tv Dateline MSNBC November 11, 2018 1:00am-2:01am PST
>> i called her best friend. did she meet somebody? does she have a man i don't know about? >> where would she go? >> she loved him. >> and why did someone new now own her slice of paradise? >> this guy fooled everybody. >> he got away with murder. >> he got away with murder. >> reporter: in the darkness of night, it all came out. "i love you's," said multiple didn't ask a lot of questions about their neighbors. until some of those neighbors started to disappear. here's kate snow. >> it's a dream that seemed so out of reach, quit the rat race, move to an exotic land and buy your very own private island.
>> she wanted to travel. she wanted to see the world. >> sarah hughes had the dream and she made it come true in the most unlikely place, the tiny far away island of bocas del toro panama. >> she would take a picture of the sunset and mail it to me. >> life was beautiful and simple. and an escape from the pressures of modern living. who could have known that evil could find a place in paradise, too? that beneath all that beauty was a dark secret. >> it still seems very unreal. i don't want to believe it. >> this is a really, really bad guy. >> it just sent chills down my spine. >> before the nightmare, came the dream. this is where people come to
escape, a group of islands off panama and way off the beaten path, it's a place where things move more slowly and life is supposed to be easy. cher first visited the islands in 2000. for the outdoorsy cher, it was love at first sight. what's more, it was affordable for the same money cher had been saving up to sail aren't world, she bought her little piece of paradise, a small house and that tiny round island. >> we saw that lump in the water and we said that's our it. that will be our spot for the rest of our lives. >> cher and keith met seven years before that when the vivacious blonde walked into a little bar keith owned in florida. >> came in and those big blue eyes and big smile. i was hooked. she was just so beautiful. >> cher grew up in st. louis where her all american good looks got her into modelling as a teenager. >> she would walk in a room and, beep, everybody knew she was
there. she was always happy. she always had a smile for everybody. >> eventually, cher moved to florida where her sister judy says she became a savvy businesswoman, running her own neon sign company. >> she would always make sure she had that income. she made sure she was setting herself up for what exactly what she wanted to do was retire and travel around the world. >> cher did travel but mostly in the u.s. then a friend invited her to visit exotic boca del toro. >> it decided to live there in seven days. the people here were phenomenal. children love panama and kids. >> keith is a carpenter. he built their dream home, a collection of shiny building on top of their lush green island. cher planted a tropical garden and adopted lots of animals including a pet monkey and a beautiful brown doberman pincher named jack. he adored cher and followed her wherever she went. she loved the local school kids,
planned movie nights with popcorn and celebrated the holidays with enthusiasm even though her friend sean trainer says kids didn't always get the significance. >> she would do the easter egg hunt for all the kids. they had no idea what this crazy white woman was doing. coloring eggs. and then hiding them around on the island. they never participate in anything like that before. >> keith and cher's relationship blossomed on the island. in 2005, they married in front of their many friends in the close community. >> it's a small place. you go to the grocery store and, you know, you run into people you know. >> christen roberts who moved to boca from norway became part of cher's group of friends. >> we treated each other like family. we take care of each other. >> everyone went by their first names or nicknames. keith and cher were known as ken and barbie. the man who owned one of the local watering holes, another american, was known as wild
bill, viking hat and all. bill and his wife jane opened a bar on their secluded property pro, accessible only by boat where the people gathered for drinks. >> welcome. >> bill had these saturday parties at his place at the bar and restaurant once or twice a month. >> there is everybody there. >> it was cher's tropical dream come true. a beautiful backdrop for family reunions like the time her aunt mary came to visit. >> her grandmother, my mother, and i came down and visited and got the tour and they met us at the airport with a big bouquet of flowers. and it was just wonderful. >> last may there was another big trip in the works, cher's sister judy was planning to visit for the very first time. >> she wanted to show you her paradise? >> oh, yeah. >> the trip would be a good distraction for cher. her life had recently turned up side down. her five-year marriage to keith hit a rough spot.
he even moved out. >> when keith had moved off the island, she was pretty devastated. but then again, i also thought who's marriage is perfect and hopefully they'll work it out. i know they still loved each other. >> the sisters were excited about the trip. plans were in full swing. >> and then what happened? >> then i don't hear from her. >> one day passed, then another, and still nothing. >> too much time has gone by. and now i know something's happened. >> judy was worried and cher was gone. coming up, maybe this solved the mystery, a text message from cher to keith with some bad news. >> she just said i met somebody else who is better than you. >> and she was running away with that person? >> yes. >> but who was this new mystery man? and where was cher?
when "stealing paradise" continues. >> reporter: on the exotic coast of panama, cher hughes had been living out the dream of owning her own island. but then last spring, she vanished. >> i imagine you were calling? ♪ ♪ you... keep doing you. we'll take care of medicare part d. by helping you save up to five dollars on each prescription, and with free one-on-one pharmacy support, we've filled over 2 billion prescriptions and counting. stop by walgreens and save today. walgreens. trusted since 1901. olay regenerist wipes out the competition. hydrating better than $100, $200, even $400 creams. and that's not all.
living out the dream of owning her own island. but then last spring, she vanished. >> i imagine you were calling? >> calling. >> leaving messages? >> texting, facebooking. and then i started reading her facebook. and it's, like, "cher, where are you?" people who were in panama, in bocas, "haven't seen you around town, where you at, gimme a call." and we started wondering. >> reporter: when cher's husband keith realized she'd left town, he was surprised. but he thought he might know why. cher had been talking about spending time in panama city. a place where she could blend into the scenery more easily, and wrap her head around their breakup. >> she told me she wanted to have an apartment in panama city and just spend some time in the city and get out of bocas. cause it was such a small community and -- >> she was getting a little tired of it? >> yeah, you just keep bumping into the same people, having to tell the same story. and she was just ready for a little break of bocas. >> it's not unusual for people to come and go around here.
after all, the easy-going lifestyle is part of the island's charm. but cher's friends and family said it wouldn't be like her to leave so abruptly. leave her cherished island with all of her belongings still here. >> reporter: cher's aunt mary started phoning cher's friends in panama. >> we immediately started calling her friends and everyone going, "what's going on?" and everyone was saying "you know cher. she might've just gone -- for a week. and you know, lost her phone, and we're like, "well, ok, maybe." >> reporter: mary logged on to cher's facebook page and reached out to those friends. >> "where's cher?" and they're going, "i don't know. but we're mad at her, too. doggone it, we -- she -- she always calls me. she calls me every day. what -- where did she go? how -- why would she not call me?" and we got a little aggravated with her. like, dang it cher, what are you doing? >> reporter: and then some good news. cher's friends received a text message from her -- saying she'd gone sailing. >> she's a free spirit, right? she's-- >> oh. >> adventurous. >> she had an opportunity, she'd-- she'd go. you know. >> so, maybe -- >> but -- >> she just got on a boat with some new friend that you didn't know about and she'd be back in
a week. >> right, yeah. >> it wouldn't have surprised me that, "oh mary, i went sailing and then my phone fell off the deck when i dropped my purse." that would be cher -- for three to four days. >> reporter: the messages were reassuring, but not for long. a few days passed, and cher didn't return. then another text message -- this one from cher to keith. >> she just said i met somebody else who's better than you, yeah. >> she said she had met someone else? >> yes. >> and she was running away with that person? >> yeah. >> reporter: a mystery man? keith wanted to get to the bottom of it. >> i called her best friend, and said "did cher meet somebody? does she have a man that i don't know about? is there something going on?" she said "she's never mentioned any guy to me ever. she's waiting for you. there's no man in her life. she didn't run away."' >> reporter: but keith noticed something strange about the messages. they weren't written in cher's usual style. >> instead of small letters, it'd be all capitals. and she'd always write a-r-e, and this would be an r for "are"
or "2," the number, would be there rather than t-o. so, it was just -- i said it was just -- it just changed. >> reporter: and then, the text messages simply stopped. cher's aunt mary called the us embassy in panama, and begged for help. >> the embassy -- made a big point of saying people disappear all the time. and if she wants to be found, she will contact you. and so i had a hard time shouting into the darkness of the embassy saying "help me, help me." >> reporter: things got worse. cher didn't call her father on his birthday. it was a huge alarm bell. >> i knew how she felt about her dad. and she would never, ever miss his birthday. so something had happened to cher, for sure. in my heart, i knew then. >> reporter: after two months, it was staring everyone in the face -- the unanswered phone calls, the strange messages, the missed birthday -- all the clues pointing to a horrible conclusion. >> did you start to panic? >> yeah. i knew something was wrong. the whole family started to panic. >> reporter: the terrible realization sank in -- cher
hadn't gone off sailing, or run away with a mystery man. she wasn't hiding out in apartment in panama city. something had happened to her. friends in bocas wracked their brains for answers, and they started thinking about another american from their group who'd also left abruptly. had anyone heard from him? what if cher wasn't the only person missing -- what if there were two? >> i just woke up one morning. just like one of those weird things. and i just knew. coming up, another american who apparently just walked away leaving his home and a lot of questions behind. >> just gave me a really weird vibe. a crisis was brewing. cher hughes was missing for two months. now her family and friends wondered if her disappearance i am a family man.
a man named bo icelar. >> bo was quiet. introvert. he was a really great guy. >> bo kept a low profile since moving to bocas from santa fe, new mexico in 2004. the former antique dealer was so quiet that no one even noticed when he took off. >> a lot of people say, let's go to argentina for six weeks. they don't e-mail everybody and tell them we're leaving. that is easy to be not missed for a while. >> it made more sense when they found out that beau sold his home to wild bill, another american in their group famous ffor throwing lively parties many of the people attended including cher's friend kristen. >> i knew that they wanted to sell and move somewhere different. and so i assumed they sold and that beau had left. >> still, as keith thought back to the days after beau moved out, an image kept returning to his mind. an image of beau's house right after he left. >> i walked in and looked around. it looked as if beau had gone to the store, not moved out. i went back and told my friends, i can't believe that house.
it is really weird. towels on the back of the chair. his cane is next to the front door. there is dirty dishes in the sink. it's just weird. beau would just walk away. >> two americans missing. rumors began to swirl. could their disappearances be linked? >> the more you think about something like that, you know, it didn't add up. >> did it eat at you? >> yes, i kept thinking about it. because it wasn't right that cher would leave. i knew this girl would not leave town without saying good-bye and without a party. and beau could leave, but the two of them going together, i'm just like sending their belongings after the fact doesn't sound right. >> and then chris continue heard something that made the floor drop from under her, beau had abruptly stopped paying his bills, something totally unlike him. >> i just woke up one morning. it's a weird thing. i just knew.
i couldn't ignore it anymore. i just couldn't. somebody had to do something. >> she went to the police. did she immediately investigate some. >> no. they just put it in a file. and they go just yeah, yeah, yeah. people get lost in panama all the time. >> she reached out to someone she thought could help, another ex-pat, don winner, a man that runs a website for foreigners living in panama. >> i was contacted by one of her friends that was concerned that she was missing. and they asked for my help. >> don has lived in panama for 23 years and is our consultant on this story. he came here with u.s. military intelligence back when noriega was in power and never left. now he turns his attention to the two missing americans. >> i knew right off the bat, whoa, hey. what's going on here? and i knew that i had to apply a lot of time to it and a lot of attention to it. and i also knew that i had to get it right.
>> with contacts in high places, he knows the ins and outs of the panamanian system. he hopped on a flight to bocas and tapped into the coconut telegraph. what is the coconut telegraph? >> that's just the rumor mill. they call it the coconut telegraph. when something happens, word spreads quickly. >> and from what don was hearing, things just weren't adding up. he checked to see if bo and cher might have left the country. >> i knew that bo and cher, both of them, their passports had not gone through the airport. if you look at immigration movements, both of them you can track. could they come in and they leave. they come in and leave. they came in, they never left. all right. so they're still in panama somewhere. >> but where? there was one more piece of the puzzle falling into place and that would point a finger of suspicion at someone living right among them. a pirate out to make a killing a pirate out to make a killing in real estate. >> he wasn't selling that place. she loved it.
>> he showed up and said, yep, i bought everything. >> when "stealing paradise" continues. ntinues. to get excited about things like concert tickets or a new snowboard. matt: whoo! whoo! jen: but that all changed when we bought a house. matt: voilà! jen: matt started turning into his dad. matt: mm. that's some good mulch. ♪ i'm awake. but it was pretty nifty when jen showed me how easy it was to protect our home and auto with progressive. [ wrapper crinkling ] get this butterscotch out of here. progressive can't protect you from becoming your parents. there's quite a bit of work, 'cause this was all -- this was all stapled. but we can protect your home and auto when you bundle with us.
two americans vanished and their disappearances were thought to be linked and something terrible happened to both of them. >> they both disappeared. and neither of them contacted anybody. and the same story, both of them had personal belongings that were going to be sent to them. one-and-one is two. >> american bo icelar was the first to leave last fall. at the time, no one thought it was unusual, especially when they learned he sold his house to someone else in the community, wild bill. >> bill had this persona of i've got buckets of cash, i can pay for it outright. >> the blogger don winner did some digging. he pulled documents from the
public registry and found out that wild bill had actually bought more than just beau's home. >> bill cortez had taken over beau icelar's company. and the company owned the property. so shortly after bo goes missing, bill cortez and his wife are now the president and secretary of this company. they own it. >> bill was in a hurry to get beau's house remodelled and flipped to a new owner. he even placed an ad in the local paper trying to sell it. in fact, wild bill seemed to be on a real estate buying and telling spree. he got his first property in 2007 from a family living on an estate close to cher's island, the browns, father, mother, and teenage son. now he acquired bo's house as well it was bill's next purchase that grabbed everyone's attention. >> bill showed up and said, yep, i bought everything. >> everything? >> everything. >> meaning your rental properties, the house you built together, five buildings. >> yeah. >> this beautiful estate. >> exactly. >> bill said he bought cher's entire estate, even her
beautiful island and that cher had simply taken off. >> my dogs were there. my tools were there. belongings were still on the island. where is cher? where is all that stuff? when she gets back, can you deal with that. that's between you and her. >> keith asked bill to bring his dogs and his stuff back. >> he placated he brought me one of my dogs. here's one dog. here is a table and two chairs. and here's a toolbox. i said that's a lot more missing here, bill. >> to keith, the whole story just didn't add up. >> she would have never sold the island. >> did you have an interest in any of that property? >> we put everything in cher's name. >> she had the right to sell? >> absolutely. >> but you don't think she would have done that? >> i don't think so. it was never about the stuff or money. it was our home. we set it up to live there forever. >> it all sounded wrong to aunt mary as well. >> she wasn't selling that place. she loved it. she loved it. >> mary wanted answers. she picked you up the phone and
called wild bill. and he told me, yeah, i got a great deal on cher's property. i bought everything at 50 cents on the dollar. i said i'd like to see that receipt. well, i signed a confidentiality statement. i said well i'll take a look at that. >> where did he tell you she had gone? >> he said i heard she got an apartment in panama city. >> i said so where is her stuff and everything? he goes, oh, yeah, she got there and had me send her some jewelry and money air cargo. i said i'd like to see the receipt on that. this girl is not going to have you looking through her drawers and her jewelry. >> and another curious thing was happening over at bill's place. no one could figure out why cher's devoted dog jack kept leaping off cher's island and swimming to bill's house over and over again. >> they kept going back to your old home and swim over. >> he would swim right back and stay right there.
>> but for bill, it was business as usual. he even threw one of his famous parties at cher's place with all her things still there. it all seemed a little odd to her friend shawn trainer who stopped by that night. >> it wasn't very well attended. >> why didn't people go? >> i just think that everybody had the same thing. it was kind of like really weird it was at cher's house. >> bill even made a toast at the party to friendship. >> and bill gave a speech? >> yeah. this really was something about having good friends. >> just like a heres to good friends? >> yeah, just like that. >> wild bill was about an hour's boat ride from the main island. a big guy with a big personality. he was known for throwing parties at his place. and even in a place that is full of colorful characters, wild bill stood out. >> he was always the loudest voice in the room. he would text everybody and say, you know, your lord commands you to come to my party. >> your lord command you? >> yeah. he always talked to himself in the third party and a royal sense of some sort. you know, everyone took it as
one of bill's quirks. >> another quirk? a pirate club bill created called the jolly roger social club. bill joked that only 90% of the members survive. >> welcome to the jolly club. 90% of our members survive. we hope very much that everybody is here and they live. but if they don't, well, then good riddance. >> by now, an uneasy feeling about wild bill was spreading and the rowdy party guy was suddenly lying low. >> every time i saw him, he was in a hurry. he was trying to get it done and get out of. there he didn't want to answer a lot of questions. he was nervous. >> and with good reason. they tapped into the coconut telegraph, the more he became convinced that wild bill was the key to finding beau and cher. >> this was the common denominator between the two of them that this guy had apparent -- supposedly bought their property for cash and then both people disappear. >> flares went off in my head. they're missing. >> you remember that moment? >> it came over me like oh, my god, he could have done something to these people. >> coming up, the dark side of
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>> reporter: in the tiny ex-pat community of bocas del toro, all eyes were on one of their own -- wild bill cortez. in four month's time, he'd snapped up the homes of two people who'd mysteriously vanished -- bo icelar and cher hughes. now cher's husband keith was telling anyone who'd listen that the disappearances and property transfers were no coincidence. >> i right away thought that bill has done something. i was telling people in bocas, obviously, of the suspicions. and, in a small community, we're all saying the same thing. >> reporter: and bill's still living nearby.
>> and bill's still in the area. and he told people he was going to come and shut me up. >> reporter: he told people that? >> he told three or four people that. i moved out of my house and moved into a hotel that had security. >> reporter: keith wasn't the only one who was nervous. >> i got to the point where i became convinced that this guy cortez killed these people in order to steal their property. that's when i said i'm going to the authorities. >> he encouraged keith to do the same. >> he said you need to get to the prosecutor and really turn up the heat. >> keith went to panama city and laid out the case against wild bill to the dij -- the panamanian fbi. >> from that point on, kudos to the panamanian police, they just stepped it up. but for all the suspicion, there was still no hard evidence of a crime. that's when don winner got an idea. he'd heard a lot of stories about wild bill and his ak-47 -- how he'd even fire it off sometimes to impress his friends. but in panama, it's illegal for a civilian to own that type of weapon.
so don made a suggestion to police. >> execute a search warrant on his house, find the ak-47, get him in custody. >> reporter: get him on possession of firearms? >> find the gun, lock him down. >> reporter: and then, figure out what role, if any, he might have had in the disappearance of two people. police drew up the warrant. on a steamy day in july, authorities descended on wild bill's home. bill and jane were nowhere to be found. police began the search. so police are looking around. they're here. they have a search warrant on this property looking for a gun." >> yeah. they're executing a search warrant for an ak-47. and when they got here, they encountered cher's dog. jack, the doberman who adored cher, was already at bill's place. no one knew exactly how he got there, but the dog was anxious, pacing nervously. >> jackie was really animated and agitated, and just kept circling and running up into the jungle. >> and the dog would come down and like bark at the people that were doing the search, and run
up the hill -- "follow me, guys" and the dog led them up there -- >> reporter: this hill right here?" >> right here. and went up into the back of the property. >> reporter: jack bounded up and down the hill, until police followed him. and there -- they found something shocking. a mound of disturbed dirt. they began to dig. cher's husband keith waited at the bottom of the hill. >> the police went up with shovels, and then they came down, about two hours later, and said, "we need you to come up and take a look. >> reporter: in a shallow grave -- hidden under a mound of garbage, the police made a horrible discovery -- the body of cher hughes. she had been shot once in the back of the head. i imagine that was one of the hardest days of your life. >> yeah. it sure is. i mean, no -- no one should ever see someone they cared about look like that. >> reporter: now, keith finally understood why jack kept swimming to bill's place. >> he'd swim that mile back and just stay right there. he was staying true to mommy.
>> reporter: back in the us, cher's sister judy learned the devastating news. >> i was in hysterics for hours. i just paced the floor and just kept saying, "no, no, no. it's not true. it's not." >> reporter: but the horror wasn't over. as police continued searching bill's property, they discovered another mound of disturbed dirt -- another shallow grave. and there, buried beneath more rubble, the body of bo icelar -- the other missing american. >> when they found the bodies, that's when//they realized that it's not just people with suspicions and making accusations. it's all -- it's really happening. >> reporter: keith watched as authorities raided bill's home. he says they found evidence of the ghastly crimes -- bo's id, cher's passport, her purse, and her cell phone, from which she'd allegedly sent those text messages, saying she'd simply gone for a sail. and there was more -- nazi memorabilia, strange satanic signs, jewelry that may have belonged to the victims. and the most gruesome discovery -- about a dozen gold teeth. >> he lived with these things. he lived with the corpses and people's personal effects around him. >> reporter: the ex-pats in bocas were in turmoil. two of their friends were dead -- their bodies found in
the backyard of a man they once trusted -- wild bill cortez. >> to know that he lived next to me for two and a half years, and i had him in my home. i invited him to dinner. we did the social neighbor thing with him. he shot my wife. it's just inconceivable. >> reporter: authorities launched a search for bill and his wife, who they also suspected was involved. but it was too late. they had already this is now a major manhunt. >> i knew he was probably out of the country already. that he was on the fly. so, the most important thing at that point was to get his picture out there on every television screen. on every newspaper cover. on every computer monitor, it's gotta get out there in a big way to get him caught. >> reporter: by then, wild bill and his wife jane were in costa rica. someone recognized them there, and contacted the police. as the search intensified, bill and jane made a desperate attempt to cross into nicaragua by boat. but they were stopped by soldiers at a checkpoint.
>> they got the drop on him with machine guns and basically said, "halt or die." and he stopped. he gave himself up. >> reporter: the end of the line. >> that was the first time he had ever had handcuffs on in his life. >> reporter: it was also the first time anyone on the island heard wild bill's real name -- >> my name is william dathan holbert. >> reporter: fun loving bocas del toro bartender wild bill cortez was in fact, william dathan holbert -- a 30-year-old who'd been on the run from american authorities since 2006. as the islanders absorbed the headlines of a killer among them, they discovered that wild bill had a long and notorious past that stretched nearly 2,000 miles. from the white sand beaches of bocas del toro all the way to the blue ridge mountains of north carolina. that's where he grew up, going by his middle name -- dathan. he played high school football. married his sweetheart, had three kids, and worked as a landscaper. his old boss at a gym, kevin hoover, liked dathan -- until dathan had an affair with one of
his employees -- and hoover says, embezzled $25,000 from the gym's accounts. >> he had told me he had thought that was part of his -- his pay, his package. and i said, "no, dathan, it's not part of your package." >> reporter: and that was just the beginning. dathan left the job -- and his wife. he ran off with laura michele reese, who'd later be known as jane cortez in bocas. in 2005, police say dathan started in on his real estate scams. he sold a home that wasn't his for $200,000. police charged him with obtaining property under false pretenses. by the time the owner realized what had happened, dathan was on the run. that landed him on the television program "america's most wanted." >> cops in north carolina say >> reporter: somewhere along the line, police say dathan sold a stolen car in montana, and when cops pulled him over for speeding in wyoming, he took
off, leading them on a high speed chase before escaping. it seems it was only after he moved to panama that dathan's scams took a sinister turn. >> the change was he killed people to get the documentation in order to take over the property. >> reporter: and not only was he stealing their property, he would steal everything in the house -- cars, boats, right down to the toothbrush and the underwear and their dogs. he took on their entire lives? >> yeah, right down to the change in their pocket. >> reporter: four years after fleeing from the states, wild bill was finally in police custody, charged with heinous crimes -- the murders of bo icelar and cher hughes. >> there are dozens, if not a hundred people in this town, in bocas, that all knew cher, that all knew bo, and they're all thinking, "wow, man, this guy fooled us all. he fooled everybody." >> reporter: he got away with murder. >> he got away with it for awhile. yeah. >> reporter: little did everyone know that wild bill had actually gotten away with a lot more. coming up --
>> i never painted myself as a good guy. i'm getting what i deserve. >> a jail cell interview with wild bill. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ you... keep doing you. we'll take care of medicare part d. by helping you save up to five dollars on each prescription, and with free one-on-one pharmacy support, we've filled over 2 billion prescriptions and counting. stop by walgreens and save today.
and coming up next friday on "dateline," the preacher's wife. they seemed to perfect, the handsome preacher and his beautiful wife until one fateful night he was shot in his sleep, she was charged with murder. >> look into those soft, sweet eyes and what do you see? >> i see a cold blooded killer. >> the crime caused a sensation, then so did the verdict. now she breaks her silence. >> what is in your heart at that very moment? >> i don't know. hughes and bo icelar had ended tragically. both were found dead, shot in hughes and bo icelar had ended tragically. both were found dead, shot in the back of the head, and buried in shallow graves. after being caught at the nicaraguan border, wild bill and his wife emerged from the jungle in shackles, charged with the murders. bill's wife was subdued and denied any involvement. bill, however, appeared surprisingly cheerful, saying he was happy to be back in panama. >> i'm happy to be in panama. i love panama. >> reporter: those first days when bill was brought back to panama, what was he like? >> he was making jokes, and he was laughing on it and he was
really -- he wanted to -- people to see him. he was really trying to show off. >> reporter: national director of police gustavo perez interrogated wild bill and says he talked openly about the killings. bill admitted to shooting bo icelar on his boat. for cher, it started with a friendly dinner at bill's place. afterwards, bill took her outside to see some animals behind his house. when she turned to look at them, he shot her. did bill tell you why he murdered the people that he confessed to murdering? >> say money. he say, "i want to -- i wanted to have their things." >> reporter: but even the most hardened cops were shocked to hear what else bill had done. wild bill drew a map of his home -- with x's marking where the bodies were buried. only there were more than 2 x's on bill's map. there were five. five victims.
not just bo and cher, but three more people who'd died at the hands of wild bill. this time, it was a father, mother and their teenaged son -- the brown family. they were the original owners of bill's property, cher's neighbors. keith remembers when the browns suddenly moved out. he kept his personal things in his own house. we wanted to speak with bill so we reached out to his attorneys and about a month ago our phone rang. it was the lawyer with wild bill himself on the phone calling from his jail cell in panama. he already confessed to the murders. but he said he wanted to explain himself. >> i'm not denying criminal activity. i'm only saying that what's been portrayed in the media as this crazy serial killer thing is completely untrue. i'm telling you that i am not a serial killer. i have never taken pleasure in harming another human being. the things i have done has
caused me nightmares. >> you also have to understand that the victims of these crimes, their families are -- they say you had parties at their homes. how can you possibly defend that action? >> defend it? i'm not trying to defend my actions. i'm a criminal. i'm a bad guy. i'm your worst nightmare. but what i'm also saying is that i didn't wake up one morning and decide to kill my neighbors. >> three weeks ago a very different looking wild bill gave an interview to a local tv station from his jail cell. his wild blond hair replaced by a brown buzz care. >> i did it. i'm guilty of it. i'm going to be punished for it. >> in cold and chilling detail, he recounts how he murdered the brown family. >> i separated them. this is gruesome and i understand it's very -- but you're asking me and i'll answer your question, sir. i separated them. i asked mike brown to show me a well he dug in the back of the property.
i took him there. and without him knowing what happened, i shot him from behind and killed him. >> holbert also admits to another victim, number six. a american ex-pat jeffrey kline. hole bert claims he died when the two got on a fight on a boat. too afraid to go to authorities, holbert came up with his own solution to get rid of the body. >> i took it home and buried it. and then i built a picnic area over it. it's horrible and stupid. but i never had been in that situation before. i didn't know what to do. >> in the interview, holbert confesses to it all, then offers up a convoluted explanation for why he did it. he says he acted on orders from other americans and claims there's a large crime ring running around bocas trading arms, trafficking humans and ordering hits on people, including the browns. i never tried to paint myself as a good guy. i'm a bad guy. i'm getting what i deserve.
killed six people, now has time to sit in a cell and think about his own death. holbert and his wife have received threats in prison. >> there's a guard in this jail that brings me a cell phone and gives me death threats from these people. i'm a dead man. i don't even care. that is not even important. but my wife doesn't deserve this. >> have you talked to authorities about this? what are the options they have? >> options? what options? excuse me. give me a second. >> if convicted, he faces up to 50 years in a panamanian jail. >> this is a really, really bad
guy. it doesn't get any worse than this kind of guy. he is like the worst of the worst. >> do you think the trail of bodies is longer than we even know? >> i have no doubt. how many people did this guy kill? nobody knows. >> panama's auxiliary prosecutor says he's reaching out to other countries to see if any of their missing persons may have crossed paths with wild bill. >> translator: once they verify and confirm any persons that had contact with him and have disappeared, they'll take measures to verify where they are. >> if there are other victims out there, they may be hard to find. wild bill mostly targeted loners, people's whose disappearance may not be noticed. it wasn't until bill killed cher, the woman who had a smile for everyone that he was caught. >> his mistake of targeting cher is what was his down fall. he couldn't have picked a girl more loved. he picked someone that absolutely stood out everywhere she went and would be missed and loved. >> someone the family cared so much about, that they would start calling immediately. this is our girl. how dare you mess with our girl and think we're not coming for
her? >> for cher's sister judy, there are only good memories and appreciation for the big sister who followed her adventurous spirit all the way to paradise. >> for cher's sister judy, there are only good memories and appreciation for the big sister who followed her adventurous spirit all the way to paradise.
i'm happy she went because i know what it meant to her. the peace in her heart of being able to live there. i wouldn't have wanted her to miss that. >> and that's all for this edition of "dateline friday." we're back again next friday at i just saw something on tv about you being gone since thursday night. i hope you're all right. oh, my god. oh, my god. >> paige, if you get this, please, please call somebody. everybody's worried about you. everybody's looking for you. please let us know you're okay. >> paige was a woman with a premonition. >> she said she knew something bad was going to happen. a couple days later she was missing. >> we found out she had this second life. >> quite obviously it's dangerous. >> she had been playing a risky game.