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.
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This mud-slick, root-choked footpath is called the Pianista, or Piano Player, because it climbs—in a series of ladder-like steps reminiscent of a keyboard—up from the tourist town of Boquete to the Continental Divide, at about 6, 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. Back in April , two Dutch tourists—Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22—disappeared after 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.
Panama: The mysterious death of two young tourists
A few scattered remains and articles of clothing eventually 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. The lack of hard answers led to a flurry of suspicions—and, eventually, formal allegations of foul play.
The case also spawned a host of bizarre theories, and amateur investigations. The deaths of Kris and Lisanne have been blamed on pygmy cannibals, cartel hitmen, and organ traffickers, as well as more conventional explanations—like kidnapping and rape that ends in murder. This investigation was undertaken after The Daily Beast received secretly leaked copies of the official case files used by investigators. Kathy Reichs—to provide opinions and analysis on this case. At the time of their disappearance, Kris and Lisanne were on break from their studies back in the Netherlands.
Both were outstanding students. They must have made a good team. Kris was the outgoing one, with striking, strawberry-blond hair 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. And, at six feet tall, she was the more athletic of the two. Froon had an introspective side, too, and had majored in applied psychology back in Amsfoort; she was also a budding amateur photographer.
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Kris and Lisanne arrived in Panama to serve as volunteer social workers—and to learn fluent Spanish—but someone had miscalculated. The combination of steep terrain and heavy rainfall make for a complex network of fast-running river channels throughout the Talamanca cordillera. Moist air currents rising from the Pacific dump some inches of rain each year in the region, and the runoff rockets downhill through the jagged, boulder-strewn ravines that dominate the landscape.
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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.
Boquete sits cupped in a brook-laced valley that protects it from some of the worst storms that blow down from the cordillera. 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 streets are lined with shops advertising cloud forest safaris, rock climbing, river rafting—and most of these tourist outfits are run both by and for the extranjeros, or foreigners. Such gringos come back hungry and embarrassed and humbled by the jungle.
But at least they come back. Panama is infamous as an off-shore tax haven. And dictator Manuel Noriega, in a U. 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 connection to the disappearance of a British backpacker named Alex Humphrey, who went missing while staying at a hostel here back in What is worth noting, however, is that in both cases Panamanian authorities came under heavy fire for mishandling the investigations.
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 them—although there are reports that a local dog named Blue followed 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 the other side 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.
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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. 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. A total of five fragmented remains were identified as belonging to Kris and Lisanne—but the Ngobe had also submitted bone chips from as many as three other individuals.
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