Family, friends believe Milford man was victim of foul play in Saudi Arabia

NASHUA – Friends and family of a Milford man who died in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 15 say they have no doubt he was murdered.

The body of Christopher J. Cramer, 50, was found under the window of the hotel where he was staying in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. Cramer was in the Mideast country as a representative of Kollsman of Merrimack and its parent company, Elbit Systems, an Israel-based international defense electronics company, to work with Saudis on thermal optical devices that are part of its missile systems.

Shad Smith, a longtime friend and roommate, said minutes before Cramer died, he sent Smith a text message saying he feared for his life.

“He said he was afraid something bad was going to happen to him and to call the U.S. State Department,” Smith said, “and he gave me the room number and the name of the hotel.

“This is like something out of a bad movie,” he said. Cramer “was nervous about going over there. He meticulously planned everything he did. It’s absolutely surreal.

“He didn’t commit suicide. I would swear to that on a stack of Bibles.”

According to the State Department, Smith said, his friend died between 15 minutes and a half hour after he sent the text message.

Co-worker Todd Allan Kulik reportedly found Cramer’s body the next morning in front of the Sahara Makarim Tabuk Hotel.

“Do I think there was foul play? Yes, absolutely,” said Cramer’s nephew, Chris Arsenault, of Rindge. A Saudi man went to Kulik to complain about Cramer, he said, and Kulik tried to smooth things over.

Cramer “does things right every time, and he told (the man) that it didn’t need to be fixed,” Arsenault said. At one point, the man joked to Cramer that he should go to the downrange target area, and his uncle didn’t appreciate the joke.

Kollsman representatives originally told the family the death was a suicide, and Arsenault said the company was adamant about that for a week and a half.

“We told them absolutely not,” Arsenault said. “He was not depressive, he had no family problems. He was the guy who gave the family Thanksgiving dinner. He was very together. This was a $750,000 deal. You would not send a guy” who was unstable.

Clark Freise, vice president for sensors and fire control at Kollsman, said he doesn’t believe Cramer was threatened.

When Kulik sat down with the family, he said that at no time was there a mention of “veiled threats” to Cramer, but when people are dealing with military hardware, there “is always some level of friction. I heard from Todd that the demonstration went very well.”

Freise said his company initially received information that the death was a suicide from the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia based on a report from Tabuk police.

“We are reaching out to the U.S. Embassy and the State Department for a final report” and to retrieve Cramer’s remains, Freise said.

Arsenault, who said his uncle had been in Saudi Arabia for seven to 10 days when he died, served in the Army for nearly 10 years, including two tours of duty in Baghdad.

Jennifer Cramer Kelley, of Nashua, Cramer’s sister, said someone from Kollsman showed up at her house on Jan. 15 with a Nashua police officer to tell her that her brother committed suicide. She said she also believes he was murdered.

Noah Mandell, the Cramer family’s attorney, said prior to sending the text message saying he was afraid, Cramer called him three times, but he missed the calls.

Mandell said he’s convinced that Cramer had a confrontation with a Saudi agent of another military contracting firm and that was the reason he died. He said he also believes the Saudi sabotaged the equipment as part of what he called an “old used car trick.” By fixing the equipment, the lawyer said, Cramer “screwed up” something for the Saudi, perhaps messing up a deal to sell new equipment.

Mandell and Kelley wonder why Cramer was in Saudi Arabia with no security.

Kelley said she believes her brother was involved in the technical aspects of a $750,000 deal, and that he was sent to Saudi Arabia to show the Saudis that the weapons they had weren’t defective and could shoot accurately.

“My understanding was that they were misusing the equipment,” she said.

Kelley said she had the impression her brother was getting along well with the Saudis.

He worked for Kollsman for 12 years and loved his job, she said.

“He was always excited when he was talking about it,” she said. “This is a nightmare.”

Elbit Systems has agreed to bring Cramer’s body to New York for an autopsy, Kelley said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or
kcleveland@cabinet.com.