The scene could have been right out of an American Western movie. The normally bustling streets of Xapuri, an outpost town in the far western Amazon region of Brazil, had turned ominously quiet. It was just three days before Christmas in 1988, and the neighborhood should have been bustling with the activity of the season. Instead, friends usually chatting on the street had retreated inside. Children, usually running and laughing with friends, were nowhere to be seen. Traffic was almost absent on the dusty street. Danger was thick in the air.