Fawzy Zablah

Preliminary Notes on a Miami Cannibal

Alejo Reinoso for Unsplash.
Alejo Reinoso for Unsplash.

May 4, 2020

Gabriel called. He’s ready to work on the documentary. We’re so inspired now that we’re already sending each other five-minute-long Voice Notes on WhatsApp discussing ideas. We have come to the understanding that despite the gruesome details of the brutal attack being the spur for this project, what fascinates us more is the life stories of the attacker and victim, and how their eventual encounter on that sunny day of May 2012, is just the bloody prologue of a more complex, nuanced story about the cultural wasteland of South Florida.

We have not been able to meet up because of the pandemic.

Below are my preliminary notes on the characters:

Rudy Eugene, 31 years old (perpetrator of attack, born in Miami, of Haitian descent)

Ronald Poppo, 65 years old (victim, homeless, originally from New York City)

Larry Vega (witness, alerted police)

Jose Ramirez (police officer)

Date of attack: May 26, 2012 (Memorial Day Weekend)

The perpetrator drove a purple 1995 Chevrolet Caprice with a painted Haitian Flag over the hood.

May 10, 2020

As I investigate it more, the victim and the cannibal have similar life trajectories, which then converge in horrific, spectacular fashion and everything changes after that.

The victim “dropped out” after college, and his family didn’t know of his whereabouts until the attack. They thought he was dead.

The cannibal was somewhat aimless, working odd jobs after high school with vague dreams about opening his own car wash business.

May 16, 2020

Everything is depressing. Being furloughed is depressing. Not being able to go out is depressing. Hearing ambulance sirens outside my window in the morning is extremely depressing.

I am trying to motivate myself. Trying to cheer myself up but I feel completely alone. Not sure if I will ever return to work. They claim not to have enough computers, that there’s a shortage now because everyone was caught with their pants down by the pandemic. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s probably true.

At the very least, I managed to figure out the state of Florida’s Mickey Mouse unemployment website which kept crashing every single time before submitting my application. Somehow, by the grace of God I was finally able to submit my application via the mobile version of the unemployment website and received a confirmation number. So at least I have that.

May 25, 2020

At the end of February right before the pandemic came to the states, Michelle came to visit. She stayed until March 2nd. On one of those days, we decided to stay in and watch a marathon of horror movies on Netflix. There were a lot of movies we hadn’t yet seen.

We watched the following films:

Bird Box


The Wicker Man (1973)

My Friend Dahmer

Thinking on it now, I realize watching Bird Box was like watching the world right before the pandemic arrived in North America. I remember being scared for the characters. Even if I didn’t think this was the best horror movie, it definitely kept me on my toes. Michelle laughed, and rolled her eyes at my every shriek.

It was the first movie we watched; it left me with an ominous feeling.

The second movie was My Friend Dahmer which is based on a graphic novel authored by a guy who went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer.

A person that was friends with the serial killer right at the cusp between brutal adolescence and homicidal adulthood. That was the movie I most wanted to watch, because it was more of a realistic horror. It was an interesting conceit: A Portrait of a Serial Killer as a Young Man.

The actor who played Dahmer was brilliant, he captured the awkwardness of a young psycho trying to find himself while watching his parent’s marriage dissolve before his eyes.

I ask myself, what made it fascinating? The story of evil before its final transformation will always be more interesting to me than any banal phantasmagorial horror created with CGI.

After that, we saw Hereditary, which also had some of the same actors as My Friend Dahmer. We liked it. It was a different kind of horror movie. It began with a death. The death of the grandmother. From such a familiar incident, the horror begins; it was the perfect set-up.

The last film we watched was the original, 1973 version of The Wicker Man, which was much better than the remake.

Michelle had arrived on Friday, February 28th while I was at work. I left the key under the rug and ordered her some food to be dropped off. These little mini trips to South Florida were her temporary escape from her abusive ex and a little break from her kids.

When I told my boss that I was back with an old ex-girlfriend, she told me that I was recycling. And it was true, we were back together, but she has a whole other life in Colorado, and I can’t actually see her uprooting her kids to move down here. There were other reasons as well. I did love her, but it wasn’t like the love we had the first time. This time it was different. I was still trying to get over my ex-wife, and now middle aged, I was still rough around the edges and fighting hard not to get bitter. And Michelle, she had also been through a lot; a cancer survivor and fighting hard every day to stay here. We were reunited and more mature, and like survivors of different calamities, trying to hold on to each other amidst the realization of all our failed dreams.

She went back to Colorado on Tuesday, March 3rd. It was a short trip, they always were and if it would have been longer, she would have been stuck in Miami.

Then the pandemic officially began when the NBA cancelled their season.

June 7, 2021

The victim of the Miami Cannibal, Ronald Poppo, was born in Brooklyn, NY, where he attended the prestigious Stuyvesant high school. He eventually went to a local college but dropped out. He had a child with a woman and then dropped out a second time from society around 1976 for unknown reasons. He was not to be heard from again by his family until the attack.

They thought he was already dead. I also read some reports that he joined a rock band either after or during college. He might have also experimented with drugs. His life seemed to have gotten off track around the late 70s and nobody really knows why.

Now just imagine that your biological father you don’t know much about completely disappears, and then one day just reappears again as the homeless victim of a cannibal zombie in beautiful Miami.

The victim and the perpetrator in a weird way are like kindred spirits, same type of aimless souls wandering the world. Rudy Eugene’s life story, like Poppo’s, is also all over the place.

As an adolescent, he would learn from his mother that the man he thought was his father wasn’t really his father. She told him that his father died when he was six.

The rest of Rudy’s bio is not much different from Poppo’s: he played high school football at North Miami Beach High School, didn’t attend college but instead worked odd jobs at McDonald’s or sold bootleg CDs or did telemarketing.  The last place where he worked before the attack was at a car dealership, washing cars. There are reports that he had set a goal to one day own his own Car Wash business.

The attack occurred on Memorial Day weekend, an especially busy time in Miami. According to his girlfriend at the time, Rudy Eugene woke up at around 5:30am to meet a friend. He told her he loved her and that he would see her later. He was holding his Bible at the time he left.

She would get a call from him hours later to tell her his car, a purple Chevrolet Caprice, had broken down in Miami Beach. He said he was going to take some time getting back home. That was the last she heard from him.

The next sighting of Rudy is from surveillance footage that caught him hanging around his broken-down car. Police think he might have attended a Memorial Day Beach weekend party before deserting his car and making his deadly trek back to Miami over the causeway.

Eye witness reports of Rudy walking back to Miami via the MacArthur Causeway depict erratic behavior. As he walked next to the roadway he began to take off all his clothes and throwing away all personal items including his wallet and a bible which was later found by police.

At a certain point, Rudy Eugene was completely naked walking in 90⸰ weather. As he gets closer to the other end of the causeway, he runs into Poppo taking a nap on the elevated train tracks of Miami’s Metromover. There are reports that they said something to each other, before Rudy began to beat him.

The attack, as described by eyewitnesses, is brutally savage and shocking. It began with Rudy stripping Poppo of his pants, before hitting him and chewing off his face, eyes, and nose. A passing cyclist called 911 upon coming across the grisly scene. The attack lasted for about 18 minutes before police officer Jose Ramirez shot Rudy after warning him to stop his attack. According to officer Ramirez, Rudy looked back at him, gnarled with Poppo’s skin hanging from his mouth, and went on to continue the attack and then was shot.

Surveillance footage from the aftermath show Rudy’s naked, lifeless body lying next to his victim like if they were tipped over Greek statues. And not even a minute later paramedics scrambled to save Poppo’s life.

The news media were quick to declare that the perpetrator was on ‘Bath Salts’ or some version of it, but the toxicology report that was eventually released couldn’t find anything except marijuana. The lab would later admit that he could have been on some new type of drug, but a test had not been established to detect it yet.

The other, more obscene explanation that was going around South Florida at the time was of an occult nature. There were rumors that Rudy was the victim of a voodoo spell that turned him into a cannibalistic zombie. It got so bad that his mother had trouble finding a funeral home in her own community to host the service.

The motive behind Rudy Eugene’s actions that day would remain a mystery. There were more “Bath Salts” attacks in South Florida until one day they started to become rarer. Authorities reported that a reason for the drop off in “Bath Salts” incidents could have been a result of the ingredients used in synthetic drugs, that were imported from China, being banned from entering the country.

Ronald Poppo said Rudy Eugene “ripped me to ribbons.”

He completely lost his sight after doctors were unable to save his surviving eye. His estranged family tried to reach out to him, and he only spoke to his sister but refused to see them. He remains at a Medicare Facility to this day and has recuperated. He doesn’t accept visitors, and refuses to talk about the attack again.

June 27, 2020

Michelle’s sister just called me to tell me she passed away suddenly last Saturday morning. It wasn’t COVID. I don’t know what else to write.

June 28, 2020

The last time we texted was on Friday, June 19 while she was working her erratic hours doing close-captioning. Her last text was regarding a story about a confederate statue being dragged down the streets by protesters somewhere in Georgia. I had been trying to talk to her the few days leading up to the weekend but either she was busy, or it was time to feed the kids, and then work all night, so I let it go.

We didn’t talk for an entire week, and, I didn’t find it strange because on occasion she’d go silent for reasons that sometimes had nothing to do with me. But that’s a lie, because I did think it was about me, that I might have said something.

She passed not too long after we texted. I think she was happy. I felt she was happy. Her sister said her blood pressure dropped, and her potassium was low and she fainted. They called an ambulance but by the time they got to the hospital it was too late. Her last wish was for her family to reach out to me and they did, they tried through Facebook but I hardly went on it. I only discovered those messages after the fact.

That entire time she was dead and I didn’t know. I didn’t feel it. I simply thought she was mad at me. After I had gotten sick of what I believed was the silent treatment, I texted Michelle, “Are you awake?” An unknown number called me immediately. It was her sister. After she told me Michelle passed, she invited me to her funeral that was being held via ZOOM that night.

I logged in early. I kept the camera off. I was a mess.

July 23, 2020

I’ve been called back in to work. They will be sending me a laptop next week to begin remote work.

The number of dead keeps climbing. I don’t watch the news, but people keep texting me about it.

Every time I go to sleep at night, I set out to dream about Michelle, but nothing comes. My thoughts are blank, or at least I don’t remember my dreams.

One morning I did wake up, and I think I dreamed about her briefly, because I was engulfed by an unexplainable happiness and relief. It rained earlier, and when I went to open the shades of my bedroom there was an unbroken rainbow in the sky.

September 19, 2025

I am sitting on the set of the Miami Cannibal documentary. Gabriel is setting up for an interview with a family member of the victim. He’s explaining the shot, and how they don’t have to answer in any particular way, and can try as best they can to ignore the camera. He reiterates that this is a conversation, and we’ve still yet to know which part of their answer will be used for the film, so talk away, un-self-consciously and only focus on the interviewer.

The question was about not continuing the search after their family member drops off the face of the earth. Did they hire a P.I.? Call the police? Organize a search party?

The woman, one of the victim’s nieces said the following:

“He always disappeared from time to time. It was always happening, and the more it happened it went on for longer and longer. He had looney behavior.”

Gabriel asks, “And that’s why you stopped searching for him?”

The woman: “Why did we stop? We stopped searching because we had to go on with our lives and figured he just didn’t want anything to do with us. Then one year turned to two, and then three, and then finally 30 years and we honestly thought he was probably dead. He was family, but we had our lives. Who ends up homeless in Miami? Let alone the victim of a freak cannibal attack in broad daylight? People go missing every day; even people that don’t want to be found.”


This was originally published in Expat Press.

About the Author
Fawzy Zablah was born in El Salvador but raised in Miami. Among his works is the short story collection CIAO! MIAMI and the novel RARITY OF THE CENTURY. His fiction has been published widely at Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Acentos Review and Expat Press. His new novel, This Modern Man is Beat: A Novel in Stories, was just published by SIMI Press:
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