Love Story's Trail Of Tears To Brazil

Raymond Merrill, 56, flew to Brazil in March 2006 in the hopes of marrying Regina Filomena Rachid, who is accused of draining his bank accounts and killing him, allegedly with the help of a hit man and her real boyfriend. AP/Family Of Raymond Merrill

The lonely, divorced carpenter thought he was going to Brazil to make wedding plans.

Instead, say Brazilian authorities, he was drugged and held captive for six days while his fiancee and her real boyfriend emptied his bank accounts. Investigators say they then drove the 56-year-old victim to a vacant lot, where he was strangled with copper wire, doused with fuel, and set on fire.

Authorities found Raymond Merrill's charred body in April.

Now, the woman he believed was his betrothed is under arrest, along with a man suspected of helping to kill him.

"He would talk to me about ideal relationships and pure love," said Merrill's best friend, Bill Rauch. "With age doesn't necessarily come wisdom. He was used to doing things his way and, in the end, it did him in."

For months, his family knew nothing of his horrifying end. It was only after a bungled robbery in Brazil that investigators even learned of Merrill's fate.

Merrill met Regina Filomena Rachid last year through an online dating service. At the time, he was lonely and depressed, having been dumped by a Las Vegas woman for whom he had bought expensive gifts, according to Merrill's best friend.

Merrill and Rachid exchanged dozens of calls, e-mails and photographs, often enlisting Rachid's 18-year-old daughter as a translator. Rachid, 41, said she was from an upper middle class family in the real estate business.

"I thought, 'This is going a little fast,' but I didn't want to sound critical," said Merrill's sister, Marcia Sanchez Loebick.

The warning signs were obvious to Merrill's friend of nearly 30 years. Merrill gave Rachid $10,000 to start a skin care clinic and bought her a $20,000 sport utility vehicle. She complained it wasn't a fancier, more expensive model, Rauch said.

"This from a man who was tightfisted," Rauch said. "Ray and I would go out and I'd have to buy all the beers. All of a sudden, he's lavishing all these gifts and money on a relationship he's not even close to consummating.

"I said, 'Ray, these are so many red flags. I can't believe you're pursuing this,"' Rauch said. "He would just slough it off. He'd say, 'She's just a passionate and emotional Latina.' What do you say to a guy like that?"

Merrill visited Rachid twice in Sao Jose dos Campos, an industrial city about 60 miles from Sao Paulo. Both times he stayed a week longer than planned. Both times he notified Rauch, who then drove to Merrill's home in San Bruno to water the plants and collect the mail. On the third trip, Merrill again overstayed his return, but this time he didn't call Rauch to let him know.

Loebick, who lives in Cleveland, said she sent her brother repeated e-mails warning him that their 86-year-old father was dying, but got no response. She and Rauch's best friend called police in California to report him missing.

What happened to Merrill was more awful than either could have imagined.

Sometime after he arrived on March 21, Rachid and her real boyfriend, Nelson Siqueira Neves, drugged Merrill, kept him in a room in Rachid's house, and drained his bank accounts, stealing about $200,000 in all, according to Merrill's sister and Brazilian authorities.

Then, on April 1 - the day he was scheduled to return to California - they hired Evandro Celso Augusto Ribeiro for $5,600 to help kill him and set fire to the corpse, according to investigators. Authorities found the scorched remains but could not identify the victim, and buried the body in a pauper's grave.

But then Rachid - to raise money to pay off the hit man - took part in the holdup of a black market money changer, and accidentally left her purse behind, investigators say.

The money changer went to police and turned over the purse, which contained Merrill's credit card. Hours later, Rachid showed up at the same police station to report her purse stolen. Police arrested her on the spot. The alleged hit man soon told authorities what happened to Merrill, investigators said.

Rachid and Ribeiro are in custody, charged with armed robbery followed by death.

Police say Rachid's boyfriend was questioned by detectives in early October but was released under a Brazilian law that says no one can be arrested in the days immediately before and after an election. Now he cannot be found.

"I feel a really terrible sense of loss," said Merrill's best friend. "You expect to lose your parents. But you don't expect one of your best friends to die."
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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