Bill Ulmer Sentenced to Three Years in Prision

Two things happened yesterday—one rather blah, and one completely amazing. Blah is that Bill was sentenced to 36 months in prison for using Wayne’s passport. I’m not happy with that, but I’m also not surprised. It’s more or less what I was coached to expect for the charges that were filed. Could be better, could be worse—no matter who you are. Except Barbara. For her, everything could only be better.

The completely amazing thing is that the USA (who is the one bringing charges against Bill Ulmer) filed a “Motion for Departure” with the court, asking for an INCREASE in the level of Bill’s sentencing range. In this document, they laid out the entire story of why Bill stole Wayne’s passport and fled to Costa Rica in 2009 (I hadn’t written about that, so get ready for another surprise), and all of the evidence pointing to the presumable murder of Barbara Struncova. It tells the whole story pretty much as we already know it, complete with quotes from the OIJ and the investigation report from the house where Bill and Barbara lived. As the document is considered “public information,” I am sharing it with the public. I urge you to do the same.


The document concludes: “The facts of this case clearly demonstrate that, using his brother’s identity and stolen passport, Ulmer quickly fled Costa Rica to avoid questioning by Costa Rican law enforcement authorities regarding the disappearance and suspected murder of his then live-in girlfriend Barbara Strunkova.”

The judge chose not to take the increase recommendation, and gave Bill a rather blah sentence for stealing and using a passport that didn’t belong to him.


Is that justice? Not for Barbara. For identity fraud, probably yes.

No sentence, no matter how long or how severe, will bring Barbara back. And very few sentences will keep other women out of harm’s way forever. What I really want—me, personally—is exactly that. NO MORE VICTIMS. My number one priority is not vengeance for a life taken. That life is gone. I want him to STOP LYING. STOP CHEATING. STOP HURTING PEOPLE. If I thought he would walk out of that jail cell a reformed man who would not lie to people, cheat or cheat on people who trust him, who would never again hurt a women emotionally or physically or financially or spiritually, I think I would be satisfied. I would have gotten what I most want in exchange for the life of my friend that I will never get back.

I’m not holding my breath. But I would love him to prove me wrong.  Just this once.

Bill Ulmer’s Passport Problems and His Miraculous Journey

I was in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport last week accompanying a friend who took someone to catch a flight. Being in that building gave me the heebie-jeebies, which I don’t get very often. Thinking about Bill Ulmer standing in that line, going through that security check point, knowing the truth about Barbara Struncova, having gotten away with whatever he did, having lied to everyone in the presence of whom he opened his mouth, and running away. It gives me the bad kind of shivers.

On Wednesday, July 6, Bill is scheduled to receive his sentence for Identity Theft and Possession of an Identity Document with Intent to Defraud. The stolen/fraudulent identity document in question is a passport belonging to his brother Wayne Ulmer, Jr.

Today, let’s talk about passports. Bill had trouble with his—trouble, as in he didn’t have one. It’s lucky he liked to grumble about it while having a few drinks with his and Barbara’s friends. If he hadn’t, no one would have known to contact the US authorities when Barbara Struncova disappeared, her credit card charged several thousand dollars at the surf shop where Bill worked, and he turned up at his parents’ house in North Carolina the next day. In that order. Without having mentioned to anyone that he was leaving.


So what happened to Bill Ulmer’s passport? I gather that he’s done some creative story-telling to folks who ask. These are the main points of the story I’ve been able to pull it together: Bill arrived in Costa Rica with his own passport in the spring of 2008, intending to start a tour company. At some time near the end of the year, he was deported back to the USA. My understanding is that he was deported for “working” illegally. I’ve got to hand it to him—that is one crappy stroke of bad luck. Lots of foreigners work illegally in Costa Rica because there is no way to earn a dollar legally unless you are Costa Rican, have a resident visa, or obtain some type of practically-unheard-of work permit. It is my understanding that the authorities observed Bill receiving money from tourists for a surf trip, mistook it for a drug deal, stepped in, and discovered he was breaking a different law. I don’t know if that’s how it happened, but I do know that if the Costa Rican immigration officials catch you working illegally, you get deported. Period.

(O THE IRONIES of being deported for working illegally, only to walk away Scott free from a trail of blood that the authorities saw with their own eyes…)

Being deported does not mean you lose your passport. The country that deported you might not want you back right away, but you’re still allowed to go other places. But Bill wasn’t. Why? Because there are amounts of child support that a person can owe which disqualify him from being eligible to leave the country. And Bill owed that much. I don’t know exactly how much he owed at that time, but it was well over the magic number. That’s all I’m going to say about child support because I don’t want to discuss Bill’s children/family. None of this is their fault, and yet they can never disconnect from it.

The next thing we know is that Bill Ulmer re-entered Costa Rica in March 2009 as Wayne Ulmer. Whether Bill stole Wayne’s passport, or Bill “stole” Wayne’s passport, I cannot know. I’ve heard that during the 3 months between the time he was deported and the time he returned, Bill lived with Wayne. I have two sisters, both of whom own passports, both of whom I’ve lived with at one time or another. If I wanted to steal either of their passports, I wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of where to look. Maybe Bill spent three months stealthily searching? Maybe he convinced Wayne to show or lend it to him? I don’t know. If the story happened any other way, we have two felons instead of one.

Wayne immediately noticed that his passport was stolen. Or he immediately “noticed” that it was “stolen.” And what do you do if your passport is stolen? You report it to the authorities. If you give your passport to someone and plan to say it was stolen, what do you do? You report it to the authorities! You have to, or you could be charged with a felony as well. Wayne also phoned some friends, which is how we can be sure that he discovered it missing right away. My understanding is that Wayne reported Bill to the authorities for having stolen his passport right away. I can’t say anything for sure, but that is a story that came to me. The more I think on it, the less sense it makes.

Bill, then, could never go back to the United States. I remember that. I remember him never, ever wanting to go back, rolling his eyes and grumbling about how he had some trouble there. He needed fly under the radar in Costa Rica, not get in trouble with the cops, not get caught by immigration, not get stopped for speeding, stay out of bar fights.


What I want to know, what I cannot fathom, and what leaves even my imagination standing speechless is this question: HOW IN THE DEVIL DO YOU FLY FROM COSTA RICA TO THE USA ON A PASSPORT THAT HAS BEEN REPORTED AS STOLEN AND NOT GET NAILED BY TSA?


That is nothing short of a miracle.

Was the passport really reported stolen? Or was it only reported after Bill came back?

Am I missing something? They practically make you walk through security checkpoints in your underwear, and Bill got both OUT of Costa Rica and INTO the USA on a passport that was reported as STOLEN? My God, my head is exploding. I hope there is a piece of this puzzle that is still missing, because BOY does it ever not fit together well.


On Wednesday, the judge will rule on how much more time Bill needs to spend in jail for traveling with Wayne’s passport. There are no charges regarding the disappearance of Barbara Struncova, but the judge is well aware of the close connection to a missing person case in Costa Rica. I am sure she is right over our shoulders, closely watching.

B and B hand over his mouth

Bill Ulmer Sentencing, July 6

Next Wednesday, July 6, 2016, Bill Ulmer is scheduled to be sentenced by a judge for the felonies involving the use of a passport that did not belong to him.  The sentencing is set for 3:30 PM, Eastern Time.  I’m preparing to share some thoughts about Bill’s passport situation next week—this is just a newsflash.

It’s also a “thank you” to the person who was brave enough to anonymously reach out and share this sentencing information.  I was already aware of it, but I am so thankful for every voice that reaches out to me, anonymous or not.  I just want you to know that you are heard.  And your secret is safe, because I don’t know who you are.  And I, too, am praying that he will not be released on time served.

More thoughts next week about traveling with a stolen passport…

Bill Ulmer: One Year Behind Bars and Still Waiting For a Sentence

A year ago today I was at work in the clinic in Washington State trying to focus on the tasks in front of me, but I was having a hard time. Bill was leaving for Hawaii that day with his new wife on a belated honeymoon. A lot of us were worried about her. Certain circumstances surrounding the trip made me very nervous—and I’m not the only one. A lot of people were having trouble getting their work done at their desks a year ago today, and a lot of prayers for safety were being said for the new Mrs. Ulmer.

Then something crazy blipped through my Facebook messenger: Bill has been detained at the airport.


Yes. The cops detained him at the airport. He isn’t allowed to fly.


It took the whole day for details to fill in and confusion to untie itself. All day long, my hands shook. My phone went crazy with messages. At 4:45 PM, as I gathered my things to leave work, my phone rang and the person who called me said words to me that I had not ever been able to dream of hearing. “Bill was arrested. He’s being held in custody. The feds mentioned Barbara’s name in open court.”

I made it past the time clock, out the door and into the car before I burst into tears. Happy tears, because Barbara deserves at least that acknowledgement. Happy tears, because I am not a crazy liar like Bill told everyone who read the story on my website. Happy tears, because I know he laughed when he thought he got away what he did. Happy tears, because Mrs. Ulmer is safe and I will not be looking for her body or listening to lies about false tragedies.

I kept saying, “Oh my God, he killed her,” over and over. Not like that was news to me. Not that murder is among the charges—it isn’t. But it became real to me in a new way when I heard that Bill Ulmer was behind bars and that federal officials know perfectly well that there is every reason to believe he could tell us what happened to Barbara Struncova.

A year has passed. Bill pleaded guilty to the counts of Misuse of Passport and Aggravated Identity Theft. I’ve listened to lots of voices speculate on how long his sentence will be, and I’ve heard numbers ranging from one year to fifteen. I personally have no idea what to expect.

The thing I did not expect—that no one expected—is that one year after being taken into custody, Bill is still awaiting sentencing. If there is any further investigation going on, I am unaware of it. I hear that this is the court system being pokey or backed-up. Hmmm. The longer Bill waits for his sentence, the more obvious is the possibility that by the time he receives it, he may have served a significant portion of its time. I guess I don’t much care why it’s taking so long or how much longer it takes. I only care that he is not done being punished yet.

Barbara, by now, is a fish or a small tree with greening leaves or a bird or all of these things. She is hermit crabs and raindrops and cicadas. We all turn into new creatures, someday.

And Bill, I am sorry you are reading this in a jail cell. I am sorry you didn’t just break up and walk away. I am sorry you aren’t surfing and that Barbara isn’t in Czech Republic with a handsome husband, chasing her toddlers around a park.  But what’s done is done.  And you can’t fool everybody indefinitely no matter how good of a liar you are.

(P.S.  Your friend James Henrickson got two life sentences for his shenanigans, so don’t feel sorry for yourself.)

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

Mennonite at a Murder Trial

I did something on Friday that I’ve never done before. I went to a murder trial. On one hand, it wasn’t exactly an item on my bucket list. On the other hand, considering what happened to Barbara, it’s still on it. This trial has no legal link to Barbara Struncova or to Bill Ulmer, BUT it does have a personal link to them for me. I consider it to be one of the places Barbara has lead me. It happened like this:

Barbara disappeared, so I can’t very well ask her my questions in person. On my search for answers about what happened to her, I’ve had to follow in the footsteps of Bill. Those footsteps lead, as we all know, onto a plane with his brother Wayne’s passport in hand, and back to the USA. December 2010. Within months, those footsteps climbed into a semi and drove into the chaos of the oil boom in North Dakota. And there they stayed, more or less, hauling water back and forth to fracking sites, until the end of 2013.

I didn’t know anything about fracking and oil drilling. It’s never been a subject of interest for me. I find it all sort of violent, horrible, and terrifying—even minus the actual violent and terrifying human beings that seem drawn to it. So I called up my good friend Google with his sidekick Google Maps and we started chatting. Mother of God, did I get schooled. And meet some interesting folks.

Enter Lissa Yellowbird Chase. Click on her name and look at the link about what she does.  I don’t want to re-write the article when you can read the original. Lissa looks for missing people—passionately, furiously, even somewhat madly. So I wrote to her. What did I have to lose? She answered me back. I didn’t expect she was going to tell me what happened to Barbara, but I reached out to her anyway. Some days I feel like I’m spitting into the wind with this, and I guess I hoped for a little hand-holding from a real bad-ass body-searcher.

I’m getting my hand held alright. Turns out that the case she’s worked on for the last 4 years, regarding the disappearance of Kristopher “KC” Clarke in 2012, is coming to trial NOW and only a few hours from where I live. So on Friday, I went with her to the first day of the murder-for-hire trial of James Henrikson. Click that link. This is the first time I’ve ever even entered a courtroom. I had no idea what to expect.

The defendant, James Henrikson, was unrecognizable. Did you see the picture of him on the link? Looking all buff and competent? The guy sitting at the table between two dark-suited lawyers was gaunt and yellow. I have never seen a human being that color. I swear. It was frightening. Terrifying.  Sick.  He kept his clearly-calculated demeanor calm and interested. Never flinched or demonstrated any reaction whatsoever during the entire court session. Smiled at his lawyers. Looked at Lissa and at me. I don’t have a word for that that glance felt like. “Chilling” is what I’m tempted to say, but that’s not quite right. It made me want to put my clothes in the washer and take a shower.  I met KC Clarke’s mom.  What do you say to a woman who has to sit there and listen to the story of how her son’s head was beaten soft with the handle of a floor jack?  I came up with, “Nice to meet you.”

It was all quite a lot like courtroom scenes on tv, but with no glitz and no drama. Tom Cruise was nowhere to be found. No shouting, no crying, or anything like that. Lawyers on both sides mispronounced things that even I knew were wrong, and demonstrated a disappointing lack of basic acting skills. The judge, who was much less somber and intimidating than tv judges, gently scolded one of the jurors for nodding off.

Then they called in the first witness, a man named Timothy Suckow, who murdered Clarke (allegedly) at the bidding of Henrikson for 20,000$. I’m still trying to get my head around the experience of sitting in the same room with a man who is forced to admit out loud that, essentially, he knows he is going to die in prison no matter what the jury’s verdict is. He wasn’t the least bit surly, like you’d expect the burly tattooed guy in his mugshot to be. He had the high voice of a boy, the demeanor of an old man, the expression of something mortally wounded.  He told us he has two teen-aged children.

I won’t be going back for the rest of the trial. I’ll be going to work as usual, learning about the proceedings from Lissa and from the media. Part of me is sorry to miss the intrigue. Most of me is relieved to have an excuse not to sit in the room with so much pain, sorrow and injury. Justice is so terribly painful. So necessary and so gut-wrenching.

It took me back to my History of Theatre class at Goshen College in the 1990s.  I could hear Dr. Lauren Friesen’s voice explain to us the difference between modern melodrama and classical tragedy.  In modern melodrama, when bad people get the bad things they deserve, we feel relief and even delight.  In classical tragedy, the execution of justice fills us with fear and pity.

Those are the right words.

“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:

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 (

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.


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, 2010