As the World Cup Turns, Brazil Has a Soccer-Murder Case

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Luiza Garcia / Reuters

Flamengo's Bruno Souza (C) is escorted by police as he arrives at a police station in Rio de Janeiro July 7, 2010. Bruno, the goalkeeper of Brazil's most popular soccer team, surrendered to police probing the disappearance and possible murder of his ex-girlfriend.

Brazilian goalkeeper Bruno never went to the World Cup this summer but he wouldn't have looked out of place if he had. The captain of Flamengo, the Rio club that claims 33 million fans the length and breadth of this soccer-crazy country, Bruno led his team to the Brazilian championship last year and was highly rated between the sticks.

But now the big goalie faces a more serious and more profound challenge than he ever faced on the field — and a potentially greater disgrace than the national team players whose capitulation to Holland last week led to Brazil's early exit from a tournament they were favorites to win. Bruno is a suspect in the disappearance and apparent murder of Eliza Samudio, 25, a former porn actress with whom he started a relationship after reportedly meeting at an orgy and who later bore his son.

Samudio has been missing for a month and police say they have at least one witness who claims he was involved in the plot to kidnap her, kill her and then hand over their child to someone else. Blood found in Bruno's Range Rover, police say, belonged to Samudio. The soccer star, who gave himself up to the police on Wednesday, denies all wrongdoing.

In graphic detail, they described how Bruno and his friends allegedly took Elisa to his ranch outside his home city of Belo Horizonte, beat her up and then strangled her. Bruno "is a monster for what he did to this young woman," Edson Moreira, the homicide investigator in charge of the case, told reporters. "It was a pre-medidated, planned and coldly executed crime. Now, we can conclude the following: That Eliza is dead and the evidence indirectly proves it."

Police say they have known of Bruno's alleged reputation for violence ever since Samudio formally complained about her lover last October. She accused the 6 ft. 4, 176 lb keeper of forcing her to drink a cocktail of drugs that she said was meant to cause her to abort their baby. In taped testimony, she said his friends got her into a car and then gave her some "hard slaps" while he put a gun to her head and warned he would kill her and dispose of her body so no one would ever find a trace. "If you go to the police, I will kill you, kill your family and kill your friends because I know every one of them," Samudio recalled in the recording. "I was afraid. He was really crazy."

For Bruno, it is an unfortunate turn in a rags-to-riches story. Abandoned as a child, he was cared for by his grandmother. He left school before reaching his teens and worked loading trucks at market stalls, but the strapping lad had a talent for football and he was soon playing professionally. He made his debut for local team Atletico Mineiro in 2004 but was impressive enough that he soon caught the attention of the Corinthians, at that point Brazil's national champion. However, his stint there was short; after missing training and making disparaging comments about the club he was released after just three weeks. He moved to Flamengo, where he made captain and led the team to the league title last year.

Bruno is not the only footballer to face controversy lately in Brazil. Adriano, the striker who played with him at Flamengo, appeared in photographs recently holding what looks like a machine gun and making gang signs. Wagner Love, another Flamengo player, was recently hauled in by police after alleged drug traffickers carrying bazookas and machine guns accompanied him to a disco in a Rio favela. Bruno himself told the newsmagazine Veja in a short interview that he met Samudio at an "orgy" with other players. "These parties are common in our world, " he said.

Where Bruno sits now, there are no parties. While the rest of the world waits anxiously for Sunday's World Cup final between Spain and Holland, Bruno can only look forward to hearing police press formal charges. As a player he rose quickly to the top. The fall appears to be even more dramatic.