The mysterious death of Colombia’s celebrity hairstylist

Mauricio Leal and his mother were found dead in what appeared to be a murder-suicide, but the arrest of the hairdresser’s brother has turned the investigation on its head

Colombian hairstylist Mauricio Leal in a promotional image.
Colombian hairstylist Mauricio Leal in a promotional image.Peluquería Mauricio Leal

Mauricio Leal was Colombia’s hairstylist to the stars. His client list included beauty queens, local celebrities and television presenters. He was a thin, clean-shaven guy who liked to dye his hair. At 47, he was at the peak of his career. It was difficult to get an appointment at his salon in Bogotá, and appearing as a regular client on his website was a sign of status. He was set to start collaborating with Miss Universe and the famous Victoria’s Secret fashion brand. That’s why everyone found it strange when he was found dead in bed in November last year. He was lying next to his mother, who it appeared he had stabbed to death before killing himself. The hairstylist left a handwritten note: “I love you, forgive me, I can’t go on. I leave everything to my siblings and cousins. All my love, forgive me, mother.”

Two months later, Colombian authorities now believe that Leal did not kill himself after murdering his mother. They think that both were in fact killed by the same person, who made Leal write the suicide note. That person, according to the public prosecution, was Leal’s brother Jhonier, who was arrested for the murders last week. Jhonier, who is a year older than Mauricio, was the opposite of his brother – a man without luck. Unlike Mauricio, all his ventures ended in failure. When the police went to his home to arrest him on January 14, they found account numbers and property records that he had hoped to inherit, now that his brother and mother had died.

The case has been closely followed by the press in Colombia. Leal was a regular guest on entertainment programs, a Colombian version of US fitness personality Richard Simmons or Spain’s famous hairstylist Lluís Llongueras. Like Llongueras, Leal started his career washing hair and sweeping the floors of other people’s salons. Recognition came when he opened his own salon in Cali, the world capital of salsa and a cultural melting pot, where the cocaine business reigns. After triumphing in his home city, he went to the Mecca of the hairdressing world: Miami. After some time in the US, he moved to Bogotá, where he opened a salon that quickly became popular with the country’s top celebrities.

On the day of his death, November 22, Leal sent a WhatsApp message to one of his workers saying he was taking the day off – something he rarely did. Meanwhile, in the salon, people were waiting for him and getting impatient: they wanted to see the hairstylist diva. The substitute hairdressers asked him to come in, but Leal just gave excuses. At this point in time, according to investigators, Leal had been dead for hours and it was his killer who was responding to the messages. But no one knew that then. According to the police reconstruction, at 2.40pm, Leal’s brother and his driver went to the 47-year-old’s mansion in La Calera, an area near Bogotá with large hills that attracts cycling enthusiasts.

The doors to Leal’s home were closed, but the driver spotted an open window right into his bedroom. After climbing in, he discovered two dead bodies on the bed: Leal and his mother beside him. It was a horrifying scene. It appeared that Leal had stabbed his mother to death then killed himself the same way, as if he had performed seppuku, a Japanese form of ritual suicide by disembowelment. Such suicide practices are very uncommon. Jhonier, who lived in the same house, said that the two were having breakfast when he left them that morning. The autopsy, however, showed that they had been dead for more than 30 hours, and that the hairstylist had ingested Zopiclone, a medicine used to induce sleep. The police also noticed that Jhonier had cuts on his hands, something the brother blamed on an accident with scissors.

The investigation into the double murder has also triggered a second investigation into money laundering and unlawful enrichment. According to the public prosecution, Leal was linked to drug traffickers. The hairstylist had opened three savings accounts with more than half a million dollars in total. For months, these accounts received nearly daily deposits of $50,000 – money that was then transferred to other banks. Police believe that while the stylist’s business was booming, it could not have brought it so much money. They suspect that Leal was working for La Gran Alianza (The Great Alliance), a union of several drug-trafficking organizations in Cali.

Authorities have currently seized Leal’s assets under a legal mechanism used to expropriate the goods of people involved in criminal activity. Leal, who was single and had no children, amassed large amounts of cash, owned a house worth more than half a million dollars and had a highly successful business. According to police, Jhonier has spent weeks planning how to get his hands on the fortune before the case was solved. But he ran out of time. While he was doing calculations and fantasizing about being rich, police knocked down his door.

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