On May 19, 2012, Elize Matsunaga shot her millionaire husband Marcos Matsunaga in the head, chopped up his body, packed his dismembered body into garbage bags, placed those into suitcases, wheeled those suitcases into the elevator of their apartment building, and drove them to a wooded area outside of São Paulo to dispose of them. When his body was discovered a week later, the gruesome crime shocked Brazil and the world, making headlines for years as the case unfolded. In Netflix’s docuseries Elize Matsunaga: Once Upon a Crime, Elize Matsunaga tells her story in her own words.
Elize Matsunaga, who was 38 at the time, returned home from a trip to visit her aunt on May 19, 2012. While she was away, she had hired a private investigator to follow her husband Marcos and collect evidence that he was cheating on her. As she explains in the documentary, she confronted him about the affair, which had previously been a problem in their marriage, while they ate pizza that evening. The argument escalated, and according to Elize, he threatened to take their daughter, to place Elize in a psychiatric institution, and slapped her before she went to retrieve one of the couple’s hunting guns.
Although she had initially reported him missing, Elize confessed to his murder a few weeks later, in early June. CCTV footage, as seen in the series, shows Marcos entering the apartment with the pizza earlier that evening, but never leaving again. The cameras also captured Elize hauling multiple suitcases into the elevator and downstairs, but returning later empty-handed.
Elize Matsunaga spent four years in prison before her extremely high-profile trial began in May 2016. At trial, her defense team argued that she killed Marcos in self-defense, and that it was a crime of passion due to his infidelity. The prosecution argued the killing was premeditated, as it occurred just days before General Mills was to purchase Marcos’ family’s food company Yoki—a deal that would greatly enrich the already ultra-wealthy businessman. Netflix’s documentary, which features interviews with close friends, family, lawyers, and medical examiners, scrutinizes the couple’s history and the details of the case.
On December 5, 2016, the jury found Elize Matsunaga guilty of acting in self-defense. She was sentenced to 19 years and 11 months in prison for the murder, destruction, and concealment of her husband’s corpse. The sentence was later recalculated to 18 years and nine months based on work Elize did while in prison. In 2019, it was reduced to 16 years and three months since she confessed to the crime.
Today, she remains in prison, allowed out for one week at a time periodically—during one of which she was interviewed for Elize Matsunaga: Once Upon a Crime. She is serving her sentence at the Tremembé Women’s Penitentiary in São Paulo, and will be released in 2035.
Elize and Marcos’ daughter, who was only one year-old when her mother killed her father, remains in the care of Marcos’ parents, who have full custody of her. She will be about 24 years-old when Elize is released from prison.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
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