Los Van Van Led by Killer Musician

Samuel Formell
Samuel Formell
Image via Key 2 Cuba

In most countries, a murderer who took part in strangling an old lady wouldn't be leading a get-down-and-boogie party propaganda machine sent around the world to spread goodwill. He'd be on death row or doing life behind bars.

But Los Van Van leader Samuel Formell, son of the band's founder Juan Formell, is not only a free man but also will lead the band this Sunday night at the James L. Knight Center  in downtown Miami (7 p.m., $62-$102). And he'll be banging on the drums he learned to play  when he was supposedly doing time in a Cuban prison, according to an underground Cuban blog posted this week.

Because communist apologists -- and Van Van fans -- will likely dismiss the story as sour grapes posted by a dissident who's had his writing materials confiscated and might not fully appreciate the wonderful things the Castro brothers have done, New Times tracked down two sources who were on the island when the story broke and who were closely and personally  acquainted with Formell and the victim's family. They declined to speak on the record for fear of retribution.

The following story outlined in Juan Gonzalez Febles's blog, they assure

us, is for the most part accurate. The only mistake they found was that

it named three, instead of two, thugs who took part in the 1984 killing

during a robbery in Havana:

"Samuel knew where to find the

(stereo) equipment, and, what's more, counted on the confidence (of the

victim) to gain access. Who would suspect anything from such a

delightful young man? After all, his father was a successful artist and

the old lady confided in (Samuel), who visited frequently and helped

around the house.

"One afternoon, he knocked on the door, and

the old lady, trustingly opened it. The three (it was two) young men

raided the house, gagged her, and immediately took charge. Samuel was

one of them. After the initial nervousness had worn off, Formell got

his accomplice's attention: 'She knows me. We have to kill her!' he


"The old lady was strangled with a phone cord and they fled with their booty."


Formell was arrested by the "ever-efficient" Technical Department of

Investigations (DTI) of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR),

Gonzalez Febles writes. He was taken to prison "to atone for his

terrible crime" but "only knew the exterior" of the compound and was

allowed to go home at night. He was later authorized to have his drums.


was released under house arrest and by 1990 was officially a free man,

according to our sources. After a short stint with the band of famous

singer Isaac Delgado, an eventual defector who helped get him out of

jail, Samuel joined his father's band.

So, if you catch the show

Sunday night, all of that singing and hip shaking might take on a slightly

different connotation. Samuel Formell has plenty to celebrate.

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