‘The Photographer: Murder In Pinamar’ Explained: Who Happened To José Luis Cabezas?

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The sudden death, by what police claimed to be an accident, of photojournalist José Luis Cabezas took Argentina by shock. The man who was last seen taking pictures at a party in Pinamar was suddenly found burnt to death in a pit located out of town. The police had initially released a statement saying that he had died as a result of an accident, but his colleagues knew there was more to the story. As a photojournalist, Cabezas exposed the truth of those who wanted to remain hidden, which triggered the suspicion of murder at play. “The Photographer: Murder in Pinamar” is a documentary that focuses on the political murder of Cabezas in democratic Argentina, where he was murdered for doing his job.


‘The Photographer: Murder In Pinamar’ Summary: What Is The Documentary About?

Gabriel Michi, a friend, and colleague of José Luis Cabezas, shares his knowledge of that summer in 1997. He was with Cabezas in Pinamar that morning; they were covering a gala party the previous night. Michi wanted to leave at around 4 in the morning, but Cabezas wanted to stay a little longer. That was the last time Michi saw his friend. Cabezas enjoyed parties, and he had a great night before being taken away on the 25th of January, 1997.

Argentina at that time was swayed away by luxury and extravaganza. The politicians enjoyed their wealth and indulged in maintaining an expensive taste. President Carlos Menem promoted such a frivolous lifestyle. Pinamar was then emerging as the fashion mecca of Argentina. It was the place to be for all businessmen and politicians. The sudden death of Cabezas and too soon after leaving Pinamar did not sit right with most. It was only after reaching out to the police and mentioning that he was driving a white Ford Fiesta that the police informed him about the “accident.” The report filed by the police was extremely short and vague. Michi was taken to the pit in General Madariaga, where the burnt car was found. After witnessing the horrible scene, Michi inquired about Cabezas’s camera. The police said that they did not find it. They found a few burnt film rolls, a Texan boot, a watch, and some handcuffs. Only then did Michi find out that Cabezas was handcuffed before being murdered. This revelation dismisses the conclusion that was drawn by the police.

What could have been the reason for handcuffing the Noticias magazine photojournalist and murdering him in a heinous way? It became the most pertinent question. President Menem requested the journalists to not make the murder a political crime. He expressed how the case was a concern for the whole of Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, Governor Duhalde wanted the matter to be thoroughly investigated, mostly because he intended to launch a presidential campaign, and the murder of Cabezas scared him to death, knowing he could easily be the next target. After the autopsy, it was confirmed that Cabezas was shot in the head and was later burnt in the car.

Cabezas, at the time, was trying to establish his photography style. He tended to take high-angle shots where a certain idea of power relations could be deciphered from the pictures. Photojournalists mourned his death and demanded justice. It was at such a rally that the idea of “cameras up” came to play and that later became famous and symbolic.


Why The Police Had Their Doubt About The Case? Who Was Yabrán?

Eyebrows were raised when it was established that the police did not make any effort to investigate the case. And there was a reason for it, Cabezas worked on the news story titled “Damned police” published by Noticias. The article questioned the functioning of the Buenos Aires police, where officers had expensive cars, yachts, and even a house in Beverly Hills. The main photograph was taken by Cabezas of Police Chief Klodczyk; a high-angle picture was taken indicating another place of power. 

Meanwhile, the Dolores Investigation Brigade questioned Michi about all the investigations they had worked on. He mentioned the first one, which was at Ara Pacis Hotel. The hotel was owned by Yabrán. Nobody spoke about Alfredo Yabrán in Argentina; it was almost as if it was forbidden. The journalists knew that they must not mess with Yabrán, but that almost became a challenge for Noticias—to know what was not known. Yabrán was a Syrian man with a family. His family had a business. He started doing business during the military dictatorship, and he continued to maintain contacts even during the democratic government. He had connections even within the administration and the Catholic Church. He had a special connection with the Air Force, but nothing much was known about his business. Noticias started investigating him and published an article with the little that they knew as an attempt to start a discussion around this hidden figure. He was the most important businessman in Argentina during the 90s. He had a private email through OCA, bank clearing through OCASA, all the businesses at the Ezeiza Airport, and all other airports in the country through fiscal warehouses with the company EDCADASSA, and loaded and unloaded airplanes with the company Intercargo. He even had control over duty-free shops, meaning that if a product landed in Argentina, it went through the Yabran machine. When Cavallo, Minister of Economics, discussed the monopolization of Yabrán’s postal service, it became an important political discussion. Yabrán had by then established a state within a state where he had immense power and control to the point that it became a concern for politicians as well. As a result of a dispute between Menem and Cavallo, Cavallo left the government soon after. Later, he joined Duhalde in his political career.

The controversy escalated when Cabezas took a picture of Yabrán, who had until then stayed away from the camera. He had previously stated that taking a picture of him was equivalent to shooting him in the forehead. Cabezas had done exactly that; after studying the whereabouts of Yabrán, he knew where the man could be found in Pinamar that summer. The picture of Yabrán became the cover of the magazine, and the world now knew him by his face.


‘The Photographer: Murder In Pinamar’ Ending Explained: Who Murdered Jose Luis Cabezas?

Senator Martinez had contacted Duhalde, wanting to urgently meet him. They met at his farmhouse. The Senator said that his chauffeur claimed to know who was behind the murder of Cabezas. They figured out a way to make him talk, and they recorded the conversation. The accused were the Los Hornos gang, which consisted of four members. After getting arrested, they confessed to their crimes. They confessed that they were working under the orders of Gustavo Prellezo. Prellezo was a police officer who lived in La Plata. He had been the deputy police chief of the Pinamar police. The accusation spread to other police officers who collaborated with Prellezo. The police officer rented an apartment for the gang and identified the target for them. They started sharing vital pieces of information that could only be known by those who committed the crime. They said that Prellezo had shot Cabezas twice in the head, and a re-autopsy confirmed their claim.

Now the question is, what was Prellezo’s motive in murdering Cabezas? His schedule revealed that he had contact with Yabrán. With the help of a computerized system, the police were able to deduce how the two were connected. The call list indicated that he was in constant contact with a number that was registered under Bridress. Bridress was a security company that was the parent of all the security companies in the Yabrán group. The number was used by Gregorio Rios, the head of Yabrán home security. He was mostly in contact with the Pinamar police, and on the last day, they exchanged an incredible number of calls; after the crime, they stopped calling each other.

It was also discovered that Yabrán was in constant contact with the Ministry of Justice, individual judges, and even the President himself. Yabrán wanted a quiet summer in 1997, and by quiet, he meant a summer free of journalists, referring to the pictures that were taken the previous year that disrupted his life. Therefore, he decided to end the life of Cabezas. When an arrest warrant was released for Yabrán, he locked himself in a room and shot himself dead. He took his life before getting arrested by the police. He wrote a note stating his innocence. It was deduced that Cabezas was followed while he was returning home from the party. After he reached his house, he was kidnapped. He was tortured on the way, as the autopsy revealed. He was handcuffed and shot twice. He was locked in his car, and it was set ablaze in the pit.

All the convicts were given life sentences, but none remained in prison any longer. The Los Hornos gang left the prison between 2004 and 2007, taking advantage of the sentence reduction law “2X1”. The police officers had received life sentences without parole, but they were provided with criminal benefits and, eventually, they too were released from prison. When Prezello was released on parole in 2017, it was upon persistent complaints by Cabezas’s family that Prezello was not allowed to rejoin the workforce after his release. The murder of José Luis Cabezas is one of the many political crimes that are committed against journalists all over the world. A journalist who exposes the truth about the operations of the underworld is never accepted by the powerful. What is worse is how the criminals were released even after they disregarded the democratic rights of a citizen.


“The Photographer: Murder in Pinamar” is a 2022 Crime Documentary film streaming on Netflix.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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