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Panama prosecutor: Hendersonville native admits to killing five Americans

Posted July 31, 2010
Updated August 2, 2010

— A jailed U.S. man has admitted killing five other Americans so he could take over their businesses and other properties in a Panamanian resort area, a government prosecutor said Saturday.

The man’s wife refused to talk with investigators and asked for legal assistance from the U.S. Embassy, the official said. The embassy was closed Saturday and U.S. officials could not be located for comment.

William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese, both formerly of Hendersonville, were arrested earlier this week when they tried to enter Nicaragua from Costa Rica. They were sent back to Panama in shackles for questioning in the slayings of two Americans and the disappearances of three other U.S. citizens and two Panamanians.

In testimony Friday, Holbert “acknowledged that he killed five people” — the five missing American citizens, Assistant Prosecutor Angel Calderon said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“He has explained what he did, how he did it and why he did it,” said Calderon, who added that Holbert denied killing the two missing Panamanians.

Local media reported that a public defender was present for Holbert’s questioning, but didn’t report the lawyer’s name, so no independent comment was available on Calderon’s description of the prisoner’s statements.

Hendersonville native William Holbert admits slayings Prosecutor: Hendersonville native William Holbert admits slayings

The case began when authorities found the bodies of a woman and a man buried behind a hostel run by Holbert in an area of small islands in Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean archipelago popular with tourists.

The woman was identified as Cheryl Lynn Hughes, 53, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, who had lived in Panama 10 years and was reported missing by friends and relatives in late March. The man was Bo Icelar, who disappeared in late November and was described by a friend as the former owner of a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Authorities in New Hanover County say Holbert had owned a landscaping business in New Mexico until six years ago, when he divorced his wife, sold the company and filed for bankruptcy. Holbert disappeared soon after and allegedly sold a house he didn’t own and a car he had stolen. Police say he used aliases to elude authorities in at least six states.

Calderon quoted Holbert as saying he established friendships with Icelar and Hughes by posing as a potential investor, then shot each in the head, buried them and took over their money and other properties.

But Holbert said his first killings in Panama occurred about three years ago, when he fatally shot a U.S. citizen named Mike Brown, his wife and small son in the head, the prosecutor said.

Holbert said he also had developed a friendship with Brown, describing him as a fugitive sought American authorities on drug trafficking charges who was living under an assumed name, Calderon said.

“Seeing that he had a lot of money and bank accounts, he shot him in the head,” the prosecutor said.

Calderon said Holbert told investigators about two spots on his property in Bocas del Toro where he buried the Browns and experts would examine the site next week to verify the information and exhume the bodies.

Holbert and his wife used false names and citizenship papers while living in Panama. Holbert posted as a Dutch citizen, William Cortez-Reese, and his wife went by the names Jane or Jeane Cortez.

When Holbert and his wife arrived Thursday at Panama’s Judicial Investigation Department, they refused to answer questions from journalists. Holbert said he would talk only to Panamanian authorities.

“The people in Panama are very friendly and I like living here,” he said.


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  • bean731nc Aug 2, 2010

    in my opinion he wanted to leave america and judgeing by all of the places other than america he was trying to go he did everything but legally waive his rights as an american in my eyes. any american citizen who still had a home in america should have every right as if they were on our soil. but anyhow its a horrible thing for all of the innocent people involved i hope the family can find peace somehow. i hope you have a good day!

  • smcallah Aug 2, 2010

    "i understand that you want to bate me into an arguement but trying to talk smack about me isnt even a blip on my radar. i just like the fack that i have the right to have my own opinion and theres nothing anybody can do about it"

    So you're not going to answer why an American citizen shouldn't have a right that is granted to him? You expect to have that right don't you?

    This man in this story is scum, and he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But that doesn't make him any less of an American citizen than you or I.

    And obviously, it was a blip on your radar for you to reply to me. If it was nothing to you, you could have kept silent, no?

    And if that is indeed your opinion on what American citizens deserve when they are in a foreign country, then I hope you are never arrested for a crime you did or didn't commit and someone tries to deny you your rights as an American.

  • Inter Alios Aug 2, 2010

    weasel 2:

    Please identify one prison here you think is like a country club.

  • hollylama Aug 2, 2010

    "“The people in Panama are very friendly and I like living here,”
    Yet another reason for foreigners to be wary of americans in their country.

  • hiyadun Aug 2, 2010

    what a sight!

  • bean731nc Aug 2, 2010

    Some people have NO CONCEPT of what it means to be American and the rights that they take for granted.

    i understand that you want to bate me into an arguement but trying to talk smack about me isnt even a blip on my radar. i just like the fack that i have the right to have my own opinion and theres nothing anybody can do about it

  • map1agmachining Aug 2, 2010

    He watched to much of Sopranos.

  • drjones74 Aug 2, 2010

    This guy is scary looking to me. Usually I think I can take a guy (unless he has a gun) but this guy could destroy someone with his bare hands.

  • Mrs Fabulous 1 Aug 2, 2010

    Why do people do things like this and THINK that they will get away with it? I do not understand it. I can't believe these murderers, criminals, actually believe the lie that they tell themselves, "I will not get caught." I mean seriously? With all the technology and forensic stuff we have today? smh

  • Bob3425 Aug 2, 2010

    At least they got a lot of fat store up, he like panamains that will change in their jail.