Nicaraguan authorities arrested a man and woman Monday, July 26 suspected of killings in Panama and crimes in the United States when the U.S. fugitives crossed from Costa Rica into Nicaragua via the Río San Juan.
The Panamanian Investigation Police (DIJ) said that the disappearances of five additional people in Panama may also be attributed to the couple. A recent Interpol alert posted by Panama’s Attorney General warns of more victims in Mexico and Belize.
The suspected killers – William Dathan Holbert and his wife Laura Michelle Reese – are wanted in the United States for car theft, deceptive practices, and knowingly cheating and defrauding. They have been on the run since 2005.
The couple entered Costa Rica near the Caribbean border with Panama earlier this month, Costa Rican officials said. They drove to Santa Cruz de Turrialba, a mountain village on the Caribbean slope east of San José, where they stayed until Saturday, July 24.
In interviews in the Costa Rican media, residents of Santa Cruz reported first seeing the couple in the town July 17.
Around noon on Sunday, the couple arrived in the north central Costa Rican town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, where they spent the night in a small cabin.
Monday morning, the two rented a small motor-boat to travel up the Río Sarapiquí to Barra del Colorado, a Caribbean coast village and sport fishing destination in Costa Rica’s northeast corner.
When the driver and owner of the boat steered toward a National Police checkpoint near the convergence of the Río Sarapiquí and the Río San Juan, Holbert threw him overboard and sped the boat toward Tambor, a small town on the Nicaraguan side of the river.
There, the Nicaraguan army detained the couple. The two surrendered without resistance.
Holbert and Reese have allegedly made a living by stealing homes and deeds and selling the property to unsuspecting buyers.
They have been wanted since October 2005, when they committed their first known fraud by occupying a half-million dollar vacation home in Oak Island, North Carolina and selling it for less than half it’s market value to a third party.
Before leaving the U.S., Holbert owned a store that sold white supremacist paraphernalia in Asheville, North Carolina, according to the website of the TV show America’s Most Wanted (www.amw.com).
In Panama, the two had been using the aliases William “Wild Bill” Adolfo Cortez and Jena Seana, using fake Dutch passports to conceal their identities. When living in the U.S., the couple was also known to use other assumed names – Luke Kuhn and Michelle Brukart – America’s Most Wanted reports.
Holbert and Reese fled Panama this month after authorities there unearthed two dead bodies on a property that the couple owned near Bocas del Toro, according to the DIJ
The bodies were the remains of Bo Icelar and Cheryl Hughes, two foreigners living in Panama reported missing. Costa Rican security officials Told The Tico Times that Holbert and Reese murdered the foreigners in order to seize the victims’ properties.
The dead couple was wanted by the DIJ, while Interpol and the FBI are also participating in the investigation. The DIJ suspects that Holbert and Reese are also responsible for the disappearance of Michael Brown and his wife and son – a U.S. family living in Panama – and for the disappearance of two indigenous persons.
David Dell, a North American who lives in Panama and knew the couple, said he visited a Holbert-Reese hideout in Cerro Punta with the DIJ this week. There, he said, the group discovered an empty grave with the same dimensions as the plots where Icelar and Hughes were buried. “I knew he was a fraud from the first day I met him,” Dell told The Tico Times in an e-mail.
Dell suspects that Holbert broke into his home and sifted through a file cabinet in search of a deed to Dell’s house. Holbert also raided Hughes’ house before allegedly murdering her.
Dell also claims to have a list of people that Holbert intended to kill and said that Holbert held 54 “genuine passports” at his “death house” in Panama and 15 bags full of other documents. Dell has turned this information over to the Panamanian authorities.
Nicaraguan officials have transferred the couple to the Judicial Investigation Department (DAJ) in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city. Glenda Zavala, chief of the DAJ, told the Nicaraguan press Thursday that the department expects to release the couple to the Panamanian authorities.
The Panamanian government formally requested extradition of the fugitives on Tuesday. On Thursday, Panamanian authorities arrived in Nicaragua to return them to Panama.
Panamanian officials this week continued to interview witnesses and search the couples’ properties in Panama for documents and evidence.