Ethereal and lovely, beauty queens have always had a special place in human society. There is just something about a really attractive woman that stops the world. But good looks come with their own brand of danger.
Sometimes, admirers morph into demented stalkers. Powerful criminals want trophy girlfriends. And owning a pageant title is no protection during robberies or when these women face violence for standing up for their beliefs.
Venezuela is famous for its crop of Miss Universe winners—seven of them in all. Venezuela also has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The lovely and sultry Monica Spear won the Miss Venezuela crown in 2004 and proudly went on to represent her nation at the 2005 Miss Universe. The soap opera star was divorced from but still close to one Thomas Berry, a 39-year-old British national with whom Spear had a five-year-old daughter. The couple resided in the United States but returned to Venezuela on holiday, where, one January night in 2014, the car they were traveling in blew two tires. The cause, police later said, was a sharp object placed in the road.
The family waited for nearly an hour in the dark before breakdown assistance arrived, but just as they were about to be towed, a group of men interfered, ordering them to stop. Terrified, they hid in their car, but the gunmen mowed them down anyway. Both Spear, 29, and her ex-husband died instantly, but the couple’s toddler survived the attack, despite suffering a gunshot wound to the leg. Three men from a gang targeting motorists were eventually arrested and jailed for the crime. The police considered the event a botched robbery attempt. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro instead called it a “contract killing,” although he provided no reason why Spear might have been the victim of an assassination.
9Maria Jose Alvarado
Just hours before Miss Honduras 2014 was supposed to board a flight to the London Miss World pageant, her killer was busy loading her body into the back of a pickup truck. She had been shot twice in the back. Maria Jose Alvarado, 19, was out celebrating the birthday of her sister’s boyfriend when both she and her sister completely vanished. Plutarco Ruiz, the birthday boy, accompanied their family when they filed a missing person’s report and diligently helped in the search for the siblings. This helpfulness didn’t fool the police at all, and they arrested Ruiz and an accomplice shortly afterward for the double disappearance.
The family’s hopes that the sisters would be found alive were shattered when Ruiz not only confessed but also led the authorities to a makeshift grave. There, near a river, the missing women’s bodies were unearthed. Ruiz told investigators that he had shot his girlfriend first. They’d been having an argument that night because Sofia, 23, had been dancing with another man. In the heat of anger and jealousy, Ruiz killed Sofia in front of Maria. Ruiz then gunned Miss Honduras down as she tried to get away from him. No doubt she realized fully what was coming and died in terror. As a mark of respect for the murdered young woman, Honduras refused to send a replacement contestant to the 2014 Miss World pageant.
Agnieszka Kotlarska was a model in 1990 when a persistent stalker entered her life. The brunette with the perfect smile never dreamed that he, a man called Jerzy, would give her only six more years to live. While he kept stalking, Kotlarska did well in her professional and personal life. She became Miss Poland and was crowned in 1991 as Miss International. Kotlarska married, which did not sit well with Jerzy, who later told police that by marrying someone else she had “ruined his life.” After winning Miss Poland, Kotlarska pursued a successful career as a fashion model in the US, working with big names such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. She also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Playboy.
After three years, Kotlarska returned to Poland with her husband and daughter. It wasn’t long before her stalker started doing his creepy thing again, constantly calling and hanging around her house. Her husband understandably had had enough. On the night of August 27, 1996, when the family was getting into their car and Jerzy approached them, Kotlarska’s husband intercepted the stalker. The two men started struggling, which ended with Jerzy stabbing the other man in the leg with a hunting knife. Kotlarska ran to her husband’s aid, but Jerzy stabbed her viciously in the chest four times. The police arrested the 36-year-old computer programmer at his home where he immediately confessed. Kotlarska later died in hospital from her wounds. For taking the life of a young mother, Jerzy was sent to prison for a mere 14 years.
Alexandra Petrova won the Miss Russia pageant in 1996. Her future looked bright until her ill-begotten friendship with the leader of a local criminal group had her standing in the wrong spot at the worst time. In 2000, the 20-year-old beauty was standing in the entrance of her apartment building with two men in what was to become the gory scene of her last moments. Standing with her was Radik Akhmetov, who was her friend, and a companion of his, Konstantin Chuvilin. They were presumably having a conversation when a gunman opened fire on the small group.
Both men died, but although Petrova survived the attack, it wasn’t for long. Badly wounded, she succumbed on the way to the hospital. The authorities believe the beauty queen was not the intended target and that the spray of bullets was meant for Akhmetov. During that time, a mafia war was raging over control of the local open-air market, and Akhmetov was the deputy director of that market. Both men who were gunned down were also known to be crime bosses. If so, then Petrova lost her life plainly because she stood next to the victim at the wrong moment.
No, you’re not reading double. A second Miss Russia was indeed murdered—and a bit more gruesomely than the first. Stunner Svetlana Kotova was one of her country’s top models until she met Russia’s top professional killer, Alexander Solonik. The 21-year-old beauty queen first set eyes on the hit man in a Moscow nightclub. Solonik loved what he saw on that New Year’s night, 1997. When Kotova accepted his invitation to visit him in Greece, Solonik introduced her to the lap of luxury, and the former Miss Russia was dazzled.
Arriving on January 25, she was showered with flowers and driven to Solonik’s villa in a chauffeured Mercedes. The upscale villa had sports facilities, a gym, and sculptures in the garden. For the next five days, Kotova enjoyed herself so much that during a phone conversation with her mother she called the experience a “miracle.” But then things went terribly wrong for the romantic couple. On January 30, they received visitors, and they weren’t the neighborly sort.
The uninvited guests were from the Kurgan group, an organization that provides assassins. This time, they came for Solonik. The gangsters strangled the hit man and might’ve decided to kill Kotova in order to avoid being identified by her. It is not entirely clear what happened during her final moments, but it was no picnic. She ended up in several pieces in a shallow grave only discovered by the Greek police four months later.
5Jill Ann Weatherwax
A songbird and multiple pageant winner, Jill Ann Weatherwax arrived in California with stars in her eyes, dreaming of making it big. She was certainly gorgeous, talented, and motivated enough to make a success of herself. And, for a while, all went according to plan. She took the sash of Miss Hollywood and earned a recording contract. But the former beauty queen had possibly been another victim of violence against prostitutes.
Police found her body on March 25, 1998. She had been brutally stabbed to death and dumped behind an animal shelter in Fresno, near a street frequented by sex workers. Police were convinced that the homicide that night had taken place while Weatherwax, 27, was engaged in prostitution and that she was also involved in drugs. Her family outright refused to accept this line, despite the fact that in the months leading up to her death, Weatherwax had managed to get herself arrested for drug possession three times. A few days before her murder, she was even arrested in Fresno for public drunkenness. On the fatal night, the former Miss Hollywood was seen in an abandoned house and later leaving a motel with three men. Her murder has never been solved.
Ulster Rose Of Tralee
It was a murder that gripped Ireland. It was a sensation because of the celebrity couple involved and also because it was supposed to be the happiest and most magical time of Michaela McAreavey’s young life. She had just married her young love, Gaelic football star John McAreavey, and they were staying at the luxury Legends Hotel in Mauritius for their honeymoon. According to the police and prosecutors, Michaela went into their honeymoon suite alone and inadvertently interrupted a break-in. Instead of dropping everything and running away, the thieves decided to murder Michaela, strangling the newlywed in the bathtub.
Two of the hotel’s workers were arrested for the crime. One of them initially confessed his guilt, but his lawyer later claimed his client had been forced by the police to sign a false confession. Both the accused went on to deny any involvement in the 2011 murder of the former Ulster Rose Of Tralee. In another blow to the already crushed family of the victim, a jury found both men innocent after a two-month trial, denying the family the closure that they needed. In a rather insensitive display toward the grieving family, the supporters of the two accused men carried the defense lawyers out of the court as heroes. Thousands of mourners attended Michaela’s funeral, including Ireland’s president. The service was held in the church where Michaela was married, and she was laid to rest in her wedding gown.
A month after the former Miss Venezuela’s cold-blooded killing, another Venezuelan beauty queen took to the streets to protest against her country’s high crime rate. Genesis Carmona joined fellow protesters in Valencia, calling for the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro over crime rates, inflation, and a shortage of goods. The pretty tourism student and winner of Miss Tourism 2013 in her state was peacefully showing her support for the opposition when the unthinkable happened: She dropped from a gunshot wound to the head.
Friends speedily evacuated Carmona from the scene on the back of a motorcycle and rushed her to a medical facility where doctors performed surgery. However, despite surviving the bullet wound and the surgery, she died the next day. When Carmona passed away on February 19, 2014, she became the fifth fatality of the protests that were becoming increasingly violent. Demonstrators were attacking police, putting up road blocks, and damaging buildings. Due to the blame game, it is still unknown who actually fired the fatal shot that took Carmona’s life. Witnesses describe how she was the victim of a pro-government group that had attacked the march, but authorities stand by their own witnesses who claim that she was—for some inexplicable reason—shot by another protester.
Leslie Mazzara was a former Miss Williamston from South Carolina. She lived in Napa Valley with two other girls, Lauren and Adriane. On Halloween 2004, they did the candy run before turning in around 10:30 PM. During the night, Lauren realized that there was an intruder in the house, and she fled out the back door. Only after hearing the intruder leave did Lauren venture back inside. She found both of her friends viciously stabbed and barely alive. In the short time it took Lauren to call 911 and for a nearby police car to arrive at the house, both Adriane, civil engineer, and Mazzara, beauty queen, had died from their wounds on the bloody floor. Despite a $100,000 reward, 218 biological samples taken from men to match the intruder’s blood found on the scene, and 1,300 interviews held in eight states, nearly a year went by without a suspect.
In August 2005, police released information that the suspect had left a Camel Turkish Gold cigarette at the crime scene . . . and something in Lauren’s memory sparked. Adriane’s best friend was engaged to a man called Eric Copple, a Camel Turkish Gold smoker. When the suspect arrived at the police station, he made an incriminating statement and got himself charged for the double murder. At first, Copple pled not guilty, but his DNA matched that found on the cigarette and the blood at the house. Then Copple went for the “drunk idiot” defense, admitting that he had stabbed the beauty queen and her friend but that he had no memory of it because he had been too drunk that night. Yet he remembered collecting zip ties, a knife, driving to the girls’ house, smoking, prying open the window, throwing the knife away after the slaughter, and even burning his clothes. Finally, on December 6, 2006, Eric Copple pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Aside from a rumor that he was jealous of his fiance’s close friendship with Adriane, no clear murder motive was ever established.
Miss Gay Kuruman
A particularly gruesome murder was committed in the small town of Kuruman, South Africa. The victim was Thapelo Makutle, a 23-year-old gay beauty queen with a willowy figure. The young man, who was the reigning Miss Gay Kuruman, was found in his apartment in a state of mutilation meant to humiliate and kill him. Makutle had gone out on the night of June 8, 2012, and unconfirmed reports say that he had an argument with two men about his sexuality. Later that night, an assailant entered Makutle’s room and attacked him. A horrifying and fatal assault followed, during which the attacker hacked off Makutle’s private parts, stuffed them down his mouth, and slit his throat.
Few-worded man Sizwe Tajini was arrested for the crime after police caught up to him at his mother’s house in Welkom, finding the victim’s laptop in Tajini’s possession. Tajini confessed to the killing during his court hearing but showed little remorse for what he had done. South Africa’s constitution protects gay and lesbian rights, but the LGBT community still battles hate crimes on a daily basis. The really heartbreaking attacks happen with the excuse that a session of savage rape and torture can “correct” a person’s undesirable sexuality. It is not unusual for such “corrective” assaults to end in murder.