Gilded Lily: Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows - Isabel Vincent (2010)

Chapter 3. “She Behaved Beautifully”

THE NIGHT BEFORE Alfredo Monteverde died, Laurinda dreamed that she had fallen down the main staircase at the redbrick house on Rua Icatu. It was Alfredo himself—tall and handsome, in his pinstripe suit and his favorite pink and white striped shirt, smelling of sandalwood—who rushed to her rescue in the dream. “Did you hurt yourself?” he asked her, staring intently into her eyes. But before she could answer him, she woke up crying.

“When you wake up crying from a dream, it always means death,” said Laurinda. “The dream told me that Seu Alfredo was going to die. It couldn’t have been clearer what was about to happen.”

On the morning of Monday, August 25, 1969, Laurinda woke at dawn, prepared her children for school, and set off from her modest home in the hillside shantytown where she lived. By the time she hopped on the series of crowded buses that would take her to Alfredo’s home, Laurinda had forgotten about the terrible dream that presaged the death of her beloved boss.

Icatu, a sleepy residential stretch of road that curls up a mountain, is surrounded by lush tropical forest in Rio’s Humaita neighborhood. There are brightly painted colonial-style homes at the foot of the street, but the farther you climb into the forest, the grander the homes and gardens.

In the early mornings when the street is quiet, tiny tamarind monkeys, their long tails dangling beneath them, dart out of trees, balancing themselves like skilled tightrope walkers on overhead electrical wires. For a split second at a time, they seem to stare in rapt attention, their small bulging eyes scanning any passersbys who have stopped to catch their breath in midclimb before attempting the last steep incline to number 96.

On that fateful Monday morning, the monkeys didn’t stray from their routine. In the silence of the early morning, they startled Laurinda with their chatter as she climbed the last, steepest part of the hill. Catching her breath, the diminutive, roly-poly housekeeper stood to watch them gathering bits of rotted papaya and banana. Then she rounded a corner and headed into the cul de sac high above the street where the servants’ entrance was located through the garage at the back of the Monteverde house.

Looking back, Laurinda couldn’t remember anything amiss. When she reached the back of the house, Waldomiro Alves, the gardener, already had the garage door open and was cleaning the interior of Alfredo’s car—a white 1966 Oldsmobile convertible with red leather seats. Laurinda waved to Waldomiro as she headed down the steep set of stairs that took her through the lush garden with its caged macaws. She patted Barbarella and Sarama, the two Irish wolfhounds, as she walked towards the servants’ part of the house, off the kitchen.

Laurinda nearly collided with her boss. In his charcoal gray pinstripe suit, neatly pressed white striped shirt, and striped black and brown tie, he was heading up the garden stairs, taking them two at a time, and humming the melody of his favorite samba: “Everything is in its place / Thank God, thank God / We shouldn’t forget to say / Thank God, thank God.”

Rushing up the stairs after her husband was Dona Lily, blonde and elegant even in her bathrobe, which opened slightly as she ran to reveal a silky nightgown. As she did most mornings, Lily accompanied Alfredo to his car to kiss him goodbye. Laurinda didn’t actually see them kiss that morning, and for about a split second she wondered why Dona Lily was running after her boss, rather than walking by his side, as she usually did. But then she heard the car speed away and saw Lily walk back down the stairs and head back to the bedroom. She didn’t give it another thought.

It was 7:30 a.m., and time for Laurinda to change into her maid’s uniform and begin her work.

However, Laurinda did recall that there were a few things amiss on that fateful Monday morning. For one thing, the children didn’t go to school. Lily informed her that she was taking her children to the Copacabana Palace hotel for the day to see their father, who had recently arrived from Buenos Aires. Alfredo’s son, Carlinhos, as he was known to Laurinda, would stay behind at the house.

After Lily and the children left for the hotel with the chauffeur, Lily’s brother Artigas dropped by in the late morning, lounging in the garden.

“Seu Artigas was at the house for a very long time,” said Laurinda, adding that it was not unusual for members of Lily’s family to drop by unannounced. “I brought him juice, coffee, and water.”

Despite this unexpected visitor and the enforced school holiday, everything else appeared to be in its place at 96 Rua Icatu on the day Alfredo Monteverde died.

ALFREDO WAS IN good spirits when he arrived at his offices in downtown Rio, recalled Maria Consuelo. “He wasn’t in one of his depressions,” she said. After twenty-three years of working alongside Alfredo, Maria Consuelo was familiar with the silence and irritability that always seemed to accompany one of those rapid downward spirals.

Shortly after arriving, Alfredo disappeared into a lengthy business meeting with his chief executive Geraldo, but before he did, he asked Maria Consuelo to make reservations at the Copacabana Palace hotel for lunch. He would be dining with Lily, and her first husband, Mario, he told her. He wanted to discuss what would happen to Lily’s three children after they divorced. In the four years that he had been married to Lily, he and Carlinhos had grown very attached to Claudio, Eduardo, and Adriana. He wanted to maintain a relationship with the children, and needed to make arrangements with Lily and their father.

“He told my husband that he was having lunch with Lily that day to discuss the fate of her children,” said Lourdes Mattos, Geraldo’s widow. “In fact, this was the whole purpose of the lunch.” At the meeting with Geraldo, Alfredo discussed plans for opening several more stores, recalled Lourdes.

Most of Alfredo’s executive team at Ponto Frio knew that he was planning to divorce Lily. He had also confided his intention to Rosy, and on the weekend before he died he had made plans to join her at her home in Italy for a short holiday.

But if he was at all worried about the lunch with Lily and Mario, he wasn’t showing it. Shortly after arriving at the Copacabana Palace hotel at midday, Alfredo bumped into his friend Michael von Lichnowsky, the personal assistant to Octavio Guinle, then the owner of the hotel. Von Lichnowsky later told Rosy that Alfredo emerged from the newspaper stand at the hotel, joking and brandishing a copy of the latest Time magazine. He wasn’t the least bit anxious or depressed, Von Lichnowsky told Rosy.

Still, lunch must have been a tense affair for Lily, who was not in agreement about the divorce. “I know that Lily did not accept the divorce,” said Maria Consuelo. “Lily didn’t want to separate from Fred.”

Indeed, Lily, who had spent her life trying to land a rich man, was now faced with the prospect of losing everything. No good could come of this divorce for Lily and her entire family.

Although they were by no means destitute after Wolf’s company folded, the Watkinses relied on their monthly stipends from Ponto Frio to continue the comfortable lifestyle to which they had all become accustomed when Wolf’s business was at its most profitable during the Second World War.

While it is not clear what took place at the luncheon, Alfredo seems to have emerged from the meeting with a headache. Instead of heading straight back to work, he decided to return home for a short nap. Alfredo appears to have headed straight for the second-floor master suite, and told one of the servants to wake him at three in the afternoon, which would allow him enough time to return downtown for an afternoon business meeting.

Alfredo was so tired that he didn’t bother to change his clothes when he reached the bedroom. He removed his jacket and his shoes, pushed aside the satin-covered pillows Lily was so fond of clustering on the bed, and appears to have casually flipped through the pages of Time before drifting off to sleep, according to police reports.

Downstairs, the servants had gathered in the kitchen for a hearty lunch of rice, beans, and manioc. Their animated conversation, and the transistor radio, which played the latest sambas, must have drowned out the two loud pops on the second floor when the gun was fired.

Alfredo was already dead by the time Laurinda began calling the extension in the master suite.

“I thought he had a headache and had gone upstairs to lie down,” said Laurinda. “But I knew when he didn’t answer the phone that something bad had happened.” It was just after three in the afternoon when Laurinda began to make the calls to the private extension in Alfredo’s bedroom. Moments before Laurinda began to call the extension, Lily had called to say she was still at the Copacabana Palace hotel, just finishing up with Alain, her hairdresser.

Where was Seu Alfredo? Lily asked. Laurinda didn’t find the question strange. Whenever she went out to the hairdresser or to her boutique in the afternoons, Lily called the servants to tell them where she would be, just in case someone needed to speak to her. She sometimes did this several times a day. Lily had already called his secretary Maria Consuelo, who had told her that he was expected back at the office for a meeting.

Laurinda only knew he had retreated to his bedroom for a nap because Djanira Nascimento, one of the other housekeepers, had seen him arrive. Laurinda found it strange that he had not come through the servants’ quarters as he usually did to have a chat.

After repeated attempts to reach Alfredo on the telephone, Laurinda walked up the stairs, through the second-floor office and hallway alcove, and knocked loudly on the door.

“Seu Alfredo? Seu Alfredo? Are you there?”

No answer.

What was he doing in his locked bedroom? Had he mixed his medications with the Mandrax that he was so fond of taking, especially when he needed a deep sleep? Mandrax, a powerful sedative, was initially marketed as a sleeping pill but became extremely popular as a recreational drug in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in Brazil. The drug, which was a precursor to Quaaludes, could send the user into euphoric states. One pill a day for a month was likely to cause physical dependence, severe headaches, irritability, and mania. Alfredo, of course, suffered from all of those symptoms, and the Mandrax, upon which he had become so dependent, seemed to exacerbate all his physical and mental problems.

Laurinda knew firsthand the effects of Mandrax. When she was having trouble sleeping, she decided to help herself to a bottle from Alfredo’s collection. One pill had been enough to convince her that nothing good could come of taking the drug. The Mandrax knocked her out so completely that days before his death, she flushed the rest of the pills that she had swiped from his bedside table down the toilet.

“When Seu Alfredo had one of his headaches, he didn’t talk to anyone,” said Laurinda. “He just went upstairs to lie down. I thought he must have been suffering from another headache, or he had fallen asleep.”

When Alfredo was in the grip of one of his headaches, the servants were warned to tread lightly, the caged macaws in the garden were covered with towels or blankets so that they wouldn’t screech, and the children were told to keep quiet.

As she walked down the stairs to the main floor, Laurinda was convinced that something awful had happened to her boss. Panic-stricken, she grabbed nine-year-old Carlinhos. Laurinda hoisted him up outside the second-floor bedroom window, which was wide open. Straining to reach the windowpane as Laurinda held his legs, Carlinhos shouted, “My father’s sleeping!”

And then, as he had a better look, and perhaps noticed the blood staining the satin bedspread, he screamed, “My father is dead. He’s angry. He’s dead!”

Terrified, Laurinda tried to calm herself as she called for Waldomiro to fetch a ladder and climb in through the open window to investigate. Waldomiro leaned a ladder against the wall and climbed up to the window.

“Everyone in the house stopped working at that point,” said Laurinda. “We all knew that whatever had taken place with Seu Alfredo, it was nothing good.”

Waldomiro stepped over the window ledge and entered the room where Alfredo lay on his back on the bed, his head propped up on a pillow, thick, dark blood oozing from his open mouth.

Stunned, Waldomiro moved as if in slow motion to unlock the bedroom door as he tried to take in the scene in front of him. Alfredo’s jacket was neatly folded on one side of the bed; his shoes were also neatly placed near the bed on the polished wooden floor. Alfredo was in his stocking feet. Waldomiro could still make out the sweat marks on the soles of his dark-gray socks. There were various bottles of medication on the bedside table, and the latest issue of Time magazine. Rolled-up towels from the bathroom were placed underneath the doors. With his left hand, Alfredo appeared to be pulling at his shirt collar. His mouth was slightly open. If it hadn’t been for the blood, Waldomiro might have easily imagined that Alfredo was in a deep sleep.

Just as Waldomiro took in the scene, he heard Lily rushing up the stairs followed by Laurinda. As she passed through the study that led to the bedroom, Laurinda saw Lily stop to open the drawer of the cabinet that stood in the hallway alcove just outside their bedroom. Was she checking for their revolver, which was kept in the drawer of the hallway cabinet?

It’s not clear why the Monteverdes kept a revolver in the house, especially since it was well known that Alfredo suffered from manic depression and had tried to kill himself in the past. But everyone who worked for him seems to have known where it was stored. Perhaps Alfredo was concerned about his family’s security. After all, he was one of the twenty richest men in Brazil. But the Brazil of Alfredo Monteverde was a relatively calm, safe place, under the iron grip of the military junta that ruled the country. The urban violence that is associated with Rio de Janeiro today was almost nonexistent in the late 1960s.

Laurinda recalled that Lily visibly stiffened when she rifled through the drawer. Perhaps she realized that the revolver wasn’t there. Dressed in a black dress with thin shoulder straps, her blond hair beautifully coiffed and smelling of hairspray, she entered the room where Waldomiro was standing as if momentarily frozen.

“I’m afraid it’s not good news, Dona Lily,” said Waldomiro, as Lily tried to get past him. “Seu Alfredo is dead.”

It was the elevator operator at the Ponto Frio offices on Rua do Rosario in downtown Rio who informed Vera Chvidchenko, a secretary at Ponto Frio, that her boss was dead. Vera was rushing back to the offices for a meeting with Alfredo when she heard the news that was spreading throughout Rio’s business district like a brush fire in a dry forest.

At the office, people were weeping.

Shot himself in bed?

But he was just here! He was in a good mood!

A stone-faced Maria Consuelo was gathering her things and preparing to go to the house on Rua Icatu to help Lily with the funeral arrangements. Geraldo, the director of the company, had offered to drive her. Company lawyer Conrado Gruenbaum would drive himself to the house later. Felix Klein, another executive who would prove invaluable to Lily in the future, began the process of sorting through Alfredo’s complex financial arrangements in Brazil and Switzerland immediately after receiving instructions from Conrado.

“Eventually, everyone left the office. I just couldn’t bring myself to go to the house,” recalled Vera. “It was too painful. I was too upset.”

Alfredo’s friend Abitbol was among the first to arrive at the house. “I saw him lying on the bed, but I only took it in for a split second, because I rushed out to get help,” recalled Abitbol years later. “It was so strange because we had played poker the night before, and he was in great spirits.”

Trotte, the accountant, showed up soon after, accompanied by Geraldo and Maria Consuelo. “I saw Fred stretched out on the bed with blood covering his chest,” he said.

In the space of a few hours, dozens of friends, business associates, and family members began arriving as news of Alfredo’s death spread throughout the city. “I came as soon as I found out about his death on the news,” said Victor Sztern. “The house was full of people.”

Anita, the fired servant, appeared up at the house ahead of the police. “Is he really dead?” she asked Laurinda as she made her way to the servants’ quarters.

“I wanted to know how she knew he was dead, and what she was doing at the house,” recalled Laurinda. “But she just kept repeating the question with a mad look in her eye: ‘Is he really dead?’”

Anita didn’t need to see the body to know her former boss was dead. The distraught strangers crowding the living room and back garden must have immediately answered her question.

Carlinhos was dispatched to a friend’s house, and the other children, who had been at the Copacabana Palace, were picked up by one of the chauffeurs and taken to the home of a family friend.

Maria Consuelo and Geraldo made their way to Alfredo’s second-floor office where Lily was lying on a couch, attended by one of the servants, and speaking on the phone.

Maria Consuelo gingerly entered the bedroom. Perhaps it was the severe shock mingled with a deep sorrow at seeing her beloved boss splayed on the bed, the blood still oozing out of his mouth, or perhaps it was her meticulous secretarial instinct that propelled Maria Consuelo to do what she did next. Whatever the reason, she was hard-pressed to explain to police why she picked up the revolver that was lying on the floor on the right-hand side of the bed and placed it neatly on the bedside table, where the officers assigned to the investigation would find it later.

The Ponto Frio executives who assembled at the house immediately began the process of carrying out Lily’s orders. Alfredo’s will, which was drafted a year after their marriage, put her effectively in control of the company, and divided his assets between Lily and Carlinhos. Regina was mentioned in a separate legacy, but her take was relatively minor. Alfredo had left his mother a handful of shares and the sprawling apartment she occupied in Copacabana.

Although grief-stricken at her husband’s sudden death, Lily was completely in control, especially when it came to consolidating Alfredo’s financial holdings around the world. Securing Alfredo’s fortune became the first order of business.

For except for Abitbol, who rushed out to get help, nobody at the house on Rua Icatu thought to call an ambulance or the police, even though under Brazilian law a suicide must be reported to authorities immediately.

It would be several hours after they found the body that Conrado would be dispatched to the local police station to report the death. Conrado calmly drove to the Tenth District Precinct in nearby Botafogo to file a report. According to that report, Conrado showed up at the police station at 9:45 p.m. to inform the duty officer that Alfredo had killed himself in his bedroom at approximately three in the afternoon—nearly seven hours earlier.

In his initial report, Mario Cesar da Silva, the police constable who recorded Conrado’s version of events as well as Alfredo’s medical history when the lawyer showed up at the police station on that fateful Monday night, notes that Alfredo was undergoing regular treatments with a psychiatrist named Dr. José Leme Lopes, whose office was around the corner from Rua Icatu. Conrado told the officer that Alfredo was a manic depressive, and a possible suicide.

But Conrado didn’t tell the police the whole truth about Alfredo’s personal life. For it was from Conrado’s testimony that the officer concluded that Alfredo’s “family life was tranquil.” Perhaps Conrado was not aware that Alfredo was planning to divorce Lily, even though it was common knowledge among his business associates. If everyone from Ponto Frio’s accountant, secretary, and chief director were already making provisions for the divorce, then it seems highly unlikely that Conrado, the company’s chief counsel and Alfredo’s personal attorney, did not know.

It’s not clear why Conrado left out important details about Alfredo’s personal life in his report to police. Perhaps he realized that following his boss’s death, his new allegiance needed to be to his widow, who would inherit Alfredo’s staggering fortune, valued at almost $300 million. Perhaps he felt that the widow would not appreciate a messy police investigation, especially if it appeared that Lily herself had a motive for wanting one of the richest men in Brazil dead.

The police themselves were among the last visitors to arrive at the house on Rua Icatu. Detectives knocked on the door close to midnight, and hauled metal cases full of equipment—cameras, notebooks, measuring tape, and fingerprint kits. As they climbed the stairs to the second-floor bedroom, they had every reason to believe that they were off to investigate a suicide, not a homicide.

Nevertheless, they spent hours analyzing the room where the body was found. They seemed meticulous in their investigation, stripping Alfredo and affixing plastic arrows directly onto his body to show the wounds and the trajectory of the bullets. They took copious black-and-white photographs—of the body, the bedroom, the neatly folded suit jacket on the left side of the bed, the satin-and-brocade bedroll that appeared to have been thrown diagonally across the width of the bed. There is a photograph of Alfredo’s shoes placed neatly under the bed. They even photographed the Time magazine carefully placed on the bedside table along with several bottles of medication.

They also photographed the weapon, which they placed on the floor just under the right-hand side of the bed, according to Maria Consuelo’s description of where she had originally found it.

They demanded that Laurinda, Waldomiro, and Djanira remain in the house during the investigation, since they were important witnesses. They had been present at the time of the shooting, and police interrogated each of them separately about the day’s sad events.

In the police report, handwritten on lined paper in a tight scrawl, da Silva described the corpse of a forty-five-year-old white male, wearing a white shirt, charcoal gray trousers, white underwear, gray socks, and a black and brown striped tie. “The first five buttons were open on his shirt and his tie was loosened with the knot to one side, and the left sleeve rolled up,” noted the report. “On his mouth, on the left side, blood was flowing, and had coagulated on the pillow and the bed.”

Alfredo Monteverde had been shot twice with a .32-caliber, Brazilian-made Taurus revolver. A bullet entered Alfredo’s body at close range on the left side of his chest, leaving a circular wound that measured five centimeters in diameter. According to the report, the first bullet seems to have traveled through his body, exiting on the left side of his back.

“On or about three o’clock in the afternoon, he locked himself in his bedroom, and committed suicide with two shots to his chest on the left side, with both of the two shots entering the same orifice and exiting in different directions,” said the police report. “One of the shots was piercing, with the bullet traveling through the right side of his back and embedding itself in the mattress of his bed. [He] committed suicide lying down and holding the revolver against his chest.”

Yet no one who was at 96 Rua Icatu had heard the shots “because of the vast dimensions of the house,” noted the officer after questioning the three servants. Since there were no signs of forced entry, and the servants had not reported anything unusual—the Irish wolfhounds Sarama and Barbarella would surely have alerted them if a stranger had attempted to break in—the police concluded their investigation.

But there were obvious gaps in their report. The police failed to interrogate any of the neighbors who may have heard the gunshots, even after one of the next-door neighbor’s servants volunteered that she had indeed heard the gunshots. Similarly, the police did not seek out Artigas Watkins, who had been at the house earlier that day.

“He wasn’t there when we discovered the body, that’s for sure,” recalled Laurinda. “He had disappeared, without informing anyone that he was leaving.”

There were other elements missing from the police report. Why had the detectives not recorded their observations about the bedroom and the rolled-up towels they found under the doors, even though Laurinda and the other servants overheard them discussing all of these amongst themselves while they were at the house? As they gathered in the kitchen to drink cup after cup of sugary cafezinho, police puzzled over why Alfredo would have taken all the fresh towels from the en suite bathroom, rolled each of them up, and placed them underneath the door and the other openings in the room.

If Alfredo had committed suicide, perhaps he didn’t want anyone to hear the sound of the gunshots. Clearly, the towels were placed around the room to muffle any sound. But if he was going to kill himself anyway, why would he care if anyone heard the noise? Obviously, the question did occur to police, which is why it is strange that they did not note it in their official report.

Nor did they enquire about Alfredo’s habits. The police photographs show a dead body in a strangely immaculate bedroom setting. Yet anyone who knew Alfredo well would have been immediately suspicious of those photographs. Alfredo was a notoriously messy person, and it was unlikely he would have taken the time to arrange his blazer just so, or put his shoes away. This was a man who was accustomed to living with several servants who picked up after him. He was careless with his clothes, regularly leaving them in a heap on the bathroom floor, recalled Laurinda.

Of course, someone as meticulous as his secretary Maria Consuelo could have cleaned up the room before the police arrived at the scene. But why not also clean up the sheet of crumpled newsprint that police found on the bedside table? According to the police, the newsprint had been used to wrap the revolver while it had been in storage in the hallway cabinet.

The police photograph of the gun is probably the most intriguing piece of evidence gathered in the investigation because the most startling conclusion of the initial police report was not that Alfredo Monteverde had committed suicide by locking himself in his bedroom and shooting himself in the chest. What was more shocking was that somehow he had managed to shoot himself twice.

In the black-and-white photograph of the weapon, a police officer’s hand points to the revolver’s six-bullet chamber, showing four bullets intact and two missing.

“He shot himself twice,” said Alfredo’s friend Abitbol. “He really must have wanted to die.”

Samy Cohn, another wealthy Romanian-born businessman whose wife Ruth was one of Lily’s closest friends and who had introduced Lily to Alfredo years before, noted about Alfredo’s passing that “we were all very heartbroken when he had to give [sic] two shots in order to die.”

SHORTLY AFTER REPORTING Alfredo’s death to the police, Conrado began the grim task of informing Alfredo’s mother and sister. Regina was on a European cruise, and could not be reached, and Rosy was on vacation. After several phone calls to her home in Lake Como, Conrado finally tracked her down to the seaside villa of Camillo Olivetti, the Italian industrialist, who owned a magnificent vacation villa near Antibes, next to the legendary Hotel du Cap. Rosy and her husband were unpacking their bags when the telephone rang, no doubt echoing through the cavernous Mediterranean villa.

Rosy picked up the phone with some annoyance. She had left strict instructions with her secretary and the household servants in Italy not to bother her on vacation, and under no circumstances to give out her number in Antibes—unless it was an emergency, of course. What could possibly be so urgent at this hour? Why were they already bothering her when she hadn’t even started this desperately needed rest cure?

But when she heard the voice on the other end of the phone pronounce her name with a familiar Brazilian-Portuguese inflection—“Rozee?” said Conrado—she knew immediately.

“How?”

Momentarily dazed, she could barely take in what was being said to her.

“Suicide,” he said. “With a revolver.”

Do you want the body embalmed? We can wait for you, for your mother, for the funeral. But even as Conrado said this to Rosy, he knew that they couldn’t really wait. Regina’s ship would not dock in Rio for another week. Rosy felt the shock would simply be too much for her mother if they telegraphed her with the news aboard ship.

Lily had given Conrado specific orders. She did not want to wait to bury her husband. Although Alfredo was not a practicing Jew, he would be buried as one, and Jewish law required that the burial occur almost immediately after death.

How are the children? How is Lily? Rosy asked. She told Conrado that she would leave immediately for Rio, but would not make the funeral. She told him to proceed without her.

Still in shock, she hung up the phone and went to inform her husband, who arranged for a taxi to take them back to Italy. They were simply too tired and too startled to drive themselves. She mentally planned their route to Brazil: She could arrive at Lake Como by dawn, take a taxi to the Milan airport, and catch the first flight to Rome, where, by the end of the day, she could be on her way to Rio de Janeiro.

Yes, that was what they would do. The planning cleared her head. She was temporarily relieved to have a series of logistical problems to solve.

But the relief was temporary. The cab was rickety and the driver tuned his radio to a rock-and-roll station, possibly to keep him alert as he drove along dark and winding coastal roads through the Alpes Maritimes. She politely asked him to turn off the music, preferring the sound of crashing surf and the occasional speeding car as she tried to come to grips with the fact that her dear younger brother, Fred, was really dead.

The thought suddenly turned her stomach, and she demanded that the driver stop the car at a seaside hotel. She walked purposefully through the darkened lobby and to the ladies’ room, where she threw up, staying for a few minutes to press her head against the cool marble walls before heading out the door.

Although she was always ready to listen to her brother’s problems, she seemed increasingly unable to play an active role in Alfredo’s life. Besides, he had seemed so much better after marrying Lily. Still, she felt that he had not quite been himself when he had come to Italy to visit her in June, two months before he died.

In the only surviving photograph from that 1969 family vacation, Alfredo is pictured standing at a café or restaurant behind his mother, Rosy’s husband and his own wife. A relaxed and suntanned Lily is laughing into the camera, her sunglasses pushed back on her head. Regina is wearing dark glasses and lots of gold jewelry—the very picture of the wealthy matriarch on vacation. Alfredo, casual in a white, open-collared shirt, is standing slightly stooped with an arm around his sister, pointing a finger at the unknown photographer. His sister is stiff and rigid beside him, in a buttoned-up blouse, her hair conservatively pulled back.

Perhaps it was the medication he was taking that made him seem at times slightly inebriated. Alfredo had also told his sister that he was in the early stages of diabetes. He had put on weight. But Rosy didn’t think much of it. Her mind was on her own business. Then, several weeks after he returned to Rio, Alfredo called her at her villa in Italy. Had it been the day before he died? Yes, it probably had been the day before he died. Things were not good, he had said. He was having trouble with the business, with Lily. He wanted a divorce. He needed to figure out how to deal with the children, to lessen the trauma of separation, and had invited Lily’s first husband to lunch the following day to discuss the situation.

Rosy hadn’t had much time to talk to him. She was in a meeting, rushing to finish her work because she was heading out on vacation the next day. Perhaps she should have invited him to meet her in Europe, to get out of a situation he was finding increasingly difficult to handle. But maybe he didn’t sound so desperate after all. Whatever the problem, she would deal with it after her vacation, have a good long chat with Fred.

But now it was too late.

AS ROSY AND her husband were racing to catch a flight to Rio, many of Alfredo’s friends who had assembled at the house on Rua Icatu watched in stunned silence as two brawny officers carried his body out of the bedroom. Fighting back tears, Paulinho Guimarães, one of Alfredo’s best friends, raced into the bedroom and grabbed one of the blood-soaked sheets to cover the body, which was loaded into an idling police van parked outside the front door of the house. Alfredo’s remains were then driven to the Instituto Médico Legal—the coroner’s office in downtown Rio de Janeiro—where the medical officer on duty waited to perform an autopsy.

The Ponto Frio executives worked into the wee hours of the morning to arrange the funeral, and more important to secure the deceased’s financial holdings, which were scattered throughout Brazil and around the world.

“It’s just like Fred to give us work even after he’s dead,” quipped Conrado, who was charged with convincing Jewish authorities to give Alfredo a proper burial. Suicides are against Jewish law, and the victims are usually buried against the back walls of a cemetery with little ceremony. Conrado would have to offer a sizable “donation” to the Jewish authorities who oversaw the cemetery on the industrial outskirts of Rio, in order to ensure that Alfredo received a proper Jewish burial.

“We had to pay a great deal of money to get Fred buried,” said Maria Consuelo, adding that shortly after they discovered the body Geraldo was dispatched to various banks in the city in order to gather the cash.

“It was a huge headache for Geraldo,” recalled his wife Lourdes. “Geraldo ran around looking for cash soon after Fred was found dead. Geraldo said that Fred’s death was very strange and could not have happened the way it happened.”

Indeed, the autopsy and a half-hearted police investigation would leave some difficult questions.

On the morning of Tuesday, August 26, a day after Alfredo’s death, as final preparations were underway for the funeral, his secretary Vera received a call from the coroner’s office in Rio’s Lapa neighborhood. Could she come immediately? The medical examiners had some urgent questions. “When I arrived, the medical examiner told me that he found it very strange that they could find no traces of gunpowder on Fred’s hands,” she said.

Indeed, in the initial police investigation and the subsequent autopsy report there is no mention of gunpowder residue on Alfredo’s hands. In a suicide with a revolver, one of the first things a medical examiner will inevitably record is the gunpowder residue on the victim’s hands.

“Then they asked me another question,” said Vera. “They wanted to know if Fred was left-handed. I couldn’t figure out why they would want to know that, but I answered right away that Fred did everything with his right hand.”

The coroner shook his head and asked her if she was certain. Vera told him that in the nine years that she had worked for Alfredo, she had always known him to be right-handed.

“Then he couldn’t have shot himself.”

If the statement shocked her, she kept it to herself, too frightened to carry its implications to their logical conclusion. Vera remained silent for nearly forty years after Alfredo’s death. But there were others who were unaware of the coroner’s pronouncement but were never convinced that the owner of Ponto Frio had taken his own life.

Hélio Fernandes, owner of the Tribuna da Imprensa, was one of them. “The newspapers omitted most of the details of his death,” said Fernandes, whose newspaper was the only media outlet to resist the strict military censorship of the time. “The incident was never properly investigated.”

Geraldo never believed that his boss had committed suicide. On the morning of August 25, Alfredo was full of plans for Ponto Frio’s expansion. Until his death in 2006, Geraldo repeatedly told his family and friends that it was impossible for Alfredo to have killed himself.

Others, like Alfredo’s friend Paulinho, who covered his body with the sheet, also refused to believe the official version of events but seemed powerless to do anything about it, except beg Alfredo’s sister to demand a homicide investigation.

Shortly after Alfredo died, there were some rumors that police officers had been bribed in order to suppress the investigation. Lourdes said that part of the money that her husband gathered in the hours after Alfredo’s death went to pay off investigators—a dirty deed that haunted Geraldo for the rest of his life, according to his wife and daughter. Lourdes recalls that $80,000 changed hands. Such a bribe paid to counter bad publicity or shelve an investigation would not have been unusual in military-era Brazil, where corruption was widespread. Death was bad for business. However, there is no hard evidence to suggest that the police accepted bribes in order to suppress the investigation into Alfredo’s death.

But who would want Alfredo Monteverde dead?

Could his social activism have caused him to run afoul of Brazil’s military rulers? After all, the country was in the dark years—the so-called “years of lead”—of a military dictatorship when Alfredo died. In 1968, a year before his death, the dictatorship entered its most brutal phase when military police fired on unarmed students who decided to protest against the quality of the food and hygiene at their university cafeteria in Rio de Janeiro. On March 28, dozens of police, armed with machine guns, tear gas, and grenades, invaded the Calabouço student restaurant, near downtown Rio. In the ensuing melee, police killed Edson Luís Lima Souto, an eighteen-year-old student from the Amazon state of Para. The following day there were 50,000 people at his funeral, which set off student protests across the country. The government reacted immediately and with force, passing Institutional Act Number 5, which closed Congress, suspended all civil rights, and made it legal for the military to throw civilians in jail without trial.

Deeply moved by the tragic events of March 28, 1968, which became known in Brazil as the Calabouço, Alfredo publicly offered to pay half the expenses of rebuilding the cafeteria, provided that all the authorities were in agreement on its reconstruction. But they weren’t, and the cafeteria was eventually forgotten.

Despite his social activism, Alfredo was a businessman at heart and knew it wouldn’t do him any good to alienate Brazil’s military rulers. Even in the years that he admired opposition politician Carlos Lacerda, Alfredo never became actively involved with any political parties. He knew he needed to remain on excellent terms with the government of the day in order to continue to thrive in an economy that was becoming increasingly centralized and controlled by the state. In a country that was beginning to impose huge import duties on appliances and other manufactured goods, Alfredo and Ponto Frio needed to have friends in high places in order to circumvent the duties and remain profitable in a business that concerned itself with import and export.

“He was a very popular man, and a great formulator of public opinion,” said Sztern. “When [former president Alencar] Castelo Branco died, Fred paid for a full-page ad in the papers in which he wrote what a great president he was. But mostly he was pretty much apolitical.”

Castelo Branco, who was one of the leaders of the March 31, 1964, military coup that ushered in more than two decades of military rule in Brazil, became president in 1964 and died in a plane crash shortly after leaving office in 1967.

While he supported social activism on the left, Alfredo also supported the military governments. In fact, the only trouble that Alfredo appears to have had with the military authorities was in December 1967 when he had been called into a meeting at the Ministry of Revenue. The meeting, at the cavernous ministry building in downtown Rio, went on for several hours, during which he was questioned about his taxes and how he imported foreign products into Brazil, then one of the world’s most protected markets. “I have no idea why they wanted to see me,” said Alfredo to Sztern.

While he may not have wholeheartedly supported Brazil’s military regimes, it is unlikely Alfredo worked against them to the point that he would be a target for murder.

If investigators ever demanded to know who benefited from Alfredo’s death, they had only to look to his wife and son. According to a 1966 will that Conrado produced on the day of his death—a document he swore was Alfredo’s last will and testament—Lily and Carlinhos were the main beneficiaries.

But neither Lily nor Carlinhos pulled the trigger. Lily was away from the house, and Carlinhos was a month shy of his tenth birthday.

Still, someone else could have grabbed the gun in the hallway cabinet, entered the room, and shot him at point-blank range in the chest while he was sleeping. Alfredo’s lifelong battle with manic depression would have been the perfect cover for murder.

In theory, in order to make the murder look like suicide, the murderer could lock the door from the inside and leave through the open window. Alternatively, if the assassin had the key to the bedroom door, he or she could easily lock it from the outside and leave the house, being careful not to disturb the rolled-up towels.

Despite the coroner’s obvious concerns, he nevertheless released Alfredo’s body for burial hours after the autopsy. Strangely, the investigating officers were also quick to surrender two of their most valuable pieces of evidence—the bullet and the revolver, which they seized after their investigation at the house.

“Received the revolver, four bullets intact, two spent cartridges and one bullet,” reads the handwritten scrawl on one of the margins of the original police report. The sentence is followed by initials that are difficult to decipher.

THE FUNERAL TOOK place a day later, and drew more than two thousand people to the Jewish Cemetery at Caju, on the industrial outskirts of Rio. All the managers of his twenty-two stores attended, as did the majority of the six hundred employees of Ponto Frio. The flags at the Rio Yacht Club, where Alfredo had been a member for years, remained at half mast for three days in his honor.

“I think so many people went to the funeral to see if he was really dead,” laughed Marcelo Steinfeld. “You could never be sure with Fred if he was playing another practical joke.” Indeed, at the time, the rumor making the rounds of the business community was that Alfredo had filled his coffin with rocks and disappeared to start another life far away from Rio de Janeiro.

Alfredo was buried in what a reporter for the Jornal do Brasil described as a hasty ceremony, barely lasting more than three minutes. But it was thanks to Alfredo’s status as one of the richest men in Brazil that the ceremony lasted as long as it did. Since suicide is considered a grievous act under Jewish law, brief prayers are said but there is often no eulogy, which is why none of Alfredo’s closest friends or business associates were allowed to make any kind of public statements at the cemetery.

Later, when the dates were carved into his marble tombstone, Lily would make her own public statement: Merci d’être néPuchi. (“Thanks for being born, Puchi.”) It was typical of Lily, of the playful notes that she left in several languages for her loved ones, and contrasted sharply with the more somber “Eternal remembrances from your wife, son, mother, sister and niece” engraved just below it.

Many saved their remembrances of Alfredo for the lavish reception Lily threw at the house on Rua Icatu. On August 27, the day that Rosy and her husband arrived from Italy, Lily was preoccupied with organizing a luncheon for twenty-four friends and family, to honor Alfredo’s memory. Of course, Rosy and her husband were welcome to stay.

As usual with Lily, every detail was carefully attended to, down to the long-stemmed yellow roses that filled the house. A few years earlier, Lily had singlehandedly organized the renovations of the Icatu house, redoing the bathrooms, the sitting rooms, and sprucing up the terraced garden.

Now, on the day after her husband’s funeral, the grief-stricken widow had organized an elegant luncheon and had even thoughtfully sent a car to pick up Rosy and her husband at the airport and drive them to the house on Rua Icatu.

“I don’t know how she managed to do anything, really,” recalled Laurinda. “Dona Lily just shriveled up after Seu Alfredo’s death. She got thinner and thinner until she was nothing more than a twig. From that day forward, she never took off her mourning clothes.”

But in Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, the twig was famous for throwing a good party, even if Rosy and her husband arrived to what appeared to be a disorganized scene at the house on Rua Icatu. The house seemed filled with Lily’s friends and relatives from Argentina and Uruguay—people Rosy had never met and would never see again. Everyone seemed to be speaking Spanish at once, and although it was a somber occasion that had brought them all together, the air was definitely festive. Had it not been for the preponderance of black suits and dresses, Rosy might be forgiven for thinking she had walked into a reception for a wedding or a family reunion rather than the aftermath of a funeral.

Despite Lily’s ordeal of the last forty-eight hours, Rosy thought her sister-in-law looked stunning in a simple dark dress, her hair perfectly coiffed. After exchanging hugs and condolences, Lily escorted Rosy to the master bedroom to show her where her brother had died. There were no bedclothes on the bed. Laurinda and the other servants had stripped them off and buried the satin-and-brocade bedspread in the back garden since there was no way to remove the bloodstains completely.

Earlier, the servants had removed the bloodstained mattress, and scrubbed every inch of the room with strong smelling disinfectant, which assaulted the visitors’ nostrils as they made their way inside. Rosy was vaguely aware of Lily speaking in the background. Was she talking to her? It was a slightly apologetic tone, informing Rosy that all of the other bedrooms in the house were already occupied with her many guests, but if Rosy and her husband wished to stay, she could ask the servants to make up this one—the master bedroom—for them. Rosy never dreamed of staying at the house, and she was surely not going to sleep in the bed where her brother had died two days before. Lily, however, had thought of everything, which was probably why the driver didn’t bother to remove Rosy’s luggage from the car when they arrived at Icatu. It would probably be more comfortable at this point to stay in a hotel, Lily told her sister-in-law. Which is why Lily had taken the liberty of making a reservation for them at the Copacabana Palace.

The consummate hostess, Lily asked them to stay to luncheon. As Rosy recalled years later, the food and wine were perfect, and it was Lily herself who organized the waiters brought in for the occasion.

“It was the day after her husband’s funeral, and she behaved beautifully, receiving people and organizing everything like the bloody undersecretary of state,” recalled Rosy.

But Rosy had other things on her mind besides the food and the people she didn’t recognize—were they really Fred’s friends?—at her brother’s home. How would she break the news to Regina Monteverde, her mother, who was arriving September 1—in four days’ time—from her cruise?

In the end, Rosy arranged with Lily and Maria Consuelo, Alfredo’s faithful secretary, to have a physician present to sedate her mother when they finally broke the news that Regina’s beloved son was dead. Maria Consuelo would take a launch to meet the ship at the port of Rio, and speed Regina through customs and then into a suite of rooms at the Copacabana Palace so that she could have a day to rest before facing the grim news. They would tell Regina the following day, when she was comfortably ensconced in her own apartment.

On the day Regina arrived, Maria Consuelo picked her up as planned. “Why didn’t Fred come to meet me?” asked the heavyset matriarch as she moved rather unsteadily onto the motor launch, Maria Consuelo holding her cherished lap dog. “Where’s Fred? He’s always here when I return from a trip.” A tense Maria Consuelo mumbled something about work and ferried Regina to the port. Regina’s own chauffeur was waiting to take her to the Copacabana Palace. The following day, Rosy, her husband, and Alfredo’s widow were already waiting at Regina’s well-appointed Copacabana apartment to break the news. A physician and his assistant waited in the servants’ quarters for their cue to administer the sedatives.

Regina seemed well rested and calm when she entered her own apartment, although she must have immediately found it strange to see her family sitting in the living room. Just what could have brought her daughter back to Rio? And just where was Fred? But the questions barely had time to register. Immediately, she sensed something was very wrong, which is why she might not have seemed all that surprised to hear the news that her beloved son was dead.

Regina let out a long, piercing animal scream that echoed throughout the ten floors of her apartment building. That was when the physician moved in with the injection to ease the shock.

But Regina, who loved Alfredo above everything else, including her own daughter, would never recover.

“She had a passion for her son,” said her friend Masha. “When Fred died, it was the end of Regina.”

In some ways, Regina had been bracing herself for her youngest child’s death for years. Regina was well acquainted with manic depression and suicide. Her own husband had jumped off the roof of the sanatorium in Vienna where he was undergoing treatment for his own depression before the war. On several occasions, she told Alfredo that like his father, he wouldn’t survive into his mid-forties, that he would do exactly what Iancu had done. Just like your father, she would say.

Perhaps it was an internal defense mechanism. For Regina recognized all the signs—the mood swings, the euphoria, the withdrawal, the blinding headaches. Maybe she was so afraid that her precious son would end up taking his own life that she felt she had to speak out about it. Maybe by acknowledging the problem, Alfredo might be so frightened into imagining the consequences of suicide that he wouldn’t have the courage to go through with it. Still, over the years she had reassured herself that he might be getting better. Alfredo had seemed to be so much better when he had married Lily in 1965. Of course, that was short-lived. In the last year, she had seen a steady decline. He seemed constantly glassy-eyed and weak. What kind of medications was he taking? Did he need to take so many pills? Alfredo was clearly not well.

But like so many others who questioned the circumstances of Alfredo’s death, in the end his mother simply did not accept that he had taken his own life.

After Alfredo’s death, friends urged his mother and sister to conduct their own independent investigation.

A few months after Alfredo’s death, Regina and Rosy hired a team of lawyers and demanded that they do everything possible to reopen the investigation into Alfredo’s death, even if it meant disinterring Alfredo. It was their intention to force authorities in Rio de Janeiro to reopen the case as a murder investigation.

But as the investigating lawyers would find, re-examining the facts of Alfredo Monteverde’s death proved difficult. They were hit full force with the weight of Brazilian bureaucracy and came face-to-face with cynical homicide detectives who refused to help. Was this a cover-up or just the usual Byzantine bureaucracy and negligence associated with most official matters in Brazil?

No one would ever find out.

Yet the lawyers commissioned by Regina and Rosy seemed to think that there was some merit to the case, and in a letter dated March 18, 1970, they wrote: “Considering the story that [Regina’s son-in-law] presented to us concerning the personality of Mr. Alfredo João Monteverde, of his wife, his business partners and some friends, as well as the multiplicity of his commercial interests and in relation to the events that took place at the time of his death, we understood from the beginning that the case really did have aspects that needed to be better understood.”

But the truth was elusive. For instance, it was impossible to find the ownership of the weapon, even though the revolver appears to have been a fixture in the Monteverde residence. “Although we tried with great diligence to obtain the ownership of the weapon at the Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS), it was not possible to obtain this information,” the investigators note, referring to a branch of Rio de Janeiro’s military police that normally dealt with political prisoners during the military period.

But if the weapon wasn’t registered in Alfredo or Lily’s name, whom did it belong to? Why keep a gun in the house of a well-known manic depressive who had tried to commit suicide in the past?

“There could have been inducement by possible third party beneficiaries in his death,” said the investigators. “The proof of inducement, however, is always one of the most difficult based on its complexity. In this particular case, considering the people, the circumstances, the inheritance issues and the lapse of time since the event, it will be difficult and doubtful to see convincing proof to justify any judicial initiative.”

In the end, much surrounding the death of Alfredo Monteverde remained a mystery. The report commissioned by Regina and Rosy did almost nothing to clear up the unanswered questions surrounding Alfredo’s death, even though all the investigations completed by police, medical examiners, and ballistics experts were submitted to an independent medical examiner for what was to be a grand reassessment.

“Although the initial police report conducted by a competent officer states that there were two bullets fired, there was only one bullet found,” writes Alexandrino Silva Ramos Filho, the medical examiner hired by Regina and Rosy’s husband to analyze the police and autopsy reports, months after the fact. “Only one bullet fired from a firearm was observed at the scene, lodged in the mattress where the victim was lying.” He went further to note that “it left a circular wound with a dark deposit (gunpowder) that had all the characteristics of the entry of a bullet at short distance. On the dorsal [part of the victim], in the left dorsal region next to the line of the vertebrae, a wound was found with irregular borders that characterized the exit of the bullet.”

Finally, Silva Ramos Filho closed his own report with the following observation: “[I]t is extremely rare in a process of auto-elimination that two bullets should be fired into the same orifice of entry. Given the above, we also conclude that in this case we are dealing with a process of auto-elimination.”

But why was the first officer who entered the master bedroom on Rua Icatu so certain that two bullets had been fired into the body? “On or about three o’clock in the afternoonhe locked himself in his bedroomand committed suicide with two shots to his chest on the left sidewith both of the two shots entering the same orifice and exiting in different directions.”

The police officer went on to write, “I put away the revolver, the two spent cartridges, the four bullets left in the chamber and the bullet that came out of his back.”

Presumably, the second bullet must have stayed in Alfredo’s body, but it wasn’t noted in any of the autopsy reports. Where was the second bullet? Unfortunately, this important disparity, which could have changed the course of the Monteverde family history, was never properly investigated.

“Our conclusions, based on the information we have, is that there was in fact a suicide,” wrote the lawyers.

But Regina refused to accept the conclusions. She would spend the rest of her life trying to prove that her son was murdered, and trying to recoup Globex, which had started out as a family business, financed by the Grunberg-Monteverde fortune.

Regina, who was unaware of Alfredo’s 1966 will until its contents were revealed after his death, wanted to know why he had not made his sister Rosy a beneficiary, as well as Rosy’s daughter Christina, his beloved niece. After all, Globex and Alfredo’s other business interests had all been considered family enterprises, controlled by Alfredo, Regina, and Rosy since their founding in 1946. Maria Consuelo, his closest business associate, who was by his side when he founded the company in 1946, was also surprised her boss had not included her in his will.

“I was completely shocked,” she admitted shortly before her own death nearly four decades later.

Could Alfredo, known for his goodwill and generosity, have been so ungenerous to his own family in his last will and testament, leaving nearly everything to his most recent wife? Although the will was signed by five witnesses, among them Conrado, Alfredo’s good friend Paulinho, and some of Alfredo’s most trusted associates, there was something not right about it, at least for Alfredo’s closely knit family.

For Regina, Alfredo’s death would dominate the rest of her life, and she would use every available legal means to try to thwart Lily’s efforts to take over her son’s business and inheritance.

For Lily, Alfredo’s death marked the beginning of a new life. Two months shy of her thirty-fifth birthday, she began her transformation into one of the world’s richest and most glamorous women.

“After Fred’s death, she wanted to remake her life,” said her former schoolmate, Ana Bentes Bloch. “And she clearly transformed herself into a major high-society figure.”

Remarkably for someone unschooled in the ways of international finance, Lily acted swiftly and with great efficiency in the hours after Alfredo’s death to secure the Monteverde family fortune.

But the speed and alacrity with which this grieving widow set the next phase of her life in motion surprised even her closest friends. Shortly after Alfredo’s death, Ponto Frio executives canceled the powers of attorney that Rosy and her husband held on Alfredo’s accounts at banks in Switzerland and Lily began making arrangements to leave Brazil.

She was in such a hurry to leave the country that she didn’t bother to pack any of her clothes. When Lily’s friends Marcelo and Klara Steinfeld bought the Icatu house from Lily in January 1973, they found everything intact—her clothes were still hanging in the closets and the family’s furniture was still in place. Everything, except a few valuable paintings, was left at the house on Rua Icatu under the watchful eye of Waldomiro Alves and the Irish wolfhounds. Lily took the four children, moved into a suite of rooms at the Copacabana Palace, and began the mad preparations to settle in London.

At one point, Lily asked Laurinda if she wanted to accompany her to England. Laurinda declined, saying that she needed to remain in Rio to look after her two boys, Ademir and Adilson.

“That’s when I told her about my dream, and the macumba on Seu Alfredo’s shirt,” said Laurinda. “I felt it was important for her to know what might have happened to Seu Alfredo.” Laurinda also told her that a recent tarot card reading had shown her that Lily would end her life as a widow in mourning.

Laurinda thought she was imparting important information to her employer at what must surely have been the most difficult moment of her life. Lily smiled weakly and thanked the housekeeper for her concern. But she wasn’t superstitious, she informed Laurinda. She didn’t believe in dreams, in tarot cards, and certainly not in macumba curses, she told Laurinda.

But Laurinda’s warning—that she would be doomed to wear mourning for the rest of her life—would come back to haunt her.

“I tried to warn her because I saw that she was really suffering, and she just kept losing weight,” said Laurinda. “You could tell that Seu Alfredo’s death had really knocked her out.”

Or pushed her forward. On September 15, less than a month after Alfredo’s death, the grieving widow was on her way to London, where she would move quickly to ensure by every legal means available to her that she was in complete control of the entire Monteverde family fortune.

In England, she executed several brilliant tactical, legal, and investment strategies that would duly catapult her into the exclusive billionaires’ club. There would be other strategies too, of a much more personal kind, all of them engineered by a short Lebanese-Brazilian banker.

Edmond Safra was one of Alfredo’s most trusted bankers, and, after his untimely death, he would become the most important man in his widow’s new life.