Fugitive Kept Low Profile in Quiet Brazilian Beach Town
People in this placid surfing town knew him as Miguel, the young gringo who lived with his Brazilian girlfriend and jogged on the beach with his two pit bulls.
He seemed to drink a lot, kept to himself and spoke hardly a word in his American-accented Portuguese.
When he did, neighbors said, it was often in a domestic quarrel or, once, in a drunken spat with customers in the bar across the street from the small beach house he shared with his girlfriend.
“He always had his head down.... He never said anything,” said Walma Lindberg da Silva, who lived next door. “I told my husband I thought there was something wrong about him.”
But that vague unease did not prepare Da Silva for the news on her television Thursday: “Miguel” was actually Jesse James Hollywood, a fugitive and alleged drug dealer from the United States accused of kidnapping and killing 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz in a crime that made headlines five years ago.
Despite being one of California’s most wanted men, Hollywood was able to elude an international manhunt in this town near Rio de Janeiro. He told people that he worked as an English tutor, but Brazilian authorities said he actually received $1,200 monthly checks from his parents in California -- enough to live a comfortable life.
Using an Interpol warrant, Brazilian authorities arrested Hollywood, 25, on Tuesday at a shopping center just after he and his girlfriend sat down at an outdoor table. As he was led away in handcuffs, witnesses said his girlfriend cried: “My son! My son! I have a son with him!”
Reached by a reporter Thursday at their home, the woman declined to comment.
“I’m not feeling well. I’m pregnant,” she said, only the top of her face visible from behind the locked wooden gates of the house on Avenida Oceanica.
Brazilian officials said American investigators had warned them of Hollywood’s presence in the country in 2002, after monitoring phone calls from his parents.
After the arrest, the Brazilian officials determined that Hollywood’s identification papers were fakes and turned him over to United States authorities. No formal extradition was necessary, because Hollywood was deemed an immigration violator, investigators said. Although he has refused to cooperate with authorities and has denied his identity, FBI Agent Richard Garcia said U.S. officials had used fingerprints to establish that he was Hollywood.
He landed at Los Angeles International Airport early Thursday morning and was being held in Santa Barbara County Jail on charges of kidnapping, conspiracy and murder.
Not-Guilty Plea Seen
Hollywood’s attorney, James E. Blatt of Encino, said his client would plead not guilty to all the charges today in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
The fugitive’s capture comes five years after he and four friends, who police described as a band of drug dealers operating in the western San Fernando Valley, allegedly kidnapped and later killed Nicholas because the boy’s half brother hadn’t repaid a drug debt.
Though the accomplices were quickly captured, Hollywood remained on the run despite a $50,000 reward and segments about him on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted.” Detectives followed up leads in Colorado, Canada and Mexico, but were unable to find him. Authorities now believe that he had been hiding in various parts of South America for four years.
Authorities said he first entered that country with a fake Canadian passport, landing in Rio, where he stayed for a time, making pocket money by passing out fliers for a local bar. Brazilian authorities said Hollywood used forged identity papers with the name of Michael Costa Giroux.
In mid-2002, the FBI sent photographs and video footage of Hollywood, according to Wanderley Martins, an agent in the Brazilian federal police. Acting on a tip, officers tried to nab Hollywood at Rio’s Sao Bento Monastery, but the lead turned out to be false.
The FBI monitored phone conversations with Hollywood’s parents. Those calls indicated that he had moved to an area outside Rio called the Region of the Lakes, a string of lake- and seaside resort towns popular with vacationing Brazilians, investigators said.
Eventually, he settled in Saquarema’s Itauna Beach neighborhood and maintained a low profile. About the biggest events there are surfing tournaments on the sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean, waters so well-known for exciting waves that real-time surf conditions are posted online.
Perhaps because of its resemblance to the Southern California coast, perhaps because of the anonymity it afforded -- or both -- Hollywood had lived in Saquarema about a year, in a slightly rundown, one-story house 20 paces from the beach.
He was “more than quiet,” said a neighbor, who declined to give his name. “He’d sit there [in a bar] with a beer, alone, not saying anything.” At most, he would exchange a curt “Bom dia” or “Boa tarde.”
His life in Saquarema, however, was not completely solitary. Da Silva said the couple occasionally hosted raucous barbecues that were attended by out-of-town guests who would stay for a while, then leave. Another regular caller was the overnight-mail courier, who brought a package to Hollywood every two weeks.
About noon Tuesday, Hollywood was at the Lakes Shopping Center, a two-story outdoor mall across from a state police station. Shopkeepers and witnesses said he and his girlfriend bought a pastry from a snack shop, then sat at a table outside the Chopp em Pe bar. Almost immediately, officers swooped down, handcuffed him and led him away.
Authorities said they had only recently become aware of his specific whereabouts. But they did not say why they chose to arrest him Tuesday.
Under Brazilian law, extradition is extremely difficult to secure for the parent of a child with Brazilian nationality. Fathering a Brazilian child helped spare Ronald Biggs, a member of the gang that carried out Britain’s notorious Great Train Robbery in 1963, from being returned to his native land for decades.
“Many criminals use this ploy in order not to be extradited,” Martins said.
Neither the FBI nor Brazilian authorities provided details about Hollywood’s relationship with his family during his years as a fugitive. Nor did local authorities say whether they planned to charge the parents for sending checks to him. But the same day he was taken into custody, Santa Barbara County authorities arrested his father, John Michael “Jack” Hollywood, 50, at his Sherman Oaks home on suspicion of manufacturing GHB, a date-rape drug. Los Angeles County prosecutors rejected the case Thursday, saying that John Hollywood had the ingredients for GHB and a recipe, but that there was no evidence he had made it. But he remains in custody on a 2002 arrest warrant from Pima County, Ariz., in a marijuana case.
Associates described Jesse Hollywood as a capable and popular athlete at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills and Calabasas High School, despite his 5-foot, 4-inch frame. But after an injury, he turned to dealing marijuana and became a charismatic leader of a network of disaffected high school students and young gangsters, authorities said.
By the time he was 19, he had purchased a West Hills home for $205,000, paying a $41,000 deposit in cash. Neighbors recalled Hollywood’s two pit bulls in the backyard, his black Mercedes in the driveway, his tank-topped buddies in the frontyard and a constant caravan of expensive cars carrying visitors to the three-bedroom stucco house at all times of the night and day.
Drug Debt at Issue
Hollywood’s confrontation with Nicholas in 2000 stemmed from a dispute with the youth’s older half brother, Benjamin, also a small-time drug dealer and a rival of Hollywood’s.
Hollywood allegedly insisted that the elder brother owed him $1,200 for marijuana, and Benjamin smashed a window after a dispute with Hollywood.
Hollywood was on his way to retaliate when he saw Nicholas walking on Ingomar Street in West Hills.
The group beat Nicholas, shoved him into a van and drove to Santa Barbara. They held Nicholas there for two days, shuttling him around various friends’ homes, parties and marijuana-laced kickback sessions.
On Aug. 8, Hollywood’s friends allegedly bound and gagged Nicholas, took him to Lizards Mouth campground, shot him nine times and left him in a shallow grave. A hiker found the boy’s decomposing body a few days later.
Authorities have said they believe that Hollywood was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and murder but did not pull the trigger. The four accomplices are serving time in prison or the California Youth Authority. Ryan Hoyt, who was convicted of firing the fatal shots, was sentenced to death.
At a news conference Thursday in Santa Barbara at which authorities announced the arrest, Nicholas’ parents said they hoped that Hollywood’s capture would help them deal with their loss.
“From the moment that Nick was taken from us, our lives have been totally destroyed,” Susan Markowitz said. “We have been in a state of constant shock ... of constant questions. Today, those questions have been answered.”
Chu reported from Saquarema and Moore from Santa Barbara. Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Greg Krikorian and Jean Guccione in Los Angeles contributed to this report.