Friday, 13 Dec 2019

Notorious serial killer’s chilling WhatsApp video call from inside squalid jail

It’s 6.45am at a crowded Panamanian prison. And sitting in the shadows inside his cell, notorious serial killer William Dathan Holbert is already awake.

Locked up in a room with six other convicts, ‘Wild Bill’ is responsible for the brutal murders of five US citizens – including a teenage boy – in a Caribbean paradise.

Motivated by money, he slaughtered his innocent victims in the idyllic Bocas del Toro archipelago before burying their bodies on the grounds of a hostel he ran.

But in a rare WhatsApp video interview from behind bars, he shockingly tells Mirror Online: "I don’t view myself as a serial killer. I killed a bunch of people to make money."

He adds: "I’m not that exceptional and the things I did are not that interesting really."

Holbert, 39, boasts that he now lives a "rock star" existence inside Chiriqui Public Prison, feasting on Pizza Hut, KFC and sausages that he barbecues himself in the yard.

"Here, I’m a rock star, man… wherever I go, I’m received very well," he says.

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"I eat food from the street every day. My wife goes to Pizza Hut here in the town, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, and brings that through to me every day."

And he claims he can even spend the night with his Panamanian wife, at a price.

"Whatever you want in here you can get," he says. "You want your wife to come in and spend three days with you, you can do that – that just costs money.

"When I was single, I would have girls come in and leave at 4 o’clock in the morning."

Holbert, an American citizen himself, admits he’s "guilty as sin" for the violent killings, which he carried out in the sunny archipelago between 2007 and 2010.

"I was a total a***hole before," he says, then coldly laughs: "Now I’m like a half a***hole."

But despite slaying four adults and a boy, the killer is now moaning about the "human rights" of his fellow inmates, who don’t live in a "privileged" cell like himself.

He complains that prisoners regularly have to "s*** in the shower" then throw paper containing their faeces out the window because the toilets only flush at set times.

"If you have to defecate at any other time of day you have to lay paper down in the shower and s*** on it, roll it up and throw it out the window," Holbert says.

He also claims that many prisoners are crammed in cells and fed "toxic and horrible" food for dinner – which has allegedly left some of them unable to get an erection.

He adds: "This is like a place where you deposit human flesh, there’s no rehabilitation."

We ask the serial killer about the rights of the victims whose lives he snatched away.

Looking frustrated, he replies: "I’ve heard that s*** my whole existence in prison – they say, ‘oh you weren’t worried about the victims’. Well I was f***ed up, bad. But isn’t the point of putting me in prison so that I’ll stop being a bad person? Or is it just punishment?"

He adds: "I think that the people outside like to have a person to kick. I’m a good person to kick because I’m a piece of s*** that went and killed a whole bunch of people."

Mirror Online obtained exclusive video footage and photos of Holbert, who was moved to the new prison along with hundreds of other convicts in late 2017.

"This is my roommate, Oscar… he lives in the floor," the killer says in one clip.

In the images, he can be seen working out, posing with wads of cash, preaching as his new Christian self ‘Brother Bill’, and grinning beside Panamanian inmates.

"I think that in a way they [the Panamanian prisoners] see me as an anti-hero here because they hate gringos [foreigners], they hate them," he brags.

"So even though I am one, they identify with me more as one of their own because of the fame that was gained in their country. It’s a strange thing.

"I was famous here so I’m kind of like one of them. They’ve claimed me as theirs. Even people in the street are like, ‘Wow, "Wild Bill", I wanna talk to him’.

"If I’d killed a whole bunch of Panamanians, I think I’d have had a big problem."

Holbert made headlines for his horrific crimes after he and his ex-wife were arrested.

In August 2017, he was locked up for 47 years for robbing and killing his victims, while his former spouse, Laura Reese, was jailed for 26 years for her role in the murders.

Today, he considers himself to be Panama’s "most famous criminal of all time".

But despite smiling when asked about his self-declared notoriety, Holbert claims: "I’m humble… I hate being famous because it hasn’t gained me a dollar. I haven’t made a dollar off being famous and it’s been a tremendous pain in the a*** in every aspect."

He adds: "I never did understand why my case made so much fame.

"I mean, I killed people, that’s true. I’m guilty. But they made everything a lot more sensational than it really was. It’s pretty ridiculous, really.

"I don’t want to seem insensitive… I mean, I f***ed up bad. But they make me like a celebrity, that shouldn’t happen. [You] shouldn’t gain fame for bad behaviour."

The killer, who is covered in 97 tattoos themed on "good" and "evil", deems Reese’s sentence a "travesty" because she "didn’t have anything to do" with his crimes.

"I confessed – they actually didn’t really have anything on me," he claims.

"It didn’t work, she was put in prison as well. And that is a travesty actually because the things that I did didn’t really have anything to do with her at all.

"Other than the fact that she lived in my house and cooked my food and f***ed me."

More than a year on from his sentencing, he says he lives a better existence than many other Chiriqui inmates, sharing a five-bed cell with only six other men.

"I’m in a cell – in a very privileged cell, as well – with seven guys but five beds. There are cells here that have five beds and 14 men in the cells," he says.

He also claims he works as the "inmate representative" at the prison, meeting daily with the head of security and acting as a "mediator" in gang disputes.

"I have a certain fame here in Panama, so the guys like really respect me," boasts Holbert, whose claims cannot all be independently verified.

"I work in the office and I go every day around the jail.

"I’m like a politician basically trying to maintain peace."

For a small bit of cash, the killer, who is now "happily married" to a woman he met while in prison, says he and other convicts can do "just about anything".

"Everything here is money," he claims.

"We’re really well off actually. I’m in a cell with – one kid is here for a gun charge, all the other ones are guys who moved drugs in the street. I mean, like, kilos.

"The only thing you can’t do here in prison is cross the line and leave."

While inmates can get hold of a 24-strong case of beer for $100 (£78), Holbert says they can also spend the night with women – and even have sex with them – for a price.

"They would bring them into your cell at like 8 o’clock at night, they’d bring them in, then 4 o’clock in the morning they’d come out before count," he claims.

"It’s really normal – that’s a really normal thing here."

He adds that drugs are sold daily, with ropes used to "pass" them from cell to cell. 

"I don’t use any drugs at all, I don’t like the way that they make me feel," he says. "I don’t participate in the sale of drugs. However, I sell licences to sell drugs.

"If you sell drugs in prison here you have to buy a licence."

And prisoners can allegedly get their hands on a gun for as little as $400 (£310).

"Eight hundred bucks buys a Glock 9mm. You get one with a case," the murderer claims.

"A small .38 is like 400 bucks. There are more guns here than there are in the street.

"I don’t have one – but everyone’s got a gun here."

He adds that inmates can also buy homemade knives.  But despite the alleged accessibility of weapons – to wealthy prisoners, at least – there are "few" murders at the prison.

"We have one a month here" says Holbert, who has grown-up children living in the US.

"But there’s a big prison in Panama City that has them every day."

He adds: "If you need something here you gotta pay me to get it because I run the office. I live pretty well, I maintain my family in the street [outside the prison] that way."

As we speak, the sound of cheering or shouting rings out.

"They’re waking up," Holbert shrugs, glancing behind him.

While the convict describes a "rockstar" life behind bars, with home-cooked meals and a great "job", he says the general prison population "lives terribly".

He moans that the new prison was built for 850 inmates but houses 1,400 – leaving them "close to 200% capacity", with only 30 guards to monitor the site.

He also claims there are no fans in cells, most inmates have to eat "pre-packaged, horrible" food and they are only given water for two hours each morning and night.

This means that, at other times, they have to defecate on paper in the shower, before hurling the rolled-up waste – dubbed a "capacho" – out the window, he says.

"There are two prison jobs here other than mine," he claims.

"One is maintenance. Maintenance means that you go outside and you recover all the shit that was thrown out the window last night."

He recalls a time when he had to pick up capachos himself, moaning: "I was given an interior style dust pan, and a cheap garden rake, nothing else, and ordered to venture into the dangers of the green areas between the cellblocks to recover all the s***."

One video clip, filmed by Holbert from inside the prison, purportedly shows inmates collecting waste in the prison’s grounds, wearing pairs of flip flops.

The killer, who says he’s not yet ready to fully "talk about what I did", acknowledges that nobody will feel sorry for him because of his sickening crimes.

He says: "I’m not happy to be here – I don’t want to be in prison obviously, but I think that it was very necessary in my life for me to grow as a person to be put in prison and to learn to take care of other people and not to be such a selfish a***hole."

He adds: "I don’t think anybody’s going to be crying because I went to prison. I’m looked on in the first-world very hated. I’m guilty as Hell, I’m guilty as sin."

But he boasts: "Here, I’m not hated.

"Within the Panamanian population, I think it’s more like a novelty."

Holbert, who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, US, has set up an unofficial ‘human rights’ organisation called Los Reos Unificados (Unified Inmates).

He says he is trying to fund the organisation, with the support of his lawyer and a pastor, to improve the lives of other prisoners in the Central American country.

He alleges that, at present, there’s ‘no rehabilitation’.

As for himself, he claims he could be released and living a "quiet existence" in as little as four or five years after recently appealing against his sentence.

"I would never hurt anybody else, I would never hurt anyone again," says the serial killer, who claims he used to be a hitman before "finding Jesus" behind bars.

"I don’t have any reason to do that. It’s a very complicated story – my motivations for my bad actions were totally selfish, I’m aware, but I don’t have the same desires in life."

He adds: "I just want a quiet life with my wife and to forget about being ‘Wild Bill’."

The Bocas del Toro archipelago is known for its white sandy beaches and glorious sunshine.

Holbert, who has his own email and LinkedIn page, was arrested after his victims’ bodies were discovered buried in the grounds of the ‘Hacienda Cortez’ hostel in 2010. 

He was taken into custody on the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica following a manhunt. At the time, prosecutors said the killer had confessed to the murders.

He allegedly admitted to killing his victims – Mike Brown, his wife and his teenage son, as well as Cheryl Lynn Hughes and Bo Icelar – as part of a sick plan to steal their property.

The convict – also nicknamed ‘Savage Bill’ – spoke to us using headphones and a smuggled mobile phone that is shared among "premier inmates" at the prison.

When asked whether he could kill again if he needed money, he claimed: "I need money right now. In this moment, there’s no better place in the world for me to continue a criminal career and make lots of money than from where I am right now.

"And I’m not doing that."

In a statement to Mirror Online, Holbert’s lawyer, Claudia Alvarado, said: "What I want as defence lawyer for the human rights of those deprived of freedom is that the Panamanian prisons are more humanised.

"Better opportunities for resocialisation. Technical boards more inclined to work for the deprived and offer internal and external jobs which contribute towards the detained reinserting themselves into society upon release from prison and completion of their sentence.

"That they provide better quality food. Often it’s not only good and new infrastructures, but those that have basic services like light and drinkable water."

She continued: "Good treatment of their families and to encourage cohabitation with them more often. That the deprived get to participate in extra-curricular courses and trades which will benefit them like electricity, plumbing etc.

"More humane personnel who are less inclined to criticise the detained. Promote courses to improve good habits and manners. The inclusion much more often of the church in prisons. Projects such as mechanics, cabinetmaking and others in the prison."

Ms Alvarado added that she also wants legal help for less wealthy inmates.

Mirror Online has attempted to contact Panama prison officials for comment.

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