Friday, September 19, 2008

Panamanian authorities investigating Crofts murder

Wife remains a suspect in shooting death in Panama

Express Staff Writer

Kim Crofts was killed by multiple gunshot wounds last Friday. Photo by Mountain Express

Police in Panama continue to investigate the shooting death last week of former Hailey resident Kim Crofts and reported Wednesday that Crofts' wife remains a suspect.

"We know that, because they have no one else," said Melody Burt, a friend in Panama of Crofts' wife, Mary Austin Crofts. "They have no evidence against her or anyone else except that she was the only witness. That's standard procedure. It's what they do in the States."

Crofts, a Hailey native, died of multiple gunshot wounds the evening of Friday, Sept. 12, at his home on Isla Solarte in Bocas del Toro in northeast Panama.

Eduardo Lim Yueng, a spokesman for the National Police of Panama, said his agency was not conducting the investigation, but provided a written response on Wednesday to a query from the Idaho Mountain Express.

"The only witness in Kim Crofts' case is his wife," Lim Yueng stated. "According to Mrs. Crofts," he wrote, she and Kim heard "a noise on their backyard and went down to check out what's going on. Mrs. Crofts saw a native with a gun and he is the person who shot five times to Mr. Crofts." He said Mary Austin Crofts is the "only witness" and the DA's office is "still talking with her about the facts."

"Nothing was stolen from the house," he wrote, adding that he believes there is still a possibility that authorities "will order a gunpowder test to her hands."

Burt, who was provided with a copy of the Lim Yueng response, declined to be specific but said some of the information is not accurate. She said the investigation is being conducted by the Judicial Technical Police, commonly referred to as the PTJ.

Meanwhile, an investigative journalist in Panama said Crofts' murder appears to be an "international hit" rather than a botched robbery.

"I've investigated numerous robberies in Panama and never once have I seen a case where they walked in and shot the gringo," said Don Winner, who publishes Panama Guide, an online English language news source about Panama.

A former New York state resident, Winner has lived in Panama City for 21 years. He described himself as a weapons expert with 21 years service in the U.S. Air Force, five of them in Special Forces.

Winner said a .22 caliber pistol, the type of weapon reportedly used to kill Crofts, is a weapon commonly used in execution-type slayings in the region.

"You get shot five times with a .22, you're dead," he said.

He also finds it difficult to believe that Crofts was shot while pursuing an intruder who was firing back as he fled.

"A guy running away shooting over his shoulder just doesn't make sense," Winner said. "I don't think I could even do that and I have extensive weapons training."

Winner said it looks more likely that Crofts was killed by a "trained shooter."

He said the fact that the Crofts' dog died a few days before Crofts was killed also supports the possibility that it was an "intentional hit."

"It's common to poison the dogs before a break-in," he said.

He pointed out that if Crofts was killed intentionally, that doesn't imply that murder was politically motivated or the result of illegal activities. He said murders sometimes occur in the region out of revenge for what people in the U.S. would consider minor reasons.

"Possibly, he could have offended some dude a year or so earlier," Winner said. "In building a house in Panama, you have to deal with a lot of people who might not comply with your expectations. It's very frustrating to get things done here.

"All you have to do is piss someone off and they'll hire someone to shoot you for $500," Winner said. "The average monthly wage here is only $400. Sometimes, it's an ex-cop or even an active duty cop who's looking to pick up an extra $500."

Winner said the crime rate in Panama is not any worse than in the U.S. In fact, in Bocas del Toro, he said, violent crime is somewhat unusual and is less frequent than in most parts of the United States.

"When I look at the information on Kim Crofts, there's just a lot of things that don't add up," he said. "There's so many different ways that this could have went down."

The Crofts had lived in Panama for four years. Mary Austin Crofts is the former executive director of the Blaine County Recreation District.

"Isla Solarte is a small island with few people living there," Lim Yueng wrote. "Usually natives from small islands around do the housekeeping."

Express staff writer Greg Moore contributed to this report.

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