The TV Presenter Who Allegedly Killed For Ratings

In October 2009, a famous Brazilian television personality had mysteriously gone missing. Police looked in his usual haunts, searched airports, and set up checkpoints along the major highways throughout the Amazon region, according to the BBC. They were desperately trying to hunt down Wallace Souza, the host of the popular lunchtime TV crime show, Canal Livre. The stories his show featured were so gruesome, puzzling, and bizarre that some of his fans wondered if he had become a victim to one of the murderers his show covered on a daily basis. 

The reality, however, was that Souza was on the run. For days, Souza was in headlines around the world, as police accused him of drug trafficking and of ordering murders — all of it was orchestrated to boost his TV ratings. Yes, you read that correctly. Souza staged fatal crimes so his program could cover them to get more and more viewers. "In truth, they went as far as creating acts," said Thomas Augusto Vasconcelos, intelligence secretary for Amazonas state, as CNN reported at the time. "It's been determined that the crimes were committed in order to generate news for the program."

Wallace Souza used his political career to shield him

Police had suspected for some time that Souza was behind many of the murders, because his reporters would often beat them to the scene. And he nearly got away with it, too. Canal Livre was so popular that it turned Souza into something of a celebrity crusader, and he used that public persona and platform to launch his political career, according to Time. In 1998, he ran for the state legislative assembly, fashioning himself as a defender against kidnappers, traffickers, and murderers. He won that election and another in landslides in 2002 and 2006. That seat gave him parliamentary immunity from prosecution, which gave him cover for the many crimes he committed to fuel his television show.

It all came crashing down for Souza when, amid mounting evidence of massive crimes committed, an ethics committee took away his parliamentary immunity. That decision left him open to prosecution on a number of charges, including murder, drug trafficking, illegal arms, intimidation of witnesses, and formation of a criminal gang. Feeling the heat, Souza fled. On October 9, 2009, Souza surrendered himself. But, before he could be put on trial, the Guardian reported, Souza died of a heart attack in a hospital in São Paulo on July 27, 2010. Two others who were put on trial were found not guilty. Souza's son, Rafael, was sentenced to nine years for homicide.

Netflix is streaming a seven-part 2019 documentary series about Souza, titled Killer Ratings.