Tags : :
Cheryl Hughes Werle's life was spent in a slice of paradise, and her life came to
an abrupt and untimely end.
Cheryl "Cher" Lynn Hughes (Werle)
Thanks to the persistence of Cheryl Hughes' beloved family, friends, and the dogged
determination of an intrepid journalist, Don Winner (at Panama-guide.com), Cheryl's
fate has been determined and her body recovered.
The recovery of Cheryl's body also resulted in the discovery of other Boca del Toro
neighbors who were murdered by Cheryl's killers.
Cheryl, known by her friends as "Cher" to her friends, was raised in
St. Louis and Sunset Hills, before moving to De Soto and later Crestwood,
Cheryl moved to Gulfport Florida where she co-owned a sign company.
In Florida, Cher picked up the art of sailing, and as a result of her sailing
travels, she began spending time in Panama and promptly fell in love
with the areas she visited. So much so, Cheryl moved to Panama.
Family and friends describe her as a lovely, nice, fun loving woman who
liked to party.
Dwayne Cooney (Family friend & childhood friend of Cheryl) "When you
talk about someone who would light up a room, she was the
definition of that."
Cher was popular with everyone in the area of Bocas del Toro, getting along with
expats, tourists, local residents and especially with the children. Cheryl was
known to hand out lollipops and host "kids movie nights"where she served bowls
of popcorn to the children.
Don Winner (Journalist) "Some people have said she helped out with the Bocas
BESO charity organization, delivered books to a school on "her
island", and really cared for and about the children in the area."
Although far from those who love her, Cheryl keeps in constant touch by e-mail
and via telephone with her family and friends.
The other occupants of Cheryl's home were Feldman, a small dog, and Jackie, a
doberman pinscher, along with a white faced monkey. Feldman accompanied
Cheryl almost everywhere she went.
2005 - Cheryl and Keith Werle are married in Panama.
Mike Cooney (Close family friend) "She was just a magnetic personality. She just
loved people, loved life."
Mike Cooney gives Cheryl Hughes away at her wedding to Keith Werle in Panama,
and twice visits her at their Panama home.
Cheryl and Keith found a private island located in a remote area, a 45-minute boat
ride from the nearest town. Cheryl's dream home is on this island.
Keith Werle "Cheryl was "unbelievably happy" with our piece of paradise. We both
got that little island and said, 'Yeah, we could die here. This is where
we could spend the rest of our days.'"
In Cheryl's case, that sentiment would end up being prophetic. Her last days were
spent on the island she loved.
Sandi Hodge "Cher loved that property. That was her dream home, and she would
never, ever sell that property."
BUSINESS & PROPERTY OWNER
Cheryl owned and operated a two hotels, one called the "Casa del Sapo," both
located on Isla Carenero, a warehouse on Isla Mono and another building on a
neighboring island. She also owned two houses and a Panamanian corporation
called "Southern Exposure Inc."
NEIGHBORS & LIFE ON THE ISLAND
Across the water from the island are the Werle's closest neighbors, the Brown
family. Michael (61) Watson Brown and his Thai wife Manchittha "Nan" Nankratoke,
and their son Watson Brown (18).
Donald Winner (Panama Guide) "I've learned through conversations with
detectives in the United States he was sure the true name
of Michael Watson Brown is actually Michael Francis Salem,
who has been wanted since 1981 by law enforcement officials
in Florida. Brown, according to Winner, kidnapped two policemen,
after which he fled to the Caribbean and then later went to Thailand
where he met the woman who became his wife."
In April of 2003, Michael and "Nan" Brown purchase a parcel of land of about
45 acres - located along the coast on the mainland in the Cauchero area in the
province of Bocas del Toro. In May the Browns start a company called "Latitude
9.10 Inc." Their property is purchased using the company. April of 2005, the
Browns were issued certification as "agricultural producers."
One of Cher's neighbors was Bo Barry Icelar who went by the name of
Bo Yancy. Bo was a former Art Gallery owner and Kung Fu expert from New
Mexico who moved to Bocas del Toro in 2004. Bo started a company called
"Iguana Limited Corp," using the company to purchase buy his property
and build his house. The lot was about 1.5 hectares and Bo designed his
house. He also created a Private Interest Foundation called the Fundacion
El Hogar De La Iguana. Bo Icelar was also a collector and dealer of Native
American artifacts and graced his home with many valuable items.
Bo had several close friends among the expat community and was well liked
and respected, but he was a very private person. Bo wasn't a party animal
and didn't frequent the party scene in Bocas del Toro.
Another neighbor, and friend of Cher's, is Sandi Hodge who moved to the area
about 2005 and lives next door to Bo Icelar on Isla Colon.
2007 - Cheryl's neighbors, the Brown family have disappeared. In a community
where people come and go nobody thinks much of their disappearance,
and as few people knew them, few remark upon it.
The Brown's disappearance is still a singular occurrence due to the identity of the
"new owners" of the Brown home, property and company, William "Wild Bill" Adolfo
Cortez Reese and his wife, Jena Seana Cortez. Cortez says he is from Mexico and
that his father is some kind of a "rich" Mexican. Cortez tells everyone that the Browns
had sold them their property. They promptly rename it "Hacienda Cortez."
They open up a bar named "Villa Cortez" with a sign bearing a skull and crossbones.
Sandi Hodge "He was loud and big and wild, but mostly we just kind of ignored him."
"Everybody knew he was crazy but nobody thought he was a killer."
Keith Werle "Cheryl and I had been on friendly terms with the Cortezes, and we
had entertained the Cortezes on several occasions. This man was
my neighbor. He was in my house for dinner with his wife, We knew
them for two and a half years. It was just "Wild Bill" and his wife."
2009 - October - Keith and Cheryl separate. Despite being separated from her
husband, Cher keeps in regular contact, texting Keith several
times a day.
Bo Icelar has let the expat community know that he's willing to
sell up and move back to the states. He's feeling a bit isolated
and wants to move closer to a friend back in Mississippi.
2009 - November - Bo Icelar tells several people that "Wild Bill" Cortez has
expressed an interest in purchasing his property. He plans
to meet with Cortez to see if they can work out a deal.
Bo speaks with his best friend back in the U.S. on the phone and tells them
that he's hopeful he might be able to sell the house quickly so he could be
home in time for the Christmas holidays. He also says the person who's
interested in buying supposedly has a lot of cash.
Bo tells friends that Bill Cortez offered to buy his property for $180,000 dollars
and that he "immediately rejected the offer and was "offended" by the low
price. "I have no intention of selling to "Wild Bill" for that price."
Bo Icelar has a last conversation with family members on the telephone
back in the U.S.
Bo Barry Icelar aka Bo Yancy disappears.
CHANGE OF OWNERSHIP
2009 - November 30 - The groundskeeper has been contracted by Bo to help him
paint his house, and duly arrives to get to work. Instead of
finding his boss Bo at the house, he finds Wild Bill Cortez.
He is greeted by "Who the hell are you and why are you
here?" After explaining he had been contracted to paint
the house, Cortez informs him "Bo's gone. I bought this
house. It's mine now, so get the hell out!"
The groundskeeper got the hell out.
Wild Bill and Jena Cortez tell everyone that they had paid Bo Icelar for his property
in cash, that he left abruptly, and that they had no idea where he was.
But they had every idea of where Bo was.
Sandi Hodge "The Cortezes told me that Bo had left suddenly and sold them his
property at a reduced price, Hodge says people were surprised, but
mostly by the price. That struck me as very odd. It was the talk of
the town. I said, 'God, if I would've known he was going to give the
house away, we would've bought it."
Still, Bo Icelar has previously spoken of leaving, so an abrupt departure didn't
ring any alarm bells in people's minds. But they did wonder. As time went on
the details didn't add up. Bo injured his foot during a Kung Fu exhibition and
required surgery and was using a cane to walk with. Hanging on a peg inside
Bo's house is his cane.
2009 - December 9 - Bill and Jena Cortez hire a lawyer and file documents
taking over Bo "Yancy" Icelar's properties and companies.
A PIVOTAL DISAPPEARANCE
William and Jena Cortez throw parties on Isla Cauchero that a group of
American expatriates who socialize and gather weekly for parties attend.
Cher Hughes is attending this one.
2010- March 20- Cheryl Hughes (53) is last seen by any of her neighbors
"Witnesses tell Cheryl Hughes' relatives "When the party (in March) wound
down, Cortez sent the other guests away but coaxed Hughes to stay behind,
saying the two had business to discuss."
As Cheryl is getting into a boat with a friend to go home, Wild Bill Cortez
tells her he wants to speak with her. He is rude to the person in the boat
telling her that what he wants to speak with Cheryl about is "private business
and none of yours." That person left.
Don Winner "On the day Cher disappeared, she was last seen getting into
Bill's boat and riding away with him towards his property where
they were going to supposedly discuss the possibility of him
buying her property."
Sandi Hodge "Cortez told me that Cheryl had sold him all of her properties and
"just left" leaving her dog behind."
"That was what really made me wonder what was going on because
Cher took the little dog, Feldman, everywhere she went."
Sandi Hodge knew her friend Cher wouldn't abandon her dogs or her home. Cher
loved both her animals and her home and just wouldn't sell up and leave without
a word to anyone.
Keith Werle knew that Cheryl wouldn't abandon her dogs or monkey or her home
on the island.
As her family stop receiving Cher's phone calls and emails, they become worried.
They begin enquiring as to Cheryl's whereabouts.
"Wild Bill" Cortez and his wife Jena Cortez, take over Cheryl Hughes' home,
property, and company. They fired the employees of Cheryl's hotel, took down
her "Casa del Sapo" signs and put up their new sign, naming the place what
else, but "Casa Cortez."
A KILLER'S MIS-DIRECTION EFFORTS
William "Bill" aka "Wild Bill" Cortez and Jena Seana Cortez murder Cheryl
Hughes Werle and bury her body in a garbage pit on the property
formerly belonging to the Brown family in Cauchero, Bocas del Toro.
Since William Cortez knew that Cher had a lot of family and friends, he decide
to do a little mis-direction to misguide all those who would come asking about
Cheryl. Shortly after her death, Bill sent text messages to her friends and family
using her phone.
One text he wrote posing as Cher "I'm fine, don't worry about me. I've moved to
Panama City, gone to the island of Taboga,
and set sail with a man I've met.
I love and miss everyone and I'll contact you
when I get to my destination."
Cortez/Holbert retrieved a bunch of Cheryl's clothing and told everyone that Cher
had "asked him to send those things to her for her trip."
Keith Werle "I felt something was off. The last three or four texts I got were just a
little strange. They weren't quite what Cher would say, and she
indicated in the text that she had "met someone and she was leaving."
Mary Wittmeyer (Aunt to Cheryl) "Our relationship was more like close sister than
niece and aunt." (They were close in age).
Mary Wittmeyer telephones William Cortez three times.
Mary Wittmeyer "I get the chills thinking about those conversations.
The conversations were really creepy."
"William Cortez told me "he didn't know what had happened
to Cheryl. He said they had completed a business transaction,
with Cheryl selling her property and possessions to him before
skipping town. He also told me that Cheryl had "instructed loved
ones to send him money and her personal possessions via air
cargo." I was welcome to come down to Panama to look for
Cheryl, but, he said, "She's not here."
Mary Wittmeyer calles the U.S. Embassy in Panama and eventually speaks with
the FBI and Panamanian law enforcement about William Cortez's comments.
Local freelance journalist Donald "Don" Winner was contacted by one of Cheryl's
friends and began digging and prodding local authorities to take action. He began
writing about the suspicions surrounding William Cortez and his wife.
Don Winner " Werle, Hodge and other concerned friends didn't believe it. They brought
their suspicions to the attention of the local authorities. Getting those
authorities to take action, however, was another story."
Keith Werle "It's Central America; a lot of people come here to be missing. They
[police] don't really look."
Donald Winner "The "coconut telegraph" rumor mill on Isla Colon and in the
entire area was buzzing with talk of the disappearance of Cher
Hughes and the suspected involvement of "Wild Bill" Cortez.
However, everyone was still reluctant to point fingers at "Wild Bill"
Cortez (Holbert.) He had created a rough and tumble personality for
himself, and the simple fact of the matter is that people were afraid
of him. No one stepped up because they were concerned about the
potential consequences of doing so. Their "instincts" told them
confronting Holbert and Reese might get them killed - and they were
CONFRONTING WILD BILL
Keith Werle confronts Wild Bill Cortez about Cheryl and her properties.
Keith Werle "I said, 'Bill, show me some papers. Show me you really bought this
because Cher would never sell it, certainly not without talking to me
about it first because it was our home,"
Don Winner "At one point in time Holbert even threatened that he was going
to "take care of" Cher's husband Keith, because Keith had been
saying in public that he suspected Holbert was in some way
responsible for Cher's disappearance. So, in the first two weeks
of June 2010, things were starting to heat up for Holbert and Reese
in Bocas del Toro."
MISSING PERSONS REPORT
2010 - June 11 - A friend of Cher's files a missing persons report for Cheryl Lynn
Hughes at the office of the Department of Judicial Investigation (DIJ)
near the airport in Bocas del Toro.
Don Winner "As soon as Cher's friend filed the missing person's report with the
DIJ, they let a few people in Bocas know what had been done,
including telling Cher's closest friends and family members about
Don Winner "Their initial investigations indicated Cher Hughes had separated from
her husband Keith, had apparently sold her property, and had told
friends via text message she moved to Panama City, found another
man, and set off on a romantic sail around the world. That sounded
plausible enough for them, so the DIJ didn't really light a fire under
this case at that point."
However, that attitude would change.
A CONCERTED COURSE OF ACTION
2010 - July - After months of not hearing from Cheryl, and no action on the part
of authorities, everyone is extremely worried.
Keith Werle, Cher's aunt Mary Wittmeyer, and sister Dianne Motlick
and friends meet in Panama.
Along with Don Winner, who's been writing articles about Cheryl's
disappearance, (and of others) they plan to meet with authorities
and present their case as to why the authorities should be investigating
William "Wild Bill" and Jena Seana Cortez, and looking for Cheryl Hughes
Keith Werle "Cortez "picked the wrong girl. He had no idea how many people loved her
and how many people would care. He just got greedy and picked somebody
that was special."
In Panama City, Panama, Keith Werle, Cheryl's aunt Mary Wittmeyer and Cheryl's
sister meet with the national police, Panama's Attorney General and Prosecutor,
and file a "denuncio" which officially accuses William Cortez for Cheryl Hughes
What really made the police sit up and take notice was when Keith Werle
informs them that William "Wild Bill" Cortez keeps an AK-47 on the property.
Mary Wittmeyer tells them of her conversations via telephone with Cortez.
Both she, Keith and Cheryl's sister inform authorities that Cheryl would
neither drop everything and disappear without notice, nor would she
forget her customary call to her father on his birthday. They also explain
about the strange mass text messages that her friends received after
she disappeared. Keith informs them that no paperwork detailing any
transaction with Cortez can be found.
Authorities realize that Cortez had made statements and terminology about
his taking over the property to friends and acquaintances of Bo Icelar, who
had gone missing in November.
One week later, Panamanian police obtain a search warrant for the properties
"belonging" to William Cortez.
JACKIE THE BRAVE & LOYAL DOG
Don Winner "Jackie" is an adult male Doberman Pinscher that simply
adored Cher. Cher's house is located exactly 1.53 miles
to the Southwest of Holbert's property, where her body
was eventually discovered. After Cher went missing Jackie
refused to leave Holbert's property. On several occasions
he was put in a boat and taken back to Cher's island,
however sooner or later he would jump into the ocean and
swim the 1.53 miles, back to the Holbert property. He just
would not leave. He knew something. He wanted to stay
with Cher. He was at that property all the time, starting in
late March 2010 when Cher went missing."
JACKIE - Cheryl's dog
2010 - July 20 - Tuesday Police and Judicial investigators arrive on the Cortez
property (formerly belonging to the Brown family) with a search
William "Wild Bill and his wife Jena Cortez, are long gone.
As authorities begin to search, Jackie would run to them. He
would bark and whine and get their attention and ensure they
were listening to him. It was obvious that he wanted to show
them something important.
Don Winner "Jackie would run down to them, bark and whine, and then
run back into the woods behind the house. About 340 meters
behind Holbert's house to the Northwest there was a pit used
to bury trash and rubbish.
Just like something out of a Hollywood movie script Jackie
would run down, bark and whine, make sure the investigators
were following him, and then run back up into the jungle.
Eventually the investigators followed Jackie to an area where
there was a garbage pit. Jackie laid down right next to a mound
of dirt that was there, crying and whining, still refusing to leave
Investigators immediately started digging at that exact spot and
they quickly discovered Cher's remains buried in the pit, wrapped
in a blue plastic tarp.
If it wasn't for Jackie, who knows how long it would have taken them
to find the remains of Cher Hughes. In addition, the human remains
strongly suspected to be those of Bo Icelar were also discovered
Keith Werle, Cher's husband had the awful and sad task of identifying her remains.
FUGITIVES ON THE RUN
William "Wild Bill" Cortez aka William Reese, aka Donald Lee Bruckart, real name
of William Dathan Holbert - and Jena Seana Cortez aka Laura Bruckart, real name
Laura Michelle Reese fled to Costa Rica. Authorities are now searching for missing
persons there and have found one body already.
Don Winner, the ever intrepid journalist blogger and avenging angel, had notified
newspapers and plastered the fugitive's photos in other South American countries
as well as notifying authorties. His hard work paid off.
When William Holbert and Laura Reese attempted to cross the river into Nicaragua,
authorities were waiting. They were extradited back to Panama and are awaiting
William Holbert confessed to Cheryl Hughes Werle's murder.
He claims "I killed Cheryl Hughes as she showed me some monkeys
in a wooded area in the province of Bocas del Toro,"
Holbert also claims to have distracted and shot his victims in the nape of
Several of Cheryl's friends took down the sign that William Holbert had erected over
Cheryl's hotel. Although they beat it with a pry bar they used to remove it and broke
it in half, the sign has been stored per investigators as evidence.
Dwayne Cooney (Family & childhood friend) "There were too many people who
loved her who were looking for her. That's pretty much what ended
his string of terror."
Mike Cooney (71) "I miss her. I know everyone else does. The only satisfaction I have
is that he messed with the wrong person, the wrong family, the
Keith Werle visited the area where Cheryl had been buried.
Don Winner "Keith Werle walked in silence near the land where she was buried.
He stood helplessly next to the wire fence, about 50 meters from
the house and 400 meters from where she was buried."
Tim Bolt (Uncle of Cheryl) "It's a terrible tragedy, but at least he'll be punished and
put away so he doesn't do this again."
Dwayne Cooney "We knew something was wrong, but we didn't realize it'd expand
Cheryl's family gathered at St. Louis for a private memorial service.
Mary Wittmeyer (Aunt to Cheryl) "I'm sad for the whole world because we lost a
Keith Werle says he will return to the island where he lived with his wife in happier
times. He says he will bury her ashes there.
Cheryl & Keith Werle in happier times.