SERIAL KILLER: WILLIAM DATHAN HOLBERT CONFESSES TO MURDER.
FIRST VICTIM BROWN VISITED VOLCAN?
Volcan resident, Lydia Dell has recalled meeting a man named MIKE and his wife in February (around) 2007. They were eating Breakfast at the newly opened DALYS’S Restaurant in Volcan. (later the location of the first infamous “Mad Viking” party)Lydia asked Mike if his wife was Thai and he said. “No she’s Indonesian.” Possibly the Browns were looking to relocate to the cooler mountains. This would explain the Dutch passport. When Indonesia gained independence from Holland, the Dutch gave the option to their former colonists to obtain Dutch citizenship and passports.
Bill WAS hiding in Volcan.
A witness told me that they saw Bill in a local supermarket on the afternoons of Wednesday July 14th and again on Friday July 16th. On the 14th Bill bought a lottery ticket. When his hideout in the hills of LAS NUBES was fully searched police discovered a lottery ticket dated July 14th.
William Dathan Holbert has just confessed to committing several murders in Panama between 2007 and the present. Investigations may link him to 10 possible homicides here in Panama and who knows how many more in other Central American countries. His method was simple: he would offer to buy property and then murder the owners and with enough forged documents would immediately assume ownership of their properties,boats and cars.
It was late July or early August 2008 in the small Panamanian mountain town of Volcan. Bill Cortez and his girlfriend / wife? Jane Cortez arrived and wanted to have a party to meet the locals. A few days earlier Bill was sitting talking to the American owners, Don Miller and his Panamanian wife Dalys. I was part of a 60’s musical duo called “Dee & Emm” and I offered to perform for free. Don Miller later told me that Bill declined the offer. The feeling I had was that Bill didn’t want to be upstaged by anyone on that day.
At this and a subsequent party, Bill started to single out members of the local community who he wanted to have as part of his “inner” circle of friends.
The party was held in a converted Texaco gas station now operating as a restaurant called Dalys’s. This restaurant is the local expat gathering place. Bill Cortez was a six-foot tall American with a beard and long flowing blonde hair. His supposed wife Jane, was a slightly overweight, mousy kind of woman with her hair tied back in a pony tail. Bill Cortez drove up to the gathering in style on a Harley Davidson motorbike sporting his trademark horned Viking helmet. I immediately gave him the name “The Mad Viking” a name he relished. At the Dalys restaurant party, in which Bill supplied all the food and drinks, he told me and others he had received a large inheritance from his father in Mexico and he had Dutch, American and Mexican nationality and passports. This immediately told me he was a fraud as Holland does not allow dual citizenship. (except by birth)
He had just opened a Harley Davidson dealership. This again caused red flags to pop up. How could anyone justify selling expensive motorcycles in a small town of just 10,000 population. The value of the few bikes he was selling was between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars each. All the locals I spoke to thought this was a front for either drugs or money laundering.
At the first afternoon party, at Dalys’s restaurant, Jane Cortez glanced across the road at my two story home and said, “I really love your house.” Fortunately for my wife and I, Bill Cortez didn’t. If he had wanted the house he would, I am sure, in true Viking - style have taken it. Surprised neighbors would have decided that we had suddenly sold and left without saying good-bye. But life in the town would have gone on as normal and my wife and I would be pushing up daisies in the woods behind Casa Volcan. Bill liked to keep his victims close.
A week later in the small village of Cuesta de Piedra, 12 miles south of Volcan, I went to take pictures and prepare an article on a man Called Jason Ward. Jason was manufacturing some wonderful looking “organic” bamboo fishing poles. Jason also owned a boat and I talked to him about doing a true-life adventure article about being alone on a desert island. The title of the article for a glossy travel magazine was “Jason, the “Mad Viking” and me.” The idea was for the three of us to spend a few days alone on Burica Island in the far south west of Panama. The general idea was that we would arrive as castaways and see how we could survive. I thought pictures of Bill in his Viking helmet would absolutely make the article. Did I realize I was about to be alone with a serial killer on a desert island? Not in the least.
My suspicions about the Cortez family must have been obvious. At the party Bill pointed to me and said to Jason: “Watch out for that guy, don’t tell him anything.”
Pictured above the Cauchero house of horrors. The bodies of Cheryl Hughes and Bo Icelar were discovered in a shallow grave at the rear. The Panamanian police have also uncovered the bones of the Brown family and together with the remains of Hughes and Icelar (Eisler)they are currently under forensic examination in David City.
In 2007, Bill Cortez went to Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side of Panama and met an American drug trafficker named Michael Brown.(real name Salem) Brown had been on the run from the police for 30 years and no doubt felt safe from arrest. His property was on a peninsula called Cerro Brujo or Mountain of the witch. He was living there with his Indonesian wife and two sons, Marco and Watson. Fortunately for Marco he had an argument with his father two weeks before the Cortez’s arrived and left we believe for the US. Witnesses we interviewed saw the Browns and the Cortez’s partying and drinking heavily in December of that year. Bill Cortez then murdered all three members of the Brown family and placed their bodies in a mass grave. With falsifying the title deeds Bill and Jane became the “legal” owners of this idyllic piece of Panamanian property.
From all accounts The Cortez’s had committed the perfect crime. They settled in and had regular parties in which Bill supplied food, drinks and according to a witness I interviewed - even the drugs. He started his own church. He was the Right Reverend Bill Cortez of “The First Church of the Inebriation.” Bill would confer the honorary title “deacons” on anyone aiding other party goers with a boat ride. The dark side was obvious as Bill had painted a slogan on a 6”x 36” sign with big red letters which read “Lucifer’s Slave.”
Jane Cortez (real name Laura Michelle Reese) daily gave Cortez injections of animal steroids. Bill claimed he was on 5000% times normal testosterone levels. He also orally took some animal tranquilizer and washed it down with his daily consumption of 1.75 liters of Seco, a Panamanian produced rum. From several reports he would regularly beat Jane. She sported black eyes on many occasions. At one point he even said that his wife was “obsolete.” How Jane Cortez escaped being a victim is still a wonder to many people. Chameleon like, Cortez could change his personality and adapt to whatever company he found himself in.
Bill was not content with the million dollar property he had murdered for, he went in search for other victims, even answering ads on Craigslist. I know of five properties that he was considering. Sometimes both owners couldn’t be available for showing and so fortunately escaped with their lives. In 2009, I believe Bill learned of a house I was building near Puerto Armuelles. An associate said he always wanted an oceanfront home. His M.O. was simple: break into someone’s home and steal documents from their filing cabinet. With the properly forged title deeds he could then approach the owners, murder them and again be “legally” in charge of their property. My wife and I went out for dinner one Sunday night and within minutes someone had forced the back door with a crowbar. The intruder went straight to our upstairs filing cabinet and rifled through our property documents. Fortunately the alarm went off and he (Bill?) ran off into the night. Just as in the later case of Cheryl Hughes, the thief was looking solely for documents –there was an ignoring of TV’s, CD players, stereos.
In November of 2009 Cortez approached his next victim a man known locally in Bocas as Bo Icelar. Icelar had emailed a friend saying that he was going to sell his property. A witness saw Bill Cortez drive up to Icelars’ house in a white Chevy S10 truck. Cortez murdered Icelar in his Big Creek home and then transported his body, first in the truck and then by boat to the Cortez home at Cauchero. Placing his body in a shallow grave in a garbage dump at the back of the home.
March 2010, Cortez is on a roll. His next victim would most likely be his last. Cheryl Hughes was a vivacious looking woman who exuded a love of life. I talked to many of her friends and to a person everyone spoke in shock and disbelief that Cortez could take the life of a woman who they described as, “The life of Bocas.” Cortez was the last person seen talking to her. Like other victims she was interested in selling her property.
In Bocas Del Toro there is a great community newspaper called the Bocas Breeze. In the July 2010 edition there was a missing persons ad about Hughes and Icelar and the contact person was the FBI representative in Panama, agent Paris N. Johnson. Cortez saw this ad and must have realized the game was up. A Witness recalls that the house appeared as if had been ransacked as the Cortez’s hurriedly searched for their most valuable loot. Cortez took some money, documents and a .22 pistol and he and Jane disappeared.
On July 5th my friend Jason Ward asked me to help in the search for the missing people. He had been in contact with a small group of people trying to raise awareness and to find Bill & Jane. Ward had basic directions to Bill & Jane’s bunker style cabin. He had gone up hoping to find the house and Bill’s truck parked out-front. Jason took his all-terrain-vehicle up two separate times because the police couldn’t or didn’t bother to look for the cabin. He used an ATV. Bill had never seen in fear Bill might see him and add him to the hit list. It was then that he called me to ask my help in finding the remote hideaway. This wasn’t a problem as I know from experience how understaffed the police are. Jason had been a friend of Both Bill and Jane Cortez but he always suspected that something was not right with the pair. With some new directions Jason and I again went looking for the hideout in the mountains of Chiriqui close to the town of Cerro Punta. Unfortunately the information we had was wrong, but we knew we were getting closer.
July 6th I went to local realtors that had been renting a house to the Cortez and asked if they had his signature or any related documents. To my surprise they produced a copy of a Dutch passport. I took this immediately to a friend and former Dutch Police detective Erik Westra. Erik and his wife Fenna had lived on the Dutch island of Sint Maarten. There they were known as “MacMillan and Wife” after the T.V. series. Fenna looked at the photocopy and immediately noticed the term was ten years – Dutch passports have a duration of a maximum of 5 years. Erik Westra also noticed the use of two different typefaces. Soon the fake passport copy was on its way to the Dutch police and Interpol. I also sent a copy to the FBI agent Paris Johnson and at Jason Ward’s request, I also sent a copy to Internet blogger Don Winner.
Icelar and Hughes disappearance made the people of Bocas put two and two together. The local police dismissed the case and in frustration on July 7th, Cheryl Hughes estranged husband, with the aid of Internet blogger, Don Winner, went to the authorities in Panama City.
Cheryl Hughes estranged husband, Keith, goes to the Cortez house at Cauchero. He discovers many passports and bags of documents including those of his presumed dead wife. He returns with the police and a search of the grounds turns up the body of his wife Cheryl Hughes and the bones of Bo Icelar. Both had died of gunshot wounds to the head.
At 6.30 that same day Jason called to tell me he just received a chilling phone call from someone close to the case that they had uncovered human remains and it looked to be at least two people. We continued looking for the Cortez hideout. This time using a high-powered spotting scope. On one road a small child suspiciously took a photo of us with a digital camera. This caused us both concern as the child was most probably a spotter and a paid lookout for Bill. We both knew that Bill had a pistol and an AK 47 assault rifle. If he saw us before we saw him – we wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Sunday July 25th. Jason says that Mike Cook has a key to the Las Nubes hideout. Ivan Flores, the editor of the Chiriqui Libre is in regular contact with the head of Detectives in Volcan, Inspector Torres. A few phone calls later and Torres, a uniformed Lieutenant and two other detectives arrive at Cafe Essenzia in Volcan for a meeting. Torres is a veteran investigator and to my mind the smartest cop I have met in all my time in Panama. Credited with solving 5 or more break-ins in Volcan, Torres is the epitome of what a modern Panamanian detective should be. A convoy of three trucks drives up the mountains to Las Nubes. Before leaving Jason receives a call on his Blackberry saying the Costa Rican police have captured the Cortez’s. Torres makes a quick call to FBI agent Johnson. It turns out the information was wrong.
After a short drive the vehicles arrive at Cortez’s mountain hideout at Las Nubes. Here Bill has built a cabin of two 10 foot square rooms. One has a window and reveals a cleaned out room. A heavily fortified room with no windows adjoins the first room. This “bodega” room has steel reinforced doors. The police don’t have authority to break open the door. Instead they search the area and discover a chilling sight. Behind the house is a grave like opening some 4 or 5 feet long and 3 feet deep. Inspector Torres uses a “T” shaped metal probe and examines the opening but decides there is no body present. The dimensions of this “grave” exactly match the descriptions of the burial sites of Hughes and Icelar at Cauchero.
Jason and I drove to Bocas and Colon Island on the 22nd and 26th of July and talked to friends and acquaintances. From one source we learn that Cortez has hideouts and food cachés in Costa Rica and in a remote location along the Caribbean coastline. This information we passed along to the authorities.
As I was videotaping Cheryl Hughe’s Caranero home, Jason was doing some further searching of his own. He discovered a trash bag. Back at the hotel we opened the bag and discovered several items that identified the contents as belonging to Cortez. First item was the ubiquitous bottle of “Seco” Panamanian rum. Second was an empty cigarette packet of the brand that Cortez sometimes smoked. The final discovery was of some historic importance in this case - the original copy of the Bocas Breeze newspaper, opened to the page with the missing persons article.
This newspaper article was a crucial event in the Cortez saga. It was an alarm bell. It told Bill & Jane their murderous spree was at an end. It was time for them to get out of Dodge - as fast as they could.
July 21st. The media leaked details of the case. I agree that at sometime the public needed informing of the danger posed by the Cortez’s. The Panamanian police had all the relevant information and obviously borders and airports were under surveillance. However it was frustrating for both Jason and I, we knew any chance of finding Bill Cortez in his hideouts was less likely. We had been feeding information to various media outlets hoping that they would keep the story under wraps until the capture of the Cortez’s. In fact I had given that specific assurance to the FBI that I would not release anything until Cortez was behind bars. This article is my first publication on the Holbert case.
We returned to Punta Robalo on Monday 26th of July. The special investigator had contacted Jason and arranged for pick up by a police boat. Jason had visited the Cortez Cauchero home many times and most probably had more knowledge than anyone of locations that Bill might have used as grave sites. The police boat didn’t arrive – but at 3.15 the police did send a military helicopter. Jason flew off to survey from the air places that Bill & Jane would frequent; in particular a deep fishing spot just a few hundred yards offshore from the Cauchero home.
The Cortez’s meanwhile had escaped into Costa Rica. Recognizing them from an Internet article, the cabin owner tried in vain to get the police to take action. Eventually she contacted a Costa Rican television news channel and they got the ball rolling. Finally after several days of delay the police surrounded the cabin. But the Cortez pair were one step ahead. No doubt sensing their impending arrest they fled toward the Nicaraguan border.
July 26th Rio San Juan river on the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Nicaraguan border police capture the pair. Bill throws the boat Captain, Oscar Loa, overboard in a vain attempt to escape.
The newspaper La Prensa out of Panama City announced on July 30th that William Dathan Holbert (Bill the Mad Viking) Cortez had confessed to the murders of the Brown family. The bones of the family would be discovered and exhumed on August 3rd.
This could be the end of the case. There will be no long-drawn-out trial as Holbert has said he will lead police to the burial places of the Browns and other bodies. The question remains how many people Holbert killed and in what countries. Trying to get inside the mind of a serial killer has stumped even the best of experts. When did this white supremacist suddenly go from fraud and theft to mass murder?
From seeing his smiling face on the television news it seems clear, he is enjoying every minute of it. He is getting his “fifteen minutes” of fame and more. He once likened himself to Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Getting caught was just a part of his plan. He was so inept and careless about his crimes capture was unavoidable. He will not however receive his glory in some Viking hall of Valhalla. I hope if there is any justice in this world, he will spend the rest of his natural life in a steamy and fetid Panamanian prison.