Tikrit, Iraq -- In the midafternoon of Oct. 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann, an American contract worker from the Bay Area, used a satellite phone to call a colleague from a lonely desert road between Tikrit and Kirkuk in northern Iraq. He told his colleague he had a flat tire and needed a jack.
About 45 minutes later, [Ryan Manelick] found von Ackermann's car, abandoned. There was no sign of von Ackermann, who had been alone when he called. No hint of struggle, not even a footprint. All that remained was his satellite phone, his laptop computer, and, on the car's backseat a briefcase holding $40,000 in $100 bills.
Just over two months later, on the morning of Dec. 14, Manelick was shot dead near Camp Anaconda, a U.S. military base about 50 miles north of Baghdad, and about 50 miles south of where von Ackermann had disappeared.
But Manelick had said something startling the night before he was killed.
"I'm in fear of my life, you know," he said to a gathering at a Baghdad restaurant, at which a Chronicle reporter was present.
"It's not Iraqis I'm worried about, either," added Manelick. "It's people from my own country."
According to [his father] Greg Manelick and other former associates, Ryan Manelick had earlier told Army investigators looking into von Ackermann's disappearance that large sums of money were being paid in kickbacks to a U.S. Army officer in Iraq in return for doling out lucrative contracts to another a business associate at Ultra Services.
Von Ackermann, who as a contract manager for Ultra Services spent a lot of time at various U.S. military bases in Iraq, knew all about it, did not approve and was about to blow the whistle to U.S. Army authorities, Ryan Manelick reportedly had maintained.