Found!

Before I begin my post I would like to say how happy I am to again be an active participant in this wonderful blog.  Beginning in late Spring and extending over the summer into September, I first underwent manic preparation of a manuscript for Thrillerfest, followed by a lingering family illness, followed by an all-consuming interest in the subject of this post. Those things combined led me to take a hiatus from the blog, which is now, happily, concluded.

Regarding the post, I experienced for the second time in my life what it is like to be drawn into a real-life mystery. (I mention the first below as well.) And, for the second time, as with the first, it left a deep mark on me, one that I know will be expressed in my writing.

I also have bent the rules of this blog a bit and appreciate Linda’s forbearance.  This story wanted to be told and it is — but in many more words than most of our posts.  Also, I realize that a real life mystery is not fiction.  I can only plead what Margo says in her post of October 9 — some of the best inspiration comes from paths taken off the main highway.

I hope you’ll find your time reading “Found” is well spent.

Twice before on this blog, I’ve reported on the compelling story of two young Dutch women, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, who recently vanished from the town of Boquete in Panama, where I live.  To read the earlier installments, please see: “Jungle,” May 12, 2014, and “Missing in Panama – A Mystery Deepens,” August 18, 2014.)

To recap: the girls set out from their hostel on April 1st to take a mountain trek in what is variously referred to as a cloudforest, a rainforest, or just a plain old jungle.

boquete trail 2They failed to meet up with their appointed guide, neglected to tell anyone exactly where they were going, and disappeared, accompanied only by a dog named “Blue.” (I am not making this up.) “Blue” had  the good sense to return to the hostel. For whatever reason, the girls did not.

more searchersin the mud with search dogs cut
Despite an enormous search conducted by Panamanian forces, Dutch special units with cadaver dogs, and a multitude of volunteers, they were not located.

There were no marks on trees, arrows scratched on rocks, or trails of fabric.

There was simply nothing.

Then, on June 14, across the Continental Divide, a long, long way away, an indigenous couple, Angel Palacios and his wife, came upon a shiny blue backpack next to a river.

backpackInside: $83 in cash, Lisanne Froon’s passport, two pairs of cheap sunglasses, two cell phones, a camera, and two bras. Everything was very neat and in remarkable condition, having endured 72 days of tropical downpours, high humidity, and withering heat.

So was the nearby shoe that contained a human foot.

As a mystery writer, I’m often asked where my ideas originate. Although I usually hem and haw an answer, I’m no different from most creative people: my inspiration comes from a thick stew of activities, impressions, and human intercourse that’s constantly added to by daily items I read, discoveries about the universe we live in and the planet our feet rest upon.  The stew is always on a low boil, stirred by whatever’s in the wind on a given day.

Additionally, as a former longtime resident of Washington, D.C.,  I’ve encountered some small measure of criminal activity. Like many big city residents, I’ve been mugged, burglarized (one brazen thief lifted my purse off the back of my chair in the Library of Congress), and endured a violent home invasion.  In a particularly sad period in my life, a woman was gruesomely murdered less than a block away from where I lived and the investigation into it was interminable and gruesomely graphic. Poignantly, a beloved dog was kidnapped two houses down, never to be seen again.

beltway sniper body and blood But by far the worst crime I’ve been exposed to was the killing spree of the man/boy team of sharpshooters known as the Beltway Snipers, who terrorized the D.C. area for weeks. They murdered several people near my house, one sitting outside the post office I regularly visited, another near my daughter’s bus stop.

beltway sniper bus

For nearly a month, we all duck-walked – from our cars to the gas pump, to our offices, to schools, to restaurants. We learned to pump gas while squatting. beltway sniper crouch to pump

We spent as little time out of doors as possible. The sight of little children, mine included, scurrying, heads down, knees bent, from one school building to another will remain an indelible memory.

Still, I’ve never encountered anything  before like a shoe containing a human foot. Thanks to the Panamanian inclination to make crime – or in this case, possibly crime-related – photos readily available to the public, I’ve added these awful images to my stew.  As with the duck-walking and murdered man shown above, I didn’t add them willingly. But they’re now part of the mix, and where and when, and in what form they will manifest themselves in my fiction I have no idea. I only know that they will.

(Note: I’ve elected not to include the shoe and foot pictures. If you want to see them for yourself, here’s a link; they’re in the beginning of the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Je02A0zyAQ)

Back to the story — needless to say, the discovery changed the focus of the investigation. For one thing, someone was now clearly dead, no longer merely missing. For another, where there is a foot there must surely be more remains. And, third, the items were found in a part of Panama so remote no one could grasp how the women had managed to get there.

enhanced sinaproc search map

The yellow, pink, blue, and aqua dots indicate the locations of the remains. The green dot is El Mirador, the lookout on the Continental Divide, and the orange dot is the beginning of the El Pianista trail. The red lines represent the official search paths. Courtesy: “Torero” Websleuths

These were only the first in a long list of peculiarities about this case.

More remains were discovered, but not, as it turned out, by the police. The site of the discovery on the banks of the Rio Culebre in the sparsely populated area of Altos Romeros was a full day’s walk from Boquete across three swollen rivers and snake infested territory.

First Superior Prosecutor Betzaida Pittí, who had been assigned the investigation, traveled from Panama City by helicopter part way and then overland for four grueling hours to collect the initial evidence discovered by the Indios and carry it back in sealed yellow bags.Prosecutor Pitti emerges from a helicopter following her trip to the Rio Culebre.Unhappily, on her return to Panama City, she was immediately hospitalized for severe dehydration, a not uncommon occurrence in the jungle. (You lose so much water by perspiration that you can’t replenish it quickly enough – and often can’t carry enough with you anyway. Dicey, that.)

Afterwards the weather was deemed so bad that only one regular Panamanian search team was sent into the area, and then only for only three days. helicopter man carrying bag tvn2 cut The families, who had been on tenterhooks, were dismayed.

This shoe would come under dispute later in the investigation.

Instead, Special Prosecutor Pitti in effect deputized the entire Indian tribe and called upon them to carry out the search.

The Indios produced. They found Kris’ shorts, neatly buttoned, laid out on a rock. They found a blue shoe.

And they found other bones.  Those were, after a few fits and starts, all forensically identified as belonging to either Kris or Lisanne.  med ec cut

But the remains have been pitifully small. The average human adult has 206 bones but only 28 of Lisanne’s bones have been located, including two long bones that were attached to skin (found four months after she went missing), and two belonging to Kris.

Entire cow corpses are routinely washed up in Panamanian rivers, but that was not to be the fate of the missing girls.

By this time in the story – as a writer – I could see the dictum of “pile it on” the protagonist at work. Prosecutor Pitti may not be the most sympathetic person we encounter because from now on she is the public face of the investigation.  And the investigation is about to turn into a nightmare.

Enter the forensics.

The girls left their room at the hostel full of their belongings, clearly indicating they planned to return.

nex stuff in BR 2 cut

Typical of Panamanian investigations, crime scene photos are readily available to the press.

SINAPROC, the National Civil Protection Agency, which took control of the preliminary investigation and mounted the searches,  investigated the room as well, setting off sparks by Rafael Guerrero, Chief of the Complex Case Unit of the Public Ministry. Mr. Guerrero told a newspaper “they overstepped their bounds, and they performed procedures that should have been done by criminology technicians.” (Panama America) (Panama-Guide.com) That was a great way to get the investigation going.

Then there were the bones, whose locations seemed to move around quite a bit, depending on who was doing the talking — and in what language. (Everything has been translated and cross-translated into Spanish, Dutch and English, resulting at times in a babel-like mishmash.)  Some say most of the bones were found together near a sandbar, others that they were as much as several kilometers apart. The foot was certainly in one place, behind a tree, not in the river.

Truthfully speaking, everything about the bones is more than odd.

According to noted criminologibones location found cutst Sr. Octavio Calderón, it’s “strange” for a foot to be broken off at the ankle, remaining in its boot. It’s also peculiar that most of Lisanne’s bones had tissue attached, while none of Kris’ did.  And perhaps the biggest oddity of all – Kris’ bones – but not Lisanne’s — were hyper-bleached by phosphorus, a substance missing from the local non-volcanic soil.

This gave rise to the following startling statement by Sr. Calderón: “…the match could indicate the use of fertilizers or chemicals on the remains. Desperation may have led to the attacker to use such substance to ‘disappear’ the evidence.” (GoogleTranslate)

Even Dr. Humberto Mas, Director of the Instituto de Medicina Legal (IMELF), which  ran the forensics on the case, weighed in on this in an unexpected way. An aggressive reporter named Adelita Coriat who writes for La Estrella Panama quotes Dr. Mas as “discuss(ing) the possibility that the dismemberment of the bodies is a product of lime treatment.

“Mas explains that the effect of lime is corrosive and has previously had the experience of that covering the body with calcium oxide is likely to fall off the limbs. If we continue the line of this hypothesis, this would justify why no trace left foot cut.

“Much will depend on the quantity and quality of lime used, but the action can be a matter of days,” said Mas.” (Google Translate)

At some point, Prosecutor Pitti’s office issued a statement saying the bones showed no sign of cutting, gunshots, or damage by projectiles. In fact, they were remarkably free of trauma.pitti press conferencecutThis would become a critical point in the future, but enough of bones for the moment; we’ll come back to them later.  How about the girls’ camera? While we might expect they used it to document their journey (it had a mostly full battery), the camera has become the subject of almost as much speculation as the girls’ remains.

First off, it precisely establishes that they were at El Mirador (a lookout) on the El Pianista Trail at the summit of the Continental Divide at 1 p.m. on April 1st, the day they went missing. Here are Lisanne and Kris at that moment:lisanne on top of the el pianista trailkris at the top

Experts have determined from the sun’s angle that the photos were taken at approximately 1 p.m.  Then at approximately 2 p.m., the camera recorded this picture of Kris in what’s being called “Quebrada #1:” (A quebrada is a gully or ravine.  In rainy season, they can be knee deep in mud.)KrisinrarehoudingKABELS_zpscff4061b

tunnel barrancaThis is a barranca, also a gully or ravine, but with steeper sides, and also treacherous in rainy season.

To reach the place where their bones were found,  the girls would have had to  go through five queberas/barrancas.

They also would have had to make three river crossings.

Not all crossings are this bad, but even one can ruin your day.

Not all crossings are this bad, but even one can ruin your day.

After that, the camera went dormant for 7 days, until 1:00 a.m. on April 8, when it recorded these GIRLS PHOTO night pic of a barranco (1)two photographs, both taken at night.

The first one looks down from the top of a rock into bushes.

The second is of the top of a rock, with two red bag bitssticks, each with a small piece of red plastic bag, and two chewing gum wrappers. No satisfactory explanation has ever been given for these two pictures.

Once turned on, the camera clicked away steadily for the next three hours, 88 more pictures in all — and all but one (held by the families) described as either “black” or “dark”. The camera had an automatic shutter so we know there was no lens cap to get in the way.  Independent Criminalist Dick Steffens, who, on behalf of the families, has been pressing the Dutch government to be more proactive in dealing with the case, has said he believes the photos were made in a “deep, dark place….One explanation for the dark pictures could be that women have been locked up and using the flash on the camera tried to attract attention.”(www.telegraaf.nl) More from Mr. Steffens later.

There are no pictures showing the paths taken, big cats or snakes encountered, or accidents suffered. No photos documenting trail markers, SOS signs, or missed helicopters in the sky. No photos of people. The camera is like the last 88 pictures it took – a blank.

Some have speculated the girls used the camera flash to light their way but others familiar with walking trails at night debunk that, asserting the flash causes momentary blindness and prevents one’s eyes from becoming accustomed to the dark.

flash blindness explainedAnother possible explanation has been that they were trying to attract the attention of a search group that camped out in the jungle the night of the 7th and early morning of the 8th, as alluded to by Steffens. If so, it is the only attempt we know of to contact helpers outside of 911 calls.

Whatever the reason for the camera’s mystifying photos, it does document one very important time element in the case. It shows irrefutably that the girls were at the Continental Divide at 1 p.m.

hostel2Five witnesses don’t think they were. Five witnesses in Boquete claim to have seen them at times that would have prohibited them from being at the Divide at 1 p.m.  A woman at the girls’ Spanish language school swears they were at the school at that same hour.  A local guide says he saw them in Boquete between 2 and 2:15 and told them it was the Piedra de Alto Lino trail they were headed for, not El Pianista.

Courtesy: Plinio Montenegro

Part of the Piedra de Alto Lino trail. Courtesy: Plinio Montenegro

Later, he saw them coming back and thought they took a taxi. Another man saw them between 2:30 and 3. A woman describes what they were wearing when she saw them at 4:05. And so on.

It’s like an Agatha Christie novel, where everyone is telling a part of the story and almost all are getting it wrong. As a writer,  I’m fascinated by the breadth of error associated with this group of people.  In a book, you would have to be very skillful to incorporate five erroneous witnesses who are providing detailed information. Ultimately, you would have to explain why each of them either lied or was mixed up. That’s a big task and not everyone who attempts it gets it right.

In real life, in Kris and Lisanne’s case, there may be a very simple solution.  It is possible all these people saw the girls exactly as they reported but they saw them the day before, not on the day they went missing. That’s how I’d wrap it up in a mystery. Nice and tidy. And it may very well be true.

Returning to the story — what we do know for sure from the data in the camera and the angle of the sun in the El Mirador photos is that the girls hiked El Pianista on April 1st, reached the summit at 1 p.m., took their final photo (for 7 days) at 2 p.m., and realized they were in trouble at 4:30.

That’s when their phones come into play.

Lisanne and Kris made their first emergency call to the Dutch version of 911 – 112 – at 4:30 p.m. They made another one 20 minutes later.  Although they were out of range for voice transmission, the phone log shows the calls having been placed.camera forensics cut

That’s a very important piece of evidence as the area where the remains were found is at least
12 hours away from El Mirador – and that’s for an experienced hiker.

This means that Kris and Lisanne were nowhere near the resting place of their bones and backpack when they first encountered trouble and tried to call for help.

From then until the 11th of April, they—or someone else — made 88 attempts to use their phones, at more or less common times of day.black log new

11 attempts were made to call emergency numbers (almost assuredly the girls) and 77 were quick on and offs, perhaps to check that the phones still had power. Ominously, the National Forensics Lab in Holland, which examined the phones and camera and produced a 160 page report, indicates that after April 5, Kris’ phone was turned on several times but the sim login pin number was not successfully entered. “The NFI concludes that it certainly can not be excluded that this is due to the use of the appliance by a person other than Kris.” (Google Translate/Reuters) This does not convincingly argue that a third party was present; it’s entirely possible that something happened to Kris and Lisanne didn’t have her pass code. Still, it raises questions.

As far as being able to communicate a message of any kind, although periodically  they might have been in range to send a text message explaining what had happened to them, perhaps giving some indications of their whereabouts, tragically, they didn’t record anything at all, not even final messages for their beloved parents. This, in the minds of many, is as indicative of foul play as is the  lack of the sim code.

Panama has rapidly developed its cell capability and leads countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, and Brazil. But in the sparsely populated area where the girls found themselves, the ubiquitous cell phone, symbol of progress and technological evolution worldwide, was of no use at all.

In the end, what the girls’ cell phone data tells us is a grim story: at least one young woman was most likely alive until April 3, when the last attempt was made to connect to an emergency number. One or both may have been alive as late as April 11th, when Kris’ phone was opened for the last time.

So, now we have unreliable witnesses, strange photographs, odd remains, a dust-up over forensics, useless cell phones, and – what more?

Young men, of course.  There are reports that the girls had either breakfast or lunch on April 1st with two men, identity not revealed, at the Nelvis restaurant in Boquete. (Note: there is a question about this; it may have been the El Sabrosan restaurant.) Then there are young men in Bocas del Toro, where the girls spent some days before coming to Boquete.  Here are Kris and Lisanne in Bocas with a bunch of young people doing what young people do – having a party.

party with kris and lisanneThere was talk of three young Dutch men and two Costa Ricans.

man with kris and lisanne

 

Here’s one of them in a game of cards with the girls.

 

 

Here are a couple more with Kris and  a starfish that was probablystarfish guy 2 exhausted by the encounter:

 

kris and starfishstarfish guy

Not much has been said about these young men. Presumably they were interviewed and given a clean bill of health.

Besides the men in Boquete, were there other young men who don’t appear in photographs? If I were writing this story there would be, but the authorities haven’t mentioned any.

Speaking of the authorities, by now, the investigation was in full swing, and the forensics were about to reassert themselves with a bang, courtesy of reporter Coriat, who ran a story slamming the evidence collection.

She quotes criminologist Calderón as saying: ‘“The Indians took the evidence as if it were something for a courier service…. the crime scene was wasted.’ ‘ We’ll never know the truth,’ he said. ‘It’s amazing the search teams, however amateurs, did not take photos of the exact position and location of the jeans or the backpack (reconstruction of the by the rice farmers found backpack). And not ONE bone was collected the way it should have been, by police or forensics.’”(Google Translate)

Next came Diomedes Trejos, the coroner at IMELF, with this succinct summation:

“…they can not clarify the situation because the few remains that were found do not show signs of abuse or trauma.”

And finally, Dr. Humberto Mas again, thusly:

“’…it is difficult to determine the cause of death if there is no trauma to the bones.’ He also indicated ‘there is a forensic anthropologist handling the case to determine a possible hypothesis.’”

Meanwhile Public Prosecutor Pitti was readying her verdict in the case. When it was issued, it was more of a whimper than a bang.

pittiThe forensic evidence was recited – there was no sign of human action on the bones, i.e. they had not been dissected, shot or knifed. They were without trauma and there was no blood. They did, however, show chemical treatment with phosphorus (Kris’ bones), cause not specified.

Then, oddly, Prosecutor Pitti went on to say that there were dangerous animals in the jungle, panthers, pumas, snakes, and the like.

The forensic evidence was recited – there was no sign of human action on the bones, i.e. they had not been dissected, shot or knifed. They were without trauma and there was no blood. They did, however, show chemical treatment with phosphorus (Kris’ bones), cause not specified. Then, oddly, Prosecutor Pitti went on to say that there were dangerous animals in the jungle, panthers, pumas, snakes, and the like.

A Bushmaster, one of the deadliest snakes on earth.

And the rivers were dangerous, too, especially the Rio Culebre, where the girls’ bones had come to rest.

The two young Dutch women, she said, had died by being swept away in that river.

Or maybe it was those animals.

Or whatever.

It was a verdict nobody liked. Enrique Arrocha, the lawyer representing the families, witheringly took it apart:

According to La Estrella Panama, it appears the kindest word he had for it was “incomplete.”  He says “ in this hypothesis there does not exist proof whatsoever…..under the Prosecutor’s scenario there should be marks on the bones. How come the bones don’t show bruising from being dragged,’” he asks. (Google Translate)

Statements by the coroner and Pitti herself contradicted Pitti’s own finding. “Microscopic studies were made and no actual bony structures had finding of trauma,” said Coroner Trejos.

Arrocha also questions the finding that Kris’ bones were subjected to a chemical process using phosphorus but no effort was made to determine if it was the result of an action by man or nature.

When Lisanne’s bones were released to her family for burial, he criticized that as making it harder for the investigation to continue. pitti and coffin cut What a wrenching decision for the Froon family to make – to bury what little there is left of their daughter or to allow the remains to stay in a laboratory  half a world away on the hope that more tests will shed light on the mystery of her death.

In a sentence truly tortured past all logical meaning by GoogleTranslate, Sr. Arrocha appears to question the general lack of blood, paucity of body parts and DNA, and whether the girls were dragged nude through the river — “Do they never had clothes on?” he asks, presumably excepting the foot. And he says: “Why the clothes have no signs of blood, body tissues or DNA?”

He believes an analysis of Kris’ bones will “lead to the prosecution of a new line of research” according to La Estrella Panama.

It wasn’t just in Panama that people were skeptical. media cutThe Dutch media, regular and social, were going crazy.A popular Dutch blog.

facebook cutThe Dutch World Cup Soccer team voted to wear orange bracelets in honor of the girls.holland world cupA song was created in Kris’ memory.

song for kris double cutAnd on everyone’s lips were the same questions. Chief among them – why didn’t the girls turn back when they realized they were going in the wrong direction? And, why didn’t they mark their trail so they could return?. Even if they’d been turned around in the beginning, common sense said, they would quickly see that they were going the wrong way. The trail changes abruptly on the Bocas side; it would be hard not to notice those changes.

To this, lawyer Arrocha has an answer. He hiked the trail himself and went all the way to where the bones were found. Unlike some others, he doesn’t believe the trail is poorly marked or that the girls got lost.   Nor do Kris’ parents, who hiked up to what is being called the “paddock area.”

The Kremers family after their hike.  At the bottom left, "Blue," the only one who may know the truth of the girls' disappearance.

The Kremers family after their hike. At the bottom left, “Blue,” the only one who may know the truth of the girls’ disappearance.

It would have been “impossible” for the girls to have gotten lost, they say. They believe, firmly, that a “third party” is involved and are joined by criminalist Steffens in this belief.

“When you put all the facts in perspective, it is certain this case is not a disappearance,” he says.

Others say the trail is not well marked, especially in rainy season, and it’s easy to lose one’s way. But rainy season had just begun and April 1st was a beautiful, sunny day.  The quebradas were dry, the initial hike to the top easy for two athletic girls.

Interestingly, Jose Gonzalez, the guide who accompanied  the Kremers, believes the girls could have become lost (local guides are divided on that) and many people know that if you decide to step off a trail for whatever reason (even good ones, like avoiding a Bushmaster), you literally take your life in your own hands.

end of paddock

The El Pianista trail in the Rainy Season.

There has been some discussion regarding the ability of the Rio Culebre to drag human bodies.  Lawyer Arrocha has been particularly forthright on this point.  In this he is joined by local people who point out that although the Rio Culebre originates near El Pianista, in April its flow is minimal and unable to drag a body. Also, the remains of the girls were found upstream not downstream, “as would be logical if the current had dragged them.”

bridge between norteno and filo verde

The Rio Culebre in the Dry Season.

Just this week there have been new developments. DNA, a man’s and a woman’s – has been found on the backpack.  Probably belonging to the Ngabe-Bugle couple who found it but no confirmation yet. And now we learn of fingerprints on the camera and a possible hit in a Panamanian database.

But overlaying all of this is the language problem. Official documents must be translated from Spanish to Dutch, then we get them in English later, usually through the Panamanian media, whose reports are translated by “volunteers” on various websites, sometimes using Google Translate. The outcome is having to deal with garbled text, which sometimes obscures the meaning of a critical phrase or sentence just enough to render it incomprehensible.  Google Translate, while it does meritorious work, scratches its head over this, too.

One other item has resulted from this tragedy.  Fingers have been pointed at the expat community here in Boquete.
boqueteA noted herbalist has been out and out accused on the internet of having something to do with the killing of these girls.  And a well known resident has suggested entering the houses of all expats, taking our fingerprints, and looking for evidence. Those who don’t comply, she intimates, can be presumed guilty – of something.

Tragedy can hurt a town in more ways than one.

So where does that leave us? Basically, with a list of questions an arm long:

BONES
How is it that certain bones  appear together on the banks of the river Culebre? Why so few bones and why mostly fragments?  Where are the rest of them?
Why is there tissue attached to Lisanne’s bones but not to Kris’?
Why does the Prosecutor declare the girls died by dragging in the river when the pathologists say the bones show no sign of abrasion?

Why did the Prosecutor cite wild animals as a possible secondary cause when there were no signs of animal activity on the bones or clothes?
Why did Lisanne’s foot “break off” at the ankle — without trauma?

How did Kris’ bones come to have high levels of phosphorus?  How were they “Chemically Treated?”
Why would the skeletons be completely smashed but cheap and fragile sunglasses remain undamaged?
BOOTS
Why was Lisanne’s foot, still in her boot, found behind a tree?
Was the boot rinsed between the time it was found and the time it was laid out on plastic near the scene, thus removing a possible crystalline crust on the bottom? (In the in situ picture the  boot is dry; on plastic it is wet; both photos were presumably taken on the day Prosecutor Pitti and her team arrived at Altos Los Romeros. Hat tip: websleuths.com)
How can the second boot found (blue) be reconciled with the photos of Kris and Lisanne, who are shown wearing brown boots?
MESSAGES
Why is there not a single “help me” marker — initials scraped into a tree, arrows, an SOS sign, etc?
Why are there no messages of any kind?
PHONES & CAMERA
Why the intervals in phone use? Why the specific pattern?
Why are there no stored text messages in the phone to their parents?
Why the 87  black photos? (Note: 90 pictures were taken the early morning of the 8th. The families have released two but there is a third that is believed to contain images.  We do not know when or if this picture will be released.)
Why didn’t they document what happened to themselves in photos — i.e. there are no pictures of their route, injuries, threatening animals, etc. after 2 p.m.
What do the two nighttime pictures of stones mean, especially the red bags and sticks?
CLOTHES
Why did Kris take her shorts off?
Why were both bras of the girls taken off and put in the backpack?
Why have there been no other undergarments found?
Why are Kris’ shorts neatly laid out?

OTHER PERSONAL EFFECTS
If the backpack had been in the water, why weren’t the contents decayed and why were they in such good condition?
Was the backpack planted? Prosecutor Pitti calls such insinuations “Irresponsible” and “without foundation.” (Panama News)
MISCELLANEOUS (BUT IMPORTANT)
Why do the statements of all five witness contradict the photo evidence?
Why was there no contact for 11 days when the girls had to have come near habitations and other people (presuming they were not abducted)?
Why didn’t they turn back after they placed their 1st emergency call?
Since they got into trouble so early in the trip, as evidenced by their emergency calls, how could they have fallen into a river 12 hours away?
A French couple hiked the same trail the next day and were told by a guard they encountered that he had heard screams the day before. Have these people been questioned? Has the guard been?
———
And new in the last few days: what do the 34 fingerprints just found by the Dutch Forensic Institute mean? There are 13 on the backpack, 12 on the phones, 6 on a bra, and 3 on the camera. PanamaAmerica.com reports that no DNA samples were taken on any of these items but the backpack and now that they have been sent to the DFI, the evidence is considered contaminated.
There  are still more questions, incongruities, and concerns, many more than can be addressed here.  Mystery writers themselves could add dozens. But these are the main ones and still, six months later, they go unanswered.And they could stay that way as Prosecutor Pitti to date has refused all requests to reopen the case. However, because of a development that occurred just two days ago, the situation may be taken out of her hands. La Estrella is now reporting that both families contemplate going to the international courts.” The reason given: “because the prosecution of Chiriqui has not  ‘been able to resolve an issue that seems to have gone out of their hands.'” (La Estrella/Google Translate) Notwithstanding Google/Translate, I think we all know what that means.

The families continue to press the Panamanian Government to resume searching for more remains in the Rio Culebre area, now with the threat of involving international agencies. And the government keeps saying it will when it is safe to do so.  Rainy season doesn’t officially end until January, though December is usually a mixed bag. Still some time to go.

When I first began following this story, it was out of genuine interest since the girls had disappeared from my town. But I stayed interested because they were so bright and fresh and full of optimism lisanne froon and they reminded me of my own daughter who is the same age.  Over the months, as things became more peculiar, it was the story that kept me involved.  In mystery writing, we always hope we have enough kris kremerselements to keep the reader motivated to turn the next page. In this, there are almost too many.

There’s a well known “Dutch Road” through Central America that brings dozens of young Dutch men and women each year to visit places like Boquete. They come to learn Spanish, volunteer in the community, and mingle with people in a culture so different from their own.  I was standing in line at the grocery store a few weeks after Lisanne and Kris had gone missing. Behind me were two girls very much like them : tall, blond, athletic, and from Holland.  What had happened to Kris and Lisanne was a shame they told me, a tragedy. They would just have to be more careful.

Kris and Lisanne’s disappearance won’t stop tourism in Boquete, unless a murderer turns up and confesses. The official verdict has been rendered and the firestorm around it will eventually die down.  The giant billboard outside of town huge billboard cutwill be replaced with an ad for something else. The local detective hired by the families will hit a stonewall and eventually he’ll run dry of information. It will all be over — unless someone confesses to the murders – if there were murders.

Because this is a literary blog devoted to the mystery craft, what lessons are there for us in this tragic mystery of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon?

First, the two women were admirable people and either would be a good role model for a character. If I were looking to portray a serious young woman in a future book, I might think particularly of Lisanne, who took a degree in Applied Psychology lisanne blue cutShe wanted to teach Panamanian students; she was fun but dedicated. From the website findlisannekriss.com: “For quiet and thoughtful Lisanne, Panama seemed to be the ideal destination. She wasn’t particularly fond of large groups of people neither did she enjoy typical ‘tourist’ hotspots. It wasn’t that far-fetched to choose Panama as their designated place-to-be; a country filled with nature and pleasant variety.”

If I wanted a character with a little more spice, I might model her after Kris. kris headshot2 cut Ginger-haired, always smiling, she was an artist who could explain art in a way that everyone became entranced.  A gifted stage performer and public speaker, she came to Panama to work with the littlest ones among us, the toddlers. How sad that she will never light the spark of art appreciation in them.

Second, plot. I touched on this before. It’s interesting how real life can actually  be less credible than fiction. Sometimes there’s just too much going on to maintain believability and interest. In this story, there’s been a lot of action but so many plot lines that one can easily get confused.  And there are so many puzzles they could sustain multiple tales.

Third, the role of technology.  I know in my own work that something I wrote only six months ago is now infuriatingly out of date, despite careful research.  Because most authors  are writing for the static page, we need to remember that incorporation of today’s technology can stamp our work as behind the times in the future.  In Kris’ and Lisanne’s case, the growing use of personal GPS; accelerated cell tower construction or some technology that leapfrogs cell transmission entirely; and further integration of smart devices so that a phone or watch could transmit a radio signal from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world will make their devices seem even more inadequate than they were.  Of course, even with futuristic capabilities, sometimes technology is simply no match for a jungle or for a predator who lurks there.

Finally, as I say goodbye to Kris and Lisanne, I know that somewhere out there someone – maybe Ann Rule – is already preparing to write the true crime version of this story. That’s as it should be; it has to be told that way; it’s simply too real for fiction. But it has lots to inspire the mystery writer and that in itself is enough of a takeaway.

To the parents of these special girls, heartfelt condolences on your grievous loss.

God bless, Kris and Lisanne. Rest in peace.

memorial

Acknowledgements

http://www.findlisannekris.com/kris-and-lisanne/about-lisanne/
https://blendle.nl/item/bnl-vkn-20140628-3339225/welcome
http://www.estrellapanama.com

http://www.misdaadjournalist.nl/2014…-manoeuvreren/
http://www.Detelegraaf.com

RTV Utrecht http://www.rtvutrecht.nl/nieuws/1210560/ and
http://www.rtvutrecht.nl/nieuws/1210…in-panama.html
www.Reuters.com
http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/22748727/___Kris_en_Lisanne_waren_op_route___.html
http://www.AnswersforKris.com
http://www.Telemetro.com
– “La ruta de las holandesas, su ultima caminata” by Chiricano Capaz
The Fatal Hike on El Pianista – La Caminata Fatal en el Sendero del Pianista – Kris & Lisanne http://youtu.be/0BlWmxr5dFQ
“Hans Kremers twijfelt over verdwalingstheorie Kris en Lisanne” — avrotros
“SENDEROS QUE RECORREN QUIENES BUSCAN a holandesas perdidas en boquete.” El Siglo. La Estrella Panama.
“Forense confirma que restos hallados son de una de las holandesa desaparecidas.” YouTube
ExpedientesNex: “El Misterio de las Holandesas Partes 1 & 2” YouTube
Gids denkt dat Kris en Lisanne rivier wilden overs – RTL NIEUWS
Holandesas desaparecen en Boquete” La Prensa
“Ouders zouden schoenen herkend hebben” RTL NIEUWS
“Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon disappearance route” by Dinamo Zagreb
“Ouders Kris and Lisanne Het Voelde gelijk al niet” – RTL LATE
“Dertig memsen blijven zoekenin jungle Panama” — RTL NIEUWS
Next Media
“20140603 Lisanne en Kris Benefietverslag1” — Gerrit Veenendaal
Mltimes.nl
“Hans Kremers twijfelt over verdwalingstheorie Kris en Lisanne”
www.thevisitorpanama.com
www.findlisannekris.com
www.panama-guide.com
www.panamaunderground.com
www.boqueteguide.com
www.boquete.ning.com

Bethsaids Pitti, Prosecutor – numerous press conferences
www.prensa.com
www.newsroompanama.com
www.cnn.com
www.nbcnews.com
www.panamaamerica.com.pa
www.thepanamadigest.com
www.websleuths.com
http://www.dreamindemon.com/community/threads/lisanne-and-kris-two-dutch-students-missing-in-panama-mountains.69140/
Prensa.com: “Nuevos hallazgos en caso de holandesas desaparecidas en Panamá” – YouTube
“Rescatistas holandeses llegan a Panamá” — La Opinion Panama
Prensa.com: Continúa la búsqueda de Lisanne y Kriss, las dos holandesas desaparecidas en Boquete
http://www.expatexchange.com/
www.bbc.com
www.worldnews.com
http://forum.fok.nl/topic/2155896
https://www.facebook.com/answersforkris/
https://www.youtube.com/user/WithoutYouHere2014
http://www.interludium.eu/english/home.html

NPO Dutch Public Broadcasting

40 thoughts on “Found!

  1. Excellent narration of a terrifying story. With everything they found, i couldn’t help thinking that a verdict of murder would not be beneficial yo tourism or government agencies.
    Your retelling of the story gave me chills as if I were there, seeing it all. I definitely felt the presence of unseen forces tied to the unfortunate women.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for your response, Margo. I think of these girls often. So sad and still such a mystery. You’re entirely right, of course. A murder inquiry would be difficult for Panama because Boquete is such a magnet for vacationing Europeans. We’ve had more than our share of bizarre murders but not here in the town, fortunately, although in 2009 a British tourist also disappeared, again with no trace. Just yesterday, the parents of the girls announced they’re suing Panama for not pursuing the case diligently and taking the case to an international court. Also, as of this week, the government has now labeled all the trails with warning messages and is requiring that you be accompanied by a guide. That certainly happened fast enough.

      Meanwhile when are you coming for a visit? :)

  2. Wow, this is the best, fully summarized detailed account I have read. I have followed this case from the minute I left Panama in June and all the information is not in one place, I’ve just been storing the account of everything they are finding and finding out in my own file cabinet in my head. I really appreciate you putting it all together in such a great readable source! :)

  3. Hi “Ski”, I have read your Mystery, wow you write very well. You have really studied the case and reflected much and I like so much how you conclude your Found! by the way you have portrayed the lively Kris and Lisanne. You have also incorporated enough illustrations.
    The topic is so sad and tragic, but one cannot stop reading, after having started. Keep up the good work.

    • Chiatos, thank you so much. I’m glad you “enjoyed” the story. (Of course, one can never “enjoy” something like this but hopefully there was positive takeaway.) See you back on Websleuths!

      Britt

  4. Nice write-up…I enjoyed reading it, despite it being tragic. Having spent much time hiking in (judging from the photos) similar terrain in Hawaii, here is what I surmise may have happend as an alternative theory: The pictures show the girls in the dry riverbed, off the trail. They must have left the trail to investigate the riverbed and the dry steep-sided canyon eroded by years of waterflow. They could have gone down into a bowl or cliff in the riverbed from which they could not climb back up. Perhaps their way forward was blocked by a river or a steep drop. This is when they tried to call for help. Lisanne’s phone was low on power, so she stopped using it. They used Kris’ phone. Early in the morning of the 5th, something happened for them to become desperate enough to try using the phones again. Perhaps, there was a rise in water level due to rain upstream, or perhaps after many days without water and food, they realized they were nearing death. Either way, Kris became hurt or unconcious due to one of these factors, and Lisanne’s phone died when she tried using it. She used Kris phone for the rest of the day, but then it got turned off somehow and she couldn’t turn it back on in the following days. The night time photos is the sort of thing I’d do under certain circumstances, like using the flash as a signaling device, as a light if I heard animals, or try to make out more detail (than my eyes can see in the dark) by looking at a photo. It could also be that after so many days without food (maybe she was drinking water from small pools to survive so long), she became delerious in the end and randomly used the camera until the power ran out. Non-rational behaviour is an expected consequence of approaching death from lack of food and water, I think. The sticks with the red flags might have been made by them to try and get a long signal device outside the enclosed space they were stuck in. Certainly, the photo you say points down into bushes could also be look up at the side of a cliff toward the top. Later, after Kris passed away, floods may have washed their remains out of the area they were stuck in. In the meantime, or later, animals and river bottom feeders could have cleaned off the bones. As for the shoes, I read a story several years ago about many feet in shoes found in Canada (on beaches I think)–if I recall correctly, one official opinion was that the shoe provides some structure for the foot bone to stay protected in, so when everything else falls apart (and clothes probably fall off bones), the foot and shoe remain together. You say the shoe is blue when it should be brown, but I think you’re wrong there…it’s probably just the shine and reflection from the flash/sun that creates the illusion of blue. Alternatively the water could also have altered the color, but I think it’s just an illusion. The phosphate is certainly something that I cannot speculate on. Anyway, like I said, as a hiker in similar terrain, and based on their photos, this scenario strikes me as a possibility. I am offcourse not in possession of all the facts, so there could be something that easily discounts this theory. Keep up the good writing!

    • I meant to say Lisanne, in my final reference to Kris and the water washing the bones away.

      And come to think of it, bone is made of phosphate, which contains phosphorus…perhaps the bleaching is a natural consequence of phosphate breakdown in sun? Maybe the degree of sun exposure (like where a bone ends up lying, or protection by clothes) plays a factor in differences between different bones found?

      • All great points, D. You might want to check out a website called Websleuths.com where this has been discussed in depth. Thousands of posts on the matter, with a ton of information, much of it relating to your post.

        Another search was due to commence today, with both Panamanian and Dutch members, as well as dogs. The team is equipped with special infrared capability that will look into the Rio Culebra. Apparently it turns pretty much everything but bones a purple color. The bones will show up as green.

        Maybe there will be answers this time.

        Thanks for stopping by!
        Britt

  5. Sorry to keep adding ot things, but my brain has been processing things. Now that I think about it, there is one possible explanation for the 5 witnesses’ discrepancy with the camera timeline, other than the one you propose: I wonder if their camera was not part of the phone. It sounds like they had a separate camera. If that’s true, the time-stamp that the camera recorded might have been set to a different time zone from the actual local time, thus creating the impression that they were at the Divide lookout at 1pm when they weren’t. This is certainly a possibility and I wonder if the investigators took it into account.

    Anyway, whether this is correct or not, I still think they got stuck between two cliffs/waterfalls offtrail. If they could sync the camera time in relation to local time, 5 eye witness accounts, the location of the guard and French who heard shouting, and the time to the emergency calls, then they should be able to focus in on an area where the girls likely could have gotten stuck in. Hike that in the dry season with a canyoneering rope team so they don’t get stuck themselves, and look for places that seem likely matches for the photo of the red flagged stick and night cliff/ drop-off photo.

    Not knowing more facts, I suspect the criminologists were jumping the gun. They’re trained to make connections to crime, and their brains probably are biased in that direction. As a hiker, you think differently. Many hikers get into dangerous situations every year…it’s easy to get stuck in what initially looks like a non-threatening situation. To give an example, here in Hawaii, there was a case a couple decades ago where two female tourists went missing while hiking. The police/fire department search teams couldn’t find them. The local hiking society decided to go in because they know the trails. They reasoned that they could think like the girls and that the girls took a route not expected by the logical thinking of the official search teams. In the end, it was the hikers who located the women in an area the police thought they would never have gone to. They found them just in time! After that, the hiking club became a regular support component of the state’s search teams when someone goes missing!

  6. I had been following this case from the onset until all of a sudden, several pieces of evidence started showing up, from searches or random walks by Indigenous folks.

    To me, this coincided with the burgeoning rumors, from a sort of mass collective consciousness, of several Panamanian locals, that a small Indigenous group was involved.
    Whether this is solely a type of urban legend or not, several locals believe that this small group of Indigenous folks, called the “los Conejos,” or “the Rabbits,” who have either cave or underground dwellings, or small dugouts in which they live in, are linked to the missing girls. These folks get sustenance from jungle plants, wild vegetables, and stray pigs, cattle, or domestic animals from distant farms or coffee fincas. They are also rumored to be cannibals, if need be. If you study the case, you will find that some of the girl’s effects were found near other animal remains, such as cattle and pig.

    Of course, this would be unpopular for the tourist trade, so this is quickly dismissed as looney legend.

    Yet, if you ask an Indigenous Nobe Bugle individual about the “los Conejos,” they get very alarmed, fearful, and quiet. You see the fear in their eyes. I don’t know if this is merely superstition or something more with substance. The Nobe are considered to be adversaries to the “Conejos.”
    Several people have shared with me, this angle, who are respectable. They are not goofy, looney, or nutty. These “conejos” folks, only get out at night to forage. They are seldom, if ever, witnessed by anyone in daylight. The Herbalist noted in this article, who has experience with native peoples, did not discount this story.

    What is more than interesting though, is that the Indigenous folks who were asked by Panamanian authorities to “produce” more evidence, knew pretty much where to find additional remains, and fairly quickly. The backpack appears “planted.” Such a primitive group of such “conejos” would have little use for its contents, but would keep it around as souvenir stuff, until it became expedient to “plant” it, as search teams could be getting to finding their whereabouts. It is also interesting that no Panamanian Senafront (search and rescue police) people, who are trained in this sort of thing, wanted to go very far off the trails… and for all their effort… they found nothing.

    It appears fairly unprofessional for modern law enforcement who are specially trained, to rely upon “local yokels,” so to speak, to find and gather evidence. What is there to this?

    When this information started leaking onto a local blog, interestingly, there was little further publication of the case.
    There are a couple of articles about this online, that can be googled, though brief.

  7. This is the best write-up I have come across. It really wasn’t covered in the US, don’t know why. Maybe pressure from the tourism industry, or fear of alienating them, and loss of business on our end. But that’s only speculation on my part. There was a third picture released from the camera, I think on Dutch TV, seemed to be of Kris’s hair in the dark. I can’t make sense of any of this, too many oddities in the story to draw any clear conclusions.

  8. Good article…I recently became fascinated by this after listening to it on a podcast. It is pretty terrifying when you think about it.

    1) For some reason they left the trail. It could have been simple curiosity or maybe they were looking for a spot to take pictures. It could have been as simple as one of them stumbled and fell. We’ll never know.

    2) The reason for the first call for help can be a number of things. I think the primary reason was because they realized they were lost and weren’t going to make it back by sunset. I think they eventually found a river, began to follow it the right way, and then had all of that shattered by a catastrophic event like one of them suffered a major fall, a snake bite, or heat stroke.

    3) I think it was a combination of dehydration, illness, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and starvation that did them in. There might have been an injury that limited their movement, but I think it was just the harsh terrain, high humidity, and warm weather was too much for their lack of preparation combined with a catastrophic event.

    4) I think the dark shots are the result of delusions. At that point they (assuming both were still alive) were probably sick from drinking the water, sleep deprived, and possibly sick from eating whatever they could find which leads to a good chance that they ingested something they shouldn’t have.

  9. I live in Panama and intend to follow their route with my son, documenting the route they took live, including night campouts, etc. We are both totally intrigued, and would like to work with all others intrigued to solve this thing. Our idea is to organize a funded expedition, where the funders have total rights to links to the films and ongoing investigations plus two-way communications. If you sign up it will allow us to defray the expenses of the trip. Please make contact.

  10. Thanks for posting this big and very worked summary!
    I think there are so much to be said yet about this missing. And, searching a little bit, I could find the name of “Alex Humphrey” (a guy who had dissappear on 2009 in this city, in Boquete). Do you think that there could be something really “big” hided? Do you know if there are some more missings?
    I beg you to read the case of Alex Humphrey, it is more weird that this one. I dont know how it ended, I couldnt find much information about it…
    Thanks for posting this!

  11. Very interesting. I can probably answer the bra part especially sense both were placed neatly in the backpack. If there had been foul play I doubt the murder would have bothered to tuck the garments into the backpack considering none of the other garments were in the backpack. That is most likely that the two girls were hiking and it was hot and they probably just took them off. It is speculation of course, but it seems reasonable to me. However this is a very strange case, and you lay out the information very well. We probably will never find out what happened to these poor girls.

  12. I hope you never stop! This is one of the best article I’ve ever read. You’ve got some mad skill here. I just hope that you don’t lose your style because you’re definitely one of the coolest writer out there. Please keep it up because the internet needs someone like you spreading the word.

  13. Excellent article. I stumbled on the story while searching mystery videos on YouTube, then searched the internet for any information, and your article was the most informative. Tragic story…my heart goes out to the girls families. I believe that there was foul play involved, i just hope thay the girls did not suffer.

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  15. i guess one of the girls got a snake bite http://www.czbrats.com/Facts/snakes.htm
    but the other girl “Kris” didnt go to bring the help till the third day and …. she never came back or brought a help cos she was a full cream meal for hungry python!
    u visit the website to read about how dangerous is the panama rainy forests, of course locals wouldnt scare tourists about snakes there but there is a warning to nt go in group less than 3-4 and to use a piece of wood checking the trees branches when passing through… there r a 3 kinds of snakes who lives on trees, many kinds lives on rocky hills so be careful when u climp, also, a vipers which reach 7 meters/ 20 foot long.. i have no doubts kris was swalloed by a viper who take up to 10 weeks for meal of 60kgs…, but i dnt know what happened to the other girl since there was no full information!!!
    any way, the information on websites isnt the same and r the opposite of each other! i just could guess due to
    u call kris a “lisanne”!! “lisanne” a Kris!!!! the data usage of the girls phones are nt clear too

  16. any way im sure they r in a better place since they were so young when they died… i wish i died when i was in their age so i wouldnt have the chance to do alot of sins..

    • That’s a horrible thing to say. These girls obviously didn’t want to die and their family are left with no closure on what really happened. Regardless of their age or whether they “sinned” this is a horrific tragedy where they must have suffered immensely. Don’t bring religion in where it doesn’t belong please.

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  25. You describe it excellently, use facts and are sincere throughout, and thus do a service in regards to the families.

    It seems likely that either Kris washed her shorts in the river, to clean them and leave them to dry in the sun; or Lisanne took them off a severely injured Kris to clean them, treat her wounds and hope to prevent infection? Either way, it’s logical that here is where Kris died, one way or another. Kris’ body must have been left, with Lisanne moving on up the river with the backpack and merely hoping to survive. This in part explains why remains were found so far apart.

    RIP to both xx

  26. Quite in intriguing story! You can still join on all sides. However, I still linked to paranormal websites to see whether these people still have a link to the missing Kris and lisanne. They talk about a yellow-painted house or shed where the girls are probably buried under. Now that’s probably an assumption but worth investigating! If you look on You Tube and type in le pianist trial Boquete and goes to la ruta de las holandesas, su ultina caminata – Telemetro watching the time 3:26 minutes where the girls would have been coming there is a yellow house / shed over. Perhaps they lie buried beneath. The barn name is Refugio De Culebra. Is now being studied, it is quite possible! Perhaps my analysis can help anything in the search in the right direction. I hope with all my heart. I am Dutch and finds it really terrible what happened to these girls. I have just investigate this and made up my analyse.

  27. I just encountered this case during one of my Youtube searches for mysteries…and this totally took my attention fully. I felt intrigued, but more so horribly sad for the terrifying feelings/experience those poor girls may have gone through until they perished. My heart cried out for them. If you could kindly let me know the update RE this matter? And for all it’s worth, somebody all the way in the US is praying for their family and their souls…your writing and in-depth analysis somehow gave those girls a chance, even from a “search-for-truth” manner…well done!

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