William Souza, who for much of his life proudly wore the banner of crimefighter, took blind ambition to a whole new level. Or did he?
In a dogged quest to both trounce his rivals in the TV ratings game, and to drive home the lawlessness of Brazil’s Amazon, he set out as host of "Canal Livre" to beat even the police to murder scenes in the city of Manaus.
Souza explained his seemingly superhero ability to appear on murder scenes and drug busts by saying that his crew had a second-to-none pool of sources who tipped them off to crimes. He also assigned staff, he boasted, to hang around the Manaus morgue so they would learn first about murders.
But his almost superhuman abilities, law enforcement authorities later said, were more ruse than reality. Prosecutors said that Souza was a much more ruthless criminal than the thugs he excoriated.
In 2009, he was accused of ordering murders he then went to cover, and of being a drug kingpin. Souza was accused of organizing the assassination of rival drug lords in order to eliminate the competition and to boost his TV ratings.
A true-crime series, “Killer Ratings,” streaming on Netflix, shows how Souza rose to become a popular TV host, and cultivated his image as “a defender of the people,” in the words of Vanessa Lima, who was director of “Canal Livre.”
The beginning of the end for Souza came when his former bodyguard was arrested for murder and gave up the TV host and his son, Rafael, as the ones who ordered the hits.
The bodyguard’s account, according to the Daily Beast, gained credibility with police because it explained how Souza managed to do the seemingly impossible – know about a crime just as police were finding out about it.
Souza vehemently denied the charges, saying that he was being framed because of his coverage of a mayor, Adail Pinheiro, who had close ties to the governor and was accused of involvement in a child-sex ring. Souza also told the Associated Press in 2009 that drug lords, as well, had a vested interest in seeing him locked up.
"I was the one who organized legislative inquiries into organized crime, the prison system, corruption, drug trafficking by police, and pedophilia," Souza said in an interview with the AP.
Souza's lawyer, Francisco Balieiro, argued that his client’s bodyguard was a dubious witness, a criminal who was willing to make an outlandish claim to secure a deal for being charged in nine murders.
The series, the Daily Beast said, strives to portray both sides – the one that casts Souza as nearly a bigger criminal than the ones he takes on, and the one that portrays him as a victim of revenge by his enemies.
Souza was prosecuted, but before the case could end in court, the TV host died of a heart attack in 2010.
Series director Daniel Bogado said to Deadline: “What I thought I knew about Wallace Souza when I set out, turned out only to be the starting point of this extraordinary story. When I looked deeper, I saw the events that followed were full of the most jaw-dropping turns, twists and shocks which would be deemed too outlandish in a Hollywood script.”