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Thursday, October 02 2014 @ 06:25 AM EDT

Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese

Expat Tales By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The story of serial killers William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese starts all the way back in 2005 in North Carolina, when Holbert was found to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with court ordered child support payments. A family court judge ordered Holbert to serve two weeks in jail because he owed about $12,000 dollars in payments to support his former spouse and three children. The judge established a date and time and ordered Holbert to appear to serve his jail sentence. Instead of showing up as ordered, Holbert decided to flee the area with his new girlfriend Laura Michelle Reese and to set off on crime spree that would eventually land them were they are today - locked up in a jail cell of the Department of Judicial Investigation in Panama City, Panama - charged with seven counts of murder each. In this article I'm only going to concentrate on Holbert and Reese's movements in Panama, starting in June 2010 when things got too "hot" for them in Bocas del Toro, and ending with their arrest in a boat on the San Juan river in Nicaragua. This case was a story of a pair of serial killers on the run from their point of view, a massive multinational manhunt on the part of the authorities of at least four nations, the press who followed the story intently as it slowly evolved, and the public who was hanging on every word written about the now famous "Wild Bill" and his dumpy little sidekick... (more)

From March to Early June 2010: Now, in hindsight, we know Holbert and Reese murdered Cher Hughes on the morning of 20 March 2010 and buried her body in a garbage pit behind their house in Cauchero, Bocas del Toro. When Cher simply dropped off the face of the planet that morning many people began to wonder what had happened. Holbert knew Hughes had many friends and family in Bocas and that he had to do something to cover his tracks. Starting shortly after Holbert killed Cher, he started using her cell phone to create a little "misdirection." He sent text messages to her friends and family. Posing as Cher, he wrote "I'm fine, don't worry about me." Holbert (acting as Cher) said she had moved to Panama City, gone to the island of Taboga, and then set off on a sailboat with a man she had met. She (supposedly) said she loved and missed everyone, and that she would contact them when she reached her destination. And because Holbert himself had written these text messages he knew what they said. He went into Cher's house at took a bunch of her clothes and then told everyone that Cher had asked him to send those things to her for her trip. The simple fact of the matter is that almost everyone bought this whole ruse. By mid June 2010 there was one person who was convinced it was all crap, that Holbert had killed Cher, and she was determined to bring him to justice.

Talking It Up: In the first two weeks of June 2010 this one friend talked to many people and created some internal pressure among the community of English speaking expatriates who live and work in Bocas del Toro. For the record, this woman - who I consider to be the true hero in this case - has asked me not to name her or identify her because she doesn't want the attention or publicity. She was not completely alone. There were many others, all good and close friends of Cher, who agreed with her and who concurred with her suspicions. The "coconut telegraph" rumor mill on Isla Colon and in the entire area was buzzing with talk of the disappearance of Cher Hughes and the suspected involvement of "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert.) At one point in time Holbert even threatened that he was going to "take care of" Cher's husband Keith, because Keith had been saying in public that he suspected Holbert was in some way responsible for Cher's disappearance. So, in the first two weeks of June 2010, things were starting to heat up for Holbert and Reese in Bocas del Toro. However, everyone was still reluctant to point fingers at "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert.) He had created a rough and tumble personality for himself, and the simple fact of the matter is that people were afraid of him. No one stepped up because they were concerned about the potential consequences of doing so. Their "instincts" told them confronting Holbert and Reese might get them killed - and they were right.

Missing Persons Report Filed: On 11 June 2010, Cher's brave, good friend went to the office of the Department of Judicial Investigation (DIJ) near the airport in Bocas del Toro and filed a missing persons report for her friend Cheryl Lynn Hughes. This was the first time anyone had formally made a report about her disappearance with the Panamanian authorities. The DIJ investigators in Bocas del Toro began to work on the case. However, the DIJ office in Bocas is understaffed, over tasked, and they suffer from a distinct lack of resources. Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro is a popular tourist destination - foreigners come and go all the time. Almost certainly their initial investigations indicated Cher Hughes had separated from her husband Keith, had apparently sold her property, and had told friends via text message she moved to Panama City, found another man, and set off on a romantic sail around the world. That sounded plausible enough for them, so the DIJ didn't really light a fire under this case at that point.

Letting People Know: As soon as Cher's friend filed the missing person's report with the DIJ, they let a few people in Bocas know what had been done, including telling Cher's closest friends and family members about the report. Some people thought this person was nuts - mostly for putting themselves in a confrontational position with "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert). Cher's friend encouraged others to go to the DIJ, asking them to provide additional information and details on Cher's disappearance. This person was single handedly trying to get the ball rolling and the get the DIJ to investigate how "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert) might be involved in Cher's disappearance. However, the actual missing persons report does not mention "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert) by name - it simply gives the details about Cheryl Lynn Hughes, her description, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and a description of the last time she was seen. There is nothing in the official report on pointing to William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese as being potentially responsible for Cher's disappearance. However Cher's friend gave the DIJ a photo of "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert), as well as photos of Cher Hughes and Bo Icelar, and tried to explain to the DIJ how they were both missing, and how they were both involved in (supposed) real estate transactions with Holbert. The person making the report let the police know that Holbert was involved in their disappearance in some way, and asked them to investigate.

The Coconut Telegraph on Overdrive: In Bocas del Toro the locals call the rumor mill the "coconut telegraph." The community of English speaking expatriates in Bocas is relatively small and to a certain extent everyone knows everyone. Even if they don't know one another by name, you hear a lot of "I've seen that guy's face" or "he's that dude who has that place out on that island." There are few secrets, and people spend a lot of time talking about whatever is happening at the moment. As soon as Cher's good friend filed that missing persons report with the DIJ on 11 June 2010, the "coconut telegraph" kicked into overdrive. Within a few days word got back to Holbert and Reese at their farm out in Cauchero. Apparently, someone called them via cell phone and alerted them to the fact that the report had been filed, and the DIJ was asking questions. The DIJ wanted to talk to Holbert and Reese. Throughout this entire investigation someone (and I don't know who yet) has been helping Holbert and Reese by providing them information. Police are now analyzing telephone, text message, and email traffic to identify Holbert and Reese's accomplices. Someone was providing them inside information, right up until the day they were caught. And, these same people were probably the ones who alerted Holbert and Reese to the filing of the DIJ missing persons report about Cher Hughes. The clock started running with that phone call.

Time To Haul Ass: William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese have been on the run for a long time. Their flight from justice started five years earlier - back in 2005 when Holbert decided not to report as ordered to serve a two week jail sentence in North Carolina. This most recent turn of events was just another moment in their lives as fugitives. Of course Holbert and Reese knew they were guilty of multiple murders and they also knew eventually the police investigations would lead to them and Cher's body buried in their backyard. So, they decided ti was time to make yet another hasty escape. Holbert and Reese very quickly packed up what they felt they needed most and fled the Bocas del Toro area, never to return. They packed some clothes, cash, expensive gold and jewelry they had stolen from their victims, weapons, as well as the paperwork and documents pertaining to the companies and properties they had managed to steal while in Panama. This was their combined accumulated treasure, things they would need to continue to survive on the road as fugitives, and they took it all with them when they fled from Bocas del Toro. The scene in their bedroom was one of chaos. Apparently they were literally throwing things around, dumping boxes of papers on the floor to find just the most important things - things like deeds, titles, bearer shares in Panamanian corporations they had stolen. However they through they would never be caught or identified. They they left behind and sitting in plain sight incriminating evidence - documents and the personal belongings of the Brown family, Bo Icelar, and Cher Hughes. These things were found in their bedroom.

15 June 2010: On this date, William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese fled from Bocas del Toro. They went to their mountain hide away in Cerro Punta, the "bunker" they had built on land they had obtained from "Bocas Bill." While hiding in Cerro Punta they asked a friend to drive their big red Dodge Ram Dual Wheeled pickup truck over to them. Holbert and Reese had gone out of their way to befriend many people, and at this point before everyone knew exactly what was going on, there were still people who were willing to help them. I spoke to this man who drove Holbert's truck to him in Cerro Punta and he had been completely and totally duped - as had many others. Holbert and Reese knew they were on the run, trying to put distance between themselves and a series of grisly murders in Bocas del Toro, but at this point in time few others did. As a matter of fact there were many who had their suspicions, but no one really knew all of the details except for "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert) and Reese. They spent about two weeks hiding in Cerro Punta, planning their eventual escape from Panama.

First Contact with Panama-Guide.com: The good friend of Cher Hughes, the woman who filed the missing persons report with the DIJ, eventually contacted me via email on 29 June 2010. Another of Cher's good friends, a real estate agent on Isla Carenero, had told her about me and this website, and urged her to contact me. This initial contact resulted in an exchange of emails, several telephone calls, with me asking more questions are requesting additional information. I asked for and received telephone numbers for other people who had knowledge of the case. I listened intently, learned as much as I could, and started to work to figure things out. The more I learned, the more concerned I became for Bo Icelar and Cher Hughes. My focus quickly turned to "where is 'Wild Bill' Cortez now?"

He's In Cerro Punta: If the Panamanian police investigators had done their job correctly, they would have arrested William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese in Bocas del Toro, after the missing persons report was filed on 11 June 2010 and before they could flee the area on 15 June 2010. But, they missed that opportunity. Cher's friend and others in Bocas del Toro knew Holbert and Reese had fled to the house in Cerro Punta. They knew that one of Holbert's friends had driven his big red Dodge Ram pickup truck over there and delivered it to him. All of this information was being fed to the police investigators, who still had not "woken up" to this case. At any point in time during the last two weeks of June 2010, the Panamanian police could have driven up to Holbert's house in Cerro Punta and arrested him there. They had correct and valid information but they simply failed to act upon that information in a timely and effective manner.

Me, Doing My Thing: I learned a long time ago that the community of English speaking expatriates in Panama is actually comprised of dozens of little "micro neighborhoods" comprised of smaller groups of people who all know one another. After spending a day and a half talking to the people in Bocas del Toro, I knew "Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert) and Laura Michelle Reese were hiding in the area of Cerro Punta, in the province of Chiriqui near the border with Costa Rica. At 12:56 pm on 30 June 2010, the day after I was first contacted by Cher Hughes' friend in Bocas del Toro, I wrote and published this article, "Help Needed On Missing Person Case - Volcán Area". The article said:

  • "I need help from someone who can provide some assistance with a missing person case in the Volcán area. If you live in the Volcán area you might already know the answers to the questions I have. Please contact me directly via email - don@panama-guide.com or via cell phone 6614-0451. As always, confidentiality respected and your identity will be protected if that's what you want. Thank you very much. This one is important...

Looking For Help: There's nothing like local knowledge and expertise. I was trying to strike a balance - to find someone who could nail down the actual physical location of Holbert and Reese in Cerro Punta, which is located just North of Volcan, without alerting them. I wanted to try to confirm their actual physical location where they were hiding and to pass that information to both the office of the Legal Attaché in the US Embassy, as well as to my contacts in the Department of Judicial Investigation (DIJ) in Panama City. I published that article specifically without mentioning Bocas del Toro, the disappearance of Bo Icelar or Cher Hughes, or Cerro Punta. I was hoping that if Holbert and Reese happened to see the article they might think I was working on something else. Again, it was a risk but I thought the potential payoff might be worth it.

Contacted By Several People: I got phone calls from several people, some who were more helpful than others. Many reported seeing Holbert's big red Dodge Ram pickup truck in the area recently. The physical location of the land in Cerro Punta made it difficult or impossible to verify the location and to pinpoint the truck at that house. And in any case, all of this really didn't matter. Holbert and Reese fled Panama and crossed the border into Costa Rica on the day this article appeared.

Hiding in Lake Arenal, Costa Rica: Holbert and Reese had a guy from Costa Rica drive down to the border area to sell them a car. Remember that while they were on the run in Costa Rica in 2006 and 2007, Holbert was acting as a kind of used car salesman in the capital city area of San Jose, so he knew exactly how to buy a used car from someone and to do the paperwork. This is where and when they bought that grey Nissan, just across the border in Paso Canoas. They drove to the area of Lake Arenal in Costa Rica where they rented a house and tried to lay low. They stayed in this house from 30 June 2010 until 20 July 2010. All of this time, the three weeks while they were hiding in Costa Rica, I didn't publish a word. I was still researching, investigating, learning more and more about the case, however I was keeping my mouth shut. I was hoping the authorities would bust this pair and I kept waiting for that to happen.

Bodies Found in Bocas del Toro: The next really big break in the case came on Tuesday, 20 July 2010. On that day Jackie the Wonder Dog led investigators from the Public Ministry and the DIJ, who were executing a search warrant at Holbert and Reese's property in Cauchero, to the point on the property where they had buried the body of Cher Hughes. That afternoon I got a cell phone call from her husband Keith, who informed me he had just identified her body. I made the decision right then and there that I had sat on this thing long enough. The authorities still had not captured Holbert and Reese, who by now were actually hiding in plain sight in Costa Rica. I knew the local Panamanian media would eventually learn about the discovery of the bodies of Cher Hughes and Bo Icelar in Cauchero. I thought in my own mind that Holbert and Reese had most likely fled from Panama already, and the only way they would get caught was by getting their pictures and names on as many television and computer screens as possible, and to create a huge media blast. At 7:25 pm on Tuesday, 20 July 2010, I published Panama Guide Flash - Wanted As Primary Suspects - Multiple Murders - William "Wild Bill" Adolfo Cortez Reese and Wife. And then I called my good friend Ivan Donoso, the evening news anchor for TVN Channel 2 in Panama CIty.

Fleeing From Lake Arenal: There's no doubt whatsoever that Holbert and Reese were actively monitoring this website. They knew from their contacts back in Panama that I had been vigorously investigating this case. By this time I had spent three solid weeks gathering information and talking to as many people as possible, finding out everything I could about "Wild Bill" and Jane Cortez. When my first article appeared, the first article published anywhere in the world about this case, I imagine their "pucker factor" multiplied by a factor of ten. Early the very next morning, Wednesday, 21 July 2010, Holbert and Reese quickly and quietly departed the house they had rented in the Lake Arenal area of Costa Rica, and moved to another rented cabin in the mountains of Turrialba in Costa Rica. They were looking for a much more remote area, away from other foreigners, trying to avoid being caught. They rented this cabin and moved in that day, 21 July 2010. They stayed there until Friday morning, 23 July 2010. The news about the pair which broke in Panama three days earlier finally made it into the Costa Rican press on Friday morning. The woman who rented the cabin to them contacted both the police and law enforcement. Holbert and Reese saw the press reports and knew Costa Rica was getting too hot, so they decided it was time to move yet again and to try to make it to Nicaragua. In reality they departed from the rented cabin on Friday morning. However back in Panama we didn't know that yet. Panamanian authorities were still reacting to incorrect intelligence information that Holbert and Reese might be hiding at a friend's house in Bocas del Toro, and executed a search warrant. By Sunday morning we had learned about the cabin in Turrialba, but in fact they were long gone. See - OK, That That Was Misdirection - He's Really in Costa Rica...

Caught in Nicaragua: The exactly details of their movements from Friday morning, 23 July 2010 until Monday, 26 July 2010 when they were caught in Nicaragua are not perfectly clear. It is known they abandoned that gray Nissan SUV at the place where they rented a cabin next to the river. On Monday morning they hired a boat to take them up river where they were eventually caught. And that started the process of their extradition back to Panama.

One Step Ahead of the Police and Press: Holbert and Reese departed the United States when they were featured on Americas Most Wanted in March of 2006. They moved every time something about them appeared in the press. They fled from Bocas del Toro when the complaint was filed about them with the DIJ. They fled from Panama when I published one little article referencing a missing persons case in the area of Volcan - either they were smart enough to figure it out for themselves or someone I spoke to tipped them off. They quickly left the Lake Arenal area when the story about them broke in the press in a big way. They left the cabin in Turrialba once the story got really big in Costa Rica. And, they managed to evade Costa Rican authorities for three more days, until they finally got caught in a security net at the Nicaraguan border. By now it should be perfectly clear that increasing notoriety in both local (Panama, Costa Rican, and Nicaraguan) press, as well as the fact that the story about them got picked up on AP and other international news wires, "flushed them out" and forced them to keep moving in an attempt to avoid capture. This whole effort was like "America's Most Wanted" on steroids - which seems appropriate in this case. Right up until the end Holbert and Reese thought they could outwit and out maneuver the authorities, which they had been doing for the past five years. And, they almost got away with it. Now they will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

The First "Huevos del Toro" Award: I am presenting the first ever "Huevos del Toro" award to Cher's friend - the person who first filed the missing person's report, the person who contacted me, the person who had the balls to do the right thing even when this very scary serial killer was running around, intimidating and scaring others into silence, hiding, and inaction. This person wishes to remain anonymous which is perfectly understandable considering the circumstances. If this person had not done what they did, I never would have known about this case, and the chain of events which eventually resulted in the capture and incarceration of the serial killers William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese never would have unfolded. That took guts. Anyone else who wants to claim credit for getting it done can pound sand - I know the truth. Anyway, congratulations on being the first ever recipient of the Panama Guide "Huevos del Toro" award - well done, and well deserved.

Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 03 2010 @ 12:38 PM EDT

Nice work, Winner.

Can't say much about the choice of graphics for your new award ...

Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 03 2010 @ 01:53 PM EDT

Kudos for all the work you have done!!! Now, legally speaking, will Holbert and his wife face justice in Panama only or also be extradited to the USA?
When he looked happy to arrive in Panama, I couldn't help thinking: "Happy to arrive here because there is no risk of death penalty or no risk of life sentence without parole"...Later I have seen people here saying that it is "better" for them to serve their jail sentence here because the jails are worse...Perhaps, but they are more unsafe. It `s not so difficult to get out of them.
Question in conclusion: Wouldn't it be better for Panama to send them to the USA?

Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 03 2010 @ 05:25 PM EDT

Excellent work on this Don. Now that they have been caught .. is there any chance you will start to report again on other events that are happening in Panama?

I love your page, but that guys picture freaks me out!

Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 04 2010 @ 02:41 PM EDT

I dont like calling these people 'animals'.
If you think about it, animals wouldnt be so depraved.And good old Jake the dog, I dont even want to put these immoral people into the same category as that animal hero.
They are really much lower than animals, some form of heartless human distortion gone bad.
Thanks for all the great coverage.

Serial Killers On The Run - A Timeline of Events And Movements - Holbert and Reese
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 04 2010 @ 04:05 PM EDT

Don,

I was born in Panama in 1947. My Mother was Panamanian, married to a Gringo. I must personally thank you for helping capture Holbert and Reese. The people of Panama, the Expats in Bocas and the families of the victims need you.

You probably don't consider yourself a saint, but you are loved and respected by many in Panama and the USA!