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Flordelis do Santos. Photo: EFE.
Flordelis do Santos. Photo: EFE.

Flordelis and the '55': One of Brazil's most talked-about cases could come to an end

The Bolsonarist congresswoman and preacher and nine of her children will be trialed by a popular jury after the crime committed in 2019 against her husband…

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Despite his youth, the evangelical pastor Anderson do Carmo was like an Old Testament patriarch brought into the context of new technologies: he had 57 adopted children, tens of thousands of acolytes, a large fortune and several collections of psalms written, they say, in his own blood. But apparently, his greatest feat was being married to federal deputy and gospel singer Flordelis do Santos, 16 years older than him and who had made the leap to politics after becoming a famed preacher alongside do Carmo and the "happy" adoptive mother of half a hundred street children.

Flordelis had become the most voted woman in the state of Rio de Janeiro with a career that portended in politics as many successes as she had achieved as a gospel singer — even Globo made a documentary about her life — but in the early hours of June 15, 2019 all that apparent "liquid" happiness was to dry up in a matter of hours. 

The couple had returned to their home in Niteroi after visiting friends, when Flordelis went up to her room while do Carmo parked in the garage. Suddenly, a burst of gunfire ripped through the silence of the night and the husband fell riddled with no less than 30 shots, most of them from the waist down. 

The deputy declared that they had tried to rob them and that she "miraculously" saved her life. The newspapers on the day of the murder treated it as a "political attack;" do Carmo was yet another victim of a system of assassinations — and worse. 

The widow herself, emaciated and hiding her eyes under sunglasses, gave a sermon at her husband's wake in which she referred to a prophetic dream that one of her 55 sons had and which, she assured, foretold misfortune: she saw Jesus cutting a rose with a sickle.

"When he told me about it, I told him: 'God is going to take someone from our house. Now there he is, our shepherd,'" she sobbed to the 2,500 funeral attendees. 

A few hours later, Flordelis' biological son, Flávio dos Santos, and his younger brother, Lucas, were arrested and accused of shooting their stepfather to death; the version of the assault given by the deputy remained a dead letter. 

Was she or was she not also implicated in her husband's murder?

Investigators had to question dozens of people — her adopted children and grandchildren — and some of them directly accused Flordelis of being the instigator, as well as confessing that the family relationship was anything but idyllic. 

Two of the couple's children claimed that do Carmo had received death threats and even an execution order. Also that three days before the murder they saw their mother write in a notebook: "We will break Anderson's cell phone and throw it off the Rio-Niteroi bridge."

The phone never turned up. One of his daughters, Marzy, confessed to the police that Anderson suspected that the death threats were coming from someone in his own family and questioned his children one by one. Marzy was implicated in the death of her stepfather; she alleged that he did not give her any more money or let her progress in the Church and, above all, that he had abused one of her underage sisters. And not only that, the daughter had already tried to murder do Carmo before by poisoning her food. 

The case was settled with ten defendants including Flordelis herself, who maintained her innocence to the point of convincing herself that she would never go to prison — "I believe very much in what I sing. And there's a song I released last year that says I know it hurts, but God sees it. God is going to lift you up," she said.

Last May 4, after almost two years of do Carmo's murder, Agência Brasil announced that the politician and her children would be tried by a popular jury.

Flordelis is charged with triple murder, attempted murder, use of false documents and armed criminal association, although by virtue of her parliamentary immunity she remains on probation - an electronic anklet controls all her movements.

Black widow and charitable

Flordelis do Santos de Souza has become an example of a survivor among Brazilian citizens in a country where the rise of evangelism in all spheres of life is unstoppable and a steamroller of religious plurality.

Born in Jacarezinho, in one of Rio's poorest and most dangerous favelas, Flordelis lost her father and a brother in a traffic accident when she was 14 years old. She worked in a bakery and accompanied her mother to church, where she played the guitar and began to emerge as a singer. 

Later, Flordelis married and had children, but when her husband left her, she began preaching in prisons and worked with prostitutes, street kids and drug addicts to help them get out of the pit. She also confronted drug traffickers. 

In 1994, in a fit of maternal love, she adopted 37 child survivors of a massacre in Rio - 14 of them were babies. 

"One early morning I was awakened by a huge noise at the front door. When my husband and I opened the door, we were shocked to see 37 desperate children and adolescents.... That's how my adoption story began. Since then I became the mother of 55 children, 51 of them adopted," the politician used to explain in her interviews when she had already become a much admired and loved celebrity for her philanthropic work. 

Later, when she founded together with do Carmo, the Evangelical Community Ministério Flordelis and the City of Fire Ministry, she seemed to be called to join the pantheon of saints. 

The tragedy has many and very complex edges that are being uncovered and open new questions about the family of "the 55" and the type of relationship they had among them and that culminated with 30 shots in do Carmo's genitals. 

According to a witness of the case, who lived with the family for five years in the 90's, he had the feeling that they were a sect that celebrated rituals with blood and nudity inside the house — others even talk about orgies with their children. 

Whatever the case may be, the truth is that the life of Flordelis do Santos far surpasses the darkest of TV movies.

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