Missing in Panama — A Mystery Deepens

Back in the Spring, I noted here the story of two Dutch students, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, who came to my town of Boquete, Panama, and never made it home. One beautiful April day, they disappeared on a hike near the local volcano, leaving town without a guide and without saying precisely which trail they were taking.blue2 Their only companion was “Blue,” the Husky mix who belonged to the hostel where the students were staying. “Blue” returned to Boquete, but, ominously, the girls didn’t.

The disappearance was one which captured my attention on several planes. Like everyone else in Boquete, I was horrified thinking of what the girls must be enduring. There was also the fact that they disappeared from my own back yard, not an everyday occurrence. And then there was the mystery of it all. As a writer, I couldn’t help being pulled in by the story.

Early days — no one knew what resources they had. Food was important, water even more so, but possibly the most critical item was a GPS or even a simple compass. Lacking those, the sun would be their only reference point and the sun in Panama — like so many other things here — is not always what it seems to be.

Here’s why: The tiny, narrow country of Panama runs in an East-West direction, almost doubling back on itself, serpent-like. Owing to a peculiar optical illusion, the sun here appears to rise in the West, not the East.

The sun rising in the West as seen in this photo of Punta Paitilla, Panama City, Panama. Credit: The Panama News

The sun rising in the West as seen in this photo of Punta Paitilla, Panama City, Panama. Credit: The Panama News

If the women were not aware of this peculiarity, they would be pulled in the wrong direction, away from town, further into the jungle. This alone is a powerful, potentially tragic story element.

But this, like so much about their disappearance, is speculation.

Even the "Easy" trails in Boquete can be treacherous. One slip and...

Even the “Easy” trails in Boquete can be treacherous.

While most believed the girls had simply stepped off a trail and become lost, as others certainly have before them, Panama has also seen its share of terrible crimes, including human trafficking, gruesome serial murders, machete decapitations, and lots more to fuel the imagination.

On top of this, our particular locale suffers from a persistent, ugly urban legend that casts healthy young adults and children as victims of a vicious Central American organ harvesting scheme.

I’ve always maintained that by moving to Panama, I’ve happened upon a treasure-trove of potential plot lines. This is one time I didn’t want to think about all the different possibilities. Unfortunately, as news of the girls’ disappearance spread throughout our community, there were several awful “what if” scenarios that lent special energy to the developing hunt.

It didn’t take long for that hunt to come together, and, when it did, it was huge: Coordinating it was Panama’s Policia Nacional, along with the Directorate of Judicial Investigation and the National Civil Protection System, a mouthful collectively known as SINAPROC.sinaproc5

Even before officialdom mobilized, the Boquete Bomberos (fire department), had swung intogood searchers action. Swelled by eager Panamanian and gringo volunteers, the Bomberos hit the ground running, immediately targeting the most popular local trails. Simultaneously, in Holland, the families established a reward of $2500, and a compelling “Missing” poster flooded Panama. Within days, the reward jumped to $30,000.missingThe disappearance of the girls had become a major event not only in the life of our community but in Panama as a whole and, of course, in Holland.

As the investigation progressed, the Dutch sent their own contingent to scour as many trails as possible. They were joined by Panamanian and Costa Rican Red Cross volunteers. The Costa Rican group alone combed 19 kilometers of rugged, mountainous jungle terrain. Hikers in Boquete — including but not limited to the indefatigable Bomberos — raked over local paths ceaselessly. And through it all, the Panamanian authorities poured thousands of men and women into the jungles, looking for any speck, any clue that would lead them to the girls.

On the hunt for Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers.

On the hunt for Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers.

Panama mobilized across all parts of its armed forces in the search for Lisanne and Kris. These men are from SENAFRONT, the National Border Police.

Panama mobilized across all parts of its armed forces in the search for Lisanne and Kris. These men are from SENAFRONT, the National Border Police.

About six weeks into the investigation, the Dutch upped their participation, sending in a specially trained search team, along with ten rescue and cadaver dogs.

Dutch "sniffer dogs" and their handlers arrive in Panama. Credit -- BBC

Dutch “sniffer dogs” and their handlers arrive in Panama. Credit — BBC

The dogs, it was said, could track human remains as old as nine months, even if they were sitting at the bottom of a river in high Rainy Season.

Well, by then it was Rainy Season. Both dogs and humans spent nine sweltering days in the jungle, enduring relentless heat and incapacitating downpours. Despite the conditions, the dogs registered several “hits,” all excitedly marked by the team with GPS coordinates. The heady bubble of initial enthusiasm quickly burst, however, as further investigation stalled. All the “hit” areas, it seemed, had been visited by other searchers before, some multiple times. Ground was being covered — but much of it was old ground.

Again, the Dutch mobilized unique resources, this time a group of criminal investigators specializing in foreign disappearances. They duly investigated and made an electrifying public pronouncement:

The women could not have simply disappeared from one of the trails.

Fueled by the Dutch declaration, people here in Boquete, in Holland, and all over the world had cause to fear the worst. Nobody knew what the “worst” might be, but by then everyone was openly speculating about it. There were reports of sightings with shadowy young men, allusions to telling cell phone records, a mysterious anti-bug lotion in Boquete that could “impair judgment” and “cause odd behavior.” Even the hypothesis that an earthquake caused a landslide burying the students.

As a mystery writer, I could not have developed more compelling plot elements. As part of the Boquete community, I was horrified by the newest rumors and wild speculations.

The families of Lisanne and Kris came to Panama. And returned to Holland, full of sad possibilities, empty of concrete leads.

A solemn candlelight march and prayer vigil were held in Boquete, our little town feeling the students’ loss keenly.

A candlelight march through Boquete. Credit -- BBC.

Credit — BBC.

More commemorations took place in Holland. A Facebook page and website for the girls were created, a foundation was established to help fund the ongoing search and the efforts of private investigators newly hired by the families. Local and international internet sites swam with conjecture.

Just as one might expect in fiction, the Panamanian authorities eventually came in for criticism, even from themselves. SINAPROC charged the Policia Nacional with inappropriately undertaking “procedures” in the girls’ room at the hostel, actions normally assigned to criminalists. “Evidence Contamination” was the new bugaboo of the investigation.

Had the Panamanian government undertaken thermal imaging from a satellite? The Dutch would have, a man from Holland insisted on his blog, if the disappearance had occurred in his country.

Second-guessing, back-stabbing, and over it all the words of the Dutch investigators echoed in everyone’s ears:

The women could not have simply disappeared from one of the trails.

In a novel, a statement like this would demand high action by the authorities. In real life, the exhausted searchers pressed on with their hunt over the merciless terrain.

Then, about a month ago, an Indian man and his wife, members of the semi-nomadic Gnabe-Bugle tribe, were planting rice on the shores of a river-fed pool, a day’s walk from Boquete, far across the Continental Divide, deep in the jungle.gnabe bugle It was hot work, and, after a few hours, they decided on a swim to cool off. As they were bathing, the wife noticed something odd in the weeds, and they went over to investigate.

There, fifteen hours away from Boquete, from civilization, in a section of jungle teeming with big cats and alive with four deadly snake species including the lethal pit viper, there was a shiny aqua blue backpack in pristine condition. Within: $83, two cell phones, sunglasses, two bras — and Lisanne Froon’s passport.

If this occurred in a work of fiction, it might have a low believability quotient. But it happened in real life. And it rocked the investigation.

There’s much more to the mystery of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, and I’ll continue the story in an upcoming installment. Sad as this is on one level and compelling on another, it can also be instructive for us as writers. I’ll try to be as respectful as possible while I tell you next time about the amazing new developments in the case, including five eyewitnesses who completely contradict each other (one says, excusing any possible errors, that all Europeans look alike); a timeline also at odds with itself; and the Boquete herbalist who’s been branded a possible serial killer.

As they say, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

~~ Britt Vasarhelyi

23 thoughts on “Missing in Panama — A Mystery Deepens

  1. Could you please tell me the name of the hostel and what happened to the girl. A friend of my daughter’s was staying at a hostel in boquete and was kidnapped and drugged. 8 months later and he still remains at home. He suffered memory loss which caused him to fear his father, and couldn’t come home for some time because of seizures. Others in the hospital he was at had been taken for human trafficking and he was taken by the same people. I’m interested because of the way his school (it was a school mission trip) and the travel company are portraying the situation, at least in the paper. If you can respond, could it please be to my email? Thank you.

    Barb

    • Hi Barb, I saw your message on the board ofMostly Mystery, and I would like to know more about what happened to the young man you were telling about in the post. My friend Cristiano Zeviani went missing in Dolega, close to Boquete, when he went to show property on May 10, 2016. He is now missing 25 days. The there is a UK young man that has vanished without a trace as well, in 2009. This time, he went missing form he Majagua Hostal, close to Dolega. Could there be a connection ? Too much coincidence for my taste.

  2. Hi, my daughter is friends with another girl from Holland who was on that same trip. Is there an update on the missing girls sice you wrote this? Such a sad story… My heart aches for the the families. Thank you. Linda from California.

  3. The fingerprints on record with the Panamanian police, indicating a previous criminal record and the 2 bras and pairs of sunglasses in the backpack that have never gotten wet. All too neat and tidy next to a human pelvis. It just doesn’t feel right to me. Also the first attempt to reach 911 and the Dutch emergency number only two hours down the trail on a sunny clear day and an easy trail is off as is the timeline for later calls and photos. Too much time passes unless they were held somewhere and then released with no trail to follow, It just doesn’t “feel” right. This experienced old psychic smells a skunk.

    • There is another person missing now. As of Tuesday May 10th, 2016 My friend Cristiano Zeviani who is originally from Italy, disappeared as he was supposedly going to show some of his land to a potential buyer. The land is in Dolega, Chiriqui Province and lies next to the fast running El Caño de Dolega, a watershed thats used for potable water. Cristiano was driving a black Mitsubishi L200, double cabin.
      Cristiano is 48 years old, bald, has brown eyes, is build normal, measures around 180 centimetres or 5.10 .
      We are now coordinating search parties and his mother and business partner are coming form Italy to put pressure on the search.
      Any information is very welcome. Cristianos family and friends want him back in good health!

      • Knowing what happend to Kris and Lisanne, I truely hope that Cristiano will be found safe and sound soon. His mother must be extremely worried. Hopefully, the Panamanian authorities will co-operate in a candid manner. And I truely hope that the Italian authorities won’t accept any “crap” from the Panamanian authorities (as the Dutch did).

    • The bra’s and shorts found, showed no traces of bodily fluids, indicatiing that they were not wearing them at the time of death. In spite of this, the Dutch authorities assume that they must have fallen from a ridge or so and that they got stuck somewhere.

      Faling from a cliff with no clothes on? I don’t buy that.

  4. And then there is something else: the 12 Dutch sniffer dogs never sniffed the spot where the last normal photo of Kris was taken, that is situated 1 hour beyond the mirador of the pianista trail. They followed the orders not to proceed beyond the mirador. The reason was that at that time, everybody assumed that the girls could never have crossed the Cordillera. So why search any further?

    Twelve Dutch dogs, 18 of their Dutch trainers, travelled all the way from Holland. But they only reached the mirador and then they turned back.

  5. 25 days since the disappearance of my friend Cristiano Zeviani in Chiriqui!
    Yes, 25 days and no trace of him!
    Last seen in the area of El Caño de Dolega, where he went to show a property to an unknown interested party. His car was found back far away in the desolate area of Respinga in Cerro Punta without the license plate and window sticker. Not a trace of Cristiano, and the authorities keep telling us they have great leads but can’t tell us anything. This has been going on now since the investigation has started.
    Did you know that the then 35 year old Brit Alex Humphrey disappeared from Majagua, close to Dolega, in 2009. Last seen at the hostal of Majagua, where the little waterfall is. Not a trace of him still, either.

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  9. Well, as a retired Military Police Officer, and formerly assigned in Panama, and being there in 2008/09, I PERSONALLY seen something that wasn’t right in Boquete, that very well could connect these murders and disappearances. A New York girl, same age, similar looks, was just murdered not far from where this backpack was found. Good luck Panama with stonewalling the FBI….. Not going to happen. If I have to go there, and on my own dime and time, I WILL!!! I have an idea who MIGHT be doing these atrocities. And I am actively getting involved. None of the said scenario’s are possible. ESPECIALLY since the girls had a DOG with them!!! Whoever is doing this, time is running out for you.

    • brian i have studied and researched this inside and out . all this time has passed i cant believe it myself , i do not agree with the girls getting lost senairio and i would also be interested in gong down to panama.have you fugured anything else out since your last post ? It seems this case is fading

    • I think it probably a mix of the two main hypotheses.

      One of them got injured on the other side of the divide and couldn’t walk back up to the Mirador, so they used the mobiles, no joy with them, so probably decided to hunker down for the night.

      Then someone found them, but, unfortunately, they weren’t there to help :-(

      The only thing I can’t ‘get’ is why they strayed from any path, given that off-path would be heck of a struggle through foliage and they had no bush knives, and over the coming days the searchers followed the paths (whether they were the right paths…)…the girls must have been in that locale because they still had no signal and tried several times to call 911…and I can’t see any criminal letting them keep their phones.

  10. I lived in Estado de Hererra, Panama for three years beginning in 1994. When I traveled around the country for my work or vacation I always traveled alone. At the time, I did not feel uncomfortable traveling alone in Panama, people were generally kind with me. I was 25, and I was a bird, very Naïve is more like it, (I am 49 now). I felt no concern traveling alone as a young, blonde, attractive, studious, scientific young woman from the United States. During the last 3 months of my 3 years work in Panama I decided to visit the beautiful mountain village of Bouquette. I had heard that there was a history of Polish women who entered the mountain village during WWII and I wanted to discover if this was factual. I was curious, because my family is Polish and I was told “I looked Polish” more than once when I was living in Panama. I would always ask the person what they knew about the Polish people in Panama and they would describe Bouquette.
    I was on another typically long, dangerous Panamanian bus ride for this trip to Bouquette. I was tired. When we arrived closer to Bouquette , we stopped in a bigger town with a bus station.I was on the bus sitting in the back waiting for the bus to continue on to Bouquette. I did not leave the bus at this stop.
    A man got on the bus, smiled right at me, walked toward me on the bus and then grabbed my breast. He began speaking to me in a dialect I did not understand. The local people on the bus were watching, silent. He was talking at me loudly. Then he signaled me to go with him. He was loud, pushy. I refused. He left the bus. An old lady looked at me and said in Spanish that he was a warning. I was so offended by his touch, I initally didn’t pay much attention to the dama’s words. I sat there as the bus continued on to Bouquette. When it became the ladies turn to get off the bus, she looked at my eyes directly and said again that he was a warning, I heard her say the word peligroso and then she left the bus. I listened to her words that time-they were certainly meant for me. When the bus arrived to Bouquette I checked into the most exspensive Inn in Bouquette and stayed in the room all night. I told the owner I was sick, and had food delivered to my room. I was freezing cold, absolutely frigid in the room all night. I was scared too, very scared. I felt threatened and not-safe.
    I felt very warned not to go out in Bouquette at all. That local lady made sure I understood that somehow I was in danger. I stayed in my room all night and left the very next day. At the time I felt embarrassed to myself, but now as a grown woman I know that was my intuition leading me to safety. Someone bad was watching me move toward Bouquette and someone good protected me from whatever evil was waiting for me. Never since my experience in Boquette have I felt such a strong warning come through. In retrospect, I truly believe that there was great potential for me to be harmed while in Bouquette if I walked in the mountains or enjoyed the river as a tourist and as I planned. I was warned. I was very Lucky, I am very Lucky. I have never spoke of this experience to anyone until I came across this information in these articles. My experience is small, my hope is that it could somehow help someone. I have never returned to Bouquette. Spooked.

    • Scary stuff!

      I guess it is a similar story worldwide, really, ‘foreigners’ come and go all the time, so if someone disappears not much is thought about it at first…look at this case, it seems some thought that they were at a party!

      I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth, but I do think whatever the reason the primary act that prevented them coming back was an injury to one of them, Kris is obviously in the vanguard and in some photos looks like she is waiting for Lisanne, and reading around the internet there is some thinking that Lisanne was a little ill at the time of the hike.

      It could just be that the dynamics between the two weren’t balanced and Kris hurried along into an accident, or Lisanne rushing to catch up hurt herself. Once either were hurt on the other side of the divide, the injured party may not have been able to make it back up the slopes to the Mirador, leaving her friend with the choice of carrying on and leaving her friend alone, or staying with her friend.

      What happens next is the question…

  11. If one of them was injured early on, it sure would’ve been easier to track back than how far they wound up from the Divide, miles away. They wouldn’t have made it that far injured. The injury must’ve come later on based on their eventual distance past the Divide.

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