It was the kind of Beautiful People party for which Rio de Janeiro is famous. Halston was there, as were Bianca Jagger, Joan Collins and Pelé and rubbing shoulders with those celebrated gems of the international social circuit was a local treasure, Dr. Hosmany Ramos. One of Rio's more prominent plastic surgeons, Ramos was also its most eligible bachelor, a handsome, charming 36-year-old with a dazzling smile. He escorted young heiresses and rich dowagers alike to the chic soirées of Latin America's vita doce—and often jetted north to plunge into New York's social whirl. Said one of his many lovers: "To live with him was a party."

As police across Brazil have now discovered, there was a dark motive behind Dr. Ramos' frantic partying. While he sipped champagne and mingled with the millionaires, authorities contend, he was also casing their mansions and appraising their jewelry. That done, they say, he drew diagrams of their homes and dispatched a gang of thieves to haul the loot away. His cohorts allegedly cleaned out the homes of, among others, diplomat Aloísio Bittencourt and jewel designer Armando Garcia. These charges alone were enough to shock Brazil's upper class, but the police had more: They also accused Dr. Ramos of murder, assault, smuggling and auto theft. Said a police spokesman: "We caught the bandit of the century."

Dr. Ramos' bizarre double life began in the rural region of Jequitinhonha, where he grew up in a poor and violent clan. His grandfather was known to have murdered an entire family. His father was accused in the stabbing death of the lover of Ramos' mother (he was later absolved). Seeking to escape his sordid roots, the clever Ramos studied medicine in Rio, settling on plastic surgery as his specialty. Soon he found himself resculpting the aging face of Beki Klabin, ex-wife of a former mayor of Rio and owner of one of Brazil's largest paper companies. After they became lovers, Klabin introduced Ramos to her glittering friends. In time he left Beki for younger beauties such as Marta Jussara, a former Miss Brazil, and journalist Marisa Raja Gabaglia, whose account of their first meeting reads like a fairy tale: "We met in a nightclub and danced till dawn. He invited me to drink champagne. I spent the weekend with him and it was marvelous. He's a Prince Charming."

This fragile fantasy collapsed last November, when an informant implicated Ramos in a car theft ring. After he was taken into custody, however, Ramos escaped by simply walking out the main door of the Rio police building. Owners of a cheap hotel near Sao Paulo soon discovered the corpse of Joel Avon, Ramos' personal pilot and alleged accomplice in smuggling schemes. Authorities say Ramos killed Avon, then met up with another accomplice, Firmiano Loureiro Rangel, and stole two Mercedes-Benz cars with him. Ramos did away with Rangel, police say, leaving his bulletriddled corpse on a deserted road outside Sao Paulo. When authorities finally caught up with Ramos at a parking garage in the red-light district of downtown São Paulo, he surrendered meekly. "Stay calm, stay calm," he told them. "I'm your prisoner." The surgeon had transformed his appearance with a mangy beard, but was not totally out of character: Police reportedly found a stolen diamond worth more than $100,000 in the cuff of his jeans. Ramos has been charged officially with murdering Avon and Rangel, which he denies.

Given the pace of Brazilian justice, Dr. Ramos may well be in prison for three or four years before he comes to trial. Meanwhile his attorneys say their client is insane, has eaten bits of glass from a lamp in his cell, and should be moved to an asylum. Police maintain that Ramos is only scheming another escape. His girlfriend, Marisa Gabaglia, is trying to make Hosmany's case a national cause. She has already dashed off a book entitled My Bandit Love, which even before its release this week had sold 10,000 advance copies. "A story like Hosmany's couldn't happen in Brazil if it was not for the political situation here," declares Marisa, who links Hosmany's crimes to the climate of corruption in Brazil. "I have a special feeling for him. He is someone fantastic and he's suffering too much."