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Detail of the Castelinho da Rua Apa.

Castelinho da Rua Apa: The Brazil’s Little Castle of Horror

In 2015, work began on Castelinho da Rua Apa, or Little Castle of Apa Street, to restore it to its original grandeur. This house originally resembled a medieval French castle, but due to years of negligence, it fell into disrepair. Despite its architectural beauty, very few are aware of its horrific past.

The dos Reis Family During Happy Times

In the early 1900s, Sao Paulo was an up-and-coming town in Brazil. Many were flocking to this city to establish residency after amassing a fortune for themselves from industries such as coffee, cocoa, and sugar. The community of new wealth settled in a prominent area of Sao Paulo near the area known as Apa Street. Although Dr. Virgilio Cezar dos Reis amassed his fortune in a non-traditional industry – cinema – he still wanted to join the class of wealthy Brazilians who were lured to this side of town for its wealth and prominence. Cinema was a recent technology, but Dr. dos Reis believed that it would be the wave of the future. As a result, he joined the prominent classes on Apa street and built one of the most lavish mansions in the town.

An old photo of the ‘Little Castle of Apa Street.’

An old photo of the ‘Little Castle of Apa Street.’ (O Castelinho da Rua Apa )

With the wealth he accumulated from the cinema house, Dr. dos Reis had a fabulous home built for his wife Maria and his two sons, Alvaro and Armando. Dr. dos Reis was very fond of French architecture, and this was the inspiration for the family home. He contracted architects directly from France to start work on building his home in 1912, and within five years, the house was a dazzling structure in the city of Sao Paulo.

The structure was just as magical as the films that he showed in Dr. dos Reis cinemas. He spared no expense on his dream home. The original building was a beautiful combination of old and new architecture with circular turrets on the exterior and the interior floors made of marble that was imported from India. The furniture and carpets were also some of the finest in the world. The dos Reis family couldn’t be happier, and it appears that they had the ideal family life within their perfect family home. At least this is the way it seemed from the outside.

The ‘Little Castle of Apa Street’ in 1933.

The ‘Little Castle of Apa Street’ in 1933. (O Castelinho da Rua Apa )

A Real Life Brazilian Tragedy

No Greek drama could compare to the devastating tragedy that would plague this “happy” family. No one knew it, but there was tension brewing in the dos Reis family between the two sons. Alvaro, who had slowly made his climb as a professional ice-skater, was becoming quite the popular brother in the family. Armando, the younger brother, wasn’t as out-going as his elder brother and it was his conscious choice to avoid the limelight. This drastic difference in personalities may have been the source of tension between the brothers for many years. The depth of this friction between the two of them would play out in 1937.

In March, the patriarch of the family, Dr. dos Reis passed away suddenly. It is unclear, but he may not have left instructions on what to do with the family business in the event of his passing. This became the source of a brutal tug-o-war between his sons. Alvaro was passionate about ice-skating and wanted to take the cinema and convert it into an ice-skating rink. Armando, the more practical and traditional of the two, insisted that the cinema remain their family business - considering it was the industry that allowed them to amass their fortune in the first place.

The dos Reis family.

The dos Reis family. ( São Paulo Antiga )

Their mother Maria sided with Armando, which infuriated Alvaro. This bitter and impassioned tug-o-war lasted for about two months after their father’s passing, and on May 12 after an evening of arguing about what to do about the business, all members of the family faced a tragic end. The housekeeper, Elza Lengfelder, was in her living quarters of the house when she heard the commotion. She went to alert the security guard and upon them entering, they found all three of the remaining family members dead on the floor. 

A horrible event took place at the Little Castle of Apa street and over the years it fell into disrepair.

A horrible event took place at the Little Castle of Apa street and over the years it fell into disrepair. (Monica Kaneko/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

A Murder-Suicide or an Outside Killer?

Until this day, there is no definitive answer to the question of whether this was a murder-suicide or not.  This is because the investigation that was done after the deaths was botched and the sensationalism surrounding the case was hyped by the media. The coroners believed that Armando was likely the shooter because he was the one with gun residue on his hand. They thought that once he killed the others, he then killed himself. Although Armando was believed to be the killer, investigators believed that the position of the bodies on the floor seemed staged and began to suspect that there was someone else present in the murder that was never identified. Another clue that the murder scene was staged was the fact that the bullets found in the victims did not match. Despite the apparent flaws in the investigation, the case was closed and ruled a murder-suicide. 

Castelinho da Rua Apa in Modern Times

After the murders, the property was turned over to the government. The building was abandoned for over 80 years before the restoration process began in 2015. Little Castle had become a dumping ground and a drug house, but a woman by the name of Maria Eulina had a vision for the place. During the 1980s, she was homeless and often stared at the remarkable building that laid in ruin. Once she got her life back on track in the 1990s, one of the first things she did was to file a request to declare the building a historical landmark. As she awaited the decision, she decided to make a portion of the building a Mother’s Club to help women like herself to get on their feet after falling victim to drug addiction, homelessness, or other social ills. It took nearly a decade for her to get this building declared a historical landmark, but in 2004 she finally realized the dream for the little abandoned castle. Once it was declared a historical landmark, the city worked to raise funds to restore it. Little Castle, whose restoration was completed in April 2017, now operates as a social assistance business, providing help to the homeless and chemical dependents in Sao Paulo.

Detail of the Castelinho da Rua Apa. (y.naomi/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

Top Image: Detail of the Castelinho da Rua Apa. Source: y.naomi/ CC BY SA 2.0

By ML Childs

References

Mohallem, A. (2015) “How a Homeless Woman Rescued a Brazilian Murder Castle.” https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-a-homeless-woman-rescued-a-brazilian-murder-castle

Grey, O. (2016) “Blood in Brazil’s Little Castle of Apa Street.” https://the-line-up.com/castelinho-da-rua-apa

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