Jan 14, 2016 1:40 PM
NH contractor's death in Saudi Arabia unresolved a year later
The Associated Press
CONCORD — A year after an American contractor was found dead in Saudi Arabia, his family doesn't buy a police account indicating he killed himself, and they fear the case has been closed.
Christopher Cramer, of Milford, was found dead Jan. 15, 2015, beneath the third-floor balcony of the Sahara Makarim Hotel in Tabuk. He had texted a friend earlier that day saying he thought something bad was going to happen to him and asking that the State Department be contacted.
Last year, the family hired forensic pathologist Michael Baden to perform an autopsy. He determined it was a homicide, suggesting Cramer was severely beaten before he fell or was pushed off the balcony.
Cramer's sister, Jennifer Cramer Kelley, obtained a police report with the help of the State Department. It said the window was about 30 feet off the ground.
"My brother was broken from head to toe," said Kelley, of Nashua. "That doesn't happen at that height."
The friend in New Hampshire who received the text, Shad Smith, saw it the next day. By the time he called the State Department and talked to another friend who had missed several phone calls from Cramer, it was too late.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface," Smith said of the text. "He obviously didn't trust whoever he was with, and didn't trust local support."
Smith, who was Cramer's roommate in Milford, said the suggestion that Cramer might have killed himself is ridiculous. He was baby-sitting Cramer's dog while he was gone, a Doberman named Rugby. "He never would have left that dog without a plan in place for its welfare," Smith said. "That dog was Chris' entire world."
Baden said the initial death certificate from Saudi Arabia identified the cause of death as being from multiple injuries but did not classify it as accidental, suicide or homicide.
Cramer was working for Merrimack-based Kollsman Inc. — a subsidiary of Elbit Systems of America, which also has branches in Israel — to help the Saudis with thermal optical devices, part of the country's missile systems. It was his first trip there; he had visited Israel at least twice.
On Jan. 10, 2015, he posted on Facebook that he helped design the electronics for an upgrade to the U.S.-made TOW missile launch system. "I'm here to assist the Saudi ground forces division with the ones they recently purchased from us," he wrote, supervising live-fire demonstrations. The next day, he posted that he "had lunch in a tent with the troops and if all goes well, we'll be making noise tomorrow."
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in March asking for an investigation, and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster had been in touch with the Cramer family, Kollsman and the State Department.
Shaheen is "continuing to urge the State Department to press the Saudi government for more information," spokesman Ryan Nickel said.
State Department spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said the U.S. government can't investigate an incident overseas without the permission of the host government. It had offered to assist Saudi authorities with an investigation into Cramer's death. "At this time, we have not received a request from the Saudi authorities for assistance," she said. "The U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, continues to provide all possible consular assistance."
In Saudi Arabia, The Associated Press has put in a request for information on Cramer from the Interior Ministry, which oversees all criminal investigations and the police.
Kelley was able to bury her brother in New Hampshire. She received two boxes of his belongings, including a bloody watch, that came from Israel. She turned them over to Baden for analysis.
"There's still so many unanswered questions," she said.
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this story.