Detective Scott Epperson remembers the Dos Santos case all too well. In his 35 years of service on the Plano Police Department, this tall, silver-haired veteran has touched almost every major Crime Against Persons incident. But for Epperson, a modest, soft-spoken detective known in his department for his cool head, the fate of Kleber and Lilian Dos Santos always felt personal. Even 18 years later, he speaks about the case with compassion.
At the start of 2000, Brazilian immigrant Kleber Dos Santos stepped off the plane at DFW International Airport, anxious to begin his new life in America. After three years of working for the Brazilian operations of Ericsson, the rising young software engineer was transferred to the main Richardson facility. A quick survey of the area led him to an ideal apartment located near the corner of K Avenue and Spring Creek Parkway with an almost straight shot to the Ericsson campus. Burgeoning east Plano was a favorite for new arrivals to the city, even then considered one of the most livable cities in the United States.
Kleber had only one regret about accepting the new position—a forced separation from his beautiful bride, Lilian. The young couple had met as children and dated since high school. They had married only a month before his departure in a Baptist Church in Sao Paulo, Brazil, surrounded by loving relatives and friends. But the opportunity for Kleber to work in the States was too good an opportunity to pass up. While Kleber worked in Plano, Lilian continued her veterinary studies at the University of Sao Paulo, visiting him during breaks in her school schedule; In August 2000, they spent three wonderful weeks together exploring Dallas and the surrounding areas.
During her visits, the young couple made many friends among fellow Brazilian expatriates and at a small church where Kleber played electric guitar during worship services. Everyone knew the young lovers for their devotion to each other and to their faith.
On August 23, 2000, Kleber failed to report to work. A Brazilian neighbor one floor below walked up to the Dos Santos apartment and pushed open the unlocked door. She saw Kleber lying dead in a pool of blood just inside the door. He had been shot. She immediately called the police. A Portuguese interpreter at 911 notified EMS, and medics located Lilian’s body in the couple’s bedroom, naked and tortured. A pillow had been placed over her head and she had been shot.
Soon, the PPD Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) and police detectives, including Mark McClendon and Scott Epperson, had gathered in the parking lot to devise a plan for investigating the grisly scene. Mark McClendon volunteered to take the lead, expecting this crime to be a simple case of murder/suicide; Kleber in a rage taking his wife’s life and then his own. But there was one flaw in that theory: CSI couldn’t find the murder weapon. It wasn’t anywhere near either body; in fact, there wasn’t a gun in the apartment at all. He and the other detectives were shocked. It became clear that PPD was facing a double homicide investigation, a rarity in Plano.
Inside the apartment, detectives found the spent bullet that had struck Kleber against a baseboard in the living room. They later found two matching bullets in the mattress with Lilian, as well as large pools of blood and a trail of blood leading into the bathroom. It didn’t seem like a simple case of robbery. The attack, especially the torture inflicted on Lilian, was so vicious that the detectives suspected a personal motive. Later, the medical examiner would conclude that she had been repeatedly beaten with a rod or belt, her thigh had been sliced open with a sharp object, and someone had dripped hot wax from a burning candle onto sensitive areas of her body.
To protect the evidence, detectives assigned a PPD officer to guard the door while they canvassed the population of the large complex. Neighbors and strangers alike were shocked and horrified by the Dos Santos’ fate. The detectives took the Dos Santos’ front door as evidence and the apartment manager, anxious to cooperate in finding the murderer, furnished the only key to the new door to the detectives. Local businesses were also quick to share any available security footage, but nothing appeared in any of the videos to indicate a likely suspect.
Parents of both victims arrived within a few days, staying long enough to arrange a local funeral for their children. Police met with them several times, enlisting the aid of a local Brazilian leader as interpreter. Detective Epperson remembers the parents as kind, godly people who appreciated every effort made by the police. Although they wanted justice for their children, they were not filled with hate toward their murderer. That human connection between the detectives and the families became a powerful catalyst in the effort to solve the murders of Kleber and Lilian.
For weeks investigators interviewed every known acquaintance of the couple. No one could find a single negative word to say about them. Police even explored the possibility that Kleber and Lilian had somehow become involved with local criminals but could find no evidence that they were anything other than what they seemed—innocent victims of a particularly heinous crime.
As their options dwindled, the detectives used a new management approach borrowed from the FBI. Prior to this crime, PPD had tasked the lead detective with the responsibility to pursue any leads that might solve the case. But this was a new team-based approach, and Detective Charles Marks became a project manager of sorts, delegating specific areas of the investigation to detectives and other employees to maximize their resources. According to Detective Epperson, PPD has used this management approach on almost every major case in the eighteen years since those murders.
Unknown to investigators at the time, Kleber Dos Santos and his murderer had already left behind the two cornerstones upon which the case would eventually be solved. Kleber was very organized and kept boxes of receipts inside his closet, documenting all of his major purchases. Police collected serial numbers from the boxes, including one for a 35mm Canon camera—4046085.
The murderer left an unintentional clue as well. It appeared when the Plano CSI section borrowed an alternative light source device from another police department to use at the murder scene. Today, the Plano CSI team owns its own portable black light, but this technology was relatively new in 2000. The sophisticated sensor detected a spot on the bedroom carpet containing a stranger’s semen, a spot that had been invisible to the human eye.
Today’s DNA databases could have easily found a match, but the DNA databases of 2000 were extremely limited. That clue, although valuable, could not be identified without a matching specimen from the killer.
For weeks, PPD detectives chased thousands of possible leads. Detective Epperson and his partners in the department wanted desperately to solve the crime, if only for the sake of the families left behind. When police ran out of clues, PPD contacted the producers of a TV series, America’s Most Wanted, hoping to generate new clues from the public. The detectives and producers met in early October and filmed an episode with Detective Epperson at the crime scene. The episode aired to a national audience on October 14, 2000. By that time, however, detectives already had a tip that would break the case wide open.
Retailers can now check an online system before buying used property. But in 2000 most stores recorded purchases on handwritten or typed cards that police picked up periodically. Arlington Camera, although not required to do so, had reported the purchase of a used 35mm Canon Rebel camera on October 11. A civilian volunteer at the Arlington Police Department compared the serial number for that merchandise to the National Crime Information Center for stolen items. The number 4046085 matched the still open case, and Arlington PD immediately contacted Detective Marks to tell him that they had found Kleber’s missing camera. A sense of excitement filled the room as Plano detectives gathered to discuss the new development.
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Arlington Camera identified Adam Lay, a convicted thief, as the man who had sold the camera to them. Further investigative work led police to the girlfriend of Adam Lay, who had sold a Robinson steel guitar at a Buckner Boulevard pawn shop, and to the sale of matching wedding rings by a young Hispanic man named Michael Adam Sigala on August 30 at another Dallas pawn store.
22-year-old Michael had been living in a drug abuse treatment center in Wilmer, Texas, some 35 miles to the south, but disappeared after being released for the day to look for employment. In the economic boom of 2000, employers were screaming for willing workers at weekly job fairs. But Michael was not interested in earning a paycheck. He had other methods in mind for easy cash.
Michael was familiar with Plano. He attended PISD schools until age 14 before being banned for bringing a gun on campus. His arrest record for theft, robbery, burglary, and drug possession reached back into his early teens, but he had never served prison time. He was, at the time, serving a ten-year probation for a 1999 robbery conviction.
Converging upon a home address gleaned from a vehicle accident report, surveillance teams concluded that Michael, a known heroin addict, was living with Adam and his girlfriend. He had fled the Wilmer drug rehabilitation center sometime after the Dos Santos murders.
A felony probable cause affidavit issued on October 20, 2000 allowed police to take into custody all three suspects, Adam, his girlfriend and Michael, and a subsequent search warrant permitted DNA samples to be taken. Michael’s sample was a perfect match for the semen found at the scene.
Detectives Epperson and Grisham conducted the interrogation of Michael in the early morning hours following his arrest.
A little after 5 p.m. on August 22, 2000, the day before his body would be discovered, Kleber left work, picked up Lilian, and drove to a Lowe’s Home Improvement store less than two miles away from the apartment.
It was probably there that their paths crossed with Michael Sigala. To this day, no one is sure if Sigala targeted the Dos Santos couple that Tuesday evening as part of a preconceived plan or if his actions were simply a crime of convenience. Perhaps he noticed the playful affection between the young newlyweds or was struck by Lilian’s stunning beauty. Her classic Latina face, framed by long, dark hair and punctuated by deep brown eyes and a brilliant smile, would have been hard to miss.
Using the trail of evidence left behind at the apartment, as well as Sigala’s own statements, police pieced together the events that occured on the evening of August 22 to form a gruesome picture of a senseless, brutal crime.
Although the terms of his probation forbade Michael from owning a gun, he nevertheless had acquired a 9mm handgun. As he watched the young Brazilian couple leave the store at around 7 p.m., Sigala carefully followed them back to the complex and up the stairs to their third-floor apartment. He waited until Kleber had unlocked the door and put their bags down before attacking the defenseless couple. Sigala fired one shot into the apartment, hitting the head of the 28-year old engineer. Kleber fell instantly to the floor of the entryway. Blood evidence suggests that Sigala then dragged his victim’s body inside and closed the door behind him, cutting off any chance of escape for Lilian.
Whether in shock from having seen her husband so violently murdered, or perhaps hoping that someone had heard the shot and was calling police, Lilian complied with Sigala’s demands. She removed most of her blood-soaked clothing and left them in a pile in the living room floor. Sigala herded her into the bathroom and watched as she removed the rest of her clothing and washed her husband’s blood from her body. At his command, she laid on the bed naked as he bound her hands and neck with lightweight telephone cords.
He tortured Lilian without mercy until he spewed a stream of semen on the carpet beside the bed. Several hours after killing Kleber, Sigala ended Lilian’s horrific suffering by covering her face with a pillow and shooting her twice in the head. But instead of immediately leaving the apartment, he lingered for several more hours. Perhaps he expected police to arrive soon, adding to the excitement of executing two innocent people.
Sigala helped himself to some food and watched television. Eventually he began to rifle the apartment for anything of value he might sell. He first collected the wedding rings from the hands of his victims and gathered other items including a remote-controlled Jeep, a set of walkie-talkies, a black electric guitar and case, and a 35mm Canon Rebel camera. A missing rolling suitcase may have been used to transport the looted items. Then, hoping to erase any DNA evidence, he meticulously wiped every item he had touched and cleaned the wet spot on the carpet next to the bed.
At some point during the evening, Michael considered burning the apartment to further destroy any possible evidence. He drove to a nearby convenience store to purchase a gallon of gasoline, which he planned to carry in a plastic jug. In a providential stroke of fortune for investigators, the clerk refused to sell him fuel, citing that the jug was not an approved container. Sometime after his failure to destroy all evidence, Sigala left the area.
Initially, Sigala admitted to killing Kleber, claiming that he had shot the victim over a dispute involving heroin. Sigala also claimed that a second criminal had assaulted and killed Lilian. Police found no evidence of a second perpetrator, and medical testing ruled out any drug use by the victims. Using the matching DNA evidence along with other evidence they had painstakingly collected, detectives began to prepare a rock-solid case against Michael Sigala.
The trial against the alleged killer opened in October 2001 in the Collin County Courthouse. Assistant district attorney Debby Harrison presented the case against him for the killing of Kleber Dos Santos, and Detective Epperson was an indispensable witness in the proceedings. The trial lasted less than a week, and jurors returned a guilty verdict within two hours. It then fell to the Honorable Curt Henderson to pronounce punishment. The victim profile, Sigala’s long criminal record, and the fact that he was on probation at the time of the murders all played against him. But it was the testimony of his own mother that sealed his fate. Michael had admitted to her that he was a sociopath and held no remorse for the double murders. Judge Henderson ordered him to die by lethal injection based on “evidence of future dangerousness.”
Any criminal sentenced to death in Texas is guaranteed one appeal. Sigala’s attorneys assembled a multi-point brief claiming, among other things, that Sigala had been wrongfully denied a change of venue, that his confession had been forced, that his initial attorney had been ineffective, and that pictures of Lilian (who was not the listed victim in his trial) had created prejudice among jury members. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied each point in January 2004 based on the evidence of the trial. Over the next six years, various other appeals snaked through state and federal courts until at last the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case in late February of 2010. The state of Texas set Sigala’s execution for March 2, 2010.
Detectives Epperson and McClendon met members of the victims’ families that evening at the Walls Unit of the Huntsville State Prison. Michael’s last words both surprised and comforted the family attending the execution. “I would like to ask for forgiveness of the family,” he said. “I have no reason for why I did it. I don’t understand why I did it. I hope that you can live the rest of your lives without hate.”
Following the killer’s death by lethal injection, the family and the detectives joined hands in prayer, thanking God that the ten-year road to justice had come to an end and asking blessings on the Plano Police Department. Jonas and Lizete Santos, parents of Kleber, issued the following statement to the press:
“For many people facing such tragedy, life would be worthless. For us, however, we have faith and we find meaning in an eternal life that our merciful God will provide us. We really believe that we will meet our dear son and daughter-in-law one day in heaven.”
Detective Scott Epperson plans to retire in early 2019 from the Plano Police Department after 36 years of what fellow officers call “unparalleled service” to the community.
We acknowledge with sincere appreciation his contribution to this story along with Detective Luke Grant and Officer David Tilley of the Plano Police Department.
Other resources used:
Plano Star Courier – reporters Bryan Stokes, Oscar Uribe, and Matt Pearce for articles appearing in August and October 2000
David Carson, Associated Press – Execution report of Michael Adam Sigala
America’s Most Wanted episode aired October 14, 2000