Arquimedes Puccio seemed to neighbors like a pious, conservative, and obsessively tidy man. Several times a day, he'd sweep the sidewalk in front of his home in an upper-class Buenos Aires neighborhood. But cleanliness wasn't his only aim: Puccio was making sure that the screams of kidnap victims imprisoned in his basement couldn't be heard in the street. That mundane mask over horror is a key theme of The Clan, a movie based on a true story that rattled Argentine society in the 1980s. The well-reviewed film, directed by Argentine Pablo Trapero, has had the most successful launch of any Argentine film and is part of a wave of renewed attention to the Puccio case on the 30th anniversary of the police raid that captured the family (tapped telephones helped lead to their downfall).
Over the course of about three years, members of the family killed at least three people they had kidnapped for ransom; a fourth victim was freed. "It's a story I wanted to tell for a long time. I got hooked when I was a kid and the family was arrested," Trapero tells the AP. One moviegoer who saw the film describes the family "sitting at the table eating as if nothing was going on while they have a woman locked in the basement who doesn't stop screaming." Puccio and his sons Alejandro and Daniel were sentenced to prison, though Daniel escaped in 1988 and never served time. The patriarch was imprisoned, freed on a technicality, then put behind bars again. He was released on probation in 2007 and died in 2013 at the age of 82 without ever acknowledging the crimes. Officials never determined what happened to the estimated $1 million in ransoms the family received. A US release has yet to be confirmed. (Read more Buenos Aires stories.)