A very big thank you to Will Jordan of Al Jazeera and Rob Davies of the Daily Mail. Without you Laura’s death would have remained concealed.
Thank you Mark Saunokonoko of 9 News Australia for obtaining the final piece of indisputable evidence from Luis Camara of the Portuguese embassy in Abu Dhabi, and for finally giving me closure over the events of Laura’s death.
And thank you to all the other media agencies, bloggers, etc., that told Laura’s story.
The article by Rob Davies on 18 May 2015.
EXCLUSIVE: Heartbroken woman leaps to her death from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building – after relationship turns sour
- Laura Vanessa Nunes, 39, fell 1,640ft to her death from an observation deck on the 148th floor – landing on a restaurant terrace
- Despite it being a popular tourist attraction, not one person noticed her slip through the space in glass panels designed to allow people to take photos
- Laura said to be heartbroken after breaking up with Emirati businessman
- Her shocking death in November last year has gone unreported in Dubai but it appears a new safety rail has been installed to stop a repeat
- Mother Leona Sykes is angered that the property group behind the building has refused repeated requests for information about her death
A lovesick woman committed suicide by jumping from the 148th floor of the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – after a relationship with a wealthy businessman apparently turned sour.
The death of Laura Vanessa Nunes, 39, in November last year has gone unreported in the autocratic Emirate, where public information is tightly controlled.
And her devastated mother has claimed that Emaar, the property group behind the 2,700ft high Burj Khalifa, has refused to return repeated requests for information about the tragedy.
Tragic: Glamorous Laura Vanessa Nunes was 39 when she fell, unnoticed, from a viewing platform on the 148th floor of the world’s tallest building onto the terrace of a restaurant 1,640ft below
Fall: Ms Nunes was able to walk up to the gap in the glass (pictured) in the busy tourist attraction and slide her body through without anyone noticing what had happened in November last year
Tragic: Ms Nunes slipped through the small gap and plunged to her death from 1,804ft-high onto the terrace of a restaurant on the third floor of the Burj Khalifa
View: The observation deck is 1,804 feet, or 550 metres, above the ground below (pictured)
Leona Sykes, from South Africa, travelled to Dubai to seek answers because she can’t believe how easily her daughter was able to leap from the major tourist attraction with supposed modern safety features.
She convinced Dubai police to show her the CCTV taken from the observation deck, despite the harrowing nature of the footage.
According to Ms Sykes, the video shows Ms Nunes walk towards the viewing platform’s glass security panels and put her head through a small gap designed to allow tourists to look out and take photographs.
She then rushes to the back of the observation deck, apparently in fear.
‘I think she got a fright when she looked down. She was a panicky terrified young woman,’ said a distraught Ms Sykes. ‘She walked back to the pane of glass, turned around and looked up, maybe to get strength or to make a prayer.
‘Then she put her head out, tilted her body and slipped through. And nobody noticed.’
After falling 1,640ft, her body was found on the terrace of the 3rd floor Amal restaurant, part of the Armani hotel.
Although the Burj Khalifa is a popular attraction among both tourists and those living in Dubai, Ms Nunes’ death, on November 16 2014, has gone unreported until now.
The suicide took place on a Sunday afternoon, when the Amal restaurant would typically be packed with guests.
The Emaar group has quietly improved the safety barriers that proved so easy for Ms Nunes to elude.
Photos of the At The Top observation deck taken before and after the tragic incident, appear to show that a safety rail has been put in place since her death.
Sources in Dubai said the change had been made at the request of the Dubai police.
Ms Nunes, a qualified masseuse who was in Dubai on a tourist visa hoping to find work, is understood to have been distraught over an on-off relationship with a wealthy Emirati businessman, who MailOnline is not naming for legal reasons.
The pair met in 2009 and saw each other when Ms Nunes was in Dubai, in between stints working in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Horrific: Ms Nunes’ mother Leona Sykes (pictured with her daughter in Dubai) has since been able to view the CCTV footage of Laura’s last moments, revealing how she walked away on her first attempt
Record-breaking: The tower, the tallest in the world, cost almost £1billion to build and is a huge tourist draw
New start: Ms Nunes, who had both Portuguese and South African citizenship, had embraced Islam seven months before her death. This is a document confirming her conversion
She was proud of her new religion, and shared many pictures of herself dressed in the abaya
Messages on mobile phone app WhatsApp show appear to show how Ms Nunes became increasingly distraught over her relationship with the businessman whom she first met in 2011.
Ms Sykes told MailOnline that she believed her daughter, who held South African and Portuguese citizenship, was to meet the man two nights before her death.
Ms Sykes fears that clues about her daughter’s decision to end her own life may have gone missing.
A BlackBerry mobile phone recovered from Ms Nunes’ body was returned to Ms Sykes without its SIM card or memory card.
The SIM card would have contained any messages that Ms Nunes sent while she was on the viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa contemplating suicide.
When Ms Sykes contacted the businessman, he initially denied having any recent contact with Ms Nunes. But he later admitted that they had been in contact when presented with evidence of messages sent between the pair.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of the businessman.
Problems: Ms Sykes said that her daughter was ‘besotted’ with the businessman, whom she met in 2011, but he did not appear to have shared the same level of affection
But Ms Sykes wants to know how the Burj Khalifa, built at a cost of nearly £1billion as a shining monument to Dubai’s oil wealth, could ever have installed safety barriers that proved so easy to elude.
She believes Emaar Properties should already have been aware of the risk of suicides, after an Indian man jumped to his death from the 147th floor of the Burj Khalifa in 2011.
‘It’s horrifying,’ said Ms Sykes. ‘My daughter unfortunately wanted to kill herself. But it should not have been possible for someone to do that. How can you have a top tourist attraction where that’s possible?’
Despite repeated requests for information, Ms Sykes claims that Emaar Properties has refused to answer any of her questions about the her daughter’s death or the safety of the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck.
She said: ‘I sent messages on their website. My ex-husband phoned and they weren’t prepared to speak to him.’
Emaar Properties has not responded to enquiries from MailOnline and the businessman said that he had ‘no comment’.
Ms Sykes, paid tribute to her ‘good-hearted’ daughter, who adopted a stray cat she found and took up Reiki massage because she ‘always wanted to heal people’.
‘I think she loved Arabs and the Arab culture and she liked exploring different religions.’
View: The spaces in the panels were installed so tourists were able to take stunning pictures such as this
Safety: Bars now seem to have been put in to make it impossible for someone to squeeze through the gaps
Mystery: Ms Sykes (pictured with her daughter) does not know what happened just before Ms Nunes’ suicide, as her mobile phone was returned without memory card or its sim
But her love of the Middle East, which led her to convert to Islam and adopt the name Noora, also drew her into a romantic relationship that made her unhappy.
‘She was besotted with him. But he didn’t love her as much as she loved him.’
She said Ms Nunes was vulnerable, partly due to a facial disfigurement at birth.
‘She was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, which created a lot of insecurity for her. She was teased as a child. She had surgery to correct it, even in her early 30s.’
The denial from the Government of Dubai
(This article has since been removed by the Government of Dubai)
Dubai: Dubai Police disputed reports in Western media on Monday about a woman who committed suicide apparently by throwing herself off the Burj Khalifa last November. Police said a foreign national did commit suicide by jumping from a building but the incident actually took place in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
The Daily Mail had reported that Laura Vanessa Nunes, 39, fell to her death from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa.
Major General Khalil Ebrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs, said that the 39-year-old woman with a South African passport, jumped out of her 14th-floor Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT) apartment.
He said investigations showed that the woman was in a bad emotional and psychological state following a failed relationship with a GCC national she met in 2009, which led her to take the extreme step.
Maj Gen Al Mansouri said a police team carried out investigations at the crime scene and that there was nothing to suggest any criminal activity, adding that Nunes died on impact.
Nunes’ body was repatriated to her family as soon as the legal procedures were completed, he said.
Nunes had obtained a visit visa to the UAE to search for a job.
(This article has also been removed by the Government of Dubai)
Tourist did not fall to death from Burj Khalifa, police say
Police have ruled out foul play concerning the death of a South African woman who fell from her 14th-floor apartment, in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, last November.
Laura Vanessa Nunes, 39, who was in the country on a tourist visa while she sought employment, is believed to have jumped from her 14th-floor apartment, in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, last November, after the end of a relationship, contrary to reports that she fell from the Burj Khalifa.
“The woman who jumped suffered from emotional instability that led her to make the decision to take her life,” said Maj Gen Khalil Al Mansouri, assistant to the Dubai Police chief in Criminal Investigation Affairs.
“There is no criminal suspicion in the case.”
The woman’s body was repatriated to her home country after the investigation concluded.
“This was a very unfortunate incident, and such cases are rare in the emirate,” said Maj Gen Al Mansouri.
Updated: May 19, 2015 04:00 AM
Mother seeking answers over skyscraper suicide
Megha Merani | May 20, 2015
THE mother of a woman who plunged to her death in Dubai is still searching for answers six months on. Leona Sykes claims her daughter Laura Vanessa Nunes died after jumping from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa in November last year.
Dubai Police said the 39-year-old took her own life but could not confirm the building she leapt from. Nunes’ death only came to light in recent days and has been the subject of conflicting reports.
Sykes claims she has seen footage of the incident and said she could not believe how easily her daughter was able to leap from the viewing platform. She claims Laura was able to slip through a gap despite supposed safety measures.
She told 7DAYS: “Laura walked to the glass panels and stuck her head through the lower gap, just above the handrail. “She put her head through the gap and tilted forwards.
Her body disappeared through the gap. No one noticed.” It’s thought that Nunes was upset about an on-off relationship with a man. Sykes added: “I cannot understand how she could have fallen and no one stopped her.
I made this video upon my return from Dubai on 22 March 2015 and deleted it in early 2017. I have uploaded it once again. 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 was 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. Rod Davies of the Daily Mail exposed Burj Khalifa’s best kept secret on 18 May 2015 and despite denials from the Dubai Police, i.e. the Government of Dubai, nobody believed them. The misinformation that Laura fell from her 14th floor apartment at the Jumeirah Lakes Towers is laughable. She didn’t stay there…she was staying in Room 309 Abidos Hotel Dubailand. And 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. She didn’t deserve such a terrible, terrible death or the injustice that followed. I love you my Beautiful…
18 May 2016.
Laura Vanessa Nunes – Burj Khalifa’s best kept secret exposed…
Rod 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 At the Top Sky observation deck on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai on 16 November 2014. 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 wasn’t noticed by tourists that were 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 are 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?
Is Dubai trying to cover-up woman’s death from top of world’s tallest building?
MYSTERY surrounds the tragic death of a woman who is said to have committed suicide from the world’s tallest building.
Laura Nunes, 39, is thought to have jumped more than 1,800ft from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai last November, after her relationship with a wealthy businessman apparently turned sour.
However, police chiefs in the UAE have now reportedly claimed that Ms Nunes, a qualified masseuse who was in Dubai on a tourist visa hoping to find work, jumped from a DIFFERENT building.
Major General Khalil Ebrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs, said Ms Nunes had instead jumped out of her 14th-floor Jumeirah Lake Towers apartment.
The fully-furnished holiday apartment block is a 20-minute drive from the Burj Khalifa – a popular attraction among tourists and those living in the UAE.
According to the website Gulf News, Maj Gen Al Mansour said a police team carried out investigations at the scene and there was nothing to suggest any criminal activity, adding that Ms Nunes died on impact.
However, her heartbroken mother, Leona Sykes, has now reacted with fury to the police’s claims about the location of her daughter’s death.
What a loss of a beautiful young life
On her Google+ account she wrote:” Major General Khalil Ebrahim Al Mansouri…we both know exactly where my daughter was staying at the time of her death and it wasn’t at the Jumeirah Lakes Towers!!!
“Unbelievable. Money is their god, not Islam…”
What a loss of a beautiful young life
The mother then published images of the coroner’s report over her daughter’s death, which she says proves her daughter died at the Burj Khalifa.
Ms Sykes previously travelled to Dubai in March to investigate.
She became concerned after her daughter’s tragic death was reportedly suppressed by Emirate authorities – where public information is tightly controlled.
Ms Nunes’ death on November 16 had gone unreported until now.
Determined Ms Sykes, from South Africa, said she couldn’t believe how easy it could be for her daughter could jump from the Burj Khalifa building, which is a major tourist attraction with supposedly modern safety features.
She claims that Emmar, the property group behind the 2,700ft high building, has refused her repeated requests for information about her daughter’s death.
Eventually, Ms Sykes managed to persuade police in Dubai to show her CCTV footage taken from the deck of the building’s observation deck on the 148th floor, which apparently shows Ms Nunes slipping through a small gap designed to allow tourists to look out and take photographs.
The official forensic report from Ms Nunes’ death states she died at the Burj Khalifa
Writing on her Google+ account, she said: “I went to Bur Dubai police station this morning and they were very cooperative and sensitive and concerned about how I would handle viewing the footage.
“I told them that I had to see it as I needed to know what happened to my daughter and that I would handle it, so they showed me the footage.
“What a loss of a beautiful young life.”
She added: “My daughter slipped through a gap between two panels of glass just above the handrail. After this tragedy the police requested the Burj Khalifa make the gaps smaller. Which they did.
“If my daughter, an adult female, could slip through the opening, so could a child and its highly irresponsible of the Burj Khalifa and the Emaar Property Group to have had an opening that size just above the handrail, or in fact anywhere on a deck that’s 555 metres above ground level.”
After plunging more than 1,800ft, Ms Nunes’ body is said to have been found on the terrace of the third-floor Amal restaurant, part of the luxury Armani hotel.
Woman jumped from high-rise: Dubai Police
Dubai Police confirmed on Monday that a South African woman had plunged to her death from a top floor of a high-rise in Dubai’s Downtown area.
They added that the tragic incident which was reported in Western media yesterday occurred in November 2014.
A Dubai Police official added that all the circumstances and medical records confirmed it was a suicide.
According to the Daily Mail, the victim was 39-year-old Laura Vanessa Nunes.
Dubai Police added that the victim’s mother had travelled to Dubai, and was handed over the body following the completion of all legal proceedings.
“The consul guided the mother of the victim and ensured she got all the necessary documents of the investigation and understood the circumstances of her death,” the security source added.
The security source denied any knowledge of the victim’s personal trauma that may have led to the tragic incident.
The final moments of Laura Nunes
HAS the mega-rich Emirate been caught in a huge lie about the circumstances of the death of a tourist at a popular attraction?
IT’S a baffling case. A woman plunged to her death from a building in Dubai six months ago, but there are still conflicting accounts of her final moments.
Leona Sykes has shared harrowing details on her Google+ account of how her daughter Laura Vanessa Nunes jumped from the 148th floor of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, last November.
Ms Nunes, 39, had been in a bad emotional and mental state after her relationship with a local businessman failed.
The Portuguese woman’s suicide initially went unreported in the Emirate, which strictly controls what information appears in the media. Initial requests by Mrs Sykes to see the CCTV footage from the tower were ignored, and police also wouldn’t help. So, determined to find out what happened, Mrs Sykes flew in to Dubai in March.
She refused to believe it would be possible for her daughter to have fallen from the 828 metre-high tower with its supposed safety features.
Even stranger, apparently nobody at the popular tourist attraction noticed she had fallen.
While in Dubai, Mrs Sykes claims the police finally allowed her to see the CCTV footage from the observation deck.
“I went to the Bur Dubai police station this morning and they were very cooperative and sensitive and concerned about how I would handle viewing the footage,” she wrote on the Google+ account.
“I told them that I had to see it as I needed to know what happened to my daughter and that I would handle it, so they showed me the footage. What a loss of a beautiful young life.”
The gap in the safety barriers was too big, and Ms Nunes was able to jump through.
“My daughter slipped through a gap between two panels of glass just above the handrail. After this tragedy the police requested the Burj Khalifa make the gaps smaller. Which they did.
“ … If my daughter, an adult female, could slip through the opening, so could a child and its highly irresponsible of the Burj Khalifa and the Emaar Property Group to have had an opening that size just above the handrail, or in fact anywhere on a deck that’s 555 metres above ground level.”
She also posted this heartbreaking video detailing her struggle for answers.
However, the police have denied this version of events in local media reports today on the back of an article that appeared on the Daily Mail.
Major General Khalil Ebrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs told the GulfNews that the woman had actually jumped from a different building.
According to the report, he said she actually fell from the 14th floor of the Jumeirah Lake Towers apartment, and that a police team investigated at the time and found no evidence of criminal activity.
This afternoon Mrs Skyes wrote in response to the GulfNews article: “Unbelievable. Money is their god, not Islam …”
She told news.com.au: “The police know exactly where she had been staying at the time of her death. They had been there after her death and removed her Portuguese passport from her belongings.
“Her South African passport with my contact details were in her handbag. In the meantime all my requests to know where she had been staying were ignored.”
Mrs Sykes has shown news.com.au a copy of the coroner’s report, which states the fact that the body was found at the third level of the Burj Khalifa.
She also questioned why they changed the windows at the Burj, and why so secretly.
So the question remains: why would the police have different versions of what happened?
Mrs Sykes says she remains tormented by what happened to her daughter: “I am still very cut up about my daughter’s death … still haven’t fully accepted it yet … and as more pieces of the puzzle are fitted my heart gets broken even more.”
news.com.au has contacted Dubai police, Emaar, the company which owns the Burj Khalifa, and the Jumeirah Lake Towers for comment.
The hunt for answers remains.Source:Supplied
16 November 2017
On the third anniversary of Laura’s death, Mark Saunokonoko released this article which confirms the site of Laura’s death…the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa.
The truth always prevails…
How rich Gulf emirate Dubai covered up woman’s suicide from top of Burj Khalifa
On the morning of March 17, 2015, Leona Sykes woke up alone and anxious inside her modest Dubai hotel room. The events of the night before had been confronting and confusing.
Retracing the final awful steps of her daughter who had died in murky circumstances inside the rich Gulf emirate of Dubai, the blonde 59-year-old mother of three had arrived at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. She hoped to find answers at the top.
Alongside a group of other tourists, Leona had stepped quietly into a futuristic, glass-panelled elevator. Quickly gaining momentum, it raced skywards, transporting her 452 vertical metres to the 124th floor in just 60 seconds. From there, she transferred into a second elevator, delivering her to the jewel in the Burj Khalifa’s crown – At the Top, the observation deck on the 148th floor.
The skyscraper’s top deck, perched 555 dizzying metres above the desert metropolis below, is the emirate of Dubai’s supreme tourist landmark. Each year almost two million people step out onto the balcony. Only one person has ever jumped to their death from this spot. That was Leona’s daughter, Laura Vanessa Nunes.
The Portuguese embassy in the UAE confirmed to Nine that Dubai police informed them Laura Nunes had committed suicide from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa. (Supplied)
It appears the Dubai government and the developer of the Burj Khalifa, Emaar Properties, one the largest construction companies in the world, have worked together to cover up Laura’s story.
Leona had two troubling questions on her mind as she flew into Dubai from her Cape Town home a couple of days earlier. If Laura had jumped from the Burj Khalifa, as she had been told, why had there not been a single media report covering it in the four months since her suicide? And, secondly, surely it would be impossible to breach security and leap from one of the world’s most iconic tourist attractions?
Back on the observation deck it was almost 6pm, and the sun was beginning to sink under the horizon on the Persian Gulf. Below Leona lay the sprawling Dubai Mall. Tiny ant-like human figures circled the boulevard that runs around a vast manmade turquoise blue lake, where fountains dance spectacularly every 30 minutes. From this height, the fourteen lanes of the city’s notoriously frenetic main highway, Sheikh Zayed Road, appear hypnotically serene, as indeed does everything.
Leona gathered herself. It haunted her that Laura had journeyed to the top alone; that she’d jumped alone, and died alone. Her 38-year-old daughter had arrived at this point heartbroken, following a long and tempestuous on-off relationship with a powerful and wealthy local Emirati businessman who had connections all the way to the upper echelons of United Arab Emirates royalty.
The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. (Getty)
Laura Nunes died on November 16, 2014. Her body was found near the bottom of the Burj Khalifa. (Supplied)
Around Leona, tourists posed for selfies in the fading light. She paced forward, towards the glass barrier.
The Burj Khalifa observation deck, At the Top, is open-aired and roomy. Reinforced glass walls circle brown hardwood floors and rise to a height of about four-metres. Crucially, the day Laura jumped, there was a gap in the glass. It cut generously through each pane, separating an upper sheet from the bottom. It was perfectly positioned for visitors to reach through and stick their phones out, allowing vertigo-inducing photos of the picturesque scene below. It was also low and wide enough for someone slim and determined to slip through – someone like Laura.
Laura Nunes eating Christmas dinner in 2006
After Laura’s suicide, Emaar, which has always steadfastly refused to acknowledge her death, would several times clandestinely change the design of these barriers. Orb-like security cameras with darkened lenses hang from silver rafters above the deck. Devastating footage from those cameras would help Leona work out what happened to Laura on November 16, 2014.
It was simple for Leona to ease her head through the gap. She looked into the abyss, all 555-metres of it, just as her daughter had done exactly four months ago. An African security guard instructed Leona to move back. They began talking. Leona told him about her daughter Laura, and asked him if he knew anything. The tall, well-built man from Malawi was polite and friendly. He told Leona he’d heard stories about a woman jumping. They spoke for a little longer, before he pulled out a camera and took several photos of her. As Leona continued to walk around, and then retreated to the lower observation deck on the 125th floor, she noticed the security guard was shadowing her every move.
In the morning, back inside the hotel, Leona felt a gnawing worry for her safety. The last four months, wondering how her daughter had died had been excruciating and had taken an exhausting toll. Today she was due to meet with Dubai detectives about Laura’s death. There was a macabre hope they would reveal CCTV footage of her daughter’s final movements on the Burj Khalifa.
DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure in the world at 829.8 meters. (Getty)
She was to go to a major police station, which had long been linked with stories of torture, beatings and forced confessions. Before leaving, Leona sent an email to Al Jazeera, the news broadcaster based in Qatar. In short, it read: “If I don’t come back, this is what has happened.”
Laura Nunes fell in love with an Emirati man sometime around 2009. Aged 31, and full of gypsy wanderlust spirit, in 2007 Laura had moved from Cape Town, South Africa to Dubai to work in the luxurious Madinat Jumeriah, one of the city’s finest resorts. Nearby sits the famous seven-star Burj Al Arab. There, while working as a facial therapist and masseuse, she met the distinguished Youssef* (not his real name), a prominent businessman in Dubai’s stratified society.
Laura (right) with her mother Leona and brother Matthew. (Supplied)
There is no suggestion Youssef had any responsibility for Laura’s death.
The daughter of a Portuguese father and blonde-haired, green-eyed South African mother, Laura was an attractive woman of exotic appearance. Her face was framed with long dark hair, and she had been blessed with chocolate brown almond-shaped eyes. Her mouth bore the scars of a corrected harelip, which she was painfully self-conscious about. Leona described to me how a younger Laura, a sensitive soul, had withdrawn into her shell as a result.
A close friend of Laura’s, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against her family, was sceptical of Youssef’s intent. Laura was besotted with Youssef, who claimed to be divorced, said Sara* (not her real name). “He always made her feel that what was between them was special,” she said. Laura had dreams of marrying Youssef. He, however, was transparent about dating other women during their relationship. He would tell Laura she was different, and not to compare herself to his casual dalliances, according to Sara. Youssef had a special villa, away from his home, where he would host parties for Emirati friends and women. “She loved him so much to be able to accept that she is not the only woman in his life,” Sara said. She worried about the nature of their relationship. She watched the way Youssef could “play games with her”. Like a dance, he would push her away, and then pull her back in.
Laura Nunes takes a selfie, dressed in traditional Emirati dress for women. (Supplied)
Leona recalled her daughter rushing back to South Africa in September 2012, following a lover’s fight. Even before then, Leona had harboured doubts about the romance when Laura first began to speak of her new lover. “He’s very wealthy; he’s just got divorced; he’s got all this freedom,” she cautioned Laura. “As usual she didn’t listen to me. She never listened to me.”
With her ‘insurance’ email sent to Al Jazeera, Leona left her room at Abidos Hotel. She needed to get to Bur Dubai Police Station, about a 30-minute trip from Dubailand, an outlying and unimaginatively named desert suburb. Leona had initially tried to check into room 309, the suite her daughter had stayed in for the final 26 nights of her life. But it was occupied, so she was instead given the keys to room 909.
Strangely, Dubai Police had always refused to tell Leona where her daughter had stayed in the days leading up to her suicide. Two months after Laura’s death, from her home in Cape Town, Leona spoke on the telephone with a Dubai Police detective. He confirmed Laura’s suicide from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, and even invited her to Dubai to see the footage. But despite Leona’s pleas he would not tell her about Abidos Hotel. Unbeknownst to Leona, the smoke screen was part of a Dubai government ploy to cover up the facts, in case the story went public.
The contents of Laura’s handbag, which had been shipped to South Africa, led Leona to Abidos Hotel. Inside her daughter’s handbag she found several envelopes embossed with the hotel’s logo. A hotel manager told Leona two police officers had turned up shortly after Laura’s death. They had taken away her personal belongings and luggage. A detailed three-page Abidos Hotel invoice, sighted by Nine, documents Laura’s lengthy stay. Dubai Police would later lie, claiming Laura was living in a high-rise tower in a neighbourhood called Jumeirah Lakes Towers, 40km south of Hotel Abidos, and that she had jumped to her death from an apartment there.
Laura sits with her mother Leona and Leona’s late husband Rob in 2008. (Supplied)
Sitting inside a marble-floored office in Bur Dubai Police Station, Leona felt a remarkable sense of calm. A large, framed portrait of Dubai’s all-powerful ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, hung on the wall, staring down on the small group. A very senior policeman, a lieutenant colonel, wearing a traditional white robe – the khandoura – sat behind his desk. Another older Emirati man in national dress was also present. Leona waited in one of several large chairs, sipping tea and eating an Arabic sweet which had been offered to her on her arrival.
Knowing what lay in store, the lieutenant colonel enquired about Leona’s health, and asked if she had a weak heart. She assured him she was fine. Concerned, he asked a second time. A detective was called into the office. In his hand he carried a computer disk. Leona said he and the senior ranking officer had a heated discussion in Arabic. “He seemed very unhappy that he had to show me the footage,” she recalled. The detective – “a horrible little man” – beckoned her to follow.
Without speaking, the policeman ushered her into an empty office down the hallway. Leona sat down and he slid the disk into a computer. “It was very quick,” remembered Leona. She asked the detective to replay the death of her daughter two more times.
“She was agitated and nervous,” Leona remembered. She watched her daughter stick her head through the gap in the glass barrier, before pulling back in and rushing away. Seconds later, Laura returned to the glass. She turned away from the edge and looked skyward. “I don’t know if she was praying or she was looking for strength. Then she put her head through and tilted her body forward and she disappeared. And that was it. No one noticed. No one noticed she was gone.”
The Dubai coroner’s report, obtained by Nine, declared Laura’s shattered body was found on a third level balcony at the foot of Burj Khalifa. It is a harrowing four-page document outlining catastrophic injuries consistent with suicide from a 550m drop.
“She just looked so scared. She was just like a little girl, so vulnerable and fragile,” Leona told me, recounting watching Laura’s final moments. “I think I always had hoped if I ever saw that footage that I’d see this calm person who had decided she was going to take her life. But she wasn’t. She was nervous. She was panicky.”
Mohamed Alabbar is an Emirati billionaire and the founder and Chairman of Emaar Properties, one of the largest real estate companies in the world.
Laura fell close to a fine dining restaurant located inside the prestigious Armani Hotel, which has 16 floors of uber-deluxe rooms and private residences in the Burj Khalifa. Armani Hotel Dubai is part owned by Emaar Properties. The hotel’s general manager, a Briton named Mark Kirby, immediately shut down communications when asked about Laura. Armani Hotels & Resorts head office in Milan, Italy also refused to comment.
Emaar, which has ownership ties to Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed, has always maintained an immovable wall of silence over Laura’s suicide. Emaar’s corporate affairs department did not respond at all to multiple interview requests. Billionaire Mohamad Alabbar, the chief executive and chairman of Emaar – and one of the UAE’s wealthiest men – also blanked requests for comment. Meanwhile, after Laura’s death, Emaar quietly went about changing the design of its glass barriers on the observation deck. The gap is now higher and has been fitted with a thick cylindrical steel bar that would have stopped Laura slipping through. Signs warning of danger have been emblazoned on the glass.
The viewing platform on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, with no bar in the gap. (YouTube)
The viewing platform on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, now with a bar in the gap and warning sign on the glass barrier. (YouTube)
In May 2015, British website The Daily Mail published a story about Laura’s suicide. The very next day, Dubai government, through one of its highest-ranking policemen, categorically denied she had jumped from the city’s iconic Burj Khalifa. In unison, various arms of the UAE’s state-controlled media ran “the official line”, saying Laura had been living in a suburb called Jumeirah Lakes Towers, and that she had fallen from her 14th floor apartment.
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.
A report in Abu Dhabi newspaper, The National, denying Laura Nunes committed suicide from Burj Khalifa.
A report in Dubai newspaper, The Gulf Times, denying Laura Nunes committed suicide from Burj Khalifa
Despite Leona’s repeated requests, Dubai Police have always refused to share Laura’s case file. “They treated Laura like she was a piece of dirt, buried and obscured,” Leona said. Laura wanted to die and no one was to blame for her death, she told me. But Emaar was “highly, highly irresponsible” to design a gap in the glass, she added.
A US citizen who threatened the reputation of Emaar found himself thrown in a Dubai prison for 20 months, according to papers filed in a Louisiana court in 2011. Lionel Lombard, at the time living in Dubai, told Nine how he was tortured, starved and beaten in jail, after raising concerns over the welfare of south-east Asian labourers on an Emaar construction site. On his release, when all charges were suddenly and mysteriously dropped, the US embassy whisked him home to America. Lombard told me he tried to sue Emaar for $US61.1m but his suit had foundered. He claimed the US State Department made it extraordinarily difficult to get information it held about his imprisonment. He also alleged Emaar wielded its influence with the UAE government to have him arrested and imprisoned on false charges.
Contacted about Laura’s suicide and the misinformation about her death, both the UAE embassies in Canberra and Portugal refused to comment. A Freedom of Information request lodged with Portugal’s Foreign Ministry, targeting communications inside their embassy in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, proved more fruitful.
Portuguese embassy emails obtained by Nine under Portugal’s freedom of information laws confirmed that Laura had jumped from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa.
Lionel Lombard tried to sue Emaar, the builder of the Burj Khalifa, on grounds of alleged racial discrimination, harassment, wrongful imprisonment and torture. Lombard said he was thrown in a Dubai prison after raising concerns for the health and safety of Emaar’s construction workers. (Facebook / AAP)
“The death of the national citizen Laura Vanessa Nunes is under CID (criminal investigation department) investigation, regardless of suicide being the most likely cause,” wrote Luis Camara, deputy consul at Portugal’s embassy in UAE, in a message to his staff the morning after Laura’s death, on 17 November, 2014.
“She left only a feminine handbag with some personal belongings. She committed suicide by jumping from the 148th floor of Burj Khalifa Dubai.”
Luis Camara confirmed to Nine via an email statement that Dubai Police had informed him that Laura had jumped from the Burj Khalifa.
“The police … called us in the morning of the 17 November and informed of her death,” Camara told Nine.
In response to how he knew Laura had leaped from the 148th floor, Camara said: “The information was given to us by the Dubai Police when we asked where it had happened.”
Camara said Portugal’s embassy had requested Laura’s case file from police in 2015 but, two years on, were still waiting.
Around 15,000 Australians live and work in the UAE, mostly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It is a vibrant ambitious nation, unique to the Middle East. Lured by sunshine, attractive employment packages, travel opportunities and tax-free salaries, western ex-pats usually live a very safe and happy existence – unless a mistake is made. Then, very quickly, lack of human rights in an opaque legal system becomes punishingly clear. Disputes with local Emiratis and companies will generally only end one way.
The beach in Cape Town where Laura’s mother spread her ashes. (Supplied)
In early 2015, Leona set Laura’s ashes free into the Atlantic Ocean off Hout Bay, a small beach enclave south of Cape Town. On weekend mornings Leona walks the serene stretch of white sand, which is framed by rocky cliffs blanketed with tussock grasses and hardy coastal bushes. She is still filled with sadness and disbelief.
“In all honesty, Laura wasn’t meant for this world. She was too open and honest,” Leona told me. She hoped the truth would give her daughter back some dignity. “Laura and I used to fight a lot. Sometimes I used to wish I’d never see her again. After she died I realised just how much I loved her.”
It is likely Laura chose to leap from the world’s tallest building to make one final grand statement. Perhaps she saw the tower as a kind of gateway into a new life. We won’t ever know. But she did jump from the Burj Khalifa. That much is true.
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.”
The Daily Mail reported that on 16 November 2014, Laura Vanessa Nunes, 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. A Dubai coroner’s report stated her body was found on the third floor of the Burj Khalifa. 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.