By Rich Pollack and Jane Musgrave
More than a month after parts of 80-year-old Aydil Barbosa Fontes’ body were discovered packed into several suitcases tossed into the Intracoastal Waterway — and weeks after her 78-year-old husband, William Lowe, was charged with murder and abuse of a dead body — why it all happened remains a mystery.
As they fill in parts of a complex puzzle, investigators say they know what happened to Barbosa Fontes, where it happened and how it happened. When it happened and what the motive might have been are still unclear.
Even some of the lawyers who met Lowe at the Palm Beach County jail several times soon after his early August arrest were left in the dark.
“He was friendly, polite and respectful but he couldn’t tell us what happened,” said Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Glenn Roderman. The lawyer wonders if a combination of injuries from Lowe’s time in Vietnam and head injuries related to frequent falls could be affecting his cognitive abilities.
Delray Beach police have said they also have been unable to determine a motive for the murder of Barbosa Fontes — who was shot in the head — since Lowe hired an attorney and remained silent when he was arrested on Aug. 2.
That arrest came after an intensive investigation that began when the three suitcases were found in water on July 21.
Detectives said they first identified Lowe as a possible suspect in the death of his wife of 21 years after one of the investigators took a photo of a license tag from a car that had been seen in the area near where the bags were found.
The tag came back to Lowe and to his address, which was a tenth of a mile from where two suitcases were found.
Lowe was brought to the Police Department to give a DNA sample, while at the same time investigators armed with a warrant searched his condominium on Venetian Drive. After leaving the Police Department, Lowe tried to get into the home through a back window, but was stopped by investigators who were still conducting the search.
He told them he wanted to get his phone and the key to his storage locker, where a battery-operated chainsaw later was found. Detectives found blood and other evidence on the chainsaw, which they say was used to dismember Barbosa Fontes’ body.
For more than a week, investigators had sought to identify the remains in the suitcases, asking for help from the public. It was only after they began investigating Lowe as a suspect that they could identify Barbosa Fontes as the victim.
Knowing that Lowe and Barbosa Fontes shared the apartment and that she hadn’t been seen by neighbors for weeks, investigators then were able to confirm her identity using dental records and DNA.
Another help in identifying the remains was an airline sticker attached to one of the suitcases with the name Barbosa Ontes on it — with the first letter of the last name unreadable. Barbosa Fontes was a Brazilian native who made frequent trips to South America.
From all accounts, Lowe lived a law-abiding life in South Florida and in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he lived before moving to Delray Beach.
Military records show he entered the U.S. Marines in 1968 during the Vietnam War and achieved the rank of chief warrant officer. Defense attorneys say he sustained injuries while in the service and some who know him say he acknowledged suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
That could explain why, for at least 10 years, Lowe has had a property tax exemption on his two-bedroom condo through a state program that allows veterans with total and permanent service-related disabilities to avoid taxes. Becky Robinson, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office, confirmed Lowe had the exemption.
Roderman said he believes PTSD combined with concussions from several falls over the years could be an issue. “There’s no doubt there’s mental health issues,” he said.
Roderman said that when he talked to Lowe early on, Lowe had trouble finishing sentences and would walk away in the middle of a conversation. He said he had planned to have Lowe undergo a mental health evaluation, but was pulled from the case along with co-counsels Philip Johnston and Ed Hoeg before that could be done.
One of Lowe’s sons from his first marriage hired West Palm Beach attorney Franklin Prince as the latest to represent Lowe. Prince said he met Lowe at the jail briefly late last month but was still sorting out details of the case. “We were able to have a conversation,” he said. “It didn’t look to me as if he was out of it.”
While conducting their investigation, detectives spoke to neighbors in the complex on Venetian Drive, just north of Casuarina Road, where Lowe and Barbosa Fontes lived since they married in 2002. It was the second marriage for both.
Neighbors told police they didn’t know Lowe or Barbosa Fontes well. But, one 38-year-old neighbor said Lowe would inexplicably leave flowers outside her door.
He did so on July 26, five days after suitcases containing parts of Barbosa Fontes’s body began surfacing in the Intracoastal Waterway.
Lowe bought the unit in the small, neatly manicured barrier-island complex in 1990 for $105,000, when he was married to his first wife and was living in Kentucky. Similar units in the complex now routinely sell for more than $1 million.
Records show the unit has been paid off for years, but in September 2022, Lowe’s mortgage company sued him for foreclosure. It claimed he failed to abide by his obligation to buy insurance and pay taxes on the condo when he got a reverse mortgage in 2008. The company said he owed at least $265,000.
Ultimately, Lowe hired attorney Reginald Stambaugh, got insurance and the action was dismissed.
When Lowe bought the condo, his parents already owned a unit on the second floor of the building. When his mother died in 2000, years after the 1982 death of her husband, Lowe and one of his sisters agreed to sell the upstairs unit to another sister, who lives in California, court records show.
Neighbors told police they hadn’t seen the sister, now 86, for several years and that Lowe used the unit for storage. About two weeks before Barbosa Fontes’ body was discovered, one neighbor said she saw a trail of what she thought was “soup” leading from Lowe’s unit, up the stairs to the second-floor apartment.
When police searched it, they discovered blood on the outside wall next to the front door.
Inside, they said they discovered a cover and battery charger for a chainsaw and bottles of cleaning supplies.
Lowe, like his father, had been in the auto parts business in Shelbyville. When he married his first wife in 1970, after he left the military, he said his occupation was “salesman,” according to a listing in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Later records show he owned an auto parts business in his hometown. He registered the company in Florida in 1995, but there is no indication he ever had a storefront here. He let the registration lapse a year later, state records show.
Those who know Lowe as Bill say he and Barbosa Fontes owned Lowe’s Cash, an ATM company Bill ran out of the apartment with installations throughout the area. Barbosa Fontes was listed as president of the company, which records show operated from 2015 to 2017. There is no record of any other business they may have owned together.
Some of those who knew him said they believed Lowe was part of Delray Beach’s alcohol recovery community.
A good landlord
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Barbosa Fontes in 1966 married a Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduate in the seaside town of Winthrop, according to an engagement announcement in the Boston Globe. After moving to Broward County, the couple divorced in 1976. Barbosa Fontes became a U.S. citizen a year later.
Barbosa Fontes dabbled in real estate, owning two units in a condominium complex in Pompano Beach. One of her tenants described her as a good landlord who came to his apartment in July to take care of some plumbing problems.
Despite her age, he said, she appeared to be in good health. “She’s a very nice lady,” said the tenant, who has rented the unit for four years. Reeling from the news of her murder, he asked not to be identified. “We have a very nice relationship.”
Roderman said the case is unlike any other he has handled. “This is really a family tragedy,” he said. “It’s the saddest case I’ve been involved in.”
Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.