Manhunt for escaped con captivates Brazil, terrifies town

It looks like a scene straight out of Hollywood: hundreds of police sweep the countryside looking in vain for an escaped convict, search dogs scampering as helicopters and drones hover overhead.

But the massive manhunt under way for Lazaro Barbosa, a twice-escaped inmate and suspect in a quadruple murder, is all too real for the small Brazilian town of Cocalzinho de Goias.

Barbosa, 32, has become the most-wanted criminal in Brazil since June 9, when a family of four was found hacked to death on the rural outskirts of town.

Since then, his success in evading the more than 300 police deployed to arrest him has transfixed Brazil — and petrified Cocalzinho, which sits about a two-hour drive west of the capital, Brasilia.

“We panic at the slightest noise. We’re terrified,” said resident Aurizenia Batista da Silva.

“Some people say he’s the devil incarnate.”

Barbosa’s wanted picture has only fueled the fear. A slender man with a pencil-thin goatee and a shock of black hair cascading over his forehead, he glares menacingly at the camera.

A native of the northeastern state of Bahia, his back story has only fueled his movie villain image.

Jailed in 2011 for robbery and rape, he escaped in 2016, then was recaptured in 2018 — only to escape again, from a prison in the nearby city of Aguas Lindas.

Since the family of four was found murdered, stories of harrowing encounters with the “Serial Killer of Brasilia” abound: he has purportedly robbed, shot at and attempted to kidnap residents while on the run.

The manhunt has also bared underlying tensions in the town.

Tata Ngunzetala, who practices the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble, says police have raided around a dozen houses of worship in the area searching for Barbosa.

“More than 40 officers jumped the wall, pointed their rifles at me, and took my phone and computer to search them, without a warrant,” he told AFP.

“They accuse us of hiding Lazaro. But our traditions have nothing to do with criminal acts. It’s hateful and racist to attack us like that.”

Goias state authorities say their objective is simply “to recapture this criminal and restore peace to the town.”

Close Bitnami banner