IT was only when an officer caught a whiff of a putrid smell that the mattress was ripped off little Paulette’s bed and her tiny body was found wrapped in blankets, wedged at the foot of her bed.
The gruesome find marked the end of a nine-day hunt for the four-year-old, who had numerous developmental disabilities and who had seemingly vanished in the middle of the night.
Police were left dumbfounded. How could the body of Paulette Gebara Farah, a Mexican girl from the Huixquilucan district, have gone undetected for over a week while a specialist police squad – and the entire community – were looking for her?
The spine-chilling true story has now inspired new Spanish Netflix crime drama series, The Search, which premieres this Friday.
Here we look at the shocking real life events behind the TV thriller…
Mystery disappearance from affluent area
Born to Mauricio Gebara, then 38, and Lizette Farah, then 34, Paulette was born with physical impairments and a language disorder, meaning she had two nannies to help care for her – Ericka and Martha Casimiro.
The family were thought to have a comfortable and affluent life – with Paulette’s father working in real estate, and her mother working as an attorney.
But on the evening of Sunday March 21, 2010, their life was turned upside down.
Mrs Farah claimed she put her daughter to bed as usual.
At 8am the next morning, nanny Ericka claimed she entered the room to wake her, but found that she had vanished.
There were no signs of forced entry, theft or struggle inside the home and Paulette’s bedroom was located on the second floor of the two-story, upscale apartment – with the only point of entry being a window, which had not been broken or tampered with.
The housing complex had surveillance, but no evidence of Paulette leaving or being taken was found.
Even though her parents’ room was next door, they did not recall hearing anything and insisted Paulette could not go out alone, due to her disabilities.
To add to the mystery, they owned two dogs and no one heard them barking, while no witnesses in the building remembered seeing her.
The girl’s disappearance was reported to the Huixquilucan authorities immediately and Alberto Bazbaz, the Attorney General of the State of Mexico, quickly became involved.
A massive search to find the little girl was set in motion, and the story turned into a media frenzy in Mexico – with flyers with Paulette’s face on distributed, billboards put up and advertisements plastered on TV and public transport.
Later that evening, Mrs Farah made a public plea on television, pleading with any alleged abductor to free her daughter.
Spotlight turned on parents
As the entire community came together to search for Paulette, doubt quickly began to be cast on her parents.
And sure enough, one week later – on March 29 – Mr Bazbaz shocked the nation when he announced Paulette’s parents and nannies were in police custody, due to falsehoods and inconsistencies in their stories.
According to local reports, he said at the time: “Each one of them at a certain moment has falsified their statements, which has made it difficult to know the truth of the facts and clarify a firm line of investigation.”
Investigators described the parents as “evasive and defensive” and believed they were withholding information.
According to CNN, Bazbaz also claimed that undercover recordings of conversations between the mother and her husband had also led investigators to suspect her.
Paulette’s mum later said: “I had the conversation with my daughter, but not in the context they showed it.”
On March 31, investigators gathered at the family home to search for clues and attempt to reconstruct the night Paulette disappeared.
It’s then that they made the grim discovery at the foot of her bed, having begun to smell a distinctive scent coming from the bundle of blankets.
Paulette’s parents turned on each other, according to the LA Times, blaming the other one for their daughter’s death.
The couple admitted their marriage had started falling apart even before the incident and they later split up.
Attorney General Bazbaz suspected foul play and believed Mrs Farah was responsible – though he lacked the evidence to make an arrest.
“She is the only suspect,” Bazbaz said at a news conference at the time, according to CNN. “I have no doubt that this is a homicide investigation. At this moment, we can say that Lisette is a suspect. In addition to her, we are investigating the level of knowledge of others involved.”
But, after an autopsy into the little girl’s cause of death, the official story behind Paulette’s disappearance was finally revealed.
Who ‘killed’ Paulette?
The eventual verdict was that Paulette died in a tragic accident.
It was concluded that Paulette had, “by her own means”, rolled over while sleeping and accidentally fallen into the gap between her bed’s mattress and foot board – where she became entrapped and wound up suffocating to death.
An autopsy determined the cause of death to be “asphyxiation that obstructed the respiratory airways and compressed the abdominal thorax”.
As the investigators found no traces of drugs or toxic substances in the body, nor signs of physical abuse, the death was established as “accidental”.
The autopsy revealed that Paulette’s body had not been manipulated after her death and had therefore been there the entire time she was missing.
The explanation for the lack of odour during decomposition was that the blankets covering Paulette’s body had concealed the smell for nine days.
Was it a cover-up?
During the nine-day window, the bedroom was searched by investigators on multiple occasions, tracking dogs had failed to pick up any scent of her and the BBC claims that around 100 people had entered the bedroom – yet no one found her.
The nation found it unbelievable that Paulette’s body could have remained there undiscovered the entire time she was missing, and the parents’ behaviour was considered suspicious by many.
As the news broke of the official story, it sparked outrage across Mexico and the parents were accused of orchestrating a cover-up.
The nannies claimed Paulette’s parents were having financial problems which increased speculation that the parents killed her in order to relieve themselves of her expensive medical care.
This was later proved false.
The police received heavy criticism over how they handled the investigation and Mr Bazbaz later resigned as Attorney General on May 26 that year.
Mrs Farah went on to give interviews where she proclaimed her innocence and at one point attempted to file a lawsuit against the state of Mexico for moral damages, claiming accusations about her murdering her daughter had “ruined her life”.
The case remained at a standstill for years until May 2017, when Paulette’s body was exhumed and cremated, as the Mexican Prosecutor’s Office stated her remains were no longer considered evidence for the investigation.
Officially, Paulette’s death remains an accident but the case continues to be shrouded in controversy.
View more information: https://www.the-sun.com/news/967017/netflix-the-search-paulette-gebara-farah-body-wedged-bed-9-days/