The Arenal Area Magazine

Arenal expats shiver at fugitives in their midst


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
see related post here

Some expats in Nuevo Arenal are having trouble sleeping because they unknowingly befriended the couple who are suspects in a growing list of murders.

The pair, William Cortez and his wife, Jean Seana Cortez, are in custody in Managua. That’s a big relief for the expats who drank with the pair, invited them to dinner and even showed them property that the expats had for sale.

“You would have invited these people to you house for dinner,” said Fred Cole, one of the Nuevo Arenal expats. Cole, a retired Washington State prison official, said he is surprised he was taken in, although he did express some minor suspicions about the wife because of her unchanging facial expressions.

Cole said the pair looked at his house, which is for sale, and at the finca of a friend. The couple are accused of killing those who offered to sell them property in Panamá.

As more and more is learned about the couple, they are rapidly climbing the serial killer suspect list to rival such criminal stars as Ted Bundy. They are likely to be expelled from Nicaragua to Panamá, although the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case because of some U.S. killings.

Cole said he first met the pair July 6 or 7 at the popular Bar Bambu in town. Others say the couple had been in Nuevo Arenal off and on for a month. Cole had the distinction of hosting the couple for farewell drinks last July 20 before the news broke that they were wanted as suspects in Bocas de Toro, just south of Costa Rica.

From Arenal Cortez and his wife rented a small house in Turrialba and then fled to La Trinidad where they spent Sunday night. They tried to cross the Río San Juan from northern Costa Rica Monday morning. That is when they fell into the hands of the Nicaraguan army.

This is what is known about their Nuevo Arenal experience:

The pair identified themselves as Max and Anne Smith. They just sold, they said, a large home they restored in Heredia. They rented a Nuevo Arenal home and paid two months rent in advance. When
they left, the place was trashed and some items were stolen, said Cole.

The most uncomfortable aspect of their stay in Nuevo Arenal was that they showed up with different vehicles and one time with a pair of dogs. Residents wonder from where the animals and vehicles came.

Initially they came with a red and silver Dodge Ram. That was suppose to be a pickup owned by the brother of Cortez who was said to still be in Heredia.

They said they were a Tennessee couple and seemed to have some knowledge of Heredia. They left Nuevo Arenal and returned to purchase a faded red Nissan.

The vehicles are different from the silver four-by-four the couple purchased near Sixaola and used to travel to La Trinidad Sunday. That vehicle has been impounded.

Officials in Nicaragua said the pair were suspects in some 40 murders that took place in México, Belize and Costa Rica, as well as Panamá. Judicial police are investigating the couple’s travels in Costa Rica over the last five years in an effort to shed some light on open murder cases. The allegations are that the couple simply killed people to take over their properties, to take their personal goods and to access their bank accounts.

The couple seemed to be able to come and go unhampered. In some cases they used fake passports. Matthijs van Bonzel, the Dutch ambassador to Panamá, told a radio interviewer Tuesday that photos of Dutch passports being used by the couple showed inconsistencies. He told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that the passports could be fakes. In fact, Cortez is believed to be from Texas and his wife also to be a U.S. citizen. Cortez has connections in the Dutch island of Aruba.

Meanwhile in Nuevo Arenal Cole mused: “They truly were very dangerous, and I was very relieved to hear they were finally apprehended. I’m not sure if I will ever welcome strangers in town again, but it is a lesson for us all. We truly enjoy living here, but this has made us aware that due caution is in all of our best interest’s as Latin American countries can become a playground for intelligent, determined criminals due to the lax law enforcement here.”

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