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Man wanted in deaths of American woman, 3 others, Panama police say

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The body of an American woman is found in a shallow grave in Panama
  • The suspect is wanted in three other slayings
  • Police say the motive is to kill people for their property

(CNN) -- A man suspected in the deaths of three people in Panama is now wanted in the slaying of an American woman whose body was found last week, Panama's national police said Saturday.

The body of Cher Hughes, a native of suburban St. Louis, Missouri, was found Tuesday on the property of William Adolfo Cortez Reese, who is suspected in her death, said Javier Carrillo, director of the national police investigation unit.

Carrillo said Cortez and his wife, Jane, are on the run. Cortez "may be from Holland. We're not sure that's his real identity," he said. "We found a false passport."

He said Panamanian authorities are attempting to reach police in Holland.

Hughes, who was in her early 50s, was identified by her husband, Keith Werle, who lives in Panama. A second body -- which has not yet been officially identified -- was found near Hughes.

"We believe the motive is that he (William Cortez) is killing people to take their property," Carrillo said.

He added that authorities do not know Cortez's whereabouts, and have not received any tips from the public.

Werle said he was on Cortez's property, a massive piece of farmland on the island of Isla Colon in the western province of Boca del Toro, as police executed a search warrant. He said his dog led authorities to a shallow grave, where they found Hughes' body.

Dwayne Cooney, a family friend, said Hughes had lived in Panama for the past decade and owned a hotel, the Casa del Sapo, in Boca del Torro. He described Hughes and Cortez as friends and neighbors.

Hughes had lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she owned a neon sign business, before moving to Panama, Cooney said.

CNN's Nick Valencia, Jackie Castillo and Anna Rhett Miller contributed to this report.