In December 2009, the Szczepanik family went missing from their home in Omaha, Nebraska. Jacqueline and Vanderlei, originally from Brazil, had been living in Nebraska for five years. They both worked as missionaries and lived at the Christian Community Center in South Omaha.
In 2009 the Szczepanik’s were renovating an old school in the hope of turning it into a church center. One day, the family appeared to vanish without a trace leaving their belongings at the Community Center. Sometime later their two cars were found abandoned in the city.
Police now believe that Vanderlei got into an argument over wages with three men he had hired to help renovate the school. Ringleader Jose Oliviera-Coutinho, along with Valdeir Goncalves-Santos and Elias Lourenco-Batista, beat Vanderlei to death.
The three then hanged Vanderlei’s wife Jacqueline and their 7-year-old son Christoper before dumping the bodies in the Missouri River.
The bodies of Vanderlei and his wife Jacqueline were never found, but in 2011 Christopher was found washed up on the Iowa side of the river. DNA tests were performed to determine his true identity.
The dispute allegedly stemmed from an incident that involved Oliviera being fired but then rehired on a cheaper wage. Oliviera’s rage festered until he decided to kill his former friend and boss. After the murders, the three men ran up thousands of dollars worth of debt on the family’s credit cards.
Goncalves-Santos turned state’s witness at the close of his own trial and cooperated against Oliveira. He received a 20-year sentence. The third worker, Lourenco-Batista, was deported before charges could be brought against; efforts to have him extradited have so far failed.
Prosecutor John Alagaban said of Oliveira that he essentially “tried to make an entire family disappear.” He was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to the murders.
Watch the details of this disturbing case on Winter’s Nightmare at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.