It was the first case of kidnapping with a ransom request registered in the Algarve. In November of 1990 the Country woke up shocked with the news that Rachel Charles, a ten-year-old English girl who lived in Albufeira with her mother and her stepfather, had been abducted. Two days after having disappeared, Carol Charles, mother of the child, received a phone call of a man who was speaking English and who was demanding 51 million escudos (254.386 Euros) for Rachel's devolution. The girl was found dead days later. She had been strangled and abandoned in a pine tree plantation.
The Judicial Police investigated the case during several weeks and announced the detention of Michael Cook in the beginning of January. It was a friend of the family, who used the fact that the young girl to allure her into his car. The car was seen by the gardener of the family and his testimony was essential for the discovery of the murder and sentence.
Michael Cook, who had participated in the searches of the child, was condemned to 19 years of prison by qualified murder in January of 1992, sentence confirmed later by a second court after an appeal to justice.
Robert Spink, deputy of the Chamber of the Commons of the British Parliament, came out defending Cook, stating that the acting of the Portuguese authorities in this case had been very careless - pointed to several faults in the process, questioning the validity of the proofs used against Michael Cook. Robert Spink remembers a case that left him “very uncomfortable ": recalling the incident, "I was convinced that he was guilty, but I had an obligation to ensure that Michael Cook would have a fair trial", said Robert Spink.
When he was freed, Robert Spink wrote a letter to the British authorities to give account of this event and the return of Michael to the United Kingdom. After this letter, Michael Cook was placed in a list of sexual aggressors of children and he was since then under monitoring of the English policy.
The case of Joana Cipriano highlights serious omissions on the part of authorities who failed to spot that the little girl was being exploited and neglected. According to a neighbour of the girl, Joana seemed unnaturally mature for her age. “She has a bearing and an attitude greatly beyond her years. Instead of playing with other children, she seems to spend her time taking care of her two little brothers.” Another neighbour described her as the “Cinderella” of the household, seen at all times of the day and night in the village, running errands for her family.
In September of 2004, Algarve knew another tragic history which evolved a child death. In the beginning, the mother, Leonor Cipriano started for presenting complaint in the GNR on the alleged disappearance of her daughter Joana of 8 years.
The PJ still investigated the presumption abduction, but this theory fast became false when the proper mother of the girl passed of complaining to suspicion.
After long inquiries, happened what was feared. João Cipriano, uncle of the girl and brother of Leonor, confessed to the PJ that he and his sister had spanked the girl until the death. Months later, added to his confession that had quartered the corpse. According to João, the body had been cut in three parts and kept in a refrigerating coffer, where the PJ found blood vestiges that corresponded to the girl. The brothers had gotten rid themselves of the body in the following days of the crime, but they didn’t say where they had hidden it.
Court hears Joana’s horror story
Onlookers in the public gallery screamed abuse at the mother and uncle of Joana Cipriano as they were ferried to and from court.
The case, which has shocked the nation with its account of incest, murder and desecration, took just three days to be tried. The Public Ministry has pressed for jail terms of 24 years for the defendants, who are charged with qualified murder, as well as desecrating and concealing a body.
Joana disappeared, presumed murdered, in the Algarve village of Figueira, near Portimão. She was last seen buying food from a nearby café on the evening of September 12 last year. Prosecutors charge that she came home to find her mother, 34-year-old Leonor Cipriano, and her uncle, 32-year-old João Cipriano, having sex. Fearful that Joana would relate the incident to her stepfather, they allege that the couple decided to kill her. The prosecution also said that the couple had repeatedly mistreated Joana, recounting that she was little more than a “servant” in her own household.
The court heard a catalogue of horrifying details, including an earlier video taped confession from Joana’s uncle in which he related the circumstances of his niece’s murder. This video testimony is now the subject of an appeal from the defence team who claim it should be excluded because the couple exercised their right to remain silent during the trial. In the taped confession, João Cipriano said he and his sister hit Joana who then banged her head against a wall before collapsing, unconscious, onto the floor. João Cipriano claimed that he had wanted to call an ambulance but that his sister prevented him, telling him instead to go to Joana’s stepfather and inform him that she had disappeared.
Mother had appealed for daughter’s return
Her mother made subsequent public appeals for her daughter’s safe return, claiming that she had been kidnapped. But authorities began to suspect the couple after villagers noted their allegedly offhand reaction to Joana’s disappearance. Local shopkeeper Nídia Rochato remembered that Leonor neither cried nor seemed unduly concerned. When she commented on this to her, Leonor reportedly replied that she believed that her daughter was still alive.
The absence of a corpse delayed the arraignment process but the Public Ministry were able to indict the couple following statements from neighbours. Investigators also gathered forensic evidence at the house where Joana lived with her mother, stepfather and two brothers.
A total of 45 witnesses, mostly relatives and villagers, testified in court between Wednesday and Friday of last week. Four jurors (one man and three women) and three judges will decide the verdict. The opinions of the jurors – a 20-year-old student, a physiotherapist, a library employee and a waitress – will carry the same weight as the judges.
Joana’s uncle had contempt for human life
Leonor and João Cipriano, who have been held on remand for over a year, stood silently and without emotion as they heard prosecutor José Pinheiro outline his case. He described João Cipriano as a man who “has contempt for human life, psychopathic tendencies and difficulty in controlling impulses”. Pinheiro also castigated Joana’s mother for her “emotional instability, insensitivity and disregard for other people’s needs”. Only when Pinheiro announced that he was pressing for a 24-year jail term for both defendants did Leonor show emotion, sobbing uncontrollably.
Pinheiro explained why his team was pressing for such a long sentence. “The defendants’ guilt is heightened by their cold and calculating behaviour after their child’s death, as well as the devious manoeuvres they adopted to conceal the crime,” he said.
The trial included key testimony from Joana’s stepfather, António Leandro, who related that Leonor had confided to him that she had had a sexual relationship with her brother. He also told the court that during this conversation, which took place a few days after Joana’s disappearance, at judicial police headquarters, Leonor had admitted that she and her brother had killed the little girl.
A key element of the prosecution’s case rests on the fact that the couple dismembered the girl’s corpse. António Leandro, confronted with photographs of tools allegedly used by the couple, said he recognised a saw he had kept at home. In the video taped confession, João Cipriano admitted that the body of the girl was dismembered and placed in a refrigerated trunk. A doctor involved in the case, Albino Santana dos Santos, conceded that body parts, matching the size of a girl of Joana’s height, could have been stuffed inside the trunk.
Defence team challenges evidence
Despite the evidence, João Grado, Leonor Cipriano’s lawyer, still pressed for her acquittal, describing the evidence as “miserable”. João Cipriano’s lawyer, Sara Rosado, reminded the court that Joana’s body had never been found and dismissed the prosecution’s version of events. “João Cipriano has an intelligence level considerably lower than the average. How is it possible that such a person could deceive everyone for so long?” she asked the court.
But prosecutors disagreed, describing the case as a “veritable horror story that proves that reality really does surpass fiction”. “Nobody can say that they wanted to kill her when they hit. But later when they persisted, they knew that she was going to die. Their guilt is absolute – the victim was a minor, the daughter and niece of the defendants,” they told the court.
The corpse of the girl never was found, but this fact didn’t hinder the PJ to continue with the inquiries, and in November of 2005 the court of Portimão condemned Leonor to twenty years and four months of arrest and João Cipriano to a penalty of nineteen years and two months.
The Judicial Police keeps open thirteen cases of missing children/teenagers.
Rui Pedro Mendonça: missing since 04/03/1998 - 11 years old in 1998; taken from his town of Lousada. It is now believed that this child was taken abroad and is in the in the hands of a pedophile network. For further information: www.ruipedro.net
In that afternoon of 4 of March of 1998, Rui Pedro disappeared. After the school, he went through the school of conduction of his grandfather, where his’ mother worked and asked her authorization to go out with a friend (Afonso Dinis) of 21 years. This friend was unemployed and he was a usual friend of the youngsters with half of his age. Filomena (the mother) didn’t authorise the son to go out with Afonso and told him to go and play with the bicycle in a strip of land behind of the conduction school and remembered him about his explanation class at 5 pm. In the afternoon, the parents were informed by the professor who told them that Rui hadn’t appeared. Filomena felt that something bad had happened.
In that same night, the people of Lousada with patrols of the GNR searched together all the spaces of the village, but nothing was found.
Days later, during the inquiries, a neighbour witnessed seeing Afonso (who has always denied that he had been with Rui,) speaking with Rui. During those same inquiries, Afonso said that if they wanted to find the youngster they had to close up the borders.
Nine years have passed waiting for Rui to come home.
Cláudia Alexandra Silva e Sousa: missing since 13/05/1994 - 7 years old in 1994; disappeared from her hometown in Oleiros - Vila Verde. The child has a 10 cm scar in her right thigh, a scar in her lower lip and another in a finger. Believed to have been taken by two men and forced to get inside a car.
João José Teles: missing since 06/10/1998 - 18 years old in 1998; disappeared from Câmara dos Lobos, Madeira. He studied in the Secondary school of Estreito de Câmara de Lobos.
Tatiana Mendes or Odete Freman or Odete Frima: missing since May de 2005 - 7 years old in 2005; she was "adopted" by a couple with her mother's acceptance. She travelled to Portugal in May 2004, however a year later her adopting mother said that the young girl was given to another person and that, still in the year 2004, the girl had died in a traffic accident somewhere in the area of Badajoz/Espanha.
Rita Marques Cardoso Santos: missing since 01/08/2007 - 16 years old in 2007; She was last seen in the area of Chelas - Lisbon.
Jacira Rocha Gomes: missing since 23/11/2007 - 17 years old in 2007; the missing girl studies in the 8º grade of the secondary school D. Luísa de Gusmão, in the area of Penha de França, Lisbon. There were sightings in Moita, Vale de Amoreira e Cidade Sol, no Barreiro.
Sara Raquel Pinho Reis: missing since 23/02/2007 - 17 years old in 2007; disappeared from her hometown in Trofa - Porto.
Pamela Matias Santos: missing since 23/09/2007 - 17 years old in 2007; disappeared from Santarém.
Madeleine Beth Mccann: missing since 03/05/2007 - 4 years old in 2007; disappeared from the Ocean Club, Praia da Luz, Lagos, place where she was spending holidays with her parents. The disappearance occurred in a time when the child was left alone inside the apartment. Madeleine has a brown birth mark in the back of her left leg. She has coloboma (a small mark in the iris) in her right green eye, the left eye is blue and green. For Further Information: www.findmadeleine.com
If you see any of this Missing Children please Report it to the Portuguese Judicial Police
Directoria de Lisboa
Rua Gomes Freire,174, 1169-007 Lisboa
Telefone: 218 641 000
Fax: 213 575 844
Piquete: 213 574 566
Directoria do Porto
Rua Assis Vaz, nº113, 4200-096 Porto
Piquete: 225 088 644
Fax: 225 023 642