“Lost in Paradise” by Crime Watch Daily: The Story of Barbara Struncova and Bill Ulmer

Last Monday, November 9, Crime Watch Daily dedicated three segments of their programming to the story of Barbara Struncova and Bill Ulmer. They called the story:
Click to watch it.

I am very happy with their presentation of the story. All of Barbara’s friends, as far as I know, are pleased with the piece. Some of the minor details—like which roommates lived where when, and who started what websites—are confusing or incorrect, but there are no mistakes in anything that matters.  Endless thanks to everyone who put themselves out there and shared their piece of the puzzle!

The story is not over.  Five years is a long time, but five years is not forever.  The earth and the climate in the tropics quickly devour things, but they also spit them up.  Crocodiles do not eat board bags, and neither do worms.  Earthquake happen and erosion is constant.  We may never know what happened to Barbara.  Then again, time may be on her side.

If you wish to participate in the effort to create justice for Barbara Struncova, here is a small list of things you can do:

–Like the facebook page Where Is Barbara Struncova?
–Share the video or posts about her disappearance on your timeline (put the audience setting to “public” on those posts, please!)
–Type #justiceforbarbara into the comment box on facebook posts about Barbara or about Bill
–Use #justiceforbarbara if you are a twitter user (I try but it’s so not my thing)
–Send the link to Crime Watch Daily’s report to news stations and news papers
–Write a letter to the North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory (http://governor.nc.gov/contact)

I don’t know exactly what you or I can expect any of those things to accomplish.  But you can do them all from your chair.  The other option is to do nothing.  We all know exactly what that will accomplish.


CrimeWatchDaily SHOWTIME: Monday, November 9, 2015


Alright, World.  It’s showtime.

Back in September, I announced in a post called “CrimeWatchDaily Investigates”, that a new daily crime show has taken up the story of Barbara Struncova’s very suspicious disappearance.  After two months of waiting, we have a date!

Set your DVR’s!
The show will air on MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2015.
Click this to find out when it will be on in your area.

If you do not live in the USA or if you do not have a DVR (like me!), a link will become available on CrimeWatchDaily’s website.  (Oh, and just maybe I will be generously sharing it the minute it’s available.)

…There’s more.

This week, in anticipation of this show (although we had no idea it would be coming on Monday–cross my heart, hope to die) some of Barbara’s friends created a Facebook page called Where is Barbara Struncova?  Please “like” the page and share it on your profile if you feel comfortable with that.  The more voices that are speaking together, they louder they are.

Look at how much has changed in one year!  One year ago here was little me sitting in the dark of early mornings, tormented by this ghost that kept insisting, “Tell my story!”  And now?  No one was arrested because of anything on this website–the FBI does not get their info from obscure blogs with a few dozen followers–and CrimeWatchDaily found me, not vice versa.  But still.  I’m not alone anymore, and instead of me talking to myself, we’re talking to each other.  Much less maddening on my end.

If you’re the praying type, pray for Barbara’s family.
Pray for Bill and his family.
Pray for peace for hearts of people who are afraid, because some are.
Pray for a miracle in international law.


Awake en el País de los Sueños

Me hacen falta los temblores
how the walls shudder when
the ground beneath takes
a deep breath and mumbles in
restless sleep.

I miss the soprano of mosquitoes
around the net, cantando
en la noche de enfermedades que me
darían in exchange for
my sweet blood.

Extraño hasta los escorpiones,
their wicked tails cocked against surprise
in my shoes, the folds of towels,
esperando entre las sabanas
at my feet.

In the silent safety of America,
my loud breath keeps me
awake at night en el país de los sueños
donde lo que amenaza es la

The Elephant in the Room: Barbara’s Family

We have an elephant in the room. I’ve been talking around the elephant for almost a year, hoping that it will leave, shrink, turn into a frog—something. It hasn’t. It’s standing patiently right there in the middle of the room while we talk over and under it.

The elephant is the question of Barbara Struncova’s family. Eventually, everyone asks me about Barbara’s family, about what they say, about what they are doing, about where they are in all this. I am so loath to address this publicly that it has gotten to be a bit ridiculous. But let’s do it. Your questions are reasonable and rightly asked.

Yes, I have attempted to contact Barbara’s family. No, I have not been successful.

That’s what I can say for sure. Beyond that, all I can offer is “I heard…” and “someone (but I’ve promised not to say who!) told me…” I have not wanted to throw so much conjecture into this public conversation, but I believe it’s time for me to honor your questions. I will tell you what I know and what I don’t know.

I know almost nothing.

Somebody in Czech Republic is reading my blog. The posts about Barbara get a hit or two from Czech, sometimes up to 10. I have no idea who is there on the other end of the line. No one from Czech Republic has ever contacted me—neither to thank me, to correct me, nor to ask me to be quiet. I sometimes tell myself that their silence is their tacit approval, although, honestly, a silence so deep and so long sounds like something else.

When I began to talk about Barbara last December, I was afraid her family would ask or order me to stop, as they did with Barbara’s friends in Costa Rica 5 years ago. They haven’t. Whether because they don’t feel I pose the same kind of threat as the other friends or because they are afraid I will tell the entire universe if they ask me to be silent, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. It’s true: asking me to be quiet would be a very bad idea.

Barbara’s sister lives in Czech Republic. She did not respond to my attempt to contact her. I realize that English is not her first language, but it wasn’t Barbara’s either. Barbara and her sister were very close, from what Barbara’s roommates say, and the sisters talked frequently on skype. Of course they spoke in Czech, but the conversations sounded happy and contained lots of laughter.

During the Spanish lessons I gave Barbara, she and I talked some about our families. Both of us have a sister who chose a path in life that is more what our parents would have wanted for us than the one we each chose. We talked about how our parents don’t understand our decisions and how much we hate the pain and worry we cause them. Another thing we had in common is wealthy grandparents. Neither of our sets of parents were especially wealthy, and nobody was sending either of us money, but I remember speculating with her about whether we had inheritances that would one day come to us. That’s the conversation as I remember it, anyway. It was 5 years ago. And it’s not like we hammered on this every day.

After Barbara disappeared, I started asking questions. All put together, the answers make no sense, so I do not assume that any one of them is true, although each of them was told to me by someone who earnestly believes his/her story. I’m not going to dissect them. They involve a possible inheritance from a grandmother, and a rich uncle in Prague who, Bill seemed to think, was going to give them money.

On the flip side, many people (including Barbara herself) told me that no one sent Barbara money, and that she worked hard for what she had. There are lots of stories, lots of rumors, lots of very active imaginations (including mine!) and no Barbara to clear it up for us. In the end, all of that intrigue is beside the point.

Some things I do know:

On the day Barbara disappeared, no one suspected that anything had happened to her. There was no immediate reason to suppose she had not left the house to travel as Bill said she did. No one instantly suspected that he was lying. He’s very good at what he does. Red flags popped up one by one as the days passed.

Foul play was first mentioned when Bill left Tamarindo, Costa Rica on December 23, 2010, AND SIMULTANEOUSLY money was discovered to have been charged to Barbara’s credit card at the surf shop where he worked, and then withdrawn by the company ATM card that he carried. In the interim of 18 days, Barbara’s worried friends contacted her family and everyone was on the look-out for the first sign of where she had gone.

When the news of Barbara being a “missing person” and a suspicious connection to the actions of Bill Ulmer reached Czech Republic, (early 2011) what happened is not what I personally would have anticipated. Barbara’s family asked that the all contact with the news media be suspended, that the “Find Barbara” blog and Facebook page cease to be active and that the fliers containing information about her disappearance should please not be distributed. Barbara’s sister was aware of the facts surrounding Barbara’s disappearance, and yet for some reason Barbara’s mother learned of it from the newspaper. (That part of the story trips me, and I land flat on my face every time I get to it.) The blog degenerated into gossip and the family, deeming it unhelpful, requested that it be closed. Barbara’s friends and housemates complied with the family’s requests.

Investigators, which I’m told were hired by Barbara’s uncle, went first to Costa Rica to scope things out, and then they traveled to the USA where I heard they watched the house where Bill was living. I do not know if they attempted to contact him. That is all. The investigators went home. The end.

I wrote to one of the investigators, but he did not reply. I understand (second-hand reported conversation) that after the initial investigation, the family asked for him to leave the case alone. No requests for action on the part of the Struncova family have produced any that I am aware of.

I’ve heard it said that Barbara’s mother is not well and that this is the reason the family is unwilling to further discuss Barbara’s disappearance—that they do not want to re-open old wounds in the interest of protecting the fragile health and well-being of her mother. I do not know if this is true or false. I have very strong feelings about it, and no information. So the less I say about that possibility, the better.

What I do have is a I wild imagination, and in a situation like this, how am I supposed to control it? I can’t. I have gone through a million scenarios about the family’s (lack of) response and the reasons for it. I have imagined unspeakable possibilities that I would never dare to describe. But I must acknowledge that I have NO basis for these fabrications other than my own confused frustration.

I don’t know what’s going on in the lives or the hearts of Barbara’s family. I imagine that I never will. I have been very vocal about a heart-break that belongs to them, so I am sure that in their minds I am a loud-mouth American who is not to be trusted. I get that.

The world is big and cultures are different. Language barriers are just the beginning.

There are more things that I don’t know than what I do, and more things I can’t imagine than what I can.

It’s alright. I’m trying to be at peace, and live with my lack of comprehension. Sometimes my imagination shapes gargoyles in the blank spots that the silence of Barbara’s family leaves. I try to own the monsters as mine and not theirs. There is enough confusion and pain without me creating more by speculating.  They are responsible for their choices; I am responsible for mine.

All of this is what I know and what I don’t.


September 20, 2008 Barbara Struncova with friends on the night before she left for Costa Rica

September 20, 2008
Barbara Struncova with friends on the night before she left for Costa Rica

How I Tried (and Failed) To Believe That Barbara Was Murdered By A Drug Cartel

Let’s begin with a review:

When Barbara Struncova disappeared, her boyfriend Bill Ulmer , who is the last one to have seen her alive, told us:

First, that she left to travel to the Caribbean with friends.
Second, that she left to travel to the Caribbean with an ex-boyfriend.
Third, that she left to travel in Panama, saying she was in Bocas del Toro.
Fourth, that she was a closet drug addict and had gone to rehab in Czech Republic.
Fifth, that she was a secret drug smuggler who had lots of trouble brewing.
And sixth, that she was murdered by angry drug dealers to whom she owed money.

These stories do not make any sense put together and not one single soul has, thus far, stepped forward to corroborate any of them.  Not. One.

So let’s talk about something I don’t know a lot about: the shady world of drug dealing and whether or not drug dealers (cartels?!) murdered Barbara Struncova.

What happens in the real world when you owe money to drug dealers?

I don’t know about Medellin. I don’t know about Rio de Janeiro. I don’t know about Ciudad Juarez. But were’ talking about Tamarindo, here, and I do know what happens in Tamarindo when a person owes money to drug dealers. They stop you on the street and ask you where their money is. They come up to you on the beach in broad daylight. They follow you home from the bar. They knock on the door of your house during dinner and they don’t care if your housemates are home or if you have guests. If they get really pissed off, they might break into your house and take what they feel is rightfully theirs.  They don’t hide. They don’t sneak. Everybody sees you talking to them and you might be mortified, but they don’t care. People near you know perfectly well what’s going on.  Trust me. I did not just roll off the turnip truck.

You know those terrifying Costa Rican drug cartels you hear about on the news every night? What? You haven’t heard about the Costa Rican drug cartels? Don’t you have a TV? You know—the ones mailing bushels of cocaine to Czech Republic? Come on. Try a little harder. Google the Costa Rican drug cartels. What do you mean there are no Costa Rican drug cartels? Oh damn. Another one bites the dust.

I Googled Costa Rican drug cartels/trafficking/violence. Studies and news reports indicate that in recent years, the Mexican Sinaloa cartel has been more active inside of Costa Rica. San Jose’s sketchy barrios are getting sketchier.  But this is Tamarindo we are talking about, and in 2010. Tamarindo doesn’t even have street gangs. Everybody who can attest to the presence of the Sinaloa cartel in Tamarindo in 2010, please raise your hand.

What?  Nobody?

I heard that the bad-news Columbians in Tamarindo killed a guy a few years after we left. (Sorry, nice Columbians!) Maybe the guys who killed him weren’t even Columbian—maybe they were something else and I’m blaming the innocent.  For sure, somebody got into a fight with drug dealers and he ended up dead.  There.  That’s the history Tamarindo drug killing. And he didn’t disappear. He was just dead.

Think about it. “Drug dealers,” if I may lump an enormous variety of people into one pile, would terrorize you to get their money. They would terrorize the people close to you. They might kill your dog. They might break somebody’s legs. But how are you going to pay them if you’re dead? And if they do kill you, your boyfriend is probably going too.

* * * * *

Let’s circle back around to what we know.  The CSI that took place a few days after Barbara disappeared, demonstrates clear evidence of foul play IN BILL AND BARBARA’S BEDROOM, according to the OIJ.  Everyone knows he was at home on the night she disappeared.  He has never tried to say that he wasn’t.  So if a drug cartel/dealer killed Barbara, they did it in her bedroom while he was right there.

I fail to see how this scenario, in any way, solves his problem.

He is trying to use the smoke screen of drugs to confuse and silence us.  Drugs? we are supposed to say, as we suck in our breath. Oh! Well.  Yes, we all know lots of very bad things that we don’t really understand happen behind closed doors when people are involved in drugs. It’s secret. It’s scandalous. It’s morally wrong. What a shame.  

Bill wants us to believe that Barbara got what she had coming to her.



So try again to tell us:

This fall, Crime Watch Daily plans to address Barbara’s disappearance.  I will spread the word as soon as I know which day the story will air.

How I Also Tried (and Failed) to Believe That Barbara Was Trafficking Drugs

As Bill’s story about Barbara Struncova being in drug rehab came to an end, a new story evolved. In this one, Barbara was buying “tons of coke” and sending it “back home in the mail.” Home? His home in North Carolina, or her home in Czech Republic? I assume he is referring to Czech Republic, because there is no one here from Czech to argue for her.  He named a Czech friend as her accomplice.

What did I do? I looked the guy up.

Hell yes I did.  I can’t exactly ask Barbara about it, so I asked him.  It was a little awkward. Did you ever have to say to complete stranger, “Hi. Sorry—you don’t know me and please don’t think I’m a psychopath, but have you, by any chance, ever been a drug trafficker?”

He was amazingly nice about it. He said no. He said he has never sold any drug to anyone in his life. He said Bill would have witnessed him use drugs occasionally while he was on vacation, and that is probably how his name got attached. I said, “Thanks for being so kind. Pardon the stupid question. That’s what I thought.” So now it’s one guy’s word against the other. Pick the one you think is telling the truth:  the Czech guy you don’t know, or the guy in jail that you do know.

But again, since I’m exploring all possibilities, I attempted to figure out how drug smuggling could be a truth I never saw.

So many problems with that supposition leap out at me. We won’t discuss, until next week, Bill’s suggestion that Barbara was murdered by the people who procured her these drugs, but keep it in mind because :

(A)  That is a crap-load of a lot of coke. I’ve never been a drug dealer, so this is not the voice of experience speaking—but, how much money to you have to owe a drug dealer IN TAMARINDO before they kill you? This cocaine-mailing-to-Europe operation that supposedly existed is not some funny-tasting baking soda tucked inside a birthday card. We are talking about A LOT of cocaine that someone gave up all hope of ever being paid for.

(Honestly, you lost me right there. But I press on…)

(B)   Sending it through the mail? What—Correos de Costa Rica? UPS? Mailboxes Etc? DHL in Liberia?  I’m not saying it can’t be done, but a trans-Atlantic drug smuggling operation moving enough merchandise to end in a murder? Through the mail from Costa Rica? Successfully, let me add, because Barbara and her supposed accomplice were never suspected by the authorities.  Amazing.

(In my estimation, a woman as smart as Barbara, if she had gotten it right that far, would have paid the guys she owed.  She was an accountant.  She knew how this works.)

(C)   Mailing things is an enormous pain in Tamarindo.  Or it was when Barbara and I lived there. I’m just saying. If you’re mailing drugs, you need to package them and take the packages to the place from which you will mail them. Which would be mighty hard if you, like Barbara,  had no car. Not impossible–just hard. And you’d think someone would have noticed her pedaling down the street piled with packages, or taking a lot of mysterious trips to Liberia on the bus.


(D)   Remember last week’s discussion of whether or not Barbara was a drug addict?  In my understanding, people who successfully coordinate international drug trafficking operations large enough to put their lives in danger are not also addicts in need of rehab. They are smart, savvy business people who can afford cars. Generally speaking, of course. The addicts in need of rehab are at the other end of the food chain.  The people who are both addicts and dealers are the ones hanging around the corner with pockets full of little white baggies, which not even Bill has the nerve to suggest about her.

I will always say in conclusion: I could be wrong.  I don’t see how, but if you know something I don’t, feel free to speak up.

I am, however, willing to stick my neck out and say that, based on my own experiences with Barbara and in Tamarindo—I don’t believe it.

Next Monday in my last (I think) post in the series, I will explain why—even if I am wrong about everything I have said so far—I still don’t think a Costa Rican drug cartel killed Barbara.


Barbara Struncova
November 7, 2012

How I Tried (and Failed) to Believe that Barbara Was a Drug Addict

When Barbara Struncova disappeared, all of her boyfriend’s initial statements about where she went involved her leaving in the middle of the night to travel—to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and/or Panama—either with some Czech friends who were finishing a surf trip or with an ex-boyfriend named Martin. We know that these stories are false because none of the Czech surfers took a trip to the Caribbean at that time, and Barbara’s ex-boyfriend Martin has never been to Costa Rica.

His first attempt to blame Barbara’s disappearance on drugs, as far as I know, came in early 2011. He claimed that (attempt #1) her family quietly shuffled her off to a rehab program in Czech Republic. It wasn’t a very good story, though, because rehab programs do eventually end, and people reappear from them. And where is Barbara?

Sometime in 2013, he began to admit that Barbara is dead. And I would like to thank him for letting her rest, for managing to say something true. Good job.

His claim (attempt #2), which I believe that he holds to even now, is that Barbara was murdered by drug dealers to whom she owed enormous amounts of money for her own drug habit and for drugs that she was trafficking to Europe.

Let’s talk about that.

Could Barbara have used drugs that I don’t know about? Of course. Lots of people do lots of things I don’t know about.

Could Barbara have suffered from an out-of-control drug addiction? That’s a different type of question. I tried to construct it as a possibility, because it’s important to be open-minded, but it keeps falling apart on me. Nothing fits. Maybe that story works better on people who haven’t lived in Tamarindo. Or who didn’t know Barbara. It falls wildly short for those of us who did both.

In Tamarindo, the two common street drugs are marijuana and cocaine, so we can assume he is accusing her of abusing those. Indeed, Bill spelled it out clearly in a 2012 written conversation (not with me) where he called Barbara a “coke head”. It makes my blood boil to even write that. I don’t need Barbara to have been a saint, but this is beyond preposterous.

Have you known anyone who does a lot of drugs? Smokes a lot of pot? Consumes a lot of cocaine? I mean A LOT of cocaine? As in, they have lost it and really need to be in rehab right now?

I have.

Barbara didn’t look like them. She didn’t act like them.  She didn’t hang out with them. She didn’t even know them. I try to think of one thing Barbara had in common with them, but nothing comes to mind.

Let’s review what we all know. When a person is using enough cocaine to need rehab, they most likely:
–Have unusual/irregular sleep patterns
–Express volatile emotions
–Exhibit erratic behavior
–Suffer from a chronically runny nose
–They’ve probably tried to stop on their own, and failed
–They hang out with other people who do a lot of cocaine

Barbara did not have or do any of these things.  She was clear-minded, reliable, and even-tempered.

And then there’s this. During the entire two years that Bill and Barbara lived in Costa Rica, they had housemates—other people who lived with them and observed Barbara’s behavior, sleep patterns and emotional fluctuations much more closely than I was able to. I have talked with eight of these individuals. Not one of them witnessed her exhibiting behaviors that suggest she regularly consumed large amounts of cocaine.

For these reasons, I don’t buy it. She could certainly have used drugs and I would never have known it. Big deal. But a drug trafficker? And an addict? In need of rehab? Organized by her family in Czech? And eight housemates never noticed anything? Please.

Could I be wrong? I could.  But me, you, eight housemates and dozens of friends?  Or could it be the guy who’s in jail for what amounts to being a liar?  Draw your own conclusion.

Next week let’s put the next piece of the story on the table under a bright light: The one about Barbara buying huge amounts of coke and smuggling it into Europe–with such success that, even now, it has never been investigated or even suspected by the authorities.

Today CrimeWatchDaily airs its premier episode.  If you live in the USA, this link will tell you when you will be able to see it.