The Tragic Disappearance of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon
In 2014, two young Dutch women got lost in the Panamanian jungle, leaving behind perplexing clues.
Recently, re-researching D.B. Cooper’s perplexing parachuting tale sent me by coincidence down a rabbit hole of a much more recent unresolved mystery, that of the disappearance of two young Dutch women in Panama: Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. Remains from both of the women were later recovered, confirming they both perished, but how? We have a trail of evidence that extends a week out from their disappearance and many miles north into the wilderness. The story is torturously tragic — but deeply intriguing.
Speculation around such cases can be quite the rabbit hole of curiosity, though its effects are not benign — well-publicized disappearances often lead to undeserved extra attention for anyone remotely connected to the case. In the case of the decades-old D.B. Cooper case, the flight attendant who acted as an intermediary and was the only one to see Cooper after the plane took off again with parachutes and ransom money in tow has had people harass her for more information ever since.
The unfortunate reality of cases such as these is that they are not crafted puzzles to solve. What evidence available is often far from a complete enough picture to say anything definite, and much of what seems like potential evidence is just red herrings. A perfectly mundane explanation in Kremers and Froon’s case is simply that the girls perished in the jungle, perhaps trapped after falling into a ravine, which would be washed out with the rising waters of the wet season, depositing their remains further downstream.
Photographs taken by Lisanne confirm the two trekked up the El Pianista trail on April 1st, making good time, taking several shots at the summit and a few at locations that are clearly on an unofficial, less worn trail leading north down the other side of the continental divide. This, of course, meant that the advice often given to follow rivers when lost in the wilderness would take them further away from where they were staying and deeper into the wilderness — the south of the summit was highly developed, the north is miles and miles of jungle mixed with sparsely-habitated cattle pastures and Indigenous villages.
Logs recovered from their phones show periodic attempts to call emergency services starting the evening of the 1st, but the cell service is non-existent on that side of the mountain. By the time Lisanne took her last regular photographs — two of Kris crossing a small stream less than an hour from the summit — their phones would never have a strong enough signal to establish a successful call again. At times, their phones would have displayed a single bar — an unusable trickle of a signal from over the mountains — but they ventured further from it, perhaps mistaking the barbed wire fences of cattle pastures for civilization.
A week later, on the 8th, after a period of no photos taken whatsoever and with a missing photo #509 that seemingly never existed, a flurry of photos are taken in the night, most of which show nothing clear. Dots — assumed to be water droplets from a nearby waterfall or perhaps rain, even though it was not a rainy night — dance across most of the photos. One creepy shot appears to show the back of Kris’s head, and it is unclear if she is still alive or not. Was Lisanne trying to use the flash to signal for help, hoping its ephemeral bursts of light might highlight their location? No more photos were taken after that night, though one of their phones was used as late as the 11th — the extreme longevity a product of turning the phone on only to make emergency calls.
The camera was found neatly packed in Lisanne’s backpack, which was found in relatively good condition downstream by an Indigenous Ngäbe woman the following June. Some find it suspicious that everything was in such good condition. Remains of the two young women later found in the surrounding area.
Kris’s bones were bleached and had traces of phosphorous, which has some natural explanations, though some have cited the tendency of the Ngäbe and the cattle ranchers in the area to treat buried animals, including people, with lye to deter animals from digging them back up. This does not necessarily indicate foul play — it is considered a mundane way to handle remains in the area.
The morning after the girls went missing, Feliciano, a farmer from the village who often works as a tour guide for hikers staying in Boquete showed up where they were staying and demanding a spare key into their room, citing that they failed to make a scheduled appointment for a guided tour. Some find this suspicious, though he left his business card and aided with the search. Kris’s parents went on a tour with him along the path they think the girls might have taken.
The trek was filmed for a short documentary called “Answers for Kris,” and they concluded there was little way to get lost up until well past it would be obvious they needed to turn around. However, some in the area have established there are a couple of places on the northern, less worn trail where one can wind up tumbling down to a point where it is impossible to get out without trekking through the jungle.
The desire to place blame on folks like Feliciano or other members of the Indigenous tribe — who have so many who speak to their kindness and caring — reflect a problematic tendency of communities that surround these cases to place blame and ruin lives based on armchair sleuthing, which is easily exacerbated by racism. Boquete’s crime rates are low, and most of the crime in the region is driven by cartels. The lives of Kris and Lisanne matter a lot — but so do those of the people living in the area around Boquete.
There are so many details of this case — far more than I can even cover in one article — that leave me wondering about what exactly happened. We may never get more information. This was not crafted for us like a mystery story with a compelling conclusion. Like with Maura Murray, who disappeared in freezing rural New Hampshire after crashing her car, as anticlimactic — and, more importantly, heartbreaking — as it is, this could amount to no more than “young women struggle against the elements, suffer, perish.”
That was the answer with Geraldine “Inchworm” Largay, a woman who disappeared on the Appalachian Trail. She got lost going to the bathroom, never found the trail again, documented it in her diary, and died. There was no mystery to solve, it was just a tragedy. Nature is brutal, and people whose adventures into it go awry often learn that all too well.
Nature is also beautiful, though, and people should feel safe enjoying it. Stories like this should not dissuade us from hiking but teach us to do it more responsibly. Kris and Lisanne had little on them, which was certainly fine for a short hike on a well-known trail. When they reached the summit, they had an abundance of time, and perhaps they thought that was the only resource they needed to go just a little bit farther, to see just a few more interesting sights. That desire to venture off the beaten path is admirable, but one should be prepared.
As a student of Emory when the film version of Into the Wild came out, I was subjected to dozens of peers who viewed Christopher McCandless’s story of dying of unpreparedness in the Alaska wilderness as some kind of romantic counter-cultural heroism. I was disgusted. The problem is not that passion or that thirst for adventure — but that tragedy happens when they are not met with information and preparedness.
This applies to far more than just the literal wilderness. Those venturing out of mainstream politics into the realm of alternative media are susceptible to having that passion and counter-culturalism manipulated by conspiracy theorists and grifters — this is a major phenomenon behind red-brownism. Conspiracy theorists, especially QAnoners, themselves are often those who are drawn even deeper into a wilderness of internet disinformation, often deliberately designed to disrupt and disharmonize.
Kris and Lisanne’s story should not compel us to spend our lives dwelling on answers we never get. They should inspire us to take more prepared, more responsible, more informed versions of their course. Steve Jobs told us to “think different” and then died of a highly treatable form of cancer because he initially denied conventional treatments. Be adventurous but be safe. Think outside the box but in it too. Quality of experience and outcome for most things in life requires both boldness and responsibility.
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