true crime

Wallace Souza hosted a popular true crime show. Police believe he killed people for ratings.

As smoke still rose from a burned body in one of Brazil’s most dangerous cities, a reporter arrived on the scene and began to deliver gruesome details of the crime on air.

The body was of a man, burned alive after being set alight with gasoline, he said.

But these were details impossible to know just from looking at the charred corpse.

Karl Stefanovic investigates Wallace Souza for 60 Minutes. Post continues below video.

Video by Nine

The report gave Brazilian police evidence of what they’d feared: That popular TV host Wallace Souza was setting up murders across the city of Manaus, on the banks of the Amazon river, to report on and bolster ratings.

Souza’s TV show Canal Livre was a weird mix of lightheartedness and gruesome crimes. The program appeared to show Souza and his team following the trail of murder through the city, often arriving at crime scenes before police and airing brutal footage of the victims.

But… was it all orchestrated? 60 Minutes‘ Karl Stefanovic visited Brazil to report on Souza, describing it as ‘one of the strangest’ stories he’s ever told.

wallace souza
Wallace Souza's TV show Canal Livre was the most popular in Manaus. Image: 60 Minutes.

Canal Livre was the most popular show in Manaus, airing for 30 years from 1989 to its demise in 2009. The show's popularity helped elect Souza to public office three times.

Police informant and former military cop, Moa Jorge, told police he was employed by Souza and directed by him to carry out brutal crimes for the benefit of Canal Livre.

Following the report about the burning body, police secured a warrant to search Souza's home, where his son Raphael also lived.

wallace souza
Raphael Souza during his arrest.

In Raphael's room police found almost $200,000 in cash, guns and ammunition which they believed were used in killings across the city.

They also found pieces of paper with the names of drug dealers on it, some who had already been killed. It looked like a hit list.

Raphael was charged with homicide and drug trafficking and in 2009 sentenced to nine years in prison. He served five years for murder and is now a free man.

Souza denied he was involved in any crimes, but there was plenty of evidence stacked against him. Among other things, he denied ever meeting police informant Jorge, though there was photographic evidence of the two together.

wallace souza
Wallace Souza photographed with police informant Moa Jorge. Image: 60 Minutes.

Souza was impeached and in October 2009 ordered to stand trial for murder, drug trafficking, intimidation of witnesses, illegal carrying of arms and formation of a criminal gang.

After an arrest warrant was put out, Souza disappeared sparking a major manhunt. On October 9, 2009, he gave himself up to police but maintained his innocence.

He was held in maximum security jail Compaj but died of a heart attack in 2010, aged 51, before ever standing trial.

Even now, supporters of Souza maintain he was innocent.

Willace Souza was just 14 when his father died.

"I need to prove to the world that my dad was innocent," he told 60 Minutes.

"Who are the crazy people who kill people for ratings? This is insane. I know my dad."

Stefanovic also spoke to Raphael, marking the first time he had ever spoken publicly about the case against his father.

wallace souza
Raphael with his father, Wallace Souza. Image: 60 Minutes.

"We never had the opportunity to present the truth," he said, saying he "never, ever" killed anyone.

"I want to make it clear that I have never taken the life of anyone. I have never been recognised in any crimes. Why? Because I have never killed anyone."

When asked about the damning evidence found in his room, Raphael claimed it was misunderstood.

"I am not a serial killer, a criminal who kills and writes it down... that was me explaining to my lawyer what I was accused of."

Investigative journalist Ana Sena told Stefanovic she had reviewed Souza's case closely. She believed the evidence against him stacked up, but knew that no matter what, Souza's supporters would stand behind him.

"His fans never believe, no matter what you prove," she said.

Ultimately, it was the testimony of former cop Jorge that landed Raphael and his father in prison. On New Year's Day 2017, Jorge was shot and burned alive in his cell in Campaj, during a riot that killed 56 prisoners.

He was, perhaps, the last person who knew the truth about whether Souza had orchestrated murders for ratings or not.

Watch the 60 Minutes investigation on 9Now.

Want to have your voice heard? Plus have the chance to win $100? Take our survey now.