Searching for clues to a disappearance

Harris man, last seen in Panama, has been missing for almost two months—

Harris resident Bob Ehlert hasn’t been seen or heard from since mid June.

The last people who reportedly talked to him were a pair of sailing friends who were working on his boat outside Panama City.

Bob Ehlert

Bob Ehlert

Ehlert, a Chisago County master gardener since 2000, splits his time between Harris and Panama and has resided in a condo in Panama City for months at a time for about 10 years, said Doug Ehlert, his nephew who currently lives in Massachusetts.

His family and friends are at a loss about what might have happened to him and are working to try and piece together clues to his disappearance.

About a month ago, Doug Ehlert and Mariah Ehlert, Bob Ehlert’s daughter, traveled to Panama to investigate.

Doug Ehlert said authorities there have looked into the case but don’t have the resources to perform a thorough investigation, or they just aren’t that interested in investing time and manpower in an attempt to locate a foreigner.

Subsequently, he and Mariah Ehlert have taken it upon themselves to get the word out about their relative in hopes that someone might step forward and offer information that could be used to help find him.

He said Mariah Ehlert filed one police report in Panama City and another in Chisago County, and they contacted the U.S. Embassy in Panama.

The FBI has also expressed interest in the case, and Doug Ehlert said he’s hoping an agent from the bureau will visit his uncle’s condo soon.

Bob Ehlert’s family is also thinking about hiring a private investigator to aid in the search.

No hard leads

Doug Ehlert said the family and authorities have uncovered numerous oddities in relation to his uncle’s disappearance but nothing concrete yet.

He said the two men who had been working on Bob Ehlert’s boat visited the condo sometime after June 21 and found it unlocked. Upon entering, the men found a broken wine glass, but nothing was missing from the home.

(Leaving your home unlocked) is kind of surprising in Panama City,” Doug Ehlert said. “You see a lot of houses with razor wire fencing on them.”

A note was also later found that said Bob Ehlert was leaving for two weeks with a woman named Diane to look at properties in a remote resort area called Bocas del Toro.

Doug Ehlert said he looked at the note, and he and Mariah Ehlert thought it didn’t look like Bob Ehlert’s handwriting. He also said it didn’t look as though it was written by a native English speaker.

“It started with ‘I going’ instead of ‘I’m going,’” he said. “It also said, ‘to see some old friend.’ A native English speaker would say ‘an old friend.’”

By talking to some people in the area, the two found out Bob Ehlert met two Colombian women, possibly named Diana and Anna, at a bar called the Havana Club and he went to a soccer game with the women.

Doug Ehlert has not been able to get in contact with the women.

“I found out that down (in Panama) there are a lot of young Colombian women who prey on older men,” he said. “There have been several scams with women (asking men) to look at real estate.”

But for Doug Ehlert, even the real estate scam possibility doesn’t seem to explain the disappearance. He said he checked his uncle’s browser history on his computer at his condo and found no evidence that he was looking at properties in Bocas Del Toro. He also said it would be odd for his uncle to look at properties there because purchasing houses or condos there can be difficult.

“Titles are hard to get,” he said. “It’s a risky investment unless you’re very careful.”

In addition to those discoveries, Doug Ehlert said they found a receipt from a hardware store that showed Bob Ehlert had bought a sledgehammer, a carpenter’s axe, a pickaxe and spray paint. He and Mariah Ehlert are unsure why Bob Ehlert would have purchased those items.

Doug Ehlert added that his uncle’s bank statements do not show any activity since he went missing, and his sailboat is still docked at a Panamanian marina.

However, Bob Ehlert’s car is missing.

A fun-loving guy

Sue Humble, Chisago County Master Gardener Coordinator, described Bob Ehlert as “Mr. Personality.”

“He’s always bubbly,” she said.

She noted Bob Ehlert is a very technology-oriented person, so the fact that he hasn’t been in touch with anybody for so long is very odd, since he is usually very prompt about getting back to people via email.

Doug Ehlert said his uncle trades individual stock and even has a satellite Internet connection on his boat in Panama, so he agrees with Humble’s assertion.

“It’s really surreal,” Humble said of Bob Ehlert’s disappearance, noting that this is the type of situation that “always happens to other people, not people you know.”

Doug Ehlert said the hope of finding his uncle lessens each passing day.

“It’s hard to keep hope at this point,” he said. “It’s been almost two months, but keeping hope is all you can do.”

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