The two Dutch nationals, Kris Kremers (21) and Lisanne Froon (22) met whilst working in a cafe in Amsterdam, and later shared a student house. In 2014, after they graduated with degrees in Cultural Social Education and Applied Sciences respectively, they decided to travel to South America to improve their Spanish, whilst working in a locals school and helping the children there. They flew into Panama at the end of March, but were told upon arrival the school had no work for them despite all the email confirmations the girls had. Their entire trip had been organised around working at the school and texts home show how dismayed they were. Kris and Lisanne decided to move to the area of Boquete and stay with a local family there for a month instead (strangeoutdoors.com).
Both girls were in good fitness, and decided on April 1st to hike to the summit of El Pianista trail, a walk that should have taken them around 5 or 6 hours there and back. A taxi dropped them off at the bottom of the trail, around 11am according to the time stamp on their camera. They carried all the usual paraphernalia you’d expect, water, their phones, a camera, some money, and their passports in Lisanne’s backpack. Given the warm weather, both were in tank tops and shorts – an indication that they only planned on a relatively short walk, not a proper hike that would require more food, waterproofs, etc.
The main trail is relatively safe, but the ground surrounding it can be a little dangerous due to the steep cliffs, especially between the months of April and October when rain adds to the peril. Even the indigenous Ngobe tribe venture sparingly off the trail due to the danger. At times the trail goes over deep river gorges with 70 feet drops and the only way to cross is a cable bridge.
From the photos on their camera, Kris and Lisanne appear to have reached the summit at around 1pm, having made good time. Many people turn around at this point and return to town as it’s not advised to continue without a guide and proper supplies due to the dangerous and precarious ground. Before setting off, the pair had researched a waterfall a bit further into the jungle and, from their photos, seems they carried on walking, perhaps thinking they could reach it. This is the last we know for sure about their movements that day.
The family they were staying with in Boquete were concerned when they didn’t return that evening and raised the alarm. The girls had booked a sightseeing tour with local guide Feliciano for the 2nd April and he also informed authorities of their absence. Search parties were sent out, including dogs, helicopters, and local volunteers but nothing was found of the girls. On the 6th April, their parents and some Dutch police flew to Panama to investigate, the search continued for another 10 days but, unfortunately, was fruitless.
After 10 weeks with no news, Kris’ shorts were found neatly folded on a rock deep in the forest. Heavy rains in the weeks before their discovery meant it was unlikely the shorts had been there since April when the girls went missing. Around the same time, a member of the Ngobe tribe found the Lisanne’s backpack on the edge of a river, around 8km from the summit of El Pianista. Initially it was thought that it had been carried down the river over time, but the contents were bone dry and the finder, who worked nearby, was sure it hadn’t been there the day before. The backpack was covered in fingerprints, but none were able to further the investigation. There has been some criticism of the local authorities for not being very thorough, and the fingerprints are part of this.
The bag contained the passports, phones, money and sunglasses, but most importantly, their camera which contained around 100 photos from the time they were missing. A lot were the tourist photos you’d expect; beautiful views featuring the smiling girls and photos of the trail. From then, the photos show the girls went off the main tourist trails and onto paths mainly used by indigenous peoples who live in the forests who are familiar with the area. This may have been accidental, and the pair may have already been lost at this stage (youtube.com).
What’s strange is, there were over 90 photos taken in the span of 3 hours on 8th April, 8 days after they initially went missing. They were shot over a few hours at night, seemingly showing very little, a rock, some vegetation, a branch. Why would they have taken those photos? On top of that, one photo, #509 had been deleted. Generally, deleted photos of this nature can be recovered, no problem, but this photo had been completely wiped from the camera. Despite the Police’s attempts, recovery was impossible. It makes you wonder what that photo showed, but also how was it wiped? The camera would have needed connecting to a computer to achieve that.
When their phones were recovered, the call history showed a few hours after they reached the summit, Kris attempted to call 112 (the Dutch emergency phone number) at 4.39pm. Due to lack of signal, the call did not go through. At 4.51pm, Lisanne also attempted to call 112 but wasn’t successful either. They continued trying but no calls connected due to the remoteness of their location, apart from one on 5th April to 911 that connected for around a second before disconnecting. Also on the 5th April, Lisanne’s phone battery died. Kris’ phone battery was maintained by turning it off when not in use, but from the 6th April, several attempts to unlock the phone were made, but the code was always entered incorrectly. The phone wouldn’t be successfully unlocked again from that time. A pin isn’t required to make an emergency call, however, and 77 attempted calls were made between the 7th and 10th April (mysteriesunsolved.com).
Finding the backpack renewed the search for the girls and some bone fragments were found that DNA proved belonged to the girls. More bones were found as well as a shoe, complete with a footbones, that was confirmed to belong to Kris. The foot bones showed evidence of being broken, which would make it harder for Kris to return to town. Enough remains were found to conclusively say the girls were dead, but most of their bodies have never been found. During the search, the remains of three unidentified people were also found, the police have been unable to determine who they belonged to and have chalked it up to accidental death in a dangerous part of the forest.
There are still many questions unanswered, what happened? Why were so few remains found and why were they all spread out? Were they murdered? Did they get lost/injured and just succumb to the wilderness? If they did, why didn’t they leave goodbye messages on their phones for their families as is common for people in such situations?
There are many theories including, but not limited to:
- A jaguar/cougar attack does make sense with some of the discoveries, the 90 photos being taken with the flash on could have been an attempt to scare the animal away, it also explains the boot found with foot bones still inside but no other body parts. There are also birds in that area of the world that feed on carrion and could have distributed the bones that way. However, the remains that were found showed no sign of big cat teeth marks, or any other damage that supports this idea.
- Another is the girls simply got lost, or one fell down a cliff and the other tried to go down and rescue her. The terrain can be extremely dangerous in El Pianista, and it’s certainly believable that things could have gone wrong very quickly. If Lisanne had Kris’ phone, it perhaps explains the failed attempts to unlock it. Could she have been trying to leave a goodbye message for their family and friends?
- Some people think they were followed and this is the reason for those first emergency phone calls on April 1st, not an accident. A lot of the terrain is very dense woodland and would require a lot of climbing and hard work to walk through which brings the idea of them getting lost into question. They could have been forced off the trail by someone else, however. We can only speculate on what their intentions may have been. It seems unlikely that the girls were kidnapped because they had their phones and were attempting emergency calls for days after their disappearance.
- Which leads onto the possibility they were murdered, perhaps by an indigenous tribe they came across by accident. This is certainly supported by the bones found belonging to three other people, and the lack remains found from the girls. No large bones or substantial remains were ever found. If they had died as a result of an accident, the majority of their belongings and remains would have been relatively close together, not spread miles across the terrain. Personally, this is the theory that makes the most sense to me, they were almost certainly murdered by someone, but an indigenous tribe doesn’t explain the missing photo.
- An alternative idea is they were murdered by someone they met in town, some of the locals believe this theory, and are suspicious of the local tour guide Feliciano, whose cabin was half a mile from where the remains were finally found. He seemed to be a little too successful in finding remains in the dense forest when others were unable to find anything. One of the girls wrote in a diary that he made them uncomfortable, and he’d invited them to stay overnight in his cabin. There are also several reviews online from women who have hired him who felt uncomfortable or unsafe in his company. (quora.com). It’s unclear if his property was ever searched.
Tourism is a huge provider in Panama, and the authorities have been accused of brushing off this case so as not to scare potential visitors. It has been said that they didn’t thoroughly investigate the murder theory, didn’t follow procedure when handling evidence, and were not proactive with talking to witnesses. Many of the locals are also adamant that the authorities didn’t properly start looking until the 6th April, the same day the families flew in from the Netherlands.
None of the theories quite answer all the questions however, and we may never know what really happened to Kris and Lisanne. It is a real tragedy that these two young women didn’t return from their hike.
There is so much to this case it could easily fill a book, perhaps two if you include more information on the local culture and surroundings. I have tried to condense it whilst still hitting all the main points, but understand this post is only a brief summary. For a more detailed account, please check out koudekass.blogspot.com or imperfectplan.com.