With the case of serial killer William Dathan Holbert unfolding (the latest gory tidbit was how he collected the golden teeth of his victims, apparently extracting them while they were still alive), many expatriates in Panama wonder, "how could he have gotten away with it for so long? Why didn't anyone notice anything?"
The answer lies within that expatriate community itself. Many of them came to Panama to live, as Panama Forum moderator Dennis Melton once put it, a "vacationing lifestyle". They don't like to be bothered with bad news or the possibility that they harbor bad apples in their midsts. They've bought into Panama as a paradise and paradise it will be no matter what, even if that means ignoring obvious signs of trouble.
So what are these signs of trouble?
First of all, what the scammers and the crooks and the con men have all in common is that they assume the role of a guru. Eddie Ray Khan (sold phony tax cheating schemes and Ponzi schemes) preached at expat parties in casinos. Tom McMurrain (San Cristobal noni and teak serial swindler) had earlier promoted investments in an independent nation he would start and where everyone would be free to live according to "God given birthrights". Years before that, in Georgia, he fleeced members of a church claiming that "God has put it upon me to walk a straighter line". His repertoire further included miraculous cancer survival thanks to his products.
Financial schemer Marc Boswell a/k/a "Rex Freeman" called his flock to follow him "out of Babylon" (meaning: leave the US and never pay taxes again) and join a myriad of financial schemes that would make you independently wealthy.
Disbarred Canadian lawyer Mary Sloan gained prominence in the expat community and started a magazine preaching "live abundantly", while trying to hide the trail of theft and swindle in her wake and that of her shady associates. She's responsible for such guru-gems like, "I am very familiar with the Law of Attraction and the Science of Getting Rich, and practice creating abundance in my life every day, in every way."
Canadian fraud artist Monte Friesner promised high yields, or multi-million dollar loans, while flying around in Lear Jets paid for with stolen money. He calls himself a "commodore" these days, and a "consulaire", and hints at being a member of the diplomatic community. William Holbert aimed at becoming a community personality as well, and we understand he was trying to set up some sort of church in Panama. He could also be seen in a news video preaching white supremacist theories to followers in the southern US.
Needless to say that all these gurus suffer from super-sized egos. By the looks of it, "Wild Bill" even seems to enjoy the attention he's getting from the media these days.
There's also more often then not a strong religious element in the pitches of these people. Using God and Jesus and who have you, they first turn their victims into believers, and from there on it's easy to get to their assets.Eddie Ray Khan was one night actually praying aloud in a casino, while around him the expat crowd in Hawaii shirts placed their bets with the hand that wasn't resting on the back of a Colombian hooker.
Their guru roles permit them to preach their way into prominence in the expatriate community without too many questions being asked. That is further aided by politics: All of these scammers and crooks are on the wacky far right of the political scale. In all these years in Panama, we've not once come across a liberal left-wing progressive running a scam; it's always a strange mix of Christian conservatism with a sauce of bizarre libertarianism, escapism of very low intellectual fiber, as if you're talking to the Down syndrome department of the Tea Party. Marc Boswell belonged to an extremist militia movement. Tom McMurrain had adopted the "freedom to steal" philosophy. All encourage the use of repressive laws and third world style exploitation as long as it suits them. "Wild Bill" was even further off the map with his white supremacist theories, satanic literature and weird rituals - but not that far, as there is a lot of hidden and open racism among expatriates in Panama. Just read some of the comments on Sam Taliaferro's blog.
The expatriate community doesn't ask too many questions, but instead embraces the newcomers no matter what their past or present. Eddie Ray Khan's wife organized so-called "expat social" parties. Tom McMurrain planted an associate in "Who's New", a social expat group for women with purple hair with good connections. Bob Askew, who runs an online group called ZoneLink, can always be counted on to help new scammers find their way in Panama. Need a bit of publicity for the next scam? Then there's always the favored expat news outlet to promote your ponzi scheme, no questions asked. The biggest mistake "Wild Bill" has made here - in terms of his own survival - was not that he killed people, but that he didn't buy advertising on Panama Guide for his hostel of death.
The so-called "expat community" acts surprised when "one of them" turns out to be a criminal, but the truth of the matter is that they invite these kind of scumbags by never asking questions, discouraging those who do, or even promoting their crooked ventures. In Boquete, the authorities insist on stricter border control after yet another crook had been captured. Calls can be heard for tougher immigration rules to keep these North American criminals out of the country, and the fact that the expat community seems more worried about this killer than about state-sanctioned murder doesn't do their reputation much good either, especially in Bocas del Toro. We can already hear them whining.
N.B.: For a great overview on what really happened to get the ball rolling in this case instead of Don Winner's self-aggrandizing crap full of factual errors, go to the article on the Chiriqui Libre website, here.