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In 1968, 14-year-old Pedro Rodrigues Filho was living with his grandfather in the countryside of Brazil. His father, a violent alcoholic and his mother lived and worked in Sāo Paulo, and for the most part, the young boy had to fend for himself.
A petty argument with a cousin, left little Pedro bitter, stewing as he plotted his revenge. As soon as the boys were alone, grinding sugar cane on his grandfather’s property, Pedrinho decided it was time for payback. He pushed his cousin into the cane press, but only one arm went in. The cousin was stuck, his arm mutilated. Pedrinho decided that there was no turning back and used a machete to dismember his still-conscious cousin, feeding each limb into the sugar cane press.
The incident was deemed to have been a terrible accident. But for Pedrinho, it was the first of many murders. Before he was finally brought to justice, he had the blood of more than 70 people on his hands. According to him, he only killed bad and corrupt people. He was an ethical vigilante on a mission to cleanse Brazil of rapists, drug dealers, wife beaters and killers. While he was on the run from police, he earned himself the nickname: Pedrinho Matador – Little Pedro the Killer.
Pedro Rodrigues Filho was born on the 30th of October 1954, in Minas Gerais, in the southeast of Brazil. Before he came into the world, he had already been exposed to violence, as his father Pedro was an abusive drunk who often beat up his mother, Emanuela. During on particular argument, when Pedro’s mother was pregnant with him, his father kicked her in the stomach. As a result of that kick, Pedrinho had been left with an indentation to his skull. His grandmother, who served as a midwife when his mother was in labour, immediately noticed the damage to the infant’s skull.
The Rodrigues Filho family lived in Alfenas; Santa Rita do Sapucaí. Their Taipa-style house was made of wood and clay and they did not have a lot of money. Growing up in an abusive household, would have a dark impact on Pedrinho’s entire life. He described his father as being two different people: when he drank, he became violent to his wife. It started with verbal abuse that escalated to physical aggression, sometimes using knives or sticks when assaulting her. Pedrinho recalled that his mother was not always able to defend herself or hide, which resulted in serious injuries.
However, when his father was sober, he was a different person altogether. He was generous, honest, and hard-working. He was the breadwinner, and the pressure to provide for his family was his to bear. Of course, this was how things were back in the day: the responsibility of the household fell on the wife and the sole income came from the husband. The mutual resentment that came with this, often resulted in domestic violence. For Pedrinho, his father had within him an angel and a devil, and alcohol would unleash the latter. His mother was tall and strong, and Pedrinho believed that her physical attributes saved her time and time again.
Perpetual family problems and the hostile environment at home, forced Pedrinho to grow up fast. He was the eldest of seven children and felt responsible for his younger siblings. From a young age he helped his mother with chores around the house and made sure the younger kids were looked after when his dad erupted in a rage. Still, Pedrinho considered his childhood to be a happy one. He claimed that it was because he was poor, that he valued the little things in life. And because his home-life was tumultuous, he treasured special moments.
At the age of seven, Pedrinho did not only start school, but he also joined the workforce. As the oldest son, it was his responsibility to take an after-school job to supplement his dad’s low income. Fortunately, for Pedrinho, this meant working with his grandfather Joaquim. The young boy admired his paternal grandfather who worked at a local butcher during the week, in the slaughterhouse. On weekends, Joaquim also worked as a distiller.
Pedrinho’s grandfather was more of a father to him than his own dad and Pedrinho secretly felt that he was the favourite grandchild. Joaquim made his grandson feel competent and worthy of respect. It was Joaquim who taught Pedrinho skills like swimming, hunting, harvesting, handling a knife and how to slaughter animals. From a young age Pedrinho knew how to butcher an ox and cut it open from bone to bone.
Pedrinho had many friends and often skipped school, by jumping over a wall and going swimming in a nearby dam. And that was the young boy’s life: school, hanging out with his friends, working with his grandfather, and going to church with his mother on Sundays. Although Pedrinho didn't like church or understood religion, he would go with Emanuela because she was very religious. He always fell asleep during mass.
The scar he had on his head always caused him some uneasiness, and when his grandfather told him about how he had gotten it, Pedrinho was disgusted. He knew, of course, of his father’s abuse, but learning that Pedro senior had attacked his mother while she was pregnant, was unforgivable. Joaquim also told the boy a story of his father chasing his mother, who was holding the infant Pedrinho in her arms. Pedro wanted to beat the boy and his mother was trying to protect him. As she ran away, she tripped and dropped Pedrinho in a nest of poisonous snakes. Fortunately, he was unharmed, but in hearing these stories, Pedrinho grew more and more resentful towards his father.
It was perhaps for the best when young Pedrinho ended up living with his grandfather. Pedro got a job working as a night watchman at a public school in São Paulo. Pedro and Emanuela moved to the city, hoping for a fresh start.
In the care of his grandfather, Pedrinho's life took a dark turn. He was 14 years old when a distant cousin punched him after Pedrinho had taken his horse for a ride without permission. Still dizzy after the punch, Pedrinho swore vengeance. He looked his cousin in the eye and said:
“I’m going to kill you.”
His cousin laughed and mocked him saying that little Pedrinho was weak and didn't have the courage to do anything to him.
Pedrinho went home, stewing about the humiliation he had suffered. Two days later, the cousins were left alone to grind sugarcane for his grandfather’s distillery. Pedrinho bided his time while he was scraping cane, and when the opportunity presented itself, pushed his cousin into the cane press. The problem was that the teen’s body didn't go all the way in. His cousin was left with his arm stuck inside the machine and did not have the strength to pull himself out. Pedrinho felt that it would be wrong to allow his cousin to survive and stepped into action. He grabbed his knife and proceeded to hack at him, cutting off his limbs. It was a bloody scene and a brutal, painful death. But in Pedrinho’s view, it was practical, the only way he could get the body to pass through the press.
When his grandfather learnt what had happened, he did not punish Pedrinho. The villagers informed police and, since the boy was only 14 years old, they only kept him in custody for four hours. Their town was a remote place, and accidents happened. Deaths were hardly ever investigated, and in this case, most people believed that it had all been a terrible accident.
Pedrinho’s grandfather simply signed a piece of paper saying that he would supervise him and the matter was settled. Unfortunately, Pedrinho had tasted first blood – and with no consequence, his life of crime began.
After this tragic event, Pedrinho’s father forced him to move to São Paulo, so he could be with his parents. The young teen was roped in to help his father with his night watchman job at a school. It came as a surprise when his father was fired from his job for allegedly stealing school property. Pedrinho knew his dad didn’t do it, because, despite of his many flaws, Pedro was always honest and would never steal.
Either way, the school board was satisfied that Pedro was the one who had taken the items, and he was let go. Unemployed, Pedro was unable to provide for his family. Teenage Pedrinho was also unsuccessful in finding a job and started hunting and fishing. He hunted chimpanzees in the mountains to remove their hide and sold it to fashion manufacturers. Pedrinho did everything in his power to lift his family out of poverty, but his efforts did not pay off. Most of the time they were not even able to put food on the table. One day, Pedrinho came home and saw his whole family downcast because of their living conditions and he decided this was no way to exist.
He went to his grandfather’s house, where he stole a hunting set from his grandfather’s shed. The troop pack contained a hunting knife, a revolver and a rifle, and Pedrinho headed into the mountains where he stayed for a month. He hunted for food and used his time alone to hatch a new plan. The deputy mayor, Santa Rita do Sapucaí, who was responsible for his father’s dismissal lived on a property in the mountains, and Pedrinho stalked him, unseen from the woods.
He bided his time, and one day, at dusk, with Pedrinho lying in wait in the bushes, the mayor’s car drove up to the house. When he got out of the car to open the gate, Pedrinho approached him with a firearm and fired two fatal shots. The man’s son heard the gunshots and came out of the house, armed and ready to help his father, but he was too late. His father was already dead and Pedrinho Rodrigues Filho had disappeared into the woods. Pedrinho would later claim that he could have killed the son, but decided not to, because his issue was with the father alone.
15-year-old Pedrinho continued his solitary existence in the woods for a while, seeing as he was a wanted person down in São Paolo. The deputy mayor’s son was able to identify him to police, but no one could find the teen-killer. Meanwhile, Pedrinho was already planning his next murder: the other guard that worked at the school from which his father, Pedro had been fired. Pedrinho knew he was the actual thief, and felt he had to avenge the wrong that was done to his father.
Four days after killing Santa Rita do Sapucaí, Pedrinho arrived at the school, unseen, and hid in the place where the guard parked his bicycle, a small dark room with some storage. When the guard came back to get the bicycle, Pedrinho pointed his gun at him and forced him to sit on a chair. Afraid, the guard accepted and started babbling, making excuses, pleading for his life. Pedrinho wasn’t interested in whimpering excuses, only a confession. He raised his revolver and said, ‘You destroyed my family’, before shooting him twice. Then he proceeded to douse the man with alcohol and set him on fire.
Pedrinho returned to the woods where he buried his rifle and hunting knife but held on to the revolver. After a couple of days, when he felt the dust had settled, he returned to São Paolo where he went to an old acquaintance of his grandfather’s. He asked the man for a ride to Mogi das Cruzes. The man was hesitant but agreed when Pedrinho offered him his revolver in return for the lift.
Besides the clothes on his back, the revolver was his only possession. Although he had family in Mogi das Cruzes, Pedrinho knew that police would be looking for him. With the help of Maria Aparecida Olympia, who went by the name Botinha, he settled in Volta Fria, on the outskirts of São Paulo. Botinha was the widow of a drug dealer who took pity on the young boy. Pedrinho soon took over her deceased husband’s duties at home and the two eventually became lovers. Pedrinho was still underaged, but no one would dare say anything. However, when a pregnant Botinha was killed by one of her dead husband’s drug dealing associates, Pedrinho was once again left to his own devices.
Pedrinho had a target on his back, because Botinha’s friends felt he knew too much about her husband’s drug business. One day, three gang members invited him to go swimming in the woods. One of the men’s wives had tipped Pedrinho off that it was a trap and they wanted him dead, so when he agreed to go, he was on high alert. As they walked through the woods, Pedrinho said he needed to take a leak. The men waited for him, and he used the opportunity to get the upper hand. He returned, pointing a pistol at them, and demanded to know why they wanted him dead. When they didn’t answer, he opened fire, killing two of the men instantly. The third man was injured but managed to get away and fled to the nearest hospital.
It is from this day on that the police were hunting the young serial killer whose nickname assigned by the courts was Pedrinho Matador or Little Pedro the Killer. Pedrinho tried to remain under the radar, living rough, sleeping in alleys to avoid being caught by the police. However, he didn't want to stop killing, because he felt that he had a clearly defined mission: to put an end to all the trash of people that exist in Brazil, from drug dealers to thieves and mainly, individuals that beat vulnerable people, such as women. It was likely driven by memories of childhood and the hatred he had for his father for beating his mother.
Pedrinho roped in two accomplices who would assist him in a wave of robberies, riots, and drug trafficking. His relationship with narcotics was peculiar: he never used drugs, and he hated drug dealers and wanted to eradicate them. But drug trafficking gave him an income, and he was not going to say no to cash.
The police were aware of the threesome’s movements, and in order to catch them, they created a special police unit that was called the Death Squad, it was a special unit renowned for leaving dead bodies in the wake of their investigation. The motto of the Death Squad was ‘A good thief is a dead thief’ and they were responsible for hundreds of deaths. Their insignia was recognisable anywhere: a skull with two guns and a sword. It was their signature and it was used in order to dissuade criminals from committing crimes. And it worked. Even the most hardened drug dealers decided to lay low when they saw that drawing stamped on the ground.
Pedrinho decided to go to his grandmother's house in Ponte Grande, to evade police. The day he arrived, he asked his grandmother, who was a witch doctor, to perform a ritual for ‘Closing the body’, which consisted of a set of prayers and beliefs that, as a final result, would protect Pedrinho from all evil, including the enemies' bullets. These types of rituals are extremely common throughout South America. After the ceremony, Pedrinho believed he was immortal and that the prayers would protect him.
But Pedrinho did not stay out of trouble for long. When he learnt that his female cousin, a drug dealer, was robbed, he found out who had done her in. Pedrinho met with the guy the following day, and before he could say anything, Pedrinho shot him seven times in the chest.
And so, his murder spree continued. Pedrinho went on killing everyone he thought did not deserve to live – from drug dealers to thieves, he saw himself as a justiceiro (or a rightful punisher) on a mission. He already knew who deserved to live or not, he was the one to read them their final judgment.
At the age of 16, Pedrinho, had already committed 30 murders. He had lost touch with reality and felt people were essentially trash, and he was doing the right thing by culling the bad ones from society. For him, his enemies are not only his personal enemies, but also the enemies of the whole community, and the only way to deal with them, was to kill them. Before each murder, he had a ritual of chewing tobacco and saying a prayer. It was his kind of voodoo protection.
Then the tables turned, and drug dealers who he had crossed, killed his girlfriend, Botinha. They used her blood to write on the wall:
"We are waiting for you, Pedrinho."
Pedrinho was furious: they had gone too far by going after someone he loved so dearly. He learnt who the killer was, when a drug dealer’s wife came to him and told him her husband was the one who had killed Botinha. And in fact, he only killed Botinha to provoke Pedrinho. When Pedrinho urged her to tell him where he could find her husband, the woman eventually told him the drug dealer's brother was getting married and that he would be at the wedding.
Pedrinho and two friends, Gauchinha and Zé Capeta, attended the wedding, and like all the other guests, they drank, had something to eat and mingled with acquaintances. It wasn’t until later on that Pedrinho spotted the drug dealer, walking outside to greet his mother. Pedrinho dropped his glass and walked up to him, shooting at him as he walked closer. He did not only shoot the drug dealer, but also the mother. It was against his normal code to shoot a woman, but in this case, he made an exception. He also decided the other wedding guests had to die – all except for the women and children of course – and opened fire into the crowd.
When he ran out of ammunition, 16 people were wounded, and six deceased. Pedrinho and his friends simply left the wedding and went to a bar. Within days, police’s Death Squad found Gauchinha, and when he wouldn’t give himself up, a shoot-out ensued, killing Gauchinha. Pedrinho and Zé left town when they heard about their friend’s death and headed for the town where Zé’s mother lived. But they did not realise they were being followed.
The two friends stopped off at a lake because Pedrinho wanted to swim. He heard a commotion in the direction where he knew Zé was waiting for him and saw a van with four men walking towards his friend. They shot Zé Capeta, 15 times altogether, and left. When Pedrinho reached his friend’s body, he saw a drawing in the sand: a small skull with two guns and a sword, attributing the murder to the police’s Death Squad.
Pedrinho knew it was a matter of time before police caught up with him too. He was a lone fugitive, with no one left to help him. He roamed the countryside, sleeping in churches and abandoned cars until he decided to return to his mother's hometown. When he arrived, he went straight to a local bar. Police had tipped the owner off that Pedrinho might visit the town and advised him to let them know if he ever saw the teenage serial killer.
Pedrinho was sitting at the bar until he saw four men hurrying down the street, and he instantly knew they were there for him. He finished his drink and went outside, ready for it. It’s not clear who fired the first shot, but a violent shoot-out followed Pedrinho all the way to his mother’s home. His mother, Emanuela, got caught in the crossfire, and was shot twice. Pedrinho was shot five times all over his body: in the legs, arms, and head. Both managed to survive. Pedrinho was in an induced coma in hospital for a month, before he woke up, handcuffed to a hospital bed.
On May 24th, 1973, when he was only 18 years old, the long arm of the law finally caught up with Pedrinho Matador. He was found guilty of multiple crimes such as robbery, drug trafficking, and above all, close to 50 murders. He received a sentence that added up to more than 100 years in prison.
Pedrinho was transferred to the prison centre of Mogi das Cruzes. Brazilian prisons, especially in the 80s, were dangerous and violent. Overcrowding, riots, desperate prison break attempts, homicides, and a high suicide rate, meant that few prisoners ever walked out unscathed. To give you an idea, the homicide rate was 11 in every 100,000 inhabitants.
In the police car escorting Pedrinho to prison, the officers debated about how long a person like Pedrinho would last inside. They had been informed that some inmates wanted to kill him. When Pedrinho arrived at his cell, he comprehended the grim reality of his future: there were no mattresses, no showers, and the cell was small and smelled bad, with blood smears on the walls. For the first time in his life, Pedrinho was scared. The guards weren’t interested in protecting him and various gangs were sharpening their teeth, hoping to be the first to get to him.
However, as rumours about Pedrinho’s extensive criminal experience did the rounds, gangs changed their minds – they began to admire him and felt that by welcoming him into their group could be a strong move. However, Pedrinho had no intention of staying there for a long time, because in the following weeks he had already gotten into fights against other factions and had already killed three people inside the prison. They started by teaching him how to make a shiv with only the aluminium that came in their lunch boxes. Pedrinho had to keep his knife on him 24 hours a day and he felt lonely, things were not like outside prison walls, and he was not able to run into the mountains and hide for months on end. There was no escape.
The only thing that kept him going, was knowing that his family was on the outside, hoping he would be released one day. His mother Emanuela visited him whenever she could, and encouraged him, pleading with him to stay out of trouble. Sadly, his mother would soon be dead. In prison, Pedrinho heard about Emanuela’s death on the news. His father had stabbed her 21 times while she was sleeping. Pedro senior fled their house and police where hunting him. Pedrinho couldn't believe it and resented himself for NOT being there to protect his mother.
Pedrinho was devastated, but there was no way out. All he could do was go about his daily routine in prison. The day after learning about his mother’s death, he went to the yard for exercise. He usually trained with two fellow-inmates, but on that particular day, they did not show up. As it turned out – they managed to escape the night before.
Pedrinho was furious that his two closest friends escaped without including him in their plan. They knew how desperate he had been to get out. Had he not been incarcerated, who knows, perhapshe could have saved his mother. Either way, guards noticed that Pedrinho was angry, and fearing the safety of other prisoners (and possibly themselves), placed him in isolation.
He was permitted to attend his mother’s funeral, however. When he saw her, he couldn't stop crying and his only words were loud and clear, for everyone to hear:
"I'm going to kill you dad, and from now on you are no longer my father, I'm going to eat your heart, I swear".
Pedrinho was quickly back to the prison, in case he found a way to make good on his threats. Pedro senior surrendered to police a couple of days later. In a twist of fate, he was eventually transferred to the same prison where his son lived. Pedrinho was hatching a plan to end his father ‘s life and to avenge his mother. Pedrinho was familiar with the prison and used it to his advantage. One day he claimed he was feeling sick. When a guard came to take him out of his cell to take him to the infirmary, Pedrinho used his shiv to threaten a guard and gain access to his firearm and keys.
To understand the context of a prison like Mogi: prisoners aren’t only violent within the prison walls. They threaten to harm guards and even their families – and more often than not, they make good on those threats. So, if one of the country’s worst serial killers disarm you and takes your keys, you are perhaps better off waiting for a while before raising the alarm. Otherwise you might end up on the wrong side of the gun.
Pedrinho made his way to his father's cell. When his father saw him, he knew why his son was there, and accepted his fate, saying:
“You are right, my son.”
Pedrinho could only imagine what his mother had been through when she was stabbed to death by his father. She had many defensive wounds, and desperately fought for her own life. Pedrinho knew his mother was stabbed 21 times, so he stabbed his father, again and again, counting each blow, until he reached 21. When he was done, he went in for one final, violent stab, cutting open his father’s chest and ripping out his heart. He held it in his hand, felt the last beat and bit off a piece and spat it out – keeping the promise he made as his mother’s funeral.
Pedrinho was taken into solitary confinement from where he was later transferred to another prison, with even worse conditions, the chaotic, 9,000-inmate Carandiru detention house.
Police records of the night he killed his father were non-existent, so the only account of the murder is from Pedrinho’s memory. There is proof of his father entering the prison, however, the murder was never reported. Perhaps Pedrinho’s version was a bit on the dramatic side, but the fact that he killed his father to avenge his mother’s murder seems to be undisputed.
In an interview, Pedrinho stated that he always did the right thing, and the interviewer asked:
“So then, is the act of killing good?”
To which he replied:
“As a criminal, killing only bad people is a good thing, if I killed everyone ‘just because’ I would be dead long time ago. The name «Pedrinho» wouldn’t mean anything, someone would kill me in prison if I wasn’t good, like many did”.
In prison, he tattooed himself all over. One particular section is interesting… It is a scorpion covering the phrase: Mato por prazer, which translates to: I kill for pleasure. Inside prison walls, Pedrinho killed no less than 40 fellow inmates. During one transfer, he killed another prisoner who was in the back of a prison van with him. When guards opened the door and discovered the carnage, Pedrinho simply shrugged it off, justifying killing the man with his bare hands by saying he did it, because the man was a rapist. His original prison sentence of 126 years was increased to 400 years over time, as his list of murder victims grew.
Pedrinho spent a lot of time under psychiatric observation, and proudly admitted later on in life that he never took any of the medication they gave him. He claimed that in 19 years on the psych wing, always pretended to take the meds, but he never actually ingested ANY pills.
Pedrinho is a diagnosed psychopath. On record, he speaks about his murders, laughing about inappropriate situations, especially in the about the most gruesome details of the murders he committed. Psychological reports note that he had some kind of internal code of ethics. According to Pedrinho, he only killed bad people, never the kind-hearted or selfless, women or children. He never displayed any remorse for killing between 70 and 100 people – the exact number is unknown – and he considers himself to be an avenger. Many people admired his ethos, and in a crime-ridden country like Brazil, some saw him as a vigilante, a protector of women and children, a saviour of sorts.
After spending 42 years of prison, Pedrinho Rodrigues Filho was released, and today, he is a free man. He has his own podcast, gives interviews, and assisted author Pablo Do Nascimento Silva when he wrote Pedrinho’s biography and even promised a second volume. In the book, Pedrinho’s storytelling talents are evident, but that does cast some doubt over the facts of his personal history. For instance, he relays three different versions of how he learnt about his mother’s murder. Either way, the book offers a good glimpse inside a serial killer’s mind. Perhaps different versions of the facts, the self-justification and the frank, almost joyous retelling of his crimes makes one understand the chaotic inner dialogue of this career killer.
Pedrinho claims to be a man of God now and swears that he will only kill again in self-defence. On a YouTube Channel called Pedrinho ex-Matador, he can be seen, wearing jeans and a T-shirt with sneakers, playing soccer with kids on the street, or talking about religion, getting a haircut… He is a celebrity of sorts, making the most of his notorious past to keep himself relevant today.
Ironically, prison gave this vigilante killer the perfect hunting grounds: he claimed that he only killed rapists, murderers and drug dealers. He killed almost as many people in prison as he did on the outside. He claimed that he has hung up his machete for good and that he would never teach his nephews and nieces the art of killing. One can definitely have sympathy for an impoverished boy from an abusive home. Pedrinho was exposed to violence, even before he was born, but does that justify perpetuating the brutality for as long as he did? He committed his first murder at the age of 14, then killed his own father and ate his heart – was it all in the spirit of vengeance, or was it for power? To prove once and for all that he was NOT little Pedro, but an undeniable force to be reckoned with?
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