Early 2013 was a bad time to be a young woman traveling. Besides the Strange Case of Elisa Lam, the latest black eye on the Cecil Hotel, you also have the just as haunting mystery of what happened to Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers, two attractive Dutch girls who went to Panama to attend a Spanish language program and then do social work with children. A great deal of international interest on the Internet, compounded by a surfeit of facts that lead to no easy conclusion, have quickly propelled both cases into the ranks of the most scrutinized yet still unsolved female deaths in modern history. (For more historical cases in the same vein, see Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm and the Isdal Woman.)
Two years later, the only official theory proposes a simple case of the girls getting lost or hurt in the wilderness. Even at face value, the known facts present a harrowing story. When factoring in what remains unexplained, the case becomes completely bewildering.
The pair set out from their host family’s house on the morning of April 1, 2013 and picked up El Pianista, a moderately difficult trail near the small Panamanian town of Boquette, a green mountain haven popular with ex pats and eco tourists. Despite some confusion regarding their stated plans, and eyewitness reports from at least five individuals placing Lisanne and Kris somewhere else that day, we know this is true because of these two photos later found on their camera, which depict them at El Mirador, a well known overlook at the trail’s peak and normal stopping point. Investigators used the angle of the sun to set the time of these photos at 1 pm.
A local dog named Blue accompanied them for part of their hike, but evidently turned back at some point and returned home. He may be the only one who knows what really happened. A second series of photos, near and within a narrow ravine, possibly off trail, were estimated to have been taken an hour or so later. Shortly thereafter, something terrible happened. They were lost or hurt, being chased, attacked, or already held hostage. Analysis of their cell phone usage shows their first attempt to call 911 (or in this case 112) was made from Lisanne’s iPhone at 4:30. A second attempt was made on Kris’s Samsung at 4:51. Cellular coverage in that part of Panama is spotty at best and neither call went through. Over the course of the next five days, the phones were periodically powered on and off and numerous additional attempts were made to reach emergency services. None ever connected.
The girls were reported missing the following day, when they failed to show up for an appointment with a local guide named Feliciano. By April 3, this guide was searching the trail, and by April 5 volunteer search teams were in play. Searches continued over the next few weeks, but no sign of Lisanne or Kriss was ever discovered until over two months later, when two indigenous people supposedly located a backpack a long, long way from girls’ last known location, across three rain-swollen river crossings and many kilometers of jungle.
The backpack was in oddly good condition for supposedly having been out in the elements that long. It contained about $83 in cash, two pairs of cheap sunglasses, two bras, two cell phones, and a camera. After more searching a hiking boot was found, unfortunately with an ankle and foot still inside. Scant bits of other remains turned up over a widely scattered area. The foot, as well as a pelvis bone later found, belonged to Kris. Other small remains were genetically connected to Lisanne. Perhaps the strangest thing found was Kris’s jean shorts, neatly folded on a rock far upriver from everything else. A missing persons case turned into something else.
According to the medical examiner, the bones showed no signs of violence, animal or human, though a rib bone from Kris displayed a high degree of phosphorus bleaching. (A prominent criminologist commenting on the case attributes this to the body being covered in fertilizer to hasten decomposition). Lisanne’s bones had some flesh still attached; Kris’s did not. Additional data from the phones and pictures on the camera only deepens the mystery, and triples the pathos.
Eighty eight times the phones were turned on, eleven times to call emergency numbers and seventy seven quick on/offs, perhaps to check the time, power level, or signal strength. Of note is that after April 5, an incorrect password is entered numerous times on Kris’s phone.
The final attempt to call 911 occurred on April 11, a full ten days from when they went missing. Search teams had been in the area since April 5. Which could explain why an additional 90 photos were taken on the camera in a rapid burst. According to authorities, the vast majority of these photos are completely black, which may suggest someone trying to use the flash to signal their whereabouts. At least three show something else.
The first two were the only ones officially released. The third was shown in a Dutch documentary and presumably represents Kris’s hair. Supporters of the theory that one or both of them fell off a cliff, point to the first picture, which they claim depicts the photographer looking up to where they fell. The second photo, which appears to show bits a red plastic tangled in a stick on top of a boulder, has never received a satisfactory explanation.
Additional details only further confound:
- According to at least one person who interacted with the girls that morning, they only planned to take a short hike that day. Why didn’t they turn around after climbing the peak?
- If the girls mistakenly continued on the trail after reaching El Mirador, instead of turning around like most people do at the point, they would have encountered a few scattered but visible habitations where they could have asked for help or directions.
- If the river spread their remains, as the local prosecutor claims, more would have been found and in closer proximity. If an animal or animals scattered their remains, there would have been evidence of it (teeth marks and blood).
- Most ominously, what are we to make of unofficial reports that A TOTAL 0F 26 PEOPLE HAVE DISAPPEARED IN THIS AREA?