Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Police call Crofts’ murder robbery-related

Five Panamanians are in custody

Express Staff Writer

Hailey native Kim Crofts was shot to death at his home in Panama by local robbers who had entered the wrong house, Panamanian police have concluded. Five suspects have been arrested.

Crofts, 55, was killed on the night of Sept. 12 while chasing an intruder from the house that he and his wife, Mary Austin Crofts, had built on Solarte Island in Bocas del Toro province on the Caribbean Sea.

Though the incident remains under investigation, the provincial government released to Mary Crofts the police file of the investigation up to Sept. 29.

According to the file, a copy of which was reviewed by the Idaho Mountain Express, a detective at the local office of the national Dirección de Investigación Judicial was contacted on Sept. 18 by an informant who told him that he had overheard a conversation about the murder of a gringo on Solarte Island. According to Mary Crofts, a reward of $5,000 had been raised for information on the case.

Detective Jesus Samudio reported that the informant related the following story:

A man named "Carlitos," later identified as Carlos Rojas Garcias, 35, a resident of Panama City, was telling a story about how he had shot a gringo five or six times when he had gone into a house looking for a safe with lots of money in it. Garcias said a woman he knew had given him the combination to the safe and told him no one would be home on the night of Sept. 12.

But when he entered the house he found a man and woman in bed. He said the man lunged at him so he shot him with a .22-caliber pistol he was carrying, and continued to shoot as the man chased him down the stairs.

Garcia also mentioned by first name four young men who had accompanied him. According to the file, officers arrested all five suspects on Sept. 18 at a rooming house in the town of Bocas del Toro, which is on a neighboring island to Solarte Island. One of the suspects is 19 years old and the others, except for Garcias, are in their 20s. Detectives found many items of questionable origin at the boarding house, including watches, knives, bicycles, cameras and wallets.

Three of the five suspects signed confessions that confirmed the informant's story. They said the young woman who had provided Garcias with the information did not show up as planned, and they searched for the targeted house on their own. They said Garcias was the only one of the group to have entered the Crofts' house, while the others waited outside.

The suspects who confessed said no one involved knew Kim or Mary Crofts.

Mary Crofts said police have not found the gun used in the crime.

Samudio reported that the young woman who supplied the initial information to Garcias was apprehended and confessed. However, she will not be charged since she is a minor.

According to information from the U.S. Embassy in Panama, police have two months to complete a criminal investigation, and may request a two-month extension. Upon completion of the investigation, a judge will examine the evidence and determine whether there are grounds for indictments.

Crofts said about 300 Americans live on the Bocas del Toro archipelago.

"People there are really, really flipped out," she said. "It's the first time there that anything like this has happened."

Crofts, who served for 20 years as executive director of the Blaine County Recreation District, first visited Panama with her husband in 2001. She said they fell in love with the Bocas del Toro archipelago, bought property there and began building their house after she retired in 2004.

"It was Kim's dream house," Crofts said. "We really learned to live what people here call a green lifestyle. We lived wholly off the grid, solar for power, propane for cooking and refrigeration."

She said she and Kim had a garden with tropical fruits and coconut palms.

"He was having the time of his life," she said. "He really enjoyed every day, both of us did."

Crofts, who has returned to Hailey, said she is now living "one day at a time." She said she is uncertain whether she will remain here.

"This is just home to me," she said.

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