The New Hampshire family of an American defense contractor who was found dead outside his hotel room in Saudi Arabia say they aren’t buying his company’s original assertion that the man committed suicide.
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports the body of 50-year-old Chris Cramer was discovered below the third-floor balcony of his Tabuk, Saudi Arabia hotel room on Jan. 15. His employer, Kollsman, Inc., a subsidiary of Elbit Systems of America, initially told the family his death had been ruled a suicide by the local police.
“At first, we were all thinking there’s no way Chris Cramer is dead — we were just messaging with him,” said Chris Arsenault, Cramer’s nephew. “Then it quickly became there’s no way Uncle Chris threw himself off a balcony. He had so much unfinished business here. He was coming home in a few days. There’s no way he killed himself. We think he was killed.”
According to a Fox News story, Cramer was in the country at the request of Advance Defense Systems of Kollsman in order to provide technical assistance for a demonstration and sale of a TOW anti-armor missile system.
His family said his messages and telephone conversations with them had been relaxed and jovial during the course of his trip, until Jan. 15, when the tone changed abruptly.
“He called me three times that night and left me messages saying that he was in danger and to call the State Department,” Cramer’s friend and family attorney Noah Mandell told Fox News. “He was there, he was in danger, and I believe he was killed.”
Arsenault told Fox that when his uncle couldn’t reach Mandell, he tried to text another friend.
“I’m at the Marakim tabuk hotel in Saudi,” read that message. “I think something bad is going to happen to me tonight. Please contact state dept ASAP. Bad things were said.”
Mandell says the company’s jump to the suicide conclusion is troubling.
"What’s troublesome is the cover-up. The announcement by the company that it was a suicide before seeing all the evidence is strange,” he said.
“Based on the messages he sent, we believe foul play was involved in his death,” Mandell said.
Kollsman began backing away from the suicide assertion shortly after the family raised their suspicions, according to the Fox News story.
“We are all deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Chris Cramer and are offering our continuous support and assistance to Chris’ family and his colleagues,” Clark Freise, a vice president with the company, said in a statement. “Like the family, we are eager to learn more about his death and are in continuous contact with the U.S. Department of State to strongly encourage their assistance in obtaining the final report of the local police regarding the circumstances surrounding Chris’ passing.”
The U.S. State Department later issued a statement that offered little information.
“We can confirm that U.S. citizen Christopher J. Cramer died outside the Sahara Makarim Hotel in Tabuk on January 15,” reads the statement. “We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. … Out of respect for the privacy of those affected by this tragedy, we will not comment further. For questions regarding the investigation, we refer you to the Tabuk Police Department.”
Freise told the Union Leader that Kollsman is now working with the State Department and Cramer’s family to get the man’s body moved back to the United States where an autopsy will be conducted.