Wondering In Costa Rica: How Close Am I To Barbara Struncova?

Now that I’m back in Tamarindo Costa Rica, every day I bump into someone I haven’t seen for years. Part of me still half-expects to bump into Bill Ulmer and Barbara Struncova—they were here when I left. I should find her walking along with the dog, or spot Bill on his long board in the sunset lineup, or walk up behind them in the grocery line at Automercado. Of course it’s not going to happen.

I think about Barbara all the time—and Bill, too. How did everything go so horribly wrong for both of them? Good God. In the back of my mind, I am actively wondering, no matter what else I am doing, where she is. As I sit here at my kitchen table with my computer, how close am I to Barbara right now?

People ask me, “Where do you think he put her?” I say, “I don’t know.” I have some ideas, but they are all shots in the dark. I’m up for a drive to a few places I have in mind, though, if anyone who has a car and a few hours wants to go. Yes, that is an  invitation.  I’m not expecting miracles, but I never rule them out.

“Where would I go if I had a body to get rid of?” I ask myself. But I’m not the right person to ask. I put myself in a borrowed car with expired plates and a body in an enormous board bag. I give myself about 20 hours. Would I go north? South? East?? Would I have to get a shovel? Or something to weight the bag like cement blocks or a lot of rocks or something? Would I be heading toward an estuary? A forest? A bridge? A dump? I don’t know. Would I put the board and the body in the same place? I should have studied criminal psychology.

She can’t be far. Ten minutes? Thirty? Could he have driven for a whole hour?

Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province is a maze of back roads through fields, forests and small towns. Brackish ocean inlets called estuaries punctuate the coast line like long, squirrely commas, surrounded by dense, marshy lowlands. Estuaries, on one hand, are populated with crocodiles—which could be an attractive idea for a terrified expat with a body in the back of an illegal vehicle. But estuaries lead directly to the ocean where unmentionable things could wash up on the beach in the morning or 10 years later. So, I don’t know. But I think about it. If you needed to dig a hole big enough for the board bag and the body—that would be one enormous hole! But it could be done if you were ridiculously strong and had all night. And were desperate.  In early December, the ground is not completely dried out yet. It’s been suggested to me that maybe Bill burned the bag. I think that a burning board bag in the night, no matter where it is, would run the risk of drawing way too much unwanted attention, so I personally don’t vote for that. Which means nothing.

If a perfectly normal human being can disappear in to thin air the way Barbara did, then what is impossible?

I’d like to look for her, but there is no place to start. I ask her to tell me in a dream where she is, but my only dreams are happy dreams about meeting again, even though Barbara and I are both aware, in the dream, that she is not alive. I think that she isn’t asking me to find her bones; she is asking me to remember her. She is asking me to help you to remember her. She is asking all of us that Bill not hurt anyone else.

Bill Ulmer is, today, being held in the custody of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina. He was arrested on May 28, 2015 and is presently awaiting sentencing for passport fraud. At this rate, he may have served a significant portion of his sentence by the time he receives it. And any woman he approaches in the future, if she has enough sense to Google her suitors, will discover Barbara’s disappearance. Which may, when it comes to keeping potential victims out of harm’s way, be just as meaningful as any macabre discovery you or I could make on a solitary hillside or in the sand.

Like our Facebook page called “Where is Barbara Struncova?”

Barbara's face

“Recordando a Bárbara”: La Historia en Español

Con la ayuda de unas amigas queridas, traducí la historia de Bárbara Struncova en español.

Para mí, es importante contar la historia de la desaparición de Bárbara en la madre lengua del país donde ocurrió.  Los Ticos son personas generosas, inteligentes, y orgullosas de su cultura.  Yo sé que  no les agrada para nada que tragedias como esta ocurran en su país.  Tienen derecho de saber lo que pasó en el patio detrás de su casa.

Para quedar claro: escribí la historia original usando el nombre “Jim” para el personaje que representa el novio de Bárbara.  Esto hice porque hace 2 años cuando comencé a escribirla, nadie hablaba de lo que ocurrió y “Jim” estaba gozando de libertad aquí en Los Estados Unidos.  No quería encontrarlo enojado en la puerta de mi casa.  Ahora él se encuentra en la cárcel y todo el mundo sabe la triste historia.  Ya no hay secretos.   Decidí traducir la historia usando siempre el nombre “Jim,” porque todos los otros nombres han sido cambiados también—todos menos el de Bárbara.  Y el mío.

Aquí le presento la historia.  Léala en línea o sírvase a bajarla a su computadora.  Compártala libremente.
Recordando a Barbara

Barbara 3

“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:

LOST IN PARADISE: INTRIGUE AT A TROPICAL SURF RETREAT.
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.

 

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

The Crimson Flag of Silence

I have news to share!  I had a different post planned for today, but it can wait.  

Six months ago I posted the story of how my friend Barbara Struncova disappeared.  The story contains some small errors, some speculation and an immense amount of research.  Whereas, technically, it must be considered fiction, it is a result of my profound and continuing effort to understand the truth.  The segments of the story, put together, have received thousands of reads—far beyond anything I ever imagined.  I can only understand this as the world answering back to me and to Barbara, “You have touched us.”

Many of you wrote back to me.  I heard from Barbara’s friends, past friends and acquaintances of “Jim,” and many who have no connection to the story at all but are moved by this tragedy.

It is therefore with great joy that I share with you this piece of public information:  “Jim”was arrested on May 28, 2015 in the airport in Denver, Colorado.  He is being held, as I write these words, on charges of passport theft and identity fraud.  There are no other charges at this time and it is not in the best interest of justice for me to speculate or further comment on anything that is not related to the existing charges.  But it is safe to hope and pray, and it is safe say that I am jubilant as his lies begin to unravel!  I feel that it is important for me to continue to call this individual “Jim” in this forum, as what I am suggesting he as done goes far beyond fraud.  If you would like to know his real name, your friend Google will be happy to provide that.

There a poem that I want to share on this happy occasion.  I wrote it months ago when this day was only a dream.  It is for all of who have reached out to me for the sake of Barbara.  Words are power.

 

Crimson Flag of Silence

We will raise for you
a monument of words.
We will build a tower
to the sky here
in this city of Babel
where all the voices
gather into one language
speaking your name,
Barbara.

We will not be
quelled.
We will pile word
upon word up
to the doorstep of God,
constructing for you a fortress
a mountain
an indestructible testament that we have
not imagined your life
or your death.

From its highest pinnacle we will
fly the crimson flag of
your silence.

Introduction to “Remember Barbara”

My friend Barbara disappeared in early December four years ago and is still one of Costa Rica’s cold case missing persons. I know that December is for religious holidays and our dark solstice. But December is also for Barbara.

Remember Barbara is her story according to me, as close to the truth as I know it to be. I call it fiction in a fading hope that it is–and because although I have no doubt that Barbara is dead, there is no proof. I don’t know what happened, only what might have happened. I know she vanished without a trace and was never heard from again.

There are five Mondays in December and I have divided the story into five segments, and I will post one of them each Monday.

All of the names of people and most of the names of places have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent-until-proven-guilty and others close by. Make no mistake: I will never stop hoping that everything I have supposed is wrong. Everyone in this story is a friend I have lost.

Read the story

Barbara and me on November 7, 2010, three weeks before she disappeared.

Barbara and me on November 7, 2010, three weeks before she disappeared.

http://codygear.com/cold-case-missing-persons-in-costa-rica/

Fear of Poems

i am afraid of the poems
the fingerprints
they may leave on
my body
the little tiny bruises
red marks
on my neck

they knock on my door
in the night

they call me on the phone

i am sleeping with my
husband and pretend i
do not hear them

i am afraid
of the poems

i know their ways

if i let them in
the guilt will be
read on my face