Murder on the 34th Floor

Down an alley that splinters off Congress Street in downtown Newark—in the heart of the city’s Portuguese community—two women in black fur coats and black stilettos walked under a wrought-iron sign that read, “Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Fatima.” It is, like many churches, named for the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal. During the hectic hours of Saturday afternoon, the parish was surrounded by news crews, onlookers and vans saddled with oversize satellite dishes.

The local Portuguese community was joined by more than 50 mourners who had flown in from Portugal for Castro’s funeral. Among them were a number of beauty-pageant contestants, who knew Castro from his involvement in the Miss Portugal America pageant at the Taj Mahal.

The wide nave of the white-washed Catholic church was crowded with visitors. Photographers and journalists lined the outer aisles, hovering under the stained-glass stations of the cross.

Two of Castro’s four sisters, Fernanda and Maria Castro, were present for the mass. They were escorted down the aisle with Ms. Pires, the close friend whose fateful encounter with Mr. Seabra in the InterContinental lobby led to the discovery of the deceased. The three women embraced. As they descended the aisle, their arms linked, all three softly cried.

The alter was decorated with bouquets of yellow and white roses, and pots of yellow poinsettia were set around the apse. Monsignor Joao Antao assumed the pulpit cloaked in a bright purple robe.

One sister warily stepped forward. She bowed her head to regain composure, and replaced her sunglasses with wire-rim reading glasses. During her eulogy, her voice crackled under the strain of tears.

Photographers and videographers flanked the alter snapping frantically throughout the mass. “You have all the major networks in Portugal broadcasting live at this time,” Clarise Frias, a friend of Castro’s, whispered to The Observer in the back of the crowded church.

During communion, the priest had to ask one squatting photographer to move off the altar so that he could take his chair to read the rites.

Mr. Pires, the newspaper editor and the ex-husband of Ms. Pires, had not seen Castro for five years before his death. He stood at the end of the first pew with his camera, acting as both mourner and journalist.

At the front of the aisle, a small table was draped with a crocheted white doily and displayed a framed photograph of Castro. Next to it was a small urn containing his ashes. As his sisters and Ms. Pires took the urn and turned to walk down the aisle, a burst of applause erupted and followed them out of the church.

“We lost a great man,” said Ms. Pires on the sidewalk in front of the church. “He was a great heart, a man from the community. He touched tons of people’s hearts. We lost a good friend.”

Ms. Pires’ daughter, Monica, told The Observer that she was unable to discuss anything about the day of the crime, on orders of the district attorney’s office.

“No one knows why he did what he did,” said Mr. Pires of Mr. Seabra. “That’s the reason why everyone is here, because everyone thinks it was so tragic a crime.”

“I knew him very well,” said Francisco Saldana, a manager at Cablevision and a Newark native who had worked with Castro for almost 20 years on the Miss Portugal America pageants. “Sometimes you’re working up to 18 hours a day. He was a very hard worker, very passionate about what he did. I was the director, and he was the producer, choreographer, creator; it was a pageant, so he had to work with the young ladies to teach them what to do, and he was very knowledgeable about that.

“When I read about it in the paper, I was shocked, I was really going crazy. I was calling all my friends to find out if they knew anything more about it. It’s very sad what happened. It’s a great loss to the community. He was a gem. I just hope justice gets served.”

Outside, after the mass ended, two stubbled fashionistos, male-model types in Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, immediately lit up cigarettes. They didn’t exchange a word between themselves, or with anyone else.

Luis Nascimento, who stood near the sisters’ black limousine, explained that his wife and mother-in-law, Monica and Wanda Pires, had been friends with Castro for 35 years. “I don’t think nobody deserves to go out that way,” he spat in a Portuguese accent that betrayed a stint in Jersey.

Mena and Jose Leandro, a Portuguese couple who live in Newark, also knew Castro from the pageants he produced. “I think he was jealous.” Mr. Leandro speculated of Mr. Seabra. “Something strange happened because apparently he was a nice guy, the boy, and Carlos was a nice man. I don’t know what happened. He tried to be famous with Castro, he thought Castro could make him a model.”

Mrs. Leandro shook her head. “It’s very, very, very sad the way things happen,” she said. “I listen to the things on TV about Seabra, and everyone says the guy is very nice-he goes to church, he exercises nice, he models nice-everything nice. Nothing like this had happened before. But in five minutes, you change your life, my friend.”

After just a few minutes of dodging some of the swooping cameras, the Castro sisters ducked into a black limousine. They were on their way to spread their brother’s ashes in Times Square.

“That’s a place that he loved,” Mr. Nascimento told The Observer just before the limo sped toward Manhattan. “What he said is, if he ever passed away, he would want his ashes in Times Square.”

Castro got his wish. Castro’s sisters and friend Claudio Montez arrived around dusk at 43rd Street and Broadway, where they unwrapp
ed the urn, and the three took turns pouring Castro’s remains through a grate into the New York City sewer system, the lights of the Hard Rock Cafe marquee glowing behind them.

Just a block away were the 36 black-marble stories of the InterContinental Hotel, where in Room 3416, Castro’s life was lost in a murderous frenzy.

“It makes things worse than how they are,” Mr. Nascimento said. “But that’s the place he liked to stay.”

cmalle@observer.com, nfreeman@observer.com

Murder on the 34th Floor