Kris Kremers & Lisanne Froon, Disappeared April 1st 2014, Continental Divide in the rainforests of Panama’s highest cordillera near Boquete.
Dutch girls, Kris Kremers, 21, and Lisanne Froon, 22, went on a hike in the Continental Divide of Panama on April 1st 2014 and were found dead weeks later. They had come to the area to study Spanish and volunteer to work with children in the community. What happened to the "holandesas" girls is the subject of much speculation, with disturbing photographic evidence of their last hours.
They left Boquete in good weather at mid-morning to hike the La Pianista trail, an up and down path, hence the name. The area beyond the trail is very rugged, steep and dangerous, particularly during the April to October wet season, where areas become treacherous and even the indigenous Ngobe tribe tread warily. The trail runs from the Chiriquí state into the province of Bocas del Toro, crossing steep river gorges up to 70 feet deep which need to be crossed using cable bridges.
After they were declared missing, authorities eventually put dog teams on the ground and helicopters, but initial searches proved fruitless.
A few months later some scattered bone fragments were found on the far side of the Continental Divide, on the banks of a river called the Culebra or Serpent. Lisanne Froon’s left foot was found intact and inside her boot, showing multiple fractures of the metatarsals. DNA tests confirmed a match, but the actual cause of death remains a mystery. The authorities believe they were involved in a hiking accident, but others suggest foul play with a government inspired cover-up so as to not impact the lucrative tourist industry to the area. About two months after the disappearance, searchers found Kris Kremers’s jean shorts on a narrow piece of land between two fast-flowing and powerful tributaries. The Ngobe people who found the shorts said they found them zipped and folded and placed on a rock high above the water.
Kris and Lisanne were certainly not planning an extended hiking trip. They were assumed to have left the La Pianista trail and gone into the indigenous trails for some unknown reason.They were not equipped for a prolonged period in the forest with no food or survival gear. Were they abducted or forced off the trail by persons unknown? Hikers who plan to go off into the more adventurous areas usually pay guides and specialist equipment and supplies to last for days are the norm including tents, food and rain proof clothing. Apparently the pair were due to go out with an experienced guide the following day, but went alone on this day.
A key piece of evidence was the discovery of Lisanne's Canon Powershot SX270 camera with over a hundred images on the digital memory card in addition to passports, cell phones, sunglasses, cash and their underwear. It was found in its case inside Lisanne's backpack on the Culebra river bank.
The first pictures on April 1st were standard tourist shots with both women laughing and smiling on a bright sunny day with some selfies taken at the overlook of the Divide. Most of the pictures were taken by Lisanne with Kris walking ahead of her on the trail.
Then we see the girls apparently following an indigenous trail near a stream bed heading downhill, away from their destination, Boquete. Kris' face on one of the shots showing anxiety with sunset around 6 pm in the rainforest.
Analysis of the call records of the iPhone owned by Kris showed her trying to reach an emergency services number in Holland at 9:39 pm followed by a call to a Panamanian emergency number. On April 6th, 5 days after their hike began the mobile phone stopped working, presumably because the battery went dead. There was evidence that someone, presumably Lisanne, had tried to access the phone, but she did not have the PIN. Had Kris given the phone to Lisanne?
The pictures on the camera of most interest were taken on April 8th, many in complete darkness, with rain falling, with some taken a few seconds apart and others up to 15 minutes later. Several shots appear to have been taken deliberately as they were not blurred indicating that they were not taken under duress. At this point the girls had been in the rainforest for a week. Some have speculated that they were trying to use the camera as a light source in the pitch black or perhaps to signal potential rescuers or even to scare away wild animals. But analysis of the shots shows that many are taken below foliage and not in the open and if the girls were trying to attract attention they would have taken pictures in the open.
A single close-up seems to show a wound to the right side of Kris' head in the temple area and blood on her hair. Lisanne may have been using the camera to offer clues to subsequent rescuers where Kris was if she needed to be left behind because of injuries. Some of the shots appear to be orientated upwards whilst others show ravines and gorges and even man-made structures most likely to be a Cable Bridge. These bridges are very dangerous, especially in rain. One photo seems to show a bridge three miles from Boquete, on the western bank of al tributary that forms the headwaters of the Serpent River. Were the girls trying to follow the river downstream as advocated by many survival guides?
The most likely scenario is that Lisanne tried to hike out of the Serpent-River canyon in order to get help. The jean shorts found were located on the opposite, or eastern, bank of the tributary from where the night photos were made.
It seems that both girls died because of the difficult and dangerous conditions, but was there something more sinister? It was strange that one of their bags was found some way from the river without water damage, but if foul play was involved why weren't the valuables stolen? Maybe a rapist, murderer just wanted to taunt the authorities or they came across drug traffickers. A sad case indeed, with a terrible last few days for the Dutch girls.