The mysterious deaths of two young tourists in Panama puzzled examiners and shocked nations on both sides of the Atlantic; now secretly leaked documents reveal what happened.”>
The Daily Beast brings together here all three parts of its investigation into the fate of Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22, who went out for a brief hike near a mountain resort in Panama in 2014 and never came back.
Were they victims of a tragic accident or a savage crime? Amid what seems conflicting evidence and botched police work, theories have proliferated, some of them even involving the occult.
Now, thanks to a trove of documents and photographs revealing hitherto unexamined aspects of the case, we have been able to offer fresh insights into what happened in this celebrated mystery.
We have consulted reputable sleuths in fields as varied as wilderness survival and photographic analysis, and obtained the expert opinion of forensic anthropologist and best-selling author Kathy Reichs.
The results may not close the debate entirely about an incident that has fascinated and horrified people around the world, but our discoveries should bring closure to those who knew the women, or have grown to care, truly, about their fate.
BOQUETE, Panama Welcome to the jungle: specifically, the cloud forests of the Talamanca highlands.
Its a rainy Saturday in early June, at the height of the wet season here in northern Panama, and we arequite literallyon the trail of a deadly international mystery.
This mud-slick, root-choked footpath is called the Pianista, or Piano Player, because it climbsin a series of ladder-like steps reminiscent of a keyboardup from the tourist town of Boquete to theContinental Divide, at about 6,660 feet.
Bright-tailed quetzals flit through dwarf species of cedar, oak, and wild avocado along the trail. At this elevation the trees are stunted and wind-warped, their twisted limbs draped with moss and epiphytes.
The rain is falling in surprisingly cold gusts by the time our small party reaches the Mirador, the overlook at the top of the Divide, about three hours after leaving the trailhead. On a clear day you can see all the way to Boquete. Today, however, the only thing visible from here is the white sea of mist atop the canopy below.
But the Pianista is known for more than just its pretty birds and haunting vistas.
Back in April 2014, two Dutch touristsKris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22disappearedafter setting out on this same three-mile stretch of trail.
The women, who had come to Boquete to study Spanish and work with children, were never seen alive again. Searchers found no trace of them but, a few months later, a member of the indigenous Ngobe tribe turned up in Boquete with Lisannesbackpackand some of the girls belongings.
A few scatteredremains and articles of clothingeventually were recovered near the area where the pack was found. The evidence was sufficient to make a positive DNA match to the victims, but there were not enough remains for examiners to render a conclusive verdict as to cause of death.
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The deaths of Kris and Lisanne have been blamed on pygmycannibals, cartel hitmen, andorgan traffickers, as well as more conventional explanationslike kidnapping and rape that ends in murder.
Boquetes best guide resists buying into any of the gossip and still searches for some hard proof to tell him what happened.
Most tourists go up to the Mirador and snap a few selfies. Then they come straight back down the same path to town, says Plinio Montenegro, who grew up in Boquete, and led several search parties for Kris and Lisanne in the days after they disappeared.
We dont know whylas holandesas[the Dutch girls] didnt come back down, Plinio tells me, back in Boquete after hiking the Pianista. Above us, the heavy rain hisses on my hotels A-shaped, Swiss-chalet-inspired roofing.
When something like this happens in a small town, the people of that pueblofeel responsible, says Plinio.
We want this to be a safe place for touristsno matter where they come from. Thats why we need to know what really happened tothem, says Plinio.
All we want is to know the truth, he says, staring out at the falling rain, so we know whoor whatto blame for their deaths.
This investigation was undertaken after The Daily Beastreceived secretly leaked copiesof the official case files used by investigators. Those archives contained autopsy reports, data recovered from the electronic devices the women had with them when they went missing (a camera and two phones), as well as DNA analysis, maps used in the search, and more, including Kris Kremers diary.
Since no independent media have had access to complete case files before, and in the hopes of telling the victims storyas accurately as possible, The Daily Beastcalled on a team of expertsincluding authorities on photography, wilderness medicine, and globally famous forensic anthropologist and best-selling author Dr. Kathy Reichsto provide opinions and analysis on this case.
By combining their appraisal of the evidence with on-site reporting we can now make some confident assertions regarding the victims whereabouts and activities during at least part of the time they were missingand, as a result, we can also offer new insights into the accident-versus-foul-play controversy.
We need to set the record straight for the sake of the victims themselves, as local guide Plinio Montenegro put it.
Theholandesasdeserve to have their story told the right way at last.
At the time of their disappearance,Kris and Lisanne were on break from their studiesback in the Netherlands.Both were outstanding students. Theyd first met while working part-time gigs at the same caf in the southern city of Amersfoort, before deciding to share a flat.
They must have made agood team. Kris was the outgoing one, with striking, strawberry-blondhair and cool blue eyes. She was also an amateur actress, and planned to go on to graduate school in art history after her stint in Panama.
Lisannes ash-blond hair was just a few shades darker than her best friends. And, at six feet tall, she was the more athletic of the two. Shed been a volleyball starin college, and had tried her hand at more extreme sports, like sky diving and mountaineering. Froon had an introspective side, too, and had majored in applied psychology back in Amsfoort; she was also a budding amateur photographer.
Kris and Lisanne arrived in Panama to serve as volunteersocial workersand to learn fluent Spanishbut someone had miscalculated.
Apparently, they arrived in Boquete a week early; the program administrators werent ready for them, and the assistant instructor had been very rude and not at all friendly about it, as Kris wrote in her diary.
There was not yet a place or work for us so we could not start. The school thought it odd as it was all planned since months ago, Kris wrote, moments before leaving the room she shared with Lisanne to set out on the fatal hike that morning of April 1, 2014.
Tomorrow they will try and get a hold of the [head teacher]. This was a real disappointment, she wrote, but her final log entry hints that she was already looking forward to putting such cares behind her.
Anyway, she advises herself, in the diarys last line, Go with the Panamanian flow.
The combination of steep terrain and heavy rainfall make for a complex network of fast-running river channelsthroughout the Talamanca cordillera. Moist air currents rising from the Pacific dump some 136 inchesof rain each year in the region, and the runoff rockets downhill through the jagged, boulder-strewn ravines that dominate the landscape.
The Continental Divide, at the top of the Pianista trail, marks the point where the two regional watersheds change course. On the western side of the Divide the rushing mass of rivers fed by the upland rainforests flow downhill into the Pacific Ocean; those eastward eventually reach the Caribbean Sea.
Boquetesits cupped in a brook-laced valley that protects it from some of the worst storms that blow down from the cordillera. Its about 40 minutes by car from the base of the still-active volcano calledBaru, which is also the site of a national park.
The region is known as Little Switzerland for its resemblance to the steep meadows, crystal-clear lakes, and pine forests of the Alps. Local architects have done their part to make the town resemble a snowless version of Zermatt or Grindelwald, albeit with a higher percentage of mule traffic on the street.
The area is popular with gringo retirees and expats whove come for the weather and the easy pace of life. Its also an eco-tourism hotspot for birdwatchers and outdoor adventurers of all stripes. The streets are lined with shops advertising cloud forest safaris, rock climbing, river raftingand most of these tourist outfits are run both by and for theextranjeros, or foreigners.
Sometimes theturistasget lostbut they usually turn up again, or are found by search parties, says our expert on the trails, Plinio Montenegro. Such gringos come back hungry and embarrassed and humbled by the jungle. But at least they come back.
The fact that Kris and Lisanne didnt come back is still seen as very strange in and around Boquete.
Panama is infamous as an off-shore tax haven. And dictator Manuel Noriega, in a U.S. prison since 1989, may once have been at the center of both CIA and drug cartel intrigues. But today Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America, and idyllic Boquete is thought to be even safer.
In the wake of the Kremers-Froon tragedy, some observers suggested a connectionto the disappearance of a British backpacker named Alex Humphrey, who went missing while staying at a hostel here back in 2009.
The Daily Beast could not identify any link between Humphreys disappearance and the Kremers-Froon tragedy. There were some reports that Humphrey, who was autistic, was last seen looking disoriented at a beach town hours south of Boquete.
What is worth noting, however, is that in both cases Panamanian authorities came under heavyfirefor mishandling the investigations.
Witnesses say Kris and Lisanne left the trailhead, just north of Boquete, at about 10 oclock on that sunny Tuesday morning. They were dressed in light clothing, and with only Lisannes small backpack to share between them.
Thanks to photos recovered from a camera later found in that same backpack, we know the women made fairly good time up to the Mirador. They are smiling and seem to be enjoying themselves in these images, and there is no indication of a third party being along with themalthough there are reports that a local dog namedBluefollowed them at least part way up the trail.
Geographical features visible in the last few pictures indicate that by mid-afternoon the women had left the Pianista, and, perhaps accidentally, crossed over to theotherside of the Divide.
These last images suggest them wandering off onto a network of trails not maintained by rangers or guides affiliated with Baru National Park. Such unmarked traces arent meant for tourists, but are used almost exclusively by indigenous peoples living deep within the forests of the Talamanca.
Nine weeks later, in mid-June, Lisannespack was brought to authoritiesby a Ngobe womanwho claimed to have found it on the riverbank near her village of Alto Romero, in the Boco del Toros region, about 12 hours by foot from the Continental Divide.
The contents would cause a firestorm of speculation on both sides of the Atlantic: two bras, two smart phones, and two pairs of cheap sunglasses. Also a water bottle, Lisannes camera and passportand $83 in cash.
The discovery of the backpack prompted a renewed search, and by August the Ngobe had helped authorities locate about two handfuls of bone fragments, all found along the shores of the Rio Culebra, or the River of the Serpent.
DNA tests were positiveand also thickened the plot.
A total of five fragmented remains were identified as belonging to Kris and Lisannebut the Ngobe had also submitted bone chips from as many as three other individuals.
Aside from the bras in the backpack and one of Lisannes bootswith her foot and ankle bones still inside itvery little other clothing was ever found. One of Kriss (empty) boots was also recovered. As were her denim shorts, which were allegedly found zipped and folded on a rock high above the waterline near the headwaters of the Culebraabout a mile-and-a-half upstream from where the backpack and other remains were found.
The condition of the bone fragments and bits of flesh,and where they were said to have been discovered, prompted a fresh round of questions by investigators and the press.
Why had so few remains been found? Why were there no marks on the bones? What did the presence of other human remains mean?
Answers were in short supply. Neither Dutch nor Panamanian forensic examiners could offer a definitive decision on the cause of deaththe Dutch felt it most likely anaccident, while admitting they couldnt rule out foul play while their colleagues in Panama publiclyspeculatedabout the possibility of a criminal act.
After the discovery of the identified remains, Panamas attorney general had calledthe case a crime against personal integrity, but when forensic examiners reached an impasse, the Panamanian government simply declared the case closed.
Some critics have taken issue with Pittis government-sanctioned hypothesis.
The official version of the story makes no sense,says Enrique Arrocha, the lawyer who represented the Kremers family in the case, when we meet at a popular restaurant named for the nearby volcano.
The problem is that the governments hypothesis is completely illogical, says attorney Arrocha, who is short and energetic and wears a camouflage shirt to our interview at the restaurant, as if he were expecting an ambush.
The day before, when we arranged this meeting over the phone, hed hinted that his life has been threatened over the Kremers-Froon case. Perhaps for that reason, hes accompanied to our table by a bouncer-sized bodyguard.
If my client and Miss Froon had died of natural causes, Arrocha says in a rapid whisper, so as not to be overheard by nearby tables, grease from decomposition would impregnate the clothes and backpack.
The bodyguard and I both lean in with interest, and Arrocha continues in the same hushed tone:
Its almost impossible for the bones to be in this condition, he says, and points out that the lead forensic examiner had publicly speculated that lime might have been used to hasten decomposition.
The evidence seems to have been manipulated in order to hide something, says Arrocha, who at one pointthreatenedto take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
At the very least there should have been a criminal investigation, he slaps his hand on the table. Even the [Panamanian] forensic examinerswanted to do that. But the prosecutor threw out all our petitions.
Some high-profile members of the Panamanian press also were skepticalabout the official theory.
AdelitaCoriat, whocovered the storyforLa Estrella, one of the countrys largest papers, believes the investigation would have been more robust if the authorities had found the complete skeletons of the girls.
The first official search party didnt get under way until April 6almost a week after the women went missing, according to information The Daily Beast received from Panamas National System for Civil Protection (SINAPROC). Even worse, as Coriat points out in an email toThe Daily Beast,no chain of custody was established for the recovered evidence.
I have many doubts, she says, about the government hypothesis.
For instance, when the contents of the backpack were examined by experts at the Dutch Forensic Institute, they discovered more than 30 unidentified fingerprintsbut Panama had failed to record prints from any of the indigenous people involved in the case.
One of the hardest details for Coriat to swallow, she says, is how the backpack was allegedly found washed up on the riverbankand with bone fragments found both upstream and down from that spotyet the electronics inside the pack were relatively undamaged.
The intact conditions of the clothes and wallet seem to contradict the hypothesis of the prosecution, says Coriat, citing verbatim a criminologist she interviewed in the course of her original investigation.
In the now-crowded Barurestaurant,Lawyer Arrocha tries to voice his concerns over the noise of a crowd of locals gathered to watch a soccer game on the satellite feeda luxury in these remote mountains.
No forensics examination was ever done at the crime scene! Arrocha holds up his index finger, starting his count of the policing blunders.
None of the dog teams ever got near the scene eitherincluding the Dutch dog teams! Hes half-shouting now, but nobody can hear him over the cheers and jeers for thefutbolgame.
Then theindigenasjust showed up with all these bones in a bag, and the prosecution accepted them. He pulls down the last finger.
But nothing was ever verified!
According to critics like Arrocha and Coriat, the government has a clear-cut motive for insisting on an accident scenario, instead of at least looking into the possibility of a homicide:
Its the need to protect tourism, Arrocha says, echoing those involved in the Humphrey case.
Tourismin Panama accounts for about $4 billion a year, just over18 percent of the nations total GDP.
When I ask him why the Kremer family ultimately declined to take the case to the ICJ, Arrocha says that the family might have preferred psychological closure to learning any more unpleasant facts.
You dont see what you dont want to see, he says.
A few days later, when I meet again with top guide Plinio Montenegro,I ask him about Arrochas suspicions.
There are many ways to die up there in the mountains, says Plinio, who continued to lead police search parties for some two weeks after Kris and Lisanne were reported missing. His list of hazards includes disorienting terrain, jumping vipers, jaguars, and treacherousriver crossings.
Any criminals [in the area] would face the same risks as theholandesas themselves, Plinio muses aloud. The general lack of mobility would cut both ways, he says, and all the trails in the area were searched at the time.
If a third party was involved, Plinio asks himself, as if still haunted by the question, how come we never found any sign of them?
Then the guide crosses himself, and kisses his fingertips.
There are a lot of ways to die up there, he says again.
BOQUETE, PanamaAnother day, another deluge.
When the big rains come each afternoon this town battens down like a ship in heavy seas. The safari outfitters and souvenir stalls close first, since there will be no clients anyway. Street vendors race to pack their carts in the downpour.
Its the middle of Junethe height of the rainy season here in the Talamanca mountainsand Ive already spent a very wet week in this town, searching for clues in the unsolved deathsof Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, who was 22.
Armed with new evidence, and backed by a team of U.S.-based experts, Ive come to Boquete seeking answers to the questions that continue to define this case:
Did the women die in a tragic hiking accident? Or were they victims of a brutal murder?
When the torrential rain slackens, and cell-phone service resumes, I call an importantand elusivesource.
The man is a local rancher and part-time guide, who has asked not to be identified in this story for security reasons. Hes also one of the last people to see the women alive.
He doesnt answer his phone at first, so I keep trying, hoping to get through before the next squall. This guide already stood me up several times this week, promising to meet me at various points around Boquete, then failing to show up on time.
I understand why he might be shy. The rumor mill in Boquete keeps churning out scenarios that suggest he orchestrated the Dutch womens abductionallegedly to commit a sex crime deep in the forest. Theres no proof, and he firmly denies such insinuations. And I am not hoping for a confession. Id just like a little clarity. He met the girls when they were alive and he helped find some of their bones when they were dead. Hes clearly someone to talk to.
No puedo hablar ahora, says the guide, when he finally answers my call. I cant talk now. Theres someone here with me and theyre listening.
Maybe hell be around later, he tells me, or maybe not. Then he hangs up.
Witnesses say this same guide met with Kris and Lisanne less than 24 hours before they disappeared, on the campus of an all-inclusive language school called Spanish by the River, where the women were staying in Boquete.
During that meeting, he offered them a full-package tour, including a guided hike up to the nearby Continental Divide, and an overnight stop at his ranch, deep in the jungle on the far side of the mountains.
For unknown reasons, the women declined.
Early the next morning, Kris and Lisanne set out to climb up to the Continental Divide on their own. They were never seen alive again.
The few scattered remains and personal articles eventually found were several miles away, on the other side of the Divideand just a couple of hours by foot from the guides ranch property.
When I get him on the phone again, I mention the victims families back in the Netherlands, who are still desperate for answers.
Talk to the attorney general if you want information. Or talk to SINAPROC, he says, referring to Panamas FEMA-like National Service for Civil Protection.
I give him my full name again, so he can look me up on line, and offer to show him my press pass when we meet.
I already told the police everything I know, he says, but adds a final thought, just before hanging up on me again:
Those girls couldve been saved, he says, if the SINAPROC people knew how to do their jobs.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, local and international media portrayed official search effortsin Panama as both prompt and efficient.
But when I start asking around Boquetea town where I've spent time beforeother participants in the search disagreed.
We were out looking for the girls three or four days before SINAPROC even got involved, says John Tornblom, 32, a guide with more than 10 years of experience in the surrounding cloud forests.
The first 24 hours are key for a search and rescue operation, but the authorities hesitated because they thought the girls were out on a party somewhere, instead of really missing, Tornblom tells me when we meet at his outfitter shop downtown.
Inside, climbing and rafting gear cover the walls. A few off-season tourists sit on a couch wrapped in their slickers, waiting for the next jeep ride up to the sierra.
Once the government did get involved, Tornblom says, volunteers like himself were ordered to stand down while SINAPROC conducted its own searches.
Were the ones who know the area, but they cut us out, says Tornblom, who describes SINAPROC as top-heavy and weighed down by bureaucracy.
That rescue operation was a total clusterfuck.
When I visit Boquetes SINAPROC office, Security Director Lecia Espinoza admits that the first phase of the search was hindered because nobody knew where to look for the missing women.
There are dozens of trails in the sierra, says Espinoza, whose position was created in the wake of the Kremers-Froon tragedy. At first, we had absolutely no idea what route the girls might have taken.
Espinoza confirms that the governments search began on April 6four days after teachers from the language school reported the women missing to police.
We were up hunting for those two on the Baru volcano those first few days, Tornblom explains, since the still-active volcano is the most popular hiking attraction in the area.
[The girls] didnt tell anybody where they were going, he says, so we could never narrow the search down to a tight grid.
Contradictory testimonyfrom eyewitnesses also hampered rescue attempts. It would be months before investigators confirmed Kris and Lisanne had in fact set out on April 1, instead of the day before.
If only theyd left a note saying where they were going, Tornblom says. If theyd just written one sentence or sent somebody a texteverything might have been different.
After a 10-day search using dogs, helicopters, and ground teams failed to turn up any leads, SINAPROC curtailed its efforts. A Dutch teambrought in its own trained dogs near the end of May, but efforts were thwarted by heavy rains, and the team went home empty handed.
The jungle seemed to have won.
A couple of months after the Panamanian searches had ended, in mid-June of 2014, a Ngobe woman from a village called Alto Romero walked into the local police station with Lisanne Froons backpack.
The woman claimed to have found the pack while tending to her rice paddy, about five miles from where the victims were last seen, on the banks of the powerful river locals call the Culebra, or Serpent.
The pack was wedged into a mess of flotsam on the bank, the Ngobe woman said, and she was sure it hadnt been there the day before.
The discovery touched off a new wave of intense searches along the Culebraall captained by the same vanishing guide who Ive been chasing around Boquete all this time in the rain.
By the end of August, a total of 33 skeletal fragments had been linked to the missing women using DNA tests. Twenty-eight of the recovered bones were the small metatarsals of Lisannes left foot, still in its boot and sock, and reportedly found behind a tree near the river.
Unfortunately, the information about where any of the remains were found doesnt get much more specific than that.
At this stage of the search, proper police procedures were largely ignored. No search grid was made at the time; no soil samples were taken to compare with evidence found in the autopsy.
And the poor policing wasnt limited to the search area itself. For example, examiners from the Dutch Forensic Institute discovered more than 30 unidentified fingerprintson the contents of Lisannes backpack.
Panamanian investigators, however, had made no print records related to the case, so no screening could be done for suspicious prints.
Forensics faux-pasnotwithstanding, the Dutch examiners stated that Kris and Lisanne probably were victims of a hiking accident.
You cant really exclude a crime, but I remain [of the opinion] it was an accident scenario, Dr. Frank Van de Goot, the head of the Dutch team, tells The Daily Beasts Nadette De Visser in Amsterdam.
Van de Goot cites the rugged, geographic features in the region as the most likely culprit:
You can scream and shout what you will, the jungle absorbs everything. There is a constant off-land wind, dogs can't smell you and there is no phone reception, says Van de Goot, who led a second team of examiners to Panama to hike the Pianista trail in January 2015. Despite a valiant effort the Dutch team was unable to reach the banks of the Culebra, where the remains were found, due to heavy rains.
The forensic anthropologist also says the lack of a ransom demand is in keeping with an accident.
If they had been kidnapped, we've heard nothing to confirm that, says Van de Goot. Normally people get in touch and ask for money. I can't completely exclude a crime, but I have nothing to prove that. With an accident, there are a few possibilities, but I can't prove it.
In Boquete, Van de Goots accident theory is often met with grim skepticism, in part because of a lack of specifics, such as GPS coordinates suggesting where the fall might have taken place.
If it was really an accident why couldnt they find more remains? says guide Tornblom. Where are all the big bones? Where are the skulls? There are no animals up there that would eat a skull.
Although no hard evidence against him has yet been uncovered, the part-time tour leader who offered to shepherd the victims on this same hike remains under suspicion among Boquetes guiding community.
Some of our female clients have complained of him harassing them, says Tornblom. And other guides in Boquete back this up, saying the man in question has a habit of bathing in the hot springs with lady tourists, which is against code.
He ought to at least be interrogated the right way, Tornblom says. If this happened in the States or in Europe the investigation wouldve been taken to a whole different level.
Tornblom is just one of several tour operators who tell me, in interviews, that theyre concerned the rancher-cum-guide might be literally getting away with murder.
The Panamanian press picked up on those worries, too.
If a crime was involved," Adelita Coriat, a reporter who coveredthe Kremers-Froon investigation for Panama Citys La Estrella newspaper, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview, he "would have to be the top suspect."
He has a son who lives up near there [Alto Romero], too, Coriat says. As I understand it they were both seen in the area when the holandesas disappearedbut I dont think the police ever looked too closely into any of that.
In order to help resolve the question of accident vs. foul play, its time to turn to a super sleuth.
Cue Carl Weil, a Master Fellow in Wilderness Medicine with decades of search-and-rescue, law enforcement, and forensics experience. Now 70, Weil serves as directorof Colorados Wilderness Medical Program, and, in his spare time, teaches Search Evade and Rescue (SER) classes for Air Force and Marine pilots.
After reviewing data from the leaked case files we received (including the cell phone records and images taken from the camera found in the victims backpack)Weil concludes that the initial event that prevented the women from returning to Boquete along the Pianista trail was almost certainly not criminal.
I dont see any evidence of foul play, Weil says. Theyre continuing to take pictures and use their phones. Id say that makes it look like some kind of accident, at least initially.
No third party, Weil observes, would let the victims operate their phones and camera after abduction.
The log from Kriss iPhone, also found in the backpack, shows the first call to 112 (the equivalent of 911 in the Netherlands) came at 9:39 p.m. on April 1. And more calls to emergency numbers were made over the next few days.
The last attempted call comes on the third; but at least one of the women continued to power on Kriss phone at the same time each day, perhaps to check for a signal, until April 6.
The Daily Beast received more than 100 images taken from Lisannes camera, with about 90 of them made outdoors in heavy jungle and at night. If the date included in the timestamp on the last photos is correct, it would mean they were made on April 8.
That means when the SINAPROC search efforts got underway on April 6, one or both of the women were still alivestranded without food or shelter in very steep country, but alive.
They must have been drinking river water, which couldve contained giardia or amoebic dysentery, Weil points out. After one day diarrhea could have started, causing dehydration, weakness, and loss of mental and physical sharpness.
Temperatures at night in the cloud forest would have been in the 50s and low 60s at that elevation, which means hypothermia would have been a risk, especially as they lacked jackets or ponchos.
After a week of constant hunger and exposure to the elements they would already be psychologically and physically impaired, says Weil, and experiencing a loss of wit, quickness, strength, and agility.
The recovered iPhones final powering event comes on April 11three days after the photos were made and five days after the search began.
Dr. Van de Goots team of examiners declared they couldnt be certain a third party didnt activate the phone on that day.
The leading third-party candidate, at least for some people, is the same guide who first invited the women up to the Divide.
Hes the last guy to see them aliveand then hes the one who finds their bones, says fellow guide Tornblom. Something about that just feels wrong to me.
When I finally get the man in question back on the phone, several days later, he staunchly defends his innocence
I met the holandesas in town but never saw them after that, he says.
I spent many days helping SINAPROC search for those poor girls. I even met with their families when they came to Boquete. I did everything I could! he finishes screaming into the phone.
This gua might be known for taking liberties with female clients out in the forestand hes no great shakes as an interview subjectbut a thorough investigation fails to turn up any hard evidence linking him to a crime.
When I ask forensics expert Weil again about a possible accident scenario, he says that people stranded in the wilderness without basic survival equipment often live for a week to ten days, but rarely do they make it for more than two weeks.
The hike to the Continental Divide and back to Boquete takes just four or five hours, and the Dutch team concluded that Kris and Lisanne could not have lost their way on that trail.
I dont get it, Weil pauses to study the map.
They were so close he says. So why didnt they just walk back to town?
BOQUETE, PanamaAt the crest of the Continental Divide stands a rustproof sign that reads:
END OF TRAIL, NO RETURN PASSAGE
Posted high in the cloud forests that surround the still-active Baru volcano, the marker is hard to miss. But the sign also lists sharply to one sideas if this remote warning had been slapped together in a rush.
Back in early April of 2014, when Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22, disappearednear the top of the Divide, there was no sign here at all.
For weeks there was no sign of the women either. Investigators know they started the hike in good weather, at mid-morning, and should have summited by about 1:00 p.m. That would have given them plenty of time to return to Boquete before nightfall, but for some reason they never made it back to town.
After a slow start, authorities eventually put dog teams on the ground and rescue choppers in the airbut initial search efforts proved useless.
A few months later some scattered remains were found in the rugged country on the far side of the Divide, on the banks of the river that locals call the Culebra, or Serpent. DNA tests confirmed a match, but the actual cause of death for the holandesasas they came to be known throughout Panamaremains unsolved.
The local authorities version of events is that Froon and Kremers died in some kind of hiking accident, but few specifics have been offered to back up this hypothesis.
Some close to the case doubt the hiking accident scenario. They suggest a darker version of events, including a possible sex crime and murderwhich the government either ignored or covered up. According to this theory, the remains and belongings were either thrown in the river to get rid of them, or deliberately plantedby the perpetrators.
Which brings us back to the crooked sign atop the Continental Divide, in the rainforests of Panamas highest cordillera.
The sign reads End of Trail because thats where the official tourist footpath from Boquete up to the Divide ends. That trailcalled La Pianista due to its keyboard-like ups and downsis maintained by rangers from the nearby Baru National Park.
But the galvanized sign marking the terminus of the Pianista isnt really the end of the trail. In fact, theres a very obvious, albeit mud-choked, passage that goes down the other side of the crestonly to intersect with an entire web of paths constructed and used primarily by members of the indigenous Ngobe tribe.
These nameless trails arent monitored or maintained by park rangers. Theyre also exceptionally rugged and dangerous, especially during the April-to-October wet season. Even the Ngobe only use them when absolutely necessary after the big rains come.
A key tenet of the foul-play hypothesis is that Kris and Lisanne, who had come to Boquete to study Spanish and volunteer to work with children in the community, wouldnt have wandered off onto the daunting and mud-choked indigenous trails.
Or at least not of their free will. The women had only light clothing, and no food, camping, or survival gear, indicating they almost certainly had not planned for more than a few hours hike in the forest.
Proponents of an abduction theory claim that Kris and Lisanne were either forced down into the web of native trails by a third party, or abducted after returning from their hike up to the Dividepossibly while walking the two-lane highway back into the small tourist town of Boquete in the valley below. (Robberies have occurred on the trail before, and travel guides like Lonely Planet have warned about crime on the Pianista.)
I hiked it myselfthe whole trail. I saw it with my own eyes, said Enrique Arrocha, the lawyer who represented the Kremers family in the investigation, when I met with him in Boquete. Once you start to go down the other side everything changes. The country is very wild. The mud comes up to here, he slapped his leg at the knee.
The trail is like a river! Its almost impossible to walk it, said Arrocha, who strongly advocates for a criminal investigation due to unanswered questions about the case.
I saw what conditions were like, and he slapped his knee again, harder this time.
The holandesas would never have wanted to go on down into that hell.
Up at the Continental Divide, on a recent rain-soaked afternoon, I can see that the lawyer isnt lying about the harsh conditions.
The off-limits pathway on the other side of the signpost is so steep that sometimes you have to scoot down backwards on all fours. The main trace is also crisscrossed by a baffling network of game trails and creek beds.
Too steep even for mules, the trail eventually runs out of the state called Chiriqu, and into the province called Bocas del Toro. On the way it crosses several steep river gorges. These same ravines, which can be up to 70 feet deep, must be traversed using notoriously unsteady cable bridges. (Those same cables also made the trail off-limits for search dogs.)
As the trail appears now, in the midst of northern Panamas six-month rainy season, its hard to imagine the women would attempt it. Lisanne was an accomplished athlete, with an Alpine hiking background; Kris had less outdoors experience, but she was also young and healthy. Even so, they would have been out of their league after crossing the Divide.
Extreme hikers who pay guides to take them into the river canyons of Bocas typically tackle the canyons with full-frame packs and supplies to last for days. They also come equipped with ponchos, weatherproof tents, and other gear to protect against the constant, chill-inducing rains.
But it doesnt always rain in Bocas. In fact, when Kris and Lisanne reached the clearing at the top of the Continental Divide on April 1, dry season weather patterns were still in effect.
The holandesas own recovered photographs show the day they disappeared was bright and sunny, as was the rest of that week. Trails would have been considerably easier to hike at that time, as river levels were much lowerat least for the first few days after they went missing.
Once the rains start, though, conditions can change overnight. The same heavy rains and thick mists that make this cloud forest such a unique ecosystem can also limit visibility to almost nothing within seconds. Most of the time, navigating in the forest by the sun or stars just isnt possible.
Sometimes even we get lost over there, says Plinio Montenegro, a senior tour guide in Boquete, when I ask him about the maze of trails on the other side of the Divide.
Back in January, Plinio tells me, a party of eight guideson a training mission got disoriented and lost on the Bocas side, in the same area where Kris and Lisanne went missing.
First they got lost, then they started fighting about which route to take, until finally the group split up over it, says Plinio, who volunteered to lead several searches for Kremers and Froon after the initial alert went out. He was also tapped to find the eight stranded apprentice guidesand brought them all back home again.
Plinio is still in top shape at 35, and like all the government-licensed guides in Boquete, speaks fluent English. As we talk in the lobby of my hotel, he describes the feeling that comes over those lost in the jungle as a kind of forest madness.
Once you get lost up there you change. Youre not the same person you are down below, he says. Some people go crazy and start to sprint down the trail, he says. Its like a nightmare to be lost in the selva.
In Part 2 of this series, wilderness survival expert Carl Weil told The Daily Beast he doubted foul play was involved in the Kremers-Froon case. After further review of the evidence, Weil singles out the confusing web of trails as a top suspect.
If one of them had been injured or suffered a snake bite, then youd expect the healthy one to hike out and get help, says Weil, the director of the Wilderness Medicine program in Colorado, when I reach him again by phone.
But if neither of them knew how to get outthen theyd be less likely to separate, he says.
At some point, says Weil, who also teaches survival tactics for U.S. military personnel, the Dutch women would have had to choose an arbitrary direction and start walking.
The further they would have gone without seeing something familiar, the more scared they would be. If you dont have a map or compass, he says, its very easy to end up just walking in circles.
The women had just come from a town, says Weil, and so might have thought there was another Boquete-like community on the other side of the Divide.
They probably never dreamed they were heading off into a deep, dark wilderness.
A series of over a hundred images, found on the digital memory card of Lisannes camera, gives us a glimpse of just how deep and dark it was.
The college volleyball star and amateur shutterbug had brought a Canon Powershot SX270 along on her post-graduate trip to Panama. A durable pocket camera, the model comes with a zoom lens and built-in flash. Unfortunately for investigators, unlike some similar models, the SX270 doesnt have GPS or Wifi capabilities.
Lisannes Canon was discovered in its own padded case inside her backpack on the banks of the Culebra. (The nylon pack also contained her passport, as well as both womens cell phones, sunglasses, cash, and bras.)
The first dozen or so images found on the camera seem normal enough.
Tuesday, April 1, was a bright, sunny day. The women are smiling and cheerful and no third party is visible in any of the images. Aside from a few selfies taken at the overlook of the Divide, most of the pictures are shot by Lisanne, and many of them show Kris walking ahead of her on the trail, enjoying the sunshine and the primal beauty of the rainforest.
In the last few shots from that day we do indeed see Kris and Lisanne following an indigenous trail down the opposite side of the high ridge-crest that marks the division of the Pacific and Caribbean watersheds. Geographical features near a streambed visible in the last few photos place them about an hour from the top of the Divideand still heading downhill, away from Boquete.
Court-certified forensic photography analyst Keith Rosenthalsays the women might already be lost at the time these images were made.
They could have taken these pictures in an attempt to mark where theyd already been, Rosenthal tells The Daily Beast, after reviewing the full set of images. He says the photos might have been intended as reference points, in case they tried to come back the same way.
The last image we have of Kris Kremerss face, turning to look back into the camera as she crosses a streambed, could also be telling.
Her facial expression is different from in all the other pictures, says Rosenthal, after magnification and enhancement of the image. She doesnt appear so happy here for some reason.
The World Wide Web is 27 years old, which means it’s in the dead-rock-star phase of its life. Between all the trolls and wasted time, it’s almost worth wondering if the universe would be better off had the magic of cyberspace never existed in the first place. What if — for reasons of aesthetics or sheer human stubbornness — the internet never caught on and the world was deprived of Donald Trump’s tweet game?
So let’s Frank Capra this shit and find out! Here’s a vision of a reality where the internet went the way of Betamax and 3-D Doritos. The result is both nutty and haunting, like getting a handjob from Mr. Peanut.
#7. Pneumatic Tubes Would Be Freaking Everywhere
In a world without electronic mail, chances are you’d have the Looney Tunes factory music stuck in your head 24/7. This is the world we missed, a world jam-packed with so many tiny plastic tubes that modern cities would look like hamster-Futurama. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about here, take a look at this old-timey array of vacuum tubes:
Even back then, there’s still an 80 percent chance she’s getting a dick pic.
Tubes! Invented in the early 1800s, the act of launching information at the speed of compressed air has since been reserved for bank tellers and potato aeronautics. But believe it or not, pneumatic chutes were still considered to be on the up-and-up as late as the mid-1990s.
In other news, electric penny-farthing sales are booming!
As email was secretly winding back for the death blow, companies like Ascom Communications and Pevco Systems were envisioning a “high-tech” world where fax machines and telephone calls were replaced with elaborate in-office suckage conduits. And thanks to shiny new computer technology that allowed flow trackage and braking systems, it seemed like this $50 million industry was only getting started. As Wired prophesied, entire neighborhoods and cities would someday be entangled by a literal series of tubes reaching every household — the likes of which would dwarf the once-thriving underground pneumatic systems of New York and Paris. That’s right: Imagine if, instead of sitting down with your laptop, you relied patiently on an embedded wall chute to tell you the latest movie times and deliver such fine articles as “6 Celebrity Telegraphs That Backfired Horribly.”
Although this steampunk vision of the future ultimately failed to come to fruition, the irony is that the technology’s intended evolution looks surprisingly familiar. Specifically, the historical assumption that giant pneumatic plumbing would someday be used to transport people.
Someday we will achieve mass dead goldfish travel.
#6. Mobile Communication Would Look Like A Dick Tracy Cartoon
For a lot of people, the move from landline abominations to sophisticated mobile phones was only a matter of time. One 1995 Newsweek article titled “The Road Ahead” literally predicted a world of “applications” and voice-activated “wallet PCs” that would “let you read or send electronic mail and faxes, monitor weather and stock reports, and play both simple and sophisticated games.” Other, less astute predictions saw us checking our missed calls on our wrists:
“Battery life: 20 minutes on four D-cells.”
Welcome to 1990, and the dawn of bulky pager wristwatches. As we approached the new millennium, the paging industry seemingly had nowhere to go but up — as projections placed over 33 million beepers in our pockets by the year 1997. As the president of the then-largest paging company, PageNet, heartbreakingly put it in 1993: “This is a very exciting time for the paging industry.”
Turns out there’s very little need for a $300 wristwatch that uses radio frequencies to tell you when to drive to the office and check your voicemail. In fact, with its bloated, techy design, one of the biggest logistical problems was simply that most people didn’t want to replace a fashion accessory with something that could just as easily fit in your pocket. Because only an idiot would base an entire product launch off of Dick Tracy comics.
With a dash of Futurama.
So what was the future of communication if mobile phones never made it? I got two ridiculous sing-songy words for you:
“Yes, we are calling World War II technology ‘the future.'”
Aw, yep. Until being utterly dominated in the industry, there was apparently a time in which the electric two-cup-and-a-string system considered taking on mobile phones as the leading source for on-the-go communication. That means there’s a parallel universe somewhere out there where Jack Bauer is battling terrorism and poor range quality. And speaking of TV …
#5. Without The Internet, Television Would Be Fucking Awful
The excruciatingly-slow-rollout promise of Google Fiber has teased a distant utopia in which humankind has cast its bonds from cable television and flown free into the shimmering arms of Netflix and/or the desperate, gropey tentacles of Hulu. It’s almost sickening to imagine what television would be like without the internet to take it down a notch — but it turns out that it’s not so different than this very moment, if you imagine this very moment as being immensely frustrating.
“Let’s lay it out like a normal keyboard, which people are familiar with, but put it
in alphabetical order because we’re Microsoft.”
This is WebTV, a Microsoft-bought concept that nearly went bankrupt before it was even launched and limped along for a surprising amount of time before ultimately being rebranded and shelved. And, keep in mind, it still required the internet to exist. Rewind back to 1994, and Time Warner was cooking up an internet-free, bulkier turd called the Full Service Network — which cost $4,500 each and resembled a rain-damaged mini-fridge.
“If you think you’re frustrated with your service now …”
After two years of preparation and development, Time Warner unleashed 4,000 of these terminals into a neighborhood in Florida. Their purpose? Everything from ordering Pizza Hut to playing shitty video games to receiving coupons and tickets via an attached printer next to your television. There was even a 3-D “interactive mall” for users to shop while immersing themselves in abominable ’90s graphics of equally abominable ’90s mall architecture. Despite having the decorative appeal of a severed horse torso, the Full Service Network was so freaking cowabunga that the L.A. Times published an article telling people they’d be stupid not to invest money in it.
And had an alternative not come along, they would have been right — as multiple companies were working on this same advanced TV concept.
“Your power switch, channel buttons, and volume control have all been
needlessly consolidated into a single, internal toggle switch. Enjoy.”
Everyone say hello to the Apple Interactive Television Box, a precursor to Apple TV and yet another contestant in the sad, internet-less race to ultimately nowhere. Like its counterpart, the mid-’90s system was tested in 2,500 homes before disappearing a year later — and somehow this isn’t the most embarrassing attempt from these future innovators …
They could only be expected to ride the Apple II Oregon Trail bundle for so long.
That’s fucking correct: For over two grand you could be enjoying a computer that not only plays CDs but can double as a cable box! TAKE OUT A SECOND MORTGAGE NOW!
#4. MIT Was Planning Weird-Ass Electronic Books
I mentioned earlier that Newsweek ran a surprisingly prescient article about the future of cellphones, which is a considerably less impressive achievement when you realize the same publication has thrown out more wayward bullshit than a blind rodeo custodian.
“Attempts to upload Kurt Cobain’s consciousness to computers have failed miserably.”
According to an article from 1995, there was no way the web would ever replace newspapers or the written word on account of bulky computer size, slow connection speeds, and a fundamental lack of direct human interaction. It was hilariously naive in its low technological expectations and high regard for human companionship — and yet even the optimistic predictions failed to see past this thinking. Take, for example, what non-naysayers envisioned as the next logical step in reading:
“One book to rule them all …”
In what sounds like the working title to a dystopian young adult film, “the last book” refers to an MIT project using digitized ink technology to create a simulated bound novel with contents that can be electronically changed. So instead of the obvious Kindle-style tablets we have now, these were conceptualized as full-sized books with individual microchips on every page. Because, according to one of the scientists, having a single screen would cause you to “lose your previous page.” While that sounds amazingly dumb today, keep in mind that trying to design an ebook in the 1990s is like trying to design TruckNutz in the 1790s. And then, someone else at MIT was working on this:
“Now your neighbor can steal newspapers from all over the world!”
Yup, there was a project called Fishwrap that used databases to create a personalized, “made-to-order” newspaper that students could then print out to read like regular papers. So in that brief and hilarious window, the future of reading was either traditional books printed electronically or electronic words printed traditionally — which means you’d be likely reading this on the grimiest e-magazine in the history of bathroom entertainment.
Read more: http://www.cracked.com/blog/thought-experiment-what-if-internet-didnt-exist/