Fisherman confesses to killing missing couple on Amazon, takes police to bodies, police say

“We would have no way of getting there quickly without the confession,” Torres said of the location where police recovered the human remains Wednesday after being taken there by Pelado.

Torres said the remains should be identified within days and, if confirmed as the missing men, “they will be returned to the families of the two.”

“We found the bodies three kilometers (almost two miles) in the woods,” the investigator said, adding that the officers traveled for about an hour and forty minutes by boat on a river and another 25 in the woods to reach the burial place.

Pelado’s family had previously said they had denied any allegations and claimed that the police had tortured him to try to get a confession.

Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas State Police, said the missing men’s boat had not yet been found, but police knew the area where it would be hidden from those involved in the crime.

“They put sacks of earth on the boat so that it would sink,” he said. The boat’s engine was removed, according to investigators.

The press conference at the Brazilian Federal Police headquarters in Manaus also included military leaders, who joined the effort to find Phillips and Pereira just days after their disappearance was reported.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of indigenous journalists and experts, has drawn criticism that the government has not been involved quickly enough. On Wednesday, he criticized Phillips in an interview, saying without proof that he didn’t like the locals in the area where he disappeared and that he should have been more careful in the region.

Efforts to find the two were initiated by the indigenous peoples of the region. UNIVAJA, an association of indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley, mourned the loss of “two partners” in a statement Wednesday, adding that they only had help and protection from local police.

When federal police announced they would hold a press conference, Pereira’s colleagues called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the agency.

Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance to the indigenous territory of the Javari Valley, which borders Peru and Colombia. That area has been the scene of violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.

Developments began Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they had not identified at the time on the river to search teams looking for Phillips and Pereira.

An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the city closest to the search area, saw police take the suspect, who was hooded.

On Tuesday, police said they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and brother of Pelado, who the police had already called the main suspect.

Police investigators said Wednesday that de Oliveira had not confessed to any involvement in the crime, but added they had evidence against him.

The natives who were with Pereira and Phillips said Pelado brandished them a rifle the day before the couple disappeared.

The official search teams concentrated their efforts on a spot on the Itaquai River where volunteers from the indigenous group Matis found a boat cover used by the missing men on Saturday.

Authorities began patrolling the area and on Sunday they discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater. Police said that evening they identified the items as personal belongings of both missing men, including a health card and Pereira’s clothes. The backpack was said to belong to Phillips.

British journalist Dom Phillips has been missing for more than 10 days.Joao Laet / AP file

Police had previously reported finding traces of blood in Pelado’s boat. Officers also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river that was sent for analysis.

Authorities said a main line in the police investigation into the disappearance pointed to an international network paying poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second largest indigenous territory.

Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the federal indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, has taken part in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, fishing gear is usually seized or destroyed, while fishermen are fined and held briefly. Only indigenous people can legally fish in their territories.

“The reason for the crime is a personal feud over fisheries inspection,” the mayor of Atalaia do Norte Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without providing further details.

While some policemen, the mayor and others in the region link the disappearances of the two to the “fish mafia,” the federal police have not ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.

Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he couldn’t discuss the details of the investigation.

“We are working with several lines of investigation,” he said.

After the news of the recovery of the human remains, Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said that the find “puts an end to the anguish of not knowing where Dom and Bruno are”.

“Now we can take them home and greet them with love,” Sampaio said in a statement. “Today we also begin our search for justice”.