The Public Narrative of the Disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Stoulman


Almost 41 years ago to the day, Chilean citizens Jacobo Stoulman and Matilde Pessa Stoulman disappeared while travelling in Buenos Aires. Despite attempts to locate them and determine why they were abducted, by whom, and what their ultimate fate was, we still only have an incomplete story. The following declassified records reveal what is publicly known of the Stoulman’s disappearance and serve as an example of how the declassification process can continue to help us learn about human rights abuses and bring closure to the families of the disappeared.


Overview of the Case:

In May of 1977 Mr. Jacobo Stoulman and his wife Matilde Pessa Stoulman went missing in Buenos Aires. Mr. Stoulman was a wealthy member of the Jewish community in Chile, and was involved in a travel agency, and a foreign exchange company that handled the funds of the Communist Party of Chile. However, Mr. Stoulman had no known political affiliation. After they disappeared in Argentina, their family tried to inquire about their fate with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Vicariate of Solidarity, and various NGOs. They also hired several prominent Chilean attorneys who travelled to Buenos Aires but were warned to discontinue their search on behalf of the Stoulman family before they could find any answers.


In an official cable from 1977, General Videla informed the Chilean Foreign Affairs Ministry that the couple had been detained but released shortly afterwards to continue their journey to Montevideo (on a flight that proved to be nonexistent according to declassified documentation that we have access to.) The investigation was not followed to Uruguay.


Following their abduction, the Stoulmans’ bank accounts in the United States and Europe were emptied, and nearly one million dollars disappeared. According to a wide array of partial evidence coming from declassified FBI documents, cables from the Legal Attaché in Buenos Aires, and investigations/inquiries from the Stoulman family and the Anti-Defamation League, it is believed that the Argentine and Chilean security forces coordinated their actions to abduct the couple and obtain access to their bank accounts. These intentions were ideologically veiled by a DINE agent in Argentina who suggested that Mr. Stoulman was connected to the Montoneros-Gravier case, which linked the guerrillas and a well-known Jewish financier, as part of a “Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy against Argentina and the rest of the Western World”. Despite the efforts of the family, no specific information was obtained, other than a mention in both the Chilean Rettig and Argentine Nunca mas reports.


The Documents:

August 2, 1977- Chilean Opinion on the Stoulman Matter

[ Electronic Telegrams 1977SANTIA06320]

In this telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago it is revealed that Senior Chilean Rabbis say that the Stoulmans were taken by an Argentine army unit and that the Government of Chile is working to get them back. They want U.S. ambassadors to appeal to the Government of Argentina to release them. Pinochet reportedly called Argentina on their behalf because the Stoulmans were strong junta supporters and fled Chile during the time of Allende. The Stoulman family has learned that Jacobo had been writing checks to fictitious Argentines against his US bank account and had passed some instructions on to his Swiss bank account managers recently. Rabbi Kreiman stressed that the Stoulman situation was “completely apolitical”, at least from the Government of Chile’s perspective, he also stated that there is an anti-Semitic tinge in Argentina, unlike Chile. “The quiet way in which the Stoulman matter is being handled here and the careful attempt to distinguish it from any political taint on the Chilean side would account for the negative responses from Argentine human rights organizations,” he said.


August 10, 1977- U.S. Government’s Position on Individual Cases

[Department of State Virtual Reading Room 0000A1B5.pdf]


In this cable from the U.S. embassy in Santiago, Chile to the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Assistant Secretary Todman is being told not to personally take up the Stoulman case. “We are recommending to Todman that he not attempt to take up such individual cases of human rights interests, but that they be referred to the embassy for appropriate action. If approach is made to the embassy by Stoulman attorneys or relatives, request that you indicate that Ambassador Todman cannot undertake to deal with individual cases and that the embassy will do so on his behalf.” This cable was in response to the reports that members of the Stoulmans’ family were looking to get a personal audience with Ambassador Todman (who was stationed in Buenos Aires at the time) during his visit to Santiago. The family was looking to make a contact with connections in Argentina to help them secure the safe return of Jacobo and Matilde.  This document is interesting because it shows that although the U.S. government was interested in the Stoulman case, especially as far as crimes related to their abduction seemingly took place within the banking system of the United States, they were actively telling the visiting ambassador to not get involved in the matter.



October 5, 1977- Argentine Government Denies Knowledge of the Stoulmans’ Detention

[Department of State Virtual Reading Room 0000A24F.pdf]

This declassified cable evidences the ongoing communication between the U.S. embassy in Santiago and the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires in regards to the Stoulman case. The disappearance of the Stoulmans was raised with the ministry of foreign affairs human rights working group, but Fonoff replied that “the government [of Argentina] has no information on the individuals, no registry of detention.” It is also remarked by the embassy staff in Buenos Aires that “although the Stoulman case is well known among Jewish circles in Buenos Aires, it has not received attention in the press” so it isn’t a main focus in terms of well-known cases of human rights abuses and disappearances. There is also skepticism expressed about the denial of the Argentine government that they have no knowledge of the Stoulmans, considering that “the Ezeiza Airport is one of the most closely controlled areas in the country, and if the Stoulmans were in fact abducted before leaving the airport grounds then MFA’s ‘no record’ comment is puzzling.”


November 4, 1977- The Miami Bank

[FBI AirTel F14N2393887.pdf]

In this declassified Miami teletype to the FBI, information about the Stoulmans’ bank accounts in Miami, Florida is revealed. The FBI was able to take a special interest in and to actively investigate the Stoulmans disappearance tangentially because of the fact that money was withdrawn from their bank accounts in a Miami bank after they had disappeared. It was (and still is) believed that their disappearance was prompted at least in part by the desire of the Argentine government to have access to their money, which really set this case apart from others at the time. This document reveals that the FBI has identified three persons of interest in the case: Nelson De La Vega and Luis Rodriguez whose names were on the bank account at the Bank of Miami that it is believed the Stoulmans’ money was deposited into and then disappeared from, and Percy Herrera who was a bank employee at the time suspicious activity was happening but has since resigned from his position. At the end of the document it is stated that there will be follow up interviews with bank employees to try to find out more.


November 9, 1977- Why the Argentine Government was Interested in the Stoulmans

[Department of State Virtual Reading Room 0000A596.pdf]


This interesting teletype from the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires to the Secretary of State lays out what is known about the logistics of the Stoulmans’ disappearance and shows that there was interest about the case within the United State, especially among the Jewish community. Rabbi Morton Rosenthal “expressed serious concern” regarding the disappearance of the Stoulmans and presented the following info to embassy officials. “May 29: Mr. and Mrs. Stoulman arrived in Buenos Aires from Santiago and they were picked up by Argentine security forces at the foot of the boarding ramp.” Their family sent two attorneys to find them shortly afterwards, but these lawyers received threats regarding their safety which they presumed came from Argentine Security forces. The family believes that the Stoulmans were picked up for questioning about possible involvement with David Graiver. The Government of Argentina informed the Government of Chile “that the Stoulmans were questioned on May 29, released on May 30, and showed “proof” that they traveled on to Montevideo by way of a flight passenger list and a hotel registration.” (The Embassy was aware that Argentine officials have “back stopped” disappearances within Argentina of Chilean Nationals by showing evidence of their onward travel to Uruguay) There has been concern expressed over the “apparent extortion” happening because 3 handwritten notes from Mr. Stoulman to his bank asking to have money transferred to an account in Miami have surfaced after his disappearance.


August 9, 1979- Rabbi Rosenthal and his Chilean Source

[FBI Teletype f14n2393901-03.pdf]

In this informative document, the extent of the abuses committed against the Stoulmans by the Argentine government is brought to light by Rabbi Rosenthal of the Anti-Defamation League and his source in Chile. Rabbi Rosenthal was a great advocate for the Stoulman family in the United States, he was in contact with several sources in Chile so that he could learn as much as possible about the Stoulmans fate, and so that he could keep applying pressure on the U.S. government to get involved. According to them, the Stoulmans were detained by “elements of the Argentine Air Force” due to their financial and business activities. “This interrogation proved fatal to the Stoulmans almost immediately.” In an attempt to cover up this atrocity, airline reservations from Buenos Aires to Montevideo were made in the Stoulmans name; meanwhile, “unsavory elements connected with the Government of Argentina “were funneling money out of their bank account and out of the U.S. via a bank in Miami.” There are very few documents that offer any insight into what became of the Stoulmans or that lay out the main crimes committed against them as extensively as this.