By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Just after midnight on the summer solstice, a white Jupiter powerboat drifted toward Fort Lauderdale beach. Employees at the beachfront bar Elbo Room spotted the gleam of fiberglass in the darkness and realized nobody was onboard.
It was a windswept Tuesday night. The seas were rough, and the city's most famous stretch of beach was nearly empty. When the boat came to rest on the shore, its navigation lights were still on. Roused by a report called in to dispatch, Fort Lauderdale police officers Jonathan Bohm, Melissa DiMarco, and Nathan Stoner and Sgt. Ed Wenger headed to the spot, across the sand from Las Olas Boulevard. Approaching the boat on foot, they saw that its shifter was still in gear, the keys in the ignition. The twin outboard engines were not running. Stoner climbed aboard. He found a white iPhone and a wallet on the center console, and flip-flops and a black T-shirt lying on the deck: exactly the things one might leave behind if going for a quick swim.
The contents of the wallet belonged to a man named Guma Aguiar. A check of official records showed the boat was registered in his name. Stoner woke up the iPhone, and the screen filled with a list of missed calls and panicked text messages from Aguiar's wife, Jamie. She said she hadn't heard from him. She had pleaded with him to answer.
Stoner reached a Coast Guard petty officer by phone and asked him to initiate a search-and-rescue operation. He relayed some information from the boat's GPS history: a fast trajectory from Aguiar's house about two miles northeast into the dark ocean, a quick turnaround, and then a long, slow drift back to shore.
Bohm drove his patrol car over the Intracoastal Waterway and through the tony neighborhood of Rio Vista to the six-bedroom house that Aguiar shared with his wife and four children. Jamie, sharply beautiful at 33 with straight blond hair, told the officer that her husband's sudden disappearance that night was out of the ordinary. But she confessed their marriage was troubled.
Jamie and Aguiar had met in the 1990s at Westminster Academy, a nearby Christian high school. After college, with direction from a wealthy uncle, he had traveled to Texas and made more money than he'd ever imagined. But a success story would be too simple for this man, who held himself to impossible standards. He embraced Orthodox Judaism seemingly overnight just before he made his millions and then spent a good deal of that money on the people and land of Jerusalem, becoming famous in Israel. Some people saw him as an erratic narcissist; others viewed him as a devout philanthropist, even as disputes over his largess became too big to ignore.
Jamie told police they'd had a fraught conversation earlier that day, the latest in a series of fights. He kept asking if she was filing for divorce and, if not, why she was crying. She told him that she had not filed and that they would sit and talk when she got home.
But when she arrived, he was already gone. The nanny said she had seen him leave in a hurry around 7:30 p.m., after kissing his children goodbye. His wife found his wedding ring in the house.
In the first hours of the following morning, the Coast Guard began searching up and down the surrounding waterways. Police on ATVs fanned out across the beach. The search would continue for three days.
If a body or an article of clothing had washed ashore or if he were found delirious on a beach somewhere, the story would have petered out: another eccentric millionaire gone overboard. But for months, the only signs of Aguiar would be what he left behind. Reporters from New York to Jerusalem combed through court records and yearbooks, trying to determine what drove him onto his boat that night. After a life of perfectionism, anger, and jet-setting philanthropy, the most amazing thing he ever did was disappear.
Guma Leandro Aguiar was born in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer, the statue that stands over the hills of Rio de Janeiro. When he was an infant, his parents converted to the evangelical Christian practice taking hold in traditionally Catholic Brazil in the mid-'70s. His father was Otto de Souza Aguiar, a strikingly handsome Brazilian model and muralist. The family moved to America when Guma was 2 years old.
Otto Aguiar continued to work scenes of Brazil into his paintings: a glimpse of curving shoreline through a gilded window or lush mountains behind a couple dining on a balcony. But his children grew up American. The family settled in Pompano Beach, and his Brazilian passport was Guma's strongest link to the country of his birth. Otto turned to public and corporate commissions for his paintings as a source of income, but he suffered from multiple sclerosis and was in pain and poor health for much of Guma's life.
Although his mother, Ellen, embraced Christianity, she was from a Jewish family with New York roots. Her younger brother, Thomas Kaplan, followed a lofty path, earning three degrees from Oxford University and then turning from history to economics and launching an investment career that would eventually bring him great riches.