Eddie Pope and the forgotten femicide of our sport

In July 1989, 33 years ago, the forgotten femicide of Argentine sport occurred. In the same month that Carlos Monzón was sentenced to eleven years in prison for having killed Alicia Muñiz in February 1988 in Mar del Plata, an American basketball player who played in our country –Eddie Pope– murdered his girlfriend –Silvana Ercoli, 27 years old – in a similar act: he threw her from the balcony of a fifth floor of a building in San Telmo. In the mid-’90s, after being released after serving his sentence in Devoto prison, the murderous athlete returned to play in our stadiums. Very few remembered the crime.

That this femicide has been left in the recycling bin of history perhaps begins to be explained from its origin: the journalistic approach of a time when there was talk of passionate dramas. “A couple jumped from a fifth floor: the woman died”, headlined Clarín on Saturday, July 29, 1989, a newspaper that the next day would insist on phrases such as “the tragic decision to die together” or “favorable evolution of the athlete who fell of the fifth floor. Chronicle’s perspective was different: “Criminal basketball player: scorned, he massacres his ex-lover and throws her from the balcony,” he published on July 29, and insisted the next day: “Murderer basketball player.” A specialized magazine of the time, Solo Básquet, provided the sports context: “It did not surprise some: those who knew Eddie Pope, intolerant and easily angry, were sure that he was capable of anything.”

More than three decades later, the reconstruction of the femicide’s career begins in Mar del Plata, where Pope played for Peñarol, his first team in Argentina. José “Pepe” Fernández, a club manager for decades, draws a bitter analogy from the first time he saw it. “Pope arrived in 1987, when we were in the second division, because he was recommended by a player of ours, an American, who told us that from the university in his country he knew a big pivot, athletic, a little crazy. The first time I saw him, he surprised me because he ate a chicken with his hand at the Peñarol restaurant, where Alicia Muñiz had dinner with Monzón on her last night,” says Fernández, who years later would become president of the club.

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2 meters and 5 centimeters tall, trained at the University of Southern Mississippi –and already with a sporting past in Italy and France–, Pope immediately became a figure of Peñarol, who at the end of 1987 –partly thanks to him – He would ascend for the first time to the National League, the highest category of Argentine basketball, of which he is currently five-time champion. Eccentric, charismatic and quarrelsome, the fans took him as an idol, a player without limits who was up for anything: in his debut, in a friendly against Unión de Santa Fe, Pope stood face to face with Sebastián Uranga –the emblem of the Argentine National Team – and made signs of threatening to cut his throat.

“He didn’t get to play all year, a little because the country’s economy was going to hell but also because there were already troubles. In the middle of the year we sold it to France, to Paris Saint Germain”, recalls Fernández (although the magazine Solo Básquet referred to Limoges in that country). The prehistory of the tragedy, however, had already added its first chapter: Ercoli, a young woman from San Nicolás, met Pope during his vacation in Mar del Plata. “He was a tourist, they met at the hotel where he lived,” recalls the leader.

Already with Peñarol in the National League, in 1988, Pope returned to the club from Europe and, thanks to his explosive personality and the spectacular nature of his game – his dunks shook the hoops – he renewed the idyll with the fans. Also in France and on the return to Mar del Plata he continued his relationship with Silvana, whom he, due to phonetic problems, called Nirvana. “Things went well for a while and included a couple’s trip to the United States, the player’s land,” Solo Básquet would review after the crime. But, again, Pope would not make it to the end of the year with Peñarol. In the First Division he lasted a handful of games.

“He was a great attacker, he flew in the air and had enormous jumping power but he was very undisciplined, capable of downing three vodka Cokes before games. It was brave to hold him… At that time I bought a Doberman dog and, as his character was tremendous, I named him Pope, ”says Fernández. Witnesses remember that, in his usual madness, the American took a youth by the neck in training. A member of the coaching staff asked the club that Pope be sanctioned and, in the absence of punishment, he resigned from his position.

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Despite the interest of several teams in the National League, his bad reputation worked against him and Pope ended up at Rivadavia de Necochea, a Second Division club with a small budget. “I brought him to Necochea in a Fiat: he didn’t get into the car,” says Hugo Teyseyre, then director of the club. “We knew that in Mar del Plata he had made disasters, I don’t know if he had come out with the mine of a leader, but we hired him. He came almost as a gift, for a few dollars. He was not well trained but he was unbalanced, he almost won alone. Here he also sucked and he was already sick because of the girl he would later kill. A player on our team had bought a ring at a jewelry store and Pope asked him for the ticket and then pretended to his girlfriend that he had bought her a piece of jewelry, but that he had lost it.”

The week that Rivadavia was to play against Independiente de General Pico, for the B, Pope traveled to Buenos Aires to see Silvana. The crime would occur in an apartment occupied by her younger sister, Teresa, in Chacabuco 178. “Obfused because his girlfriend had ended the relationship, he punished her and threw her into the void from a fifth floor, the woman suffering injuries that caused her death. . Then the murderer also threw himself, but he only received minor injuries,” Chronicle published. “Pope had suffered a deep depression in recent months, when his income dropped dramatically,” added Clarin, while Only Basketball published what everyone already knew in the environment: “The player, of indefinite age (some said 24, others 27) , could be involved in drug use and trafficking.”

Pope was arrested after he was reported by Teresa, who was also assaulted by the basketball player in the apartment. The news reached the Chicago Tribune: “American basketball star arrested for murder in Argentina”, published that American newspaper on August 15, 1989, in a text in which the coaches and teammates from his university days described him as someone with a level NBA player who had to leave in the second year due to poor grades. Pope spoke to the Chicago Tribune at the Argerich hospital, where he was recovering from his multiple fractures caused by his fall, although he was already detained, with a policeman next to him and awaiting trial: “I don’t remember what happened that night… We were already fighting in France but I never meant to hurt her.” He also referred to a consolation. “At least here is not the electric chair.”

Just as Monzón would begin to have temporary releases from prison in 1994 (and would die in 1995), Pope was released after serving seven years of the 15 of the original sentence. Then, in the 1996/97 season, he returned to play basketball for Central Entrerriano, a club from Gualegayuchú that was in the TNA, the Second Division. “He arrived through an acquaintance of the club, he took it as giving him another chance,” recalls Horacio Schauman, the then coach. Pope never regained her physical fullness after the multiple fractures she suffered since the day she became a femicide, but she still made a difference. “He was unstoppable, on another level. She could be at the 30% that she still performed over the rest and led the individual statistics of the tournament. But she couldn’t handle her addictions. She began her wanderings and any trip to Buenos Aires was dangerous, ”she adds.

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Just as clippings from the magazine Encestando confirm that Pope was one of the figures of the tournament -in times when for sports it seemed something minor that an athlete had killed his girlfriend-, those close to Central Entrerriano from those years remember what they did not know he saw on the court: “His years in prison went wrong… One day I accompanied him to Devoto, for a sports activity in which he participated, already released, and the prisoners shouted at him ‘black, do you remember when we tied you up? and we gave you?’. He laughed. On the way back he made me stop at a house, still in Buenos Aires, and after 20 minutes he came out with a package. I was naive and didn’t realize it, but when I got to Gualeguaychú he took out a mountain of cocaine. I could have gone to the cana”.

Although he played 39 games in the season, the leaders of Central Entrerriano found it increasingly difficult to control Pope. Thus came the decisive match against Deportivo Valle Inferior – a club that merged Viedma and Carmen de Patagones – to avoid relegation. With the series 2-1 in favor, and the best of five games, it seemed that Central Entrerriano would maintain the category in the fourth matchup, which had to play at home. But Pope did not appear and Valle Inferior tied the series 2-2. Schauman remembers: “I went out that midnight, after the game, to look for him, and I found him half a block from his apartment, sitting on the street. He was more bad than good, he said that he did not understand, that he felt very bad. We did not have control of that previous one: the suspicion was that the other team had given him money so that he would not play or they had obtained the substance for him”.

The decisive point was missing but, recalls Mario Rodríguez, assistant to the coaching staff, Central Entrerriano’s teammates no longer wanted Pope on the team. “On Tuesday the fifth and last game was played. The only chance of not being relegated was for ‘El Negro’ to return, but the players reputed him. Nano (Fernando) Pocetto, the historical base of the League, told him something like ‘you have to die’. On top of that, the decision had to be made that same night, because at 7 in the morning we left for Patagonia”. Continues Schauman, the coach: “I took him in my car because the teammates didn’t want him, nobody wanted to go with him. It was the players on one side and Pope and I on the other. So 1300 kilometers. I promised him that I would take him straight to the field, without approaching his teammates. He was even isolated in the Viedma hotel: he brought food to his room. Nobody spoke to him in the locker room and I put him on substitute. The weather was hostile, the one he lost went down. He came in at 5 minutes, broke it and we won. We returned to Entre Ríos, also separated, and a caravan of 200 fans awaited us in pure celebration.”

It was Pope’s last game at the national level: his figure disappeared from the sport again, this time for good. Pablo D’Angelo, historic coach of the League, adds one last step: “In 1998 I was managing Newell’s and I remember that Pope played for Ciclón –a club in the south of Rosario– in the local tournament. He didn’t have money to spare and he hung out with an American from Newell’s all the time”. Already without income as a basketball player, that stay in Rosario seems to have passed on the edge of marginality. “He ended up homeless, asking for money, involved with the mafia,” says a witness. “He worked as a patovica at the door of the bowling alleys,” adds another.

Although the physical did not accompany him, he tried a last stage in his first club, Peñarol. “In 2001 he returned to Mar del Plata for a week, he repeated ‘Champions Peñarol’, that he wanted to be champion in Peñarol and they tried it, but nobody wanted a mess and it didn’t stay. We didn’t hear from him anymore, although I think he lives,” says Fernández, but since then Pope’s trail seems impossible: “I think he returned to his country and died there,” says Schauman, according to the oblivion that surrounds the unknown femicide of sport Argentinian (Tiempo contacted a member of Ercoli’s family, but preferred not to provide statements).

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Eddie Pope and the forgotten femicide of our sport