On 15 October 2014, the At the Top Sky observation deck on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, was officially opened. Scarcely a month later, on 16 November 2014, my daughter Laura Vanessa Nunes died by suicide from the deck. The government of Dubai covered up her death.
This website is dedicated to Laura.
On the afternoon of 18 November 2014, my mobile phone rang.
“It’s Laura. She fell to her death from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa. She had a meal at a restaurant, left her purse on the table, moved to a sliding door, opened it, and walked out. The police contacted me as they found my name and telephone number on a piece of paper in her passport. I think she died on Sunday. The Portuguese authorities are waiting for Dubai to furnish them with the official report of her death. They should complete their investigations within a week.”
For two days before the call, Luis Camara Deputy Head of Mission and Consul from the Embassy of Portugal in Abu Dhabi Luis had been in contact with various governmental departments and colleagues in Portugal, trying to find the contact details of Laura’s relatives, and me.
The Portuguese embassy in Abu Dhabi represents the Portuguese community in the Middle East. There is no Portuguese representation in Dubai.
An email sent by Luis Camara on 17 November at 10:37 AM
- We were contacted this morning by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which informed us that the national citizen LAURA VANESSA NUNES, born in South Africa on 01.07.1976, committed suicide in Dubai, having jumped from the 38th floor of a hotel.
- We will meet with the CID in order to better understand what happened.
- I would be grateful if her family could be contacted to determine what to do with her body and personal property.
At 14:22 PM the second email was sent.
“The death of the national citizen LAURA VANESSA NUNES is under investigation by the CID, although suicide is a probable cause, and may take one week. She just left a handbag with some personal property. She committed suicide by throwing herself from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, where there are restaurants with a panoramic terrace. The CID does not have any record of her stay in a hotel.
We will meet with the CID in order to better understand what happened.”
‘The CID does not have any record of her stay in a hotel’.
I later found out that after Laura’s death, her handbag was retrieved from the courtesy desk on the ground floor of the Burj Khalifa by the CID Dubai.
Amongst the items in her handbag was her South African passport which contained my contact details.
There would not have been an entry visa stamp in her South African passport from when she entered Dubai from Qatar on 18 October as she always used her Portuguese passport in the Middle East to save on visa fees.
Why did the Dubai Police send the Portuguese authorities on a run around trying to find me when they had the information right in front of them?
On page 32 of Laura’s South African passport:
‘In case of accident or death notify:
Name: Leona Sykes
Telephone: My mobile number
It was signed by Laura.
Laura wanted me to be contacted after her death. That’s why she had her South African passport with her.
They also found the invoices for her stay at the Abidos Hotel, Dubailand, which they removed from two envelopes and a bill folder on which there was the Abidos Hotel logo. They forgot to remove the envelopes and the bill folder as well. So before contacting Luis Camara they knew exactly where Laura had been staying.
They then went to the Abidos Hotel and removed her Portuguese passport and two debit cards from her belongings.
Once I had established contact with Luis Camara, I asked him if he could try to find out where Laura had been staying in Dubai, as apart from wanting to hold something that she had touched, pressing my face into one of her abayas and smelling her, anything, maybe her computer and phone might hold answers to her death. I was also concerned about the cats of whom she had posted photographs on her Facebook in the months before her death. They could be in her apartment and could die from thirst and starvation.
I sent an email, “Attached are some images of her and where she might have been staying in Dubai.
Will it be possible for CID Dubai to put a notice in the newspapers asking people to come forward if they knew her? Maybe there could be a better understanding of why she took her life.”
I also sent some photographs of Laura dressed in an abaya. “Laura also used to wear Arab clothes.” And some photographs of the apartment where she had resided in 2012.
Luis forwarded the email to the CID Police Dubai. My request was ignored. I was denied some sort of comfort, as small as it was.
I contacted the Burj Khalifa. I made contact with the Armani hotel. I wanted to see the footage of Laura on the observation deck before she died. I wanted to make sure that it was her. There was a blanket of silence.
Two weeks later, the conclusion of the police investigation into Laura’s death was suicide. I had more questions that Luis Camara couldn’t answer, so I started to communicate directly with CID Police.
Why were there two versions of the location of her death?
And the information that the person had given me about Laura’s death did not make sense. There was no restaurant on the 148th floor. There were no sliding doors where she could have walked out to her death.
I didn’t know what to believe. Had she been murdered?
I couldn’t understand how Laura could have fallen to her death from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa. How could she? How could she slip through one of the open gaps between the two large panes of glass? It shouldn’t have been possible. Surely they were too small? Where was security? Why didn’t anyone notice? Why didn’t anyone stop her?
Her death had not been covered by the media in Dubai. Why not? Was she still alive?
“We were contacted this morning by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which informed us that the national citizen LAURA VANESSA NUNES, born in South Africa on 01.07.1976, committed suicide in Dubai, having jumped from the 38th floor of a hotel.”
If this was the correct version, had she been pushed or had she jumped?
The first 38 floors of the Burj Khalifa are occupied by the Armani hotel and on the 38th floor, there are five Signature Suites.
After a lot of communication with the CID police and a woman from the Victims Support Program of the Dubai Police an inspector from the CID phoned me and during our conversation, he told me that Laura’s body had been found outside the Amal Restaurant on the third floor of the Burj Khalifa. When I asked him where Laura had been staying, he wouldn’t tell me. When I asked him once again, “Where was my daughter staying?” he became very irritable. I requested the footage of Laura from the Burj Khalifa. He said that I should go to Dubai to see for myself. And then he refused to answer any more questions.
I had to see the footage as I could not live with the uncertainty of how she had died, and if she had died. I would go crazy. Had she fallen from the 38th floor or the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa? Which signature suite was directly above the Amal restaurant? Had Laura been with someone in this suite? Had there been a heated argument? Who was the occupant of the suite?
On 9 January 2015, two days after I received Laura’s handbag, on her iPhone, which was not password protected, I found the identity and contact details of the mysterious Emirati whom she had met, I believe, at the end of 2009, at Zighy Bay, Oman, where she had been working at the time. Mubarak bin Fahad. I sent him an email, attaching two photographs of Laura. “What happened to my daughter on 16 November?”
The last message on her iPhone on the day she died, at 3:43:56 PM, Dubai time, was from Mubarak. “Yes.”
There is no suggestion that Mubarak was responsible for Laura’s death. Her love for him was obsessive, and she was not strong enough to break free.
There was a Blackberry phone in one of the plastic bags in her handbag. I only realised about a year later that the contents in the plastic bags were on her when she fell to her death. The back of the Blackberry was damaged and there was no battery. The sim card was missing. In another plastic bag was an ankle bracelet, beads strung together on a piece of shirring elastic. The elastic had snapped and there were loose beads in the plastic bag alongside what remained of the bracelet. The tiny beads were retrieved. What happened to the sim card and battery? I would have liked to know who she had contacted on her Blackberry before her death, but the phone is password protected and apparently, only the FBI (who use/used Blackberries) would be able to bypass the password.
I also found the empty Abidos Hotel envelopes and bill folder and I followed the trail, just as the CID Police had done, and after a minor battle which is a story in itself, I eventually retrieved Laura’s luggage.
I was never meant to find out where she had been staying.
If the CID Police had removed the envelopes and the bill folder along with the invoices from the Abidos Hotel, I would never have known where Laura had been staying, and I wouldn’t have been able to find some comfort in what she left behind.
On 28 February 2015, we held a small memorial service for Laura on the beach in Hout Bay, South Africa, her ashes in a round silver metal container positioned on the sand in the middle of the circle we had formed. It was covered with the plain abaya that she wore most of the time. On top of it was her hanging prayer mat and prayer beads. I was wearing her Shiva-Shakti pendant around my neck.
Afterward, we took her out to sea, and I lay her ashes, handful by handful, gently on the surface of the water. She was finally free.
I booked a ticket to visit Dubai on 13 March and a ticket for the At the Top Sky observation deck. 16 March, 18:45. It would be the same time she died, four months after her death.
As irrational as it was, I had to be there. I had to stand where Laura had been standing. She had been all alone when she died.
I was thinking of wearing one of Laura’s abayas and taking a red rose to place on the floor, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I had read enough articles about how people would disappear in Dubai, or how they would be detained on minor or trumped-up charges. I needed to see the footage, and if it was Laura, I needed to see what she was like before she took that final step to her death. And I needed to see from which floor she fell.
I chose to stay at the hotel where Laura had been living and requested Room 309, her room for the last month of her life. It was not available. Instead, I was given Room 909, six stories above her room.
A selfie that Laura had taken of herself in Room 309 on 4 November 2014
I informed the CID Police that I would be visiting Dubai, and they gave me a report number registered at Bur Dubai Police station.
“Please use this report no… during your visit to UAE.”
I wanted to follow in Laura’s footsteps in Dubai. What had she found so alluring about this small country in the desert? And maybe find the apartment block in the Dubai Marina where she lived for most of 2012.
I was also hoping to arrange a meeting with Mubarak and sent him an email with my arrival and departure dates. Upon arrival I contacted him and he replied that he was out of the country but if I was still in Dubai upon his return we could definitely meet. He would only be returning a few days after I left Dubai.
As I was waiting on the ground floor of the Burj Khalifa, I was befriended by an Algerian businessman in transit from a visit to China. He accompanied me to the deck and witnessed my conversation with a Kenyan security officer named Vincent who said he had heard of Laura’s suicide but hadn’t been working at the Burj Khalifa at the time of her death. The Algerian also heard my conversation with a hostile security supervisor on the ground floor of the Burj Khalifa when I asked if I could see the footage of Laura on the observation deck. He told me that the CCTV footage had been given to the Dubai Police.
The following morning, I sent an email to one of my sons back in South Africa.
“I’m okay. Nothing happened last night. Strange noises were coming from outside my room during the night. I am feeling very nervous.
I fear that my trip to the CID at the Bur Dubai Police Station will be a waste of time, but I have to do it.”
I didn’t think that I would be allowed to watch the footage.
I also mentioned that I found the security presence at the Burj Khalifa slightly menacing.
Still feeling unsettled and thinking that I could disappear and no one would know about her death or that I had disappeared, I sent emails to 7daysindubai and Al Jazeera. My family back in South Africa would not be able to help.
At least if something happened to me, hopefully, one of the agencies would pick up Laura’s story.
Subject: Burj Khalifa’s Best Kept Secret.
On 16 November 2014 my daughter, a Portuguese national that entered Dubai on a tourist visa fell to her death from the At the Top Sky observation deck on the 148th floor. the Burj Khalifa ignored my requests to see the footage of this tragedy and last, on the 4 month anniversary of her death, I went to the deck at the same time she would have been there, as she had died alone, and to try to find answers to my questions. How could she have fallen from the tallest tower in the world? I asked a security supervisor on my way out if I could see the footage. he said that it was with the police. The police had told me ‘you come you see’, and that the Burj Khalifa would let me see the footage if I visited Dubai from South Africa. I will be going to the Bur Dubai police station today, the CID division. I have not received the full investigative report and the blood tests were outstanding. The police were still investigating her death as recently as 11 February. I am at the Abidos Hotel, Dubailand.”
I had a meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Tariq Mohd at the Bur Dubai police station in his large rectangular office. Also at the meeting, was an elderly Emirati and a member of the Victims Support Program of the Dubai Police, a female chaperone. In our discussion, he told me that at the request of the Dubai Police, the open gaps on the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa were made smaller. At the end of our meeting, I was taken back to the Victims Support Program’s office and an irritable inspector showed me the footage of Laura standing on the deck on the 148th-floor minutes before her death. It was so quick that I had to watch it again. And again.
I finally understood.
And I was, and still am, very grateful to those that made it possible for me to view the footage, and for being so courteous and respectful. If I had not seen the footage I would still be wondering what had really happened to Laura.
On the day before I returned to South Africa, I stood outside the Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa in the background, holding two makeshift placards, my solo, silent protest against the Government of Dubai, wearing one of Laura’s dresses with her Shiva/Shakti pendant around my neck.
Upon my return to South Africa and as part of my quest not to be complicit with the Dubai government’s cover-up of Laura’s death, I added Laura’s suicide to the fatality section of the Burj Khalifa’s Wikipedia page using Lieutenant Colonel Tariq Mohd as a reference.
“On 16 November 2014, Laura Vanessa Nunes, a Portuguese national that entered Dubai on a tourist visa, fell to her death from the At the Top Sky observation deck on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai.”
I posted a review of the At the Top Sky observation deck on TripAdvisor.
“I visited the At the Top Sky observation deck on 16 March 2015, four months after my 38-year-old daughter fell to her death on 16 November 2014, falling to the 3rd floor on the balcony outside the Amal restaurant of the Armani Hotel. I couldn’t understand how she could have fallen from the tallest tower in the world and a top tourist attraction. The next day I viewed the footage at the Bur Dubai police station. She slipped through a gap just above the handrail and fell to her death. At the request of the police, the windows and gaps were changed, but I could still put my head through the gap when I visited.
I created a video on youtube.
Laura Vanessa Nunes – Burj Khalifa’s best-kept secret
“Laura Vanessa Nunes – The Cover-up I went to Dubai in March 2015 to find answers. My daughter fell to her death from the At the Top Sky observation deck on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, her little body landing on the balcony outside the Amal Restaurant on the 3rd floor of the Armani Hotel. The main criteria to see the footage of the last moments of her life, which I did on 17 March at the Bur Dubai police station. These are now the last memories I have of Laura. Laura spent the last month of her life at the Abidos Hotel, Dubailand, and I stayed there during my visit to be close to where she had been. And other questions were answered. I have the original Coroner’s report issued by the Government of Dubai, both in English and Arabic, stating that her body was found on the 3rd floor of the Burj Khalifa. Laura was a young woman who never intentionally harmed anyone. She had a pure heart. Hers is a love story. A Juliet without a Romeo. Laura didn’t deserve such a terrible, terrible death, or the injustice that followed.”
A few days later I posted the requested review of the Abidos Hotel Dubai from booking.com which had been sent to Laura, on my google + page, for her to rate her stay at the Abidos Hotel.
Will Jordan of Al Jazeera contacted me about a month later, his gentle voice soothing my pain. I spoke to him in-depth about Laura’s suicide, and weeks later he put me in touch with investigative journalist Rob Davies, who was in Vietnam at the time. Both Will and Rob were instrumental in exposing the cover-up by the Dubai government. On 18 May 2015, Rob’s article in the Daily Mail. I am eternally grateful to them both.
After the Daily Mail article, my contribution to the Burj Khalifa Wikipedia page was removed and replaced with the Government of Dubai’s version.
“The Daily Mail reported that on 16 November 2014, a Portuguese national who was in Dubai on a tourist visa, fell to her death from Burj Khalifa’s “At the Top” observation deck on the 148th floor. However, on 18 May 2015, Dubai police disputed the report made by the Daily Mail on this incident and said that this incident took place in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.”
Shortly afterwards, the Burj Khalifa page became semi-protected that prevented me from adding new information to the fatalities section.
Once the page was no longer semi-protected, I inserted the evidence from the first page of the coroners’ report.
The Dubai coroners’ report stated Laura’s body had been found on the third floor of the Burj Khalifa.
Interestingly, the coroner’s report does not mention Laura’s surname.
The Daily Mail was not interested in publishing a follow-up story, despite the evidence of the coroner’s report which was issued by the Government of Dubai on 18 November 2014.
From Rob Davies twitter account:
“Burj Khalifa suicide story, now with coroner’s report that contradicts Dubai Police denial.”
A comment under the tweet:
“If she saw the CCTV footage surely that’s proof in itself. Utterly mindboggling.”
I was denied closure once again and effectively called a liar by the Dubai government.
I continued to seek the truth being told about the location of Laura’s death, sending a message to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, on his website on 27 September 2015. He had just lost his son.
Laura had died almost ten months earlier. I was hoping to appeal to the gentler side of him, the poet.
“Your son died recently…my daughter died on 16 November 2014.
What kind of country do you rule and what sort of ruler are you where you allow (or perhaps command) that the Government of Dubai and the Dubai Police continue to blatantly lie about the circumstances of my daughter’s death from the Burj Khalifa?
I saw the footage at the Bur Dubai Police Station…you know that…and she slipped effortlessly through a gap between two panes of glass just above the handrail, from the At the Top Sky observation deck on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa…”
Needless to say, he never responded. And the ‘Email His Highness’ page no longer exists.
18 March 2016, a year after the Daily Mail article I created another YouTube video.
Laura Vanessa Nunes – Burj Khalifa’s best-kept secret exposed.
“Rob Davies with the Daily Mail exposed the government of Dubai and the Emaar Property Group’s best-kept secret, the death of my daughter Laura Vanessa Nunes from the Burj Khalifa. I would like to thank Rob Davies and the Daily Mail, and all the news media around the world that published the truth about Laura’s death. And a special thanks to Will Jordan of Al Jazeera. I couldn’t understand how Laura’s death hadn’t been noticed by tourists that had been on the deck with her. After I saw the CCTV footage at the Bur Dubai police station, I understood. I am still trying to understand why the government of Dubai is lying about the circumstances of Laura’s death. Perhaps you could enlighten me Maktoum? Why are you so intent on protecting the Burj Khalifa and the Emaar Property Group?”
On 7 November 2016, I received a message from Mark Saunokonoko on the Facebook page I had created for Laura upon my return from Dubai, Laura Vanessa Nunes – The Cover-up. He introduced himself as an investigative journalist from Australia and asked for my email address. He was interested in doing a follow-up on Laura’s story. During his research, he visited Dubai, and despite having lived and worked in Dubai in the past, where he had made friends and connections, nobody wanted to speak to him about Laura’s death.
On the third anniversary of Laura’s death, 9NEWS published the article.
In the article, “The Internet is censored inside the UAE. News that could reflect poorly on the country or important people, including the ruling royal family, is blocked. There is a brief entry about Laura’s suicide on the Wikipedia page of the Burj Khalifa. Leona has attempted to add more detail about Laura’s death, but it has been edited out several times by a user named Emir of Wikipedia. Activity logs show the Emir of Wikipedia has a dedicated interest in editing the Wikipedia pages of Dubai’s elite ruling class and some of the Emirate’s most significant organisations.
Mark added the final proof of the location of Laura’s death to the Burj Khalifa’s Wikipedia page.
“Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information act from Portugal’s embassy in the UAE also confirmed that she had committed suicide from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa.”
Reaction to Marc’s article:
“What a harrowing, infuriating and unjust story. Really incredible reporting about something that was clearly never meant to be made public but should be.”
“Jaw-dropping cover-up. Well done for its exposure.”
I still have one question that neither Mohamed Alabbar, the Burj Khalifa, or the Armani Hotel Dubai will answer.
Why was Laura’s death covered up by the government of Dubai?
There had been another suicide on 10 May 2011. The entry from the Burj Khalifa Wikipedia page: “Within 17 months of the building’s official opening, a man described as “an Asian in his mid-30s” who worked at one of the companies in the tower, died by suicide on 10 May 2011 by jumping from the 147th floor. He fell 39 floors, landing on a deck on the 108th floor. Dubai police confirmed the act as a suicide, reporting that “[they] also came to know that the man decided to commit suicide as his company refused to grant leave.”
They didn’t even mention his name.
His name was Athiraman Kannan and he came from Tamil Nadu, India.
According to reports, he was working for Arabtec in the Burj Khalifa. His brotherdied in December, which left him feeling very depressed. He was due to take his annual leave, but the company refused to grant him leave. The company said his leave had been approved verbally.
On the day of his death, he arrived at work at 7:40 AM, and he was fine, but by 8:30 AM he was emotionally distressed.
On the 147th floor (or 148th depending on the report), he took off his shoes, left his diary nearby, and climbed out of an air vent.
Interestingly his death was acknowledged. Laura’s was covered up. Why? Athiraman was an Indian national, and Laura was a Portuguese national.
Why did the government of Dubai go to such lengths to conceal Laura’s death?
Mohamed Alabbar, Dubai Police, and the government of Dubai, I would like you to answer this question.
Why were/are you so intent on concealing my daughter’s death at the Burj Khalifa, and where she had been staying at the time of her death?
Toward the end of 2015, I sent a message to Mohamed Alabbar on his personal mobile number.