Sao Paulo is the annual stage for the largest gay pride march on Earth and home to one of South America's most vibrant gay communities. But a wave of homophobic murders has cast a shadow over one of the most tolerant cities in Latin America.
Six months after 3.5 million revellers gathered on the streets to celebrate gay pride, police announced last week that they were hunting for a serial killer thought to be responsible for as many as 16 murders on the western outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city.
Police believe the killer - labelled the Rainbow Maniac by the press - is behind the murders of 13 men in Carapicuiba, a city of nearly 400,000 people in Greater Sao Paulo. They were killed in a park used as a gay meeting point. Police are now investigating whether the same killer was behind three murders in the neighbouring city of Osasco, where a similar weapon was reportedly used.
One of the victims was a transvestite, shot in one of the city's many love motels. "In his head, he thinks he is doing a clean-up job," said Paulo Fernando Fortunato, the police chief heading the inquiries. "He doesn't like homosexuals, he hates them."
The killing began on July 4, 2007 when 32-year-old Jose Cicero Henrique was murdered in the Paturis park. Since then a further 12 men have been killed in the park, nine in virtually identical circumstances. Their half-naked bodies were dumped in the undergrowth with a .38 bullet in the back of the head and their trousers wrapped around their knees.
Fortunato said one of the men was beaten to death while the latest victim, whose body was found in August and has not yet been identified, was shot 12 times. Police sources told newspapers the hail of bullets had turned his body into a "sieve". One local newspaper suggested the killer may have arranged meetings with his victims over the internet, using the social networking service Orkut.
No link was made between the 13 murders until recently. Last week the Governor of Sao Paulo, Jose Serra, visited Carapicuiba and vowed that police would catch the Rainbow Maniac. Plainclothes officers are now patrolling the park at night. The 13-month killing spree coincides with a recent study by the Grupo Gay da Bahia, Brazil's oldest gay rights group, that described Brazil as leading the world in the murder of homosexuals.
According to the study, there were 122 homophobic murders in Brazil in 2007, compared with 35 in Mexico and 25 in the US. A previous study claimed that between 1980 and 2006 at least 2680 gay people were killed in Brazil, mostly as a result of homophobic violence.
Police stepped up patrols of the park last week, despite the arrest of a suspect. Jairo Francisco Franco, 46, a retired police sergeant, was seen by two witnesses committing the 13th murder in the park, police said.
Joao Batista, owner of the supermarket where Franco was a security guard, said on television that his employee had seemed like "a calm guy".