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