Article Thumbnail

Congresswoman, Gospel Singer, Murder Suspect: The Wild Story of Flordelis

This is the three-decade story of evangelical grift, psalms written in blood and a Brazilian politician who seemingly can’t be arrested

It was just past midnight in Copacabana, and even after 21 years of marriage, Flordelis and Anderson do Carmo were still smitten with each other. The couple strolled on the boardwalk, dug their toes into the sand, kissed like teenagers and fucked on the hood of their Honda Accord

At 58, Flordelis, still had it. She looked into the eyes of her strapping, 42-year-old adopted son and husband — yes, the same person — and asked him, “Love, tomorrow we’ll wake up early, right?” Despite their feverishness, Flordelis and do Carmo had an entire congregation of evangelical supporters to appease, while her role as a federal deputy — a position much like a congresswoman in America — had doubled her workload.

At 2 a.m., the couple crossed the Guanabara Bay bridge headed from Rio de Janeiro to Niterói, the next city over and their place of residence. That’s when Flordelis alleges two angry men on a motorcycle started to tail their car. Do Carmo, who was driving, sped up and swung into their driveway. But when he and Flordelis attempted to get inside their home, do Carmo was shot 30 times — most notably around his penis; he was later pronounced dead. Flordelis, on the other hand, was spared as the robbers ransacked their house

Aside from the occasional stomachache, the side effects of unknowingly ingesting arsenic, do Carmo had been in the prime of his life. The Brazilian evangelical pastor had a sizable fortune, tens of thousands of holy followers, 57 adopted children, alleged orgies with his daughters and a collection of Psalms written in blood. Technically speaking, Anderson do Carmo was his own father, his own son and a vehicle for the Holy Spirit. 

Come the next morning, The Rio Times headline would read: “Husband of Brazilian Federal Deputy Assassinated.” With an unfeeling lamentation, the story added, “The targeting of politicians and those close to them is nothing new in the state of Rio de Janeiro, which has seen an uptick in the number of officeholders and associates that have been gunned down over the last several years.” Much like Councilwoman Marielle Franco, who died just the year before, and the mid-level officials whose bodies were routinely dumped in the streets within Rio’s northern zones, do Carmo was just another victim of a fraught political system plagued by years of scandal.

Or so everyone thought.

But one year after the assassination, homicide detectives would reveal that they believe do Carmo’s murder was a carefully orchestrated plot carried out by Flordelis and her children. 

The Part Where the Villains Are Introduced

Like icons Cher, Prince and Elmo, Flordelis goes by only one name. Born in Jacarezinho, the third-largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Flordelis began her career as an evangelical missionary for misguided youth trapped within the sociopolitics of favela poverty. According to Dutch scholar Martijn Oosterbaan’s Transmitting the Spirit: Religious Conversion, Media and Urban Violence in Brazil, a book published two years shy of do Carmo’s murder, Flordelis presented herself as a mediator between religious scripts, the power of the Holy Spirit and gang negotiations (a picture she somewhat incessantly paints). 

On one notable occasion, Flordelis alleges she addressed the chief tráfico of Jacarezinho to fight for the life of a young man named Marcos. Marcos, who had broken some unnamed rule, was to be murdered, but per Oosterbaan’s book, Flordelis ensured that Marcos would never be seen again, and if he were, she would die in his stead. She described her mission as a single woman’s quest to save children from comandos  —  a move that would eventually elevate her to Brazilian superstardom.

As a mother of three biological children from various failed relationships, Flordelis had a motherly sensibility coupled with an insatiable habit of illegally adopting vulnerable children to “save them.” According to police, by 1992, seven children, including four “adopted” ones, resided in her home. 

Fast-forward a few years and Flordelis was a bona-fide missionary preaching from a converted storefront within Jacarezinho. At one of her regular services, she and her biological daughter Simone  —  a particularly stunning raven-haired young woman  —  met do Carmo. Teenage romance bloomed between him and Simone, and soon thereafter, he was welcomed into the fold as the fifth adoptive child, which — again, yes — means he was technically dating his sister.

Between one and seven years later, depending on whom you ask, do Carmo dropped Simone and shacked up with Flordelis (aka his adoptive mother). This relationship soon led to wedding bells and de Carmo’s new role as husband and step-father to his ex-girlfriend. Despite this peculiarity, de Carmo emerged as an evangelical darling within Jacarezinho. In fact, by 2003, his sermons had elevated the Ministry of Flordelis to a larger audience, transforming the once quaint parish into the church’s next iteration: The City of Fire.

As initially explained within Rio de Janeiro’s media, by taking on the church’s business side, do Carmo freed up emotional and mental space for Flordelis to continue her mission, which included allegedly “adopting” an additional 50 at-risk children, bringing the overall total of adoptees to 56, inclusive of one child groom. Brazilians were spellbound, and the news of the favela saviors enveloped the media. At this time, the evangelical movement was exploding there, and these two saints were the perfect vehicle for the ideological tidal wave. 

The Part Where Brazil’s Metamorphosis Sets the Stage

Just 15 hours after his murder and through a waterfall of tears and snot, Flordelis delivered an Oscar-worthy eulogy for do Carmo from behind gigantic sunglasses. She demanded justice and professed her undying love for him. 

After 30 years of nonstop violence within Jacarezinho and Rio de Janeiro, Flordelis was exhausted. Her husband, she asserted, was murdered by savages, and now was the time to double down on the right-wing fascism that had hitched itself to the evangelical movement — a partnership she enthusiastically endorsed. Brazil needed to be tougher on crime and uphold strict family values; it was time to be anti-establishment, despite her being the establishment. She and her family were being targeted by the ungodly. They were victims, and her fifty-something children were now missing their father. Flordelis said anything she could to whip the 2,500 supporters at the funeral into a frenzy. Then she sang

Brazil has historically been a deeply Catholic country. In 1980, evangelicals made up a mere 6.6 percent of the population, but combined with a right-ward shift in politics, the evangelical population skyrocketed to 22.2 percent by 2010  —  a near majority, 45 percent converted from Catholicism. Pew found “the percentage of Brazilians ages 15-29 who identify as Catholic has dropped 29 percentage points since 1970, and the share of Catholics in Brazil’s urban population has fallen 28 points.” At the current pace, Catholics are projected to become the religious minority by 2030. 

At the same time, the population of the country’s cities started to swell. Case in point: In 1970, 56 percent of the Brazilian population lived in urban centers; today, that number is 84 percent. The country’s rapid urbanization overwhelmed city centers, and shantytowns — meant initially as temporary housing — flourished and settled into permanent fixtures. This hasn’t pleased any of the many political regimes over that time. 

When a newly democratic Brazil emerged in the early 1980s, one of the top priorities was eradicating “the favela problem.” As Thomas E. Skidmore explains in Brazil: Five Centuries of Change, “By the time eradication efforts ceased, Rio’s poorest citizens had experienced a significant assault on their basic human rights. Punished for their poverty, favelados living in remote poorly maintained housing compounds came to typify the marginal population that the government had painted them to be in order to justify the removal of their communities.”

Like most wars against the poor, by stripping away opportunity, the worst stereotypes came to fruition. By the late 1980s and 1990s, according to Brazil: Five Centuries of Change, “levels of violence skyrocketed to the point where Brazil [was] often considered the world’s most violent nation, not in a state of war.” To that end, by 1994, a time associated with Flordelis’ burgeoning career as a gang negotiator, “Rio’s homicide rate was about seven times higher than the nation’s rate in 1979, during the military regime.”

It was a national crisis, and in response, the almost exclusively Catholic government-imposed oppressive policing with total impunity. Skidmore points out that the “high rates of police brutality and homicide statistics [has] led scholars to conclude that Brazil is home to only a nominal democracy.” And within Rio, many citizens believed that they were “living in the crossfire of a constant battle between competing drug factions and the punitive state police.”

All the while, though, evangelicals were concentrating a grassroots effort within persecuted, impoverished, and subsequently, uneducated communities with a distinct detachment from politics. The community slogan was “Believers don’t mess with politics,” a sentiment that bloomed within rough-and-tumble neighborhoods. To vulnerable favelados, if the government was getting you down, the evangelists were there to pick you back up. 

C.H. Gardiner, a Brazilian crime and conflict journalist with bylines in The Rio Times, tells me that setting up evangelical churches “was a franchise mindset” and “evangelism was so successful [because] the pastors were brought up in favelas.” Pastors drew upon their roots and local connections and created sales tactics that weaponized poverty and societal purview. The pastors preached that evangelists were the “others,” just like favelados because they were favelados, and together this pairing was a match made in heaven. 

Each favela is obviously different, and as such, each congregation has to have a local base and an edge that identifies with the peccadillos of particular community identities. Jacarezinho, for instance, is one of the only favelas that allows the selling and purchasing of crack cocaine. Per Gardiner, at the entrance of Jacarezinho, which was home to The City of Fire, there’s a crack marketplace just to the left. Flordelis and do Carmo’s locality — and their history of productive, platonic relations with drug commandos — played an essential part in their success and kept “outsider” parishes from successfully setting up shop.

Not surprisingly, evangelical churches are an ample business opportunity, and evangelist leaders preached ideas that were easy to monetize. As Chayenne Polimedio of The Atlantic wrote in 2018, “By 2003, [evangelicals] emphasis on faith and acts of sacrifice (particularly through dízimo) as the path to material wealth, was one of the main reasons why Brazilians joined [evangelical] churches.” As the acting head of the ministry and the family, do Carmo instituted a dízimo system that required his church-goers to donate 10 percent of every paycheck to The City of Fire. In the next predictable move, he then stashed this money away in liquid assets where allegedly no one, not even Flordelis, had access. 

The Part Where Things Get Weird

Two months after Flordelis delivered her infamous eulogy, detectives sat in a police station watching as Jim and Jane, a pseudonymous former adoptee and parishioner respectively, wrote affidavits that would collectively blow their minds. The second iteration of children — i.e., the 50 adopted after do Carmo and Flordelis were married — were allegedly used as sex slaves, living in squalor and succumbing to beatings amongst a host of other, in the absence of undue eloquence, completely crazy shit. According to reports gathered through the Homicide Police in Niterói, São Gonçalo, Itaboraí and Maricágiven, the following details allegedly encompassed life within the home of do Carmo and Flordelis:

  • Much like Scientology, once you ascended to a certain rank, you’d learn that Flordelis was a cherub named Queturiene. You’d also be given an angel name; for instance, do Carmo was Daniel or Niel.
  • Certain rituals were asked of the children, including writing Psalms with their blood and having sex with visiting foreign Pentecostal pastors.
  • To move in, you had to live in isolation for seven days dressed in white and have sex with Flordelis at the end of the week.
  • Whoever Flordelis told you to have sex with, you had sex with.
  • Food was kept padlocked in a refrigerator, and you earned non-rotten food as you ascended through the ranks.
  • Last but not least, there were general Black Magic rituals, including ones where do Carmo pretended to be sacrificed while laying naked within chalk circles.

The affidavits also assert that the relationship between Simone, Flordelis and do Carmo was unusual. A City of Fire member swore to police that the three of them were seen coming out of bedrooms in towels, and do Carmo, Flordelis and Simone were often seen at swingers clubs in Barra da Tijuca, within the West Zone of Rio. Coincidentally, on the night of the murder, traffic scanners photographed Flordelis and do Carmo’s Honda a mere 500 meters from the swingers club in question. 

When the media picked up this information, Flordelis was livid. On Instagram Live, the parliamentarian cited the follower by her first name and warned of repercussions. Her exact words: “There has to be a little video [that] I’m drunk, drunk, loaded. Because if you don’t, my love, you’re going to have to pay me for moral damages. You have money, right? Start cleaning! You have money, right? Sell ​​everything you have in your home. You have money, right? You will have to pay me for moral damages. Come get me Hebe.”

Historically speaking, these types of diversions had worked wonders for Flordelis. “When she makes denials, [she’s] making them for her followers, and the way [she] wants to appear to [her] followers is, ‘I’m being attacked, and this is impossible,’” Gardiner explains.

Rumors had plagued The City of Fire for years. Still, parishioners and the Brazilian public — especially the growing loyalist evangelical sect — adored do Carmo and Flordelis. “Within evangelical churches, there’s gossip that goes on, but you can never tell what’s true or not,” Gardiner says. And so, for years, loyalists deemed the rumors as Fake News and a specious attack on the religious ideology of the two icons. 

After all, to much of Brazil, Flordelis stood for all that was good since the early 1990s. And after a decade of national reverence, her followers were disinclined to relent on their loyalty nor integrate conflicting information. This sentiment is deeply ingrained within the evangelical community writ large, especially in times of hardship, which the Brazilian public has faced in mass since the global recession of the mid-2000s.

The Part Where Brazil Goes Broke and Flordelis Becomes A Politician

The 2008 recession and collapse of the global commodities market hit Brazil hard, and the left behind were forgotten entirely. Crime skyrocketed to the point that the government was forced to implement complex policing structures through something it called Pacification Police Units, or UPP, in 2009. The UPP was a brilliant sociological policing theory. First, police units would give ample public warning for gangs to relocate, and those who stayed were welcome to turn in weapons without repercussion. Second, the UPP would set up stations within favelas and become permanent fixtures. And lastly, a bevy of social programs, from sanitation to libraries, would be introduced to these communities. The early success was nearly magical. “People looked at the statistics, and it was like we were the Messiah,” Robson Rodrigues, the former commander of the UPP, told The Globe and Mail, but as could be predicted, things soon fell apart.

Steeped in totalitarianism, police didn’t take the time to train recruits to pacification theory adequately, and the government, reeling from a loss of income from the global economic crisis, had little money to follow through with their promises. Per The Globe and Mail’s Latin Bureau Chief, social programs “arrived only in fits and starts or not at all. Some clinics and roads were built. Community centers were opened. But then, no staff was hired. Garbage collection was erratic, [and] sanitation hook-ups never came at all.” The favelados lost hope just as quickly as they’d gained it, and gangs started to move back into the territories.

Downtrodden, Brazilians became further enamored with do Carmo, Flordelis and their 56 wayward youth;  they were taking control where the government had failed. Even when authorities investigated Flordelis as the kidnapper — not the adoptive mother — of her children, Brazilians pooh-poohed the state in favor of this “saintly” Christian woman.

Around this time, the movie Flordelis  —  Changing the World was released to Brazilian audiences. The film shows Flordelis escaping police and social services, which are persecuting her as a kidnapper, and becoming homeless so that she can retain guardianship of her children, before she’s gifted a house to legitimize her “adoptions” and evade prosecution. Despite horrendous reviews, the critics hardly mattered to the cast or Flordelis. Brazil’s top talent was more than game to be involved;  in fact, they were so ecstatic, they refused to be paid for their work. Moreover, the studio announced that “all proceeds of the film would be used in the construction of a rehabilitation center… and to purchase a home for Flordelis.” 

Then, in 2014, Operation Carwash hit Brazil. The Atlantic reports investigations “uncovered a massive corruption scheme involving [the petroleum company] Petrobras, politicians and construction companies, in which billions of dollars were siphoned off from public coffers” and into politicians and corporate pockets. In response, violence surged. In the most expensive neighborhood of Rio, shootouts between gangs and police escalated, a teenage girl was publicly raped by 30 men and competing drug factions went no-holds-barred. In 2016, the UPP was abandoned, and favelados were essentially told, “Figure it out yourselves.” 

In such an environment, Flordelis, a former liaison between God and drug commandos, was the perfect federal deputy candidate for the 2018 elections. Her defiance of the state, grassroots activities to decrease crime (no matter their actual effect) and overall name recognition fueled her landslide victory. Once the votes were counted, Flordelis received the most votes of any woman in Rio.

Yet, a year later, do Carmo had the audacity to request a divorce — a request Flordelis refused to grant. In text messages obtained by the police, she wrote to one of her sons, “I can’t divorce him because I would scandalize the name of God.” The divorce would also bring forth damning financial issues. If do Carmo followed through with the split, he’d take half of the couple’s financial earnings, which only he could access and calculate. This would leave do Carmo with whatever he deemed was half and Flordelis with whatever was left. To her, this was utterly unacceptable.

And so, the original adoptees began their takedown of do Carmo. First, Simone attempted to assassinate him with a bout of arsenic poisoning, but ended up poisoning the other children instead (none would die). (This flop was merely one of six poisonings they would attempt.) Undeterred, according to phone records, Flordelis next personally orchestrated the attack to shoot de Carmo upon his arrival home and stage the attack as a robbery. 

On June 16, 2019, the plan and subsequent murder was successful, and do Carmo died from his penis getting blown off by one of his sons.

The Part Where Flordelis Gets Caught… Kind Of

Sympathetic followers praised Flordelis’ strength through the murderous ordeal, and within a year, through a pandemic and a host of other 2020 tragedies, everyone moved on. But then the Flordelis family’s phone records surfaced. These communications allowed Allan Duarte, head of the Homicide Division, to conclude, “It was not a simple family, but an intra-family criminal organization.” After the foiled arsenic poisonings, Duarte noted, Flordelis devised a “criminal plan, financed the purchase of the weapon, convinced people to commit this crime [and] warned about the victim’s arrival at the scene.” Duarte later added, “It is obvious to us, there is no doubt, that she was the intellectual author [and] great head of this crime.”

Warrants were drafted, and police began to plan a predawn raid, aptly named Operation Luke 12, a reference to the following biblical verse: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” The subsequent raid resulted in the arrest of five of Flordelis’ children and one grandchild for conspiracy and murder, including the son/gunman who admitted to shooting do Carmo six times. 

Flordelis, however, was left out of the arrests due to parliamentary immunity. As a sitting federal deputy, she enjoys foro privilegiado,  which consists of almost total legal immunity for members of Congress. Sitting federal representatives are exclusively tried by the Brazilian Supreme Court; one of the most overloaded judicial systems in the world, approximately 33 percent of all claims against federal deputies get dismissed after extending past the statute of limitations. Not to mention, as Gardiner points out, “It’s in their favor to act in benefit to politicians.” 

Which brings us to today.

Operation Luke 12 took place last summer, and Flordelis remains a free woman. The extent of her prosecution has been an ankle monitor, a decision she appealed in court but was recently upheld (she earned it for trying to pin the murder on one of her children via a forged letter). The lifting of parliamentary immunity is currently working through bureaucratic and constitutional hoops, but has been complicated by, like everything else, COVID, as the Brazilian Congress is now out of session due to the pandemic. But even if they were in session, her fellow politicians are sure to be hesitant to draft a resolution that could impede their own future immunity. 

Meanwhile, in January, Simone tearily confessed to hiring her adoptive sister to hire her adoptive brother to murder do Carmo. According to Simone, do Carmo’s habit of masturbating at the end of her bed forced her hand. She remains adamant that her mother was “blind in love.” 

To pass the time, Flordelis has taken to YouTube. In a nearly seven-minute video titled “The Other Side of the Story,  Flordelis Presents Evidence and Facts Not Disclosed by the Media,” she teases an upcoming series for her YouTube channel, saying, “Are you on the fence? Was it, or wasn’t it? Is it, or isn’t it? Come to the channel, which will post news [about the case].”

Her flock is already growing, with 315,000 followers and counting.