Bocas del Toro is an Atlantic side archipelago in Panama with a funky, laid-back, Margaritaville-like atmosphere that appeals to expats wanting to escape to a Kokomo like Caribbean paradise. The wide variety of expats who’ve moved to Bocas seem to be a little more adventurous, maybe more “off kilter” than the traditional US expat moving to Panama for a supposedly cheaper but still traditional retirement. So Bill Cortez and his wife Laura fit right in. They came down from the Southeastern US where they claimed to have been real estate investors who’d made a lot of money and were eager for a more laid-back life. Panama, and particularly Bocas, has always had a number of “larger-than-life” expat characters, and Bill was certainly one. He was big, brash, loud, ran a bar and rooming house with a pirate theme and the saying “you check in but never check out.” His larger-than-life personality earned him the moniker “Wild Bill.”
Bocas, and to some extent Panama, has always appealed to expat who, for whatever reason, wanted to be “off” or at least “under” the radar. Michael Brown, his wife, and teenage son, lived a Bocas life that was the opposite of Wild Bill’s. And there was, it would turn out later, a good reason. Brown was in the witness protection program having turned witness against several drug dealers back in the United States. Wild Bill & Brown were casual acquaintances and when the Browns disappeared from the Bocas scene and Wild Bill and his wife were living in their home, folks just assumed that the Browns had returned to the States for a while and that Bill and Laura were house sitting.
Eventually, and it’s a riveting story, it would turn out that Bill Cortez was actually William Dathan Holbert with a very checkered past and wanted by authorities in the US. Bill and Laura had befriended the Browns and found out where the Browns had hidden the bearer bonds giving them ownership to their property. They had then taken the Browns and executed father, mother and son and moved into their home!
It took years to unravel this story and in the end Holbert confessed to killing five people in Panama and one in Costa Rica to get their money and properties. Prosecutors say Holbert befriended the victims, shot them in the head, buried their bodies, and then stole their homes and businesses.
Obviously riveting material for a book.
And the book, THE JOLLY ROGER SOCIAL CLUB, by Nick Foster has just been released and is available on Amazon. The book is a “true story of a killer in paradise,” the entire story of Holbert, the murders, and how the truth came to light and the Holberts were captured. Fascinating, fascinating stuff!
About a year ago I was talking to the Boquete Book Club luncheon and I noticed this one guy, sitting alone in the back of the room, taking notes. Curious, I approached him after the meeting and introduced myself. It was Nick Foster. He explained that he was writing a book about “Wild Bill.” We got to talking. Nick had already interviewed Holbert at David prison and had two more scheduled interviews, one the next day. From my talk Foster knew I had been a pastor and he wanted to talk. He had spoken with Holbert who had claimed to be a born-again Christian. [Today, 2016, Holbert claims to be leading a prison ministry in David prison.] What perplexed Foster was that Holbert, although claiming to be born-again, had no remorse for the killings. Holbert had the Brown’s then sixteen-year-old son kneel to the ground and then shot the kid in the head. Boom! Point blank! Nick, who has a son, was having difficulty wrapping his head around how you could ask God to forgive you, then claim he has, and feel no remorse for such a cold-blooded killing.
The book is just out. Like many murder books it is fascinating, and the way in which all this came to light is amazing, yet at the same time the story is disturbing. And it happened right here to folks just like the rest of us. THE JOLLY ROGER SOCIAL CLUB