March 30, 2014 9:07 am
Updated: April 1, 2014 9:58 am

How a father tracked the ‘Black Widow’ following his son’s murder

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FULL STORY: A Father’s Justice

He’s a former Winnipeg lawyer in his mid-seventies, grieving for his murdered son. She’s an eye-catching Puerto Rican blonde in her early thirties, whom the newspapers dubbed the “Black Widow.”

For more than four years, they danced a duet of surveillance and evasion over two continents—the father pursuing the femme fatale, in a tale that rivals anything by Raymond Chandler.

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“We knew where she was all the time,” said the father, Abe Anhang about his son’s widow, Aurea Vazquez-Rijos, alias Beatrice Dominicci. “But we couldn’t touch her.”

So he did the next best thing. He didn’t let her out of his sight. Using the services of a colourful, Milan-based detective known as Farouk, and assorted other informants he won’t name, Anhang tracked the movements of Vazquez-Rijos in Italy and throughout Europe, convinced that the widow was a fugitive in the investigation of the 2005 murder of his son Adam.

He passed on what he learned to the FBI in Puerto Rico, as they built a file on Vazquez-Rijos, the five-foot-two widow who once won a beauty pageant as Miss Puerto Rico Petite.

WATCH BELOW: When Adam Anhang was murdered in Puerto Rico, his father, Abe, suspected there was more to the story. Here, Abe and his wife explain how they kept track of his son’s widow, right up to her arrest last summer.

Vazquez-Rijos, along with her sister Marcia and her sister’s boyfriend, was under indictment for conspiracy to hire the man who killed Adam in a midnight attack on the streets of Old San Juan. But before the indictment came down, she’d moved to Italy.

READ MORE: Father awaits justice in son’s 2005 murder in Puerto Rico

And Anhang and the FBI were powerless against Italian authorities, who have a long history of non-cooperation with U.S. law enforcement.

They were also up against a very smart, very resourceful woman. At one point, Vazquez-Rijos realized that Farouk was following her, so she confronted him and threatened to sue Anhang for stalking.

But the detective, working on a retainer of nearly $1,000 a day, stayed on the job and continued to shadow her–where she ate, the friends she made, where she worked, the aliases she used and when she changed her appearance.

Vazquez-Rijos, he reported back, even felt bold enough to travel throughout Europe, including Gibraltar, France and England, always staying one step ahead of her pursuers.

Anhang explained: “She had access to three or four identity cards, she was using three or four different names, different hairstyles, different hair colourings. So by the time we found out she had been in another country, she had already left it.”

Vazquez-Rijos was nothing if not brazen. In 2008, she was approached in Florence by a Puerto Rican newspaper reporter and she offered him her story—the story of a bereft widow valiantly trying to make a life in Italy. She asked for $5,000. He refused.

Meanwhile, Farouk followed Vazquez-Rijos’ every twist and turn and reported back to Anhang. The detective’s emails to his employer had a distinct Inspector Clouseau-flavor. He once described a false rumor as “fried air.”

But Anhang didn’t hire him for his grasp of English. Farouk’s detective work was solid. Among the highlights of his findings were:

  • Her liaison with an air-conditioner contractor in Florence that resulted in the birth of twin girls—a development that Anhang said was intended purely to secure her residency status in Italy. In the middle of the pregnancy, the family learned from an Italian newspaper that she was on the run, and the relationship ended soon after. The girls are now in the custody of the man’s family.
  • Her infiltration of the small, tight-knit Jewish Orthodox community in Florence—Vazquez-Rijos appealed to their sense of compassion, telling community leaders that her husband had died in a car crash, and that she needed help to raise her twin girls. She also claimed to be a convert to Judaism—something that’s in dispute. Community leaders believed her, helped find her a place to live, and accepted her girls into the synagogue’s day-care centre. Anhang travelled to Florence and told members of the community that her story was bogus, and the resulting controversy caused a deep rift within the community.
  • Her cultivation of a deep friendship with a rich married Florentine banker in his 60s—Paolo Galardi helped her set up a travel agency, and later financed her legal fight to resist extradition to Puerto Rico. Galardi first threatened legal action if his name was made public. He later relented, but insisted in an interview with 16×9 that “justice makes mistakes” and that Vazquez-Rijos, a loving mother, is innocent.
  • Her quick getaway—After her exposure in Florence, Vazquez-Rijos moved to Venice and took up with a local diamond merchant.

The murkiest part of Vazquez-Rijos’ odyssey is the final chapter—her arrest in Spain last June. The facts haven’t been officially confirmed, but it’s speculated that her apprehension may have been the result of a carefully executed sting operation led by the FBI.

Someone she trusted, possibly her employer, told her to connect with a tourist group waiting for her in Madrid. She was asked to bring her American passport as identification. It was all a ruse (A year earlier, U.S. consular officials in Italy had renewed her American passport, with her real name, possibly for this very purpose).

When she boarded the Madrid-bound flight on June 30, 2013, FBI officials were notified immediately, and they contacted Spanish police and Interpol. They were waiting as Vazquez-Rijos disembarked.

“I got a call 10 minutes after she landed,” said Anhang. He won’t go into detail, but one can assume he was fully briefed by the FBI about the sting, and the imminent arrest.

The Black Widow had walked into a web, spun in part by the man who had pursued her for 4 ½ years. And this time, he hopes, there will be no escape.

Watch the entire March 29, 2014 edition of Global’s 16×9

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