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.
“..that the expat community seems more worried about this killer than about state-sanctioned murder…” Indeed. I don’t blame Panamanians for dreading the influx of outsiders. To them, it must seem that the more outsiders come in, the more shit is bound to go wrong. But there’s a “and then some” factor that needs airing out.
It’s not just that guru-wannabes with a penchant for murdering and scamming seek refuge here; it’s also that the entire political framework in Panama fosters the criminality of these awful gringos (male-specific: they’re always white men, no?). So Panamanian citizens must accept partial responsibility—they essentially grant their government to operate in the status quo manner, which is basically: “Hey, c’mon down to Panama and exploit our natural resources, cheap labor, and disenfranchised women. Hey, feel free to steal whatever you want—as long as the top brass, including our policía friends, get a cut of the action.”
Panamanians can bitch and moan all they want on Facebook, but until—and unless—they organize an actual movement(s), expect nada to evolve. Organizing requires dropping fantasies about security and taking big risks. No risk-taking = things as usual. Which is unfortunate—the ruling families would surely make life hell for anyone brave enough to raise her/his voice above a whimper. But significant progress cannot occur without such courage. History offers plenty of examples: equal rights movements in the States (including the recent gay marriage deal in California), India’s independence from England, pro-democracy actions in Burma (yet to be won, but no one is quitting), Spain’s relatively quick transformation from fascism to a socially-oriented state, the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa. We can’t, of course, forget to mention the rise in social justice activities across Latin America as of late.
Real change—change that isn’t merely described in campaign slogans—demands hard work and miles of patience.
A successful social movement should include Panamanian citizens AND people who reside here. Yep, that includes expats (there are a number of decent ones floating around). Because a successful movement would revolve around concepts of community—community is where people exist in concrete ways. And whether Panamanians like it or not, expats belong to and contribute to the national and local communities.
Furthermore, Panamanians must face the music and recognize how some of their own greed plays into the whole enchilada. I’ve been in enough everyday situations (taxis, restaurants, apartment rentals, internet “service”, Spanish schools, run-ins with sexist cops, and on and on) to know that if I don’t watch my back, I will be ripped off or taken advantage of. Juega vivo, dude.
I agree with 99 % however, to be fair and equal one must consider the following:
There are expats from all over the world not just Canada or the U.S. which almost always seems to be the reference in the media.
I’ve been living and working in these latitudes for going on 16 years with 11 of them in Panama.
I do my best to be a regular foreign member of the community and do not hang out with expats in fact I avoid them like the plague. Although there are a few what I would classify as normal everyday folks.
I have come in contact with Gringo bull shit artists that are far left also. In reality their political beliefs are one thing the fact that they are scam artists are another. I do not live in the city, Bocas, Chiriqui or any of the other expat hotspots. In fact there are less Gringos where I am than Europeans, etc.
In any case the majority after hearing them talk especially after they repeat themselves (they can’t ever keep their lies straight) at a later date are nothing but bull shitting vultures looking to scam a quick buck. and because of the economic downturn especially in real estate most of them have disappeared, as vultures need plenty of victims if they are going to survive.
We have medicine men here you know the type, after the best doctors and cancer treatment centers in the world can’t do anything more they say just have your wife write me a check for 30k and I will rub my magic cream and the cancer will go away along with your 30k.
Money laundering is big time here where I live, with nothing selling they come in to do a big project but no buyers, nothing built, the typical total misrepresentation ads etc and they are barley 30 years old and running around in new Land Cruisers.
The fact is anyone can arrive here say they are or were something and spreads and it suddenly becomes fact.
today i heard a tvn channel 2 news woman, call one of the expat adies in one of the “wildbill” victim’s friends, “a bunch of wierdos”. why? maybe because she had a tattoo. maybe because the memorial was held in a club/bar. maybe because the lady was very pretty, much more than the newswoman. one thing that ive learned in my 20 years of living in panama, is the incredible capacity for the average panamanian citizen to suffer from ENVY. being a panamanian-u.s.a. mix bred, it has been easy for me to hear comments from bothgroups of citizens. yes, it is bothersome to listen to u.s. expats comment on the garbage, the corruption, and how parents (especially fathers) dont provide for their families. but, that is just bothersome. when i hear the panamanian side its just plain scary. “oh, we should steal this or that from them, they got money, they wont even miss anthing”…..”lets kick that rabiblanco’s ass, i hate those stuck up !@#$%&!!”…..”dont sell land to amricans, its illegal and unpatriotic to sell to those imperialists!” what the…??? i could go on and on about the benefits of having the expat community here. where are all those panamanians that the us out of panama, why are they so silent about the farc forces owning darien. COWARDS, because they know americans respect human rights, especially freedom of speech. why dont they protect their indian populations in darien? its because they are RACISTS too. anyone who thinks im going out on a limb, please read what they teach in panamanian schools: “un incidente de cumbia” by a so called patriotic poet named Korsi. in this poem, the murder of an american and his panamanian girlfriend is glamorized. a criminal, like wild bill, is very rare here in panama… but can they say the same about the colombian sicarios or the thugs in panama city and colon? how many of those are serial