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Former Pinellas woman killed in Panama; serial killer suspected

ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg family is grieving the loss of a family member who authorities say was slain by a serial killer in Panama.

Cheryl Lynn Hughes, 53, vanished in March and family members feared for months that something bad had happened to her.

Her body later was found buried. Her family learned of her death in late July.

"It's crazy. I keep hoping I wake up from the dream, but it's a nightmare, it's not ending," said Hughes' sister, Judy Barber, 47, a loan processor who lives in St. Petersburg.

William Holbert was arrested last month and questioning in the slayings of two Americans and the disappearances of three other U.S. citizens and two Panamanians.

A prosecutor in Panama City told the Associated Press on July 31 that Holbert admitted to killing five Americans, including Hughes, so that he could take over their businesses and properties in a Panamanian resort area.

"He has explained what he did, how he did it and why he did it," said assistant prosecutor Angel Calderon.

Calderon said Holbert befriended Hughes by posing as an investor, but then shot her in the head, buried her and took over her money and properties. She said Holbert admitted to doing the same thing to a gallery owner from New Mexico.

Calderon said Holbert also admitted to killing another U.S. citizen, his wife and small son three years ago.

Holbert's wife also has been taken into custody, but it was unclear late Monday if she has been charged in the killings.

Hughes had lived in Pinellas County for about 15 years, but had been in Panama about 10 years, where she owned property and founded a hotel business.

Barber said she last heard from her sister in March, and immediately found the silence uncharacteristic for the outgoing woman who called frequently and had many friends.

A sunset memorial service for Hughes will be held Saturday at the Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach. Hughes, who was known as "Cher," lived in St. Pete Beach and was the owner of a sign business called Southern Exposure.

Former Pinellas woman killed in Panama; serial killer suspected 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 1:32am]

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