by the moviemaker João Batista de Andrade, in 2002, and also the movie Veias e Vinhos, which had its première in Goiânia, on September 6th, 2006.


Those who attended it were João Batista de Andrade, the writer Miguel Jorge, and the actress Eva Wilma. Leonardo Vieira, Simone Spalladore, Leopoldo Pacheco, and José Dumont, among others, were also part of the cast.


Miguel Jorge also helped the director to write the first script of the movie, and the time of the crime was moved from 1957 to 1964, in order to emphasize the state of terror that took place in Brazil during the military dictatorship.


Notes


(1)  DESLINDADO o mistério do assassino da Rua 74. Brasil Central, Goiânia, ano 28, n. 1-59, p. 1 e 7, 25 jan. 1959.


(2) WILSON Matteucci teria contestado a autoria do assassinato da Rua 74. Folha de Goiaz, Goiânia, p. 8, 16 jan. 1959.


(3)  CASO Matteucci, um erro judiciário. Ed. Extra, Goiânia, p. 11, 18 out. 1981.


(4)  Ibid., p. 11


(5)  JORGE, Miguel. Veias e vinhos. 2. ed. São Paulo: Ática, 1982. p. 7.


(6)  BORGES, Rogério; GUEDES, Rute. A arte imitando a vida. O Popular, Goiânia, 1 out. 2006. Magazine, p. 7.


(7)  JORGE, 1981, p.129


(8)  BORGES, 2006, p. 7


(9) COSSON, Rildo. Romance-reportagem: o gênero. São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 2001. p. 11.


(10)  Ibid., p. 17


(11)  Ibid., p. 19


(12)  Ibid., p. 53


(13) JORGE, 1982, p. 22


The book Veias e Vinhos has reached its 4th edition in Brazil , and Miguel Jorge is looking forward to publish it in English. If you can help him, or know someone who can do it, please contact him at migueljorge@uol.com.br.


Gilson P. Borges is a teacher in Goiânia, Brazil. You can reach him at Gilson_borges@hotmail.com.

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