When ABC presented a demeaning image of Philippine-trained doctors in a “Desperate Housewives” episode (September 30, 2007), the Filipino community erupted in outrage and demanded an apology. Because Filipinos rarely appear on national TV, it was feared that the offending episode would cause Americans to view their Philippine-educated physicians in a negative light. That ABC episode is peanuts in terms of image and consequence compared to the depiction of Filipinos that CBS presented on January 31, 2009 in its CBS 48 Hours Mystery episode of “Conspiracy to Kill”.
CBS correspondent Peter Van Sant’s hour-long documentary began with this introduction:
“Larry Risken was a Navy officer. Earl Bourdeau was a Marine. Nineteen years apart, they married the same woman: Sonia Rios. And both military men met the same fate -- ambushed and gunned down in the Philippines, in the presence of Sonia's family. The families of Risken and Bourdeau say they’re sure Sonia was the mastermind in both killings. Then a year after Larry's Risken’s murder, Sonia suffered the same fate herself - gunned down in her home, on the south side of Los Angeles. By then, she’d been dubbed, “The Black Widow of Lomita.”
Larry Risken was a commander in the US Navy when he met Sonia Rios, a successful Filipina businesswoman who owned her own beauty salon in Lomita, California, and who drove around in a flashy Corvette. She had been previously married and divorced, his family was told.
Larry and Sonia were married in 1990 in three separate wedding ceremonies which excluded members of Risken’s family. But Larry visited the Philippines several times to spend time with Sonia’s family. In one of the visits, he met Sonia’s niece, Quinzy, and nephew, Jetmark, and decided to adopt them.
Sonia was supposed to take care of the adoption but when Larry found out that Sonia had sabotaged the process and did not want them to come to the US, his relationship with Sonia soured.
Fed up with Sonia, Larry began seeing a co-teacher, Eileen Stevens. When Larry told Sonia of his feelings for Eileen, she “flew into a rage” especially after Larry asked for a divorce after 16 years of marriage.
Sonia consented to the divorce but only after Larry visited the Philippines to see Quinzy and Jetmark one last time. Despite his parents’ misgivings about traveling to the Philippines by himself, Larry flew to Manila.
On April 18, 2006, while piling into a Jeep after taking one of Sonia’s nieces to a hospital to be treated for an eye infection, a gunman on a motorcycle shot Larry in the head and stomach, killing him instantly.
When 14-year old Jetmark called his aunt Sonia to tell her the devastating news, he was shocked to hear her response: "Jet, don’t worry. Everything is under control. Nothing to worry about."
Risken’s family, frustrated that the Philippine police could do nothing to solve the murder, decided to hire private investigator Bong Oteza, who concluded that it was a well-planned hit. Bong learned that Sonia had a $1 million insurance policy on Larry Risken.
Bong also learned that Risken was not the first Sonia husband to meet that fate. It turns out that she had been previously married to a US marine named Earl John Bourdeau who met her on his first overseas tour of duty in the Philippines in 1963. He married her and brought her to the US to meet his parents and settled in Lomita, California.
According to Sonia’s good friend, Henry Hoskins, Sonia was not into fidelity. “I knew some of her boyfriends. She was dating professional people," he said.
After 21 years of marriage, Bourdeau wanted out of the marriage. But Sonia would only agree to a divorce if he would go to the Philippines to “sell a family taxi business”.
Although he did not want to go, Bourdeau went and stayed at the home of Sonia’s brother. He was asleep on August 15, 1987, when he was shot at point blank range. Sonia’s brothers claimed that he was killed during a break-in.
Philippine police authorities would not buy that story, however, and within weeks of the murder, they solved the case. Five people, including two of Sonia Rios’ brothers (one of whom had blood splatters on his shirt), were arrested and charged with the murder.
The CBS reporter then said that everything stopped. “Do you believe that someone may have been paid off to stop this investigation? Van Sant asks Oteza. "Yes, to stop the investigation. Yes, to drop the charges against the five family members," he replies. Incredibly, Oteza says it takes as little as $1,000 to stop a criminal investigation. And he thinks he knows who paid to stop this one. "The person that wanted Earl Bourdeau dead is someone that will benefit and that is Sonia Rios."
Yes, folks, visit the Philippines where you can hire a hitman to kill your spouse for a few bucks (and collect millions in insurance money) and pay as little as a thousand dollars to stop the criminal investigation.
After cashing in on Bourdeau’s death, about 19 years later, Sonia did it again. But in Risken’s case, Sonia was unable to collect on his million dollar policy because Risken’s relatives cried foul.
Risken’s sister, Ellen Jackson, told Van Sant: "Sonia used the Philippines as a killing ground in two murders and no one has been brought to justice."
About one year after Risken’s murder, the 60-year old “Black Widow of Lomita”, Sonia Rios, was found dead in her home with a gunshot to her head.
The CBS 48 Hours Mystery did not end with the unsolved murders of Sonia and her two husbands. Its reporter and crew tracked down the remains of Bourdeau in the Philippines with the assistance of a Filipina forensic pathologist, Rachel Fortun. After confirming that the bones in a crypt belonged to Bourdeau, 48 Hours paid for the bones to be transported to Davenpot, Iowa where they were buried last month, 21 years after Bourdeau’s murder.
Within hours after the TV episode appeared on January 31, emails poured into the CBS website denouncing Sonia Rios and other “gold diggers and murderers” from the Philippines. One wrote that “anyone who gets involved with a person born and raised in the Philippines needs to understand that they are not like us…they are for the most part materialistic, greedy, manipulative, heartless people.” One psychopath (“cliffps”) even suggested that “what we need to do is take the law into our own hands but do so quietly and continue evening the score. It might take time, maybe a little bit (or a lot) of scheming and strategizing on one end but justice can certainly be accomplished.”
One American man married to a Filipina, Jack Spratzer, tried to stem the racist tide: “Don’t paint a race of people with a broad brush. I know the Philippines and her people and I can tell you that the Filipino people are kind, loving, polite and generous” but he was decidedly in the minority.
A new vile stereotype has been virally spread and many Filipino women married to American men will face suspicions, ugly accusations and harassment from their husbands and their husbands’ kinfolk because of Sonia Rios and the CBS show that exposed her.
(If you were unable to watch the clip in the embedded player above, click "here".)