The Camera

Two Dutch women visiting Panama vanish while hiking in the jungle. Cryptic clues, body parts and their camera point to foul play, but the question of what or who really happened to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon remains unanswered.

The Episode

Hi park enthusiasts…

I’m your host Delia D’Ambra and this is the last episode of Season 2. Our time in the parks is coming to an end, there will be a bonus episode next week and then we’ll be done until next summer.

The story I’m going to send us off with is one that has so many theories and I’ll be honest it’s hard to keep track of geographic areas and names, but I’m going to do my best.

It’s the case of two young women, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon who set out for a hike on El Pianista Trail in Boquete Panama in April 2014 and were never seen again. At least not all of their body parts were seen again.

To really wrap your head around this story and the nature area it takes place in, it’s important to understand where Panama is on a map.

*Ocean & seagulls*

The country is sandwiched between Costa Rica and Colombia in Central America. It’s the literal land bridge that connects North and South America.

*Boat horns on the water*

It’s home to the famous Panama Canal which is one of the busiest waterways in the world and creates a vital link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

*Tropical birds chirping*

The city of Boquete is towards the west end of the country and is surrounded by thick, dense jungle known as the “cloud forest” which houses hundreds of species of birds, animals, and plants.

Some friendly, others not so friendly.

According to US News and World Report, the population in that area is made up mostly of indigenous people or people with blended Native American and caucasian ethnicities who live in poverty.

*Village sounds*

There are pockets of villages in between large swaths of jungle and mountains…and those are the places that a lot of international travelers or aid volunteers visit to take in the country’s raw natural beauty.

What happened to 21-year-old Kris Kremers and 22-year-old Lisanne Froon in the Panamanian jungle seven years ago still remains an absolute mystery, but many believe their demise has all the telltale signs of foul play.

The question the world wants answered is, did a predator in the midst of paradise get away with a double murder?

This is Park Predators.

*River water trickling & splashing*

On June 15th, 2014 Luis Atencio and his wife Irma Mirando were bathing and washing clothes in the Culubre River near their remote village in Northern Boquete, Panama when Irma noticed something very out of place.

Off in the distance, near the far side of the river, she spotted a backpack lodged between two rocks near the river’s edge.

When Irma retrieved it, she realized the bag wasn’t wet or damaged in any way…which seemed strange because anything that would have been left outside for a significant amount of time in this part of the Panamanian jungle should have been pretty tattered or deteriorated.

Irma showed the bag to her husband and the two of them looked inside.

Neatly arranged in the pouch was a bottle of water, two cellphones, two pairs of sunglasses, a camera, two bathing suits that some reports describe as bras, a passport, and some miscellaneous plastic cards and cash.

The area where Luis and Irma lived was near El Pianista Trail but several hours north of the city of Boquete. It’s a spot where a lot of international tourists would hike in the jungle. On a regular basis, visitors were notorious for losing their belongings or leaving valuables behind in their haste to sightsee or adventure.

But Irma and Luis knew that they could not hold onto the bookbag they’d found in the river. You see, they had a strong suspicion that this particular backpack was related to two missing women authorities had been scouring the jungle for, for weeks.

They immediately decided to hand it over to the local police.

To really understand why alarm bells went off for Luis and Irma I need to take you back to 3 months earlier in mid-March of 2014.

At that time, two Dutch women, 21-year-old Kris Kremers and 22-year-old Lisanne Froon had traveled to Panama from their hometown of Amersfoort, Netherlands with plans to take a two-week Spanish course and volunteer as social workers in Boquete.

In the previous months, both girls had moved in together back home and worked at the same cafe to save up money for their trip. According to an article by Medium.com, the trip was a graduation celebration of sorts because Lisanne had just graduated from college the previous fall.

According to news reports, on March 29th when the women arrived in Boquete, ready to start their volunteer work, they were told that the Spanish school they were supposed to be volunteering at for the next month was not ready for them. According to Dutch news publications, the school’s administrators told Kris and Lisanne to basically kill time for a few a week, and then everything would be ready to go.

So, that’s exactly what the girls did. They met up with their assigned host family in the village and started making plans to explore the jungle and surrounding mountains in their free time.

On the morning of April 1st, both women posted on their Facebook profiles about plans to meet up for brunch with two young guys who were also from the Netherlands and had been traveling through Central America.

Newsroom Panama reported that after having brunch Kris and Lisanne took a taxi to the trailhead for El Pianista Trail.

El Pianista is a popular hiking trail that visitors and locals walk often. It IS in a dense jungle, but it’s well-traveled or at least the first few miles of it is. The path’s biggest claim to fame is that it leads to the continental divide, which is what separates the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Oceans. One side water flows west. On the other side, water flows east.

According to a man who was working at an inn near the trailhead, he saw women matching Kris and Lisanne descriptions hiking together into the dense jungle between 11 o’clock and noon on April 1st.

By all accounts, the duo appeared to be in good spirits and had all the necessary stuff with them for a day hike. They were seen wearing comfortable clothes, shoes, and backpacks. Alongside them was a scruffy dog everyone in town knew as Blue.

*Dog panting*

Blue belonged to the host family the women were staying within Boquete. Blue had this pesky habit of following house guests wherever they went in town and was often seen trailing behind hikers on El Pianista Trail. Needless to say, the dog was super familiar with the jungle of the Chiriqui and Boca del Toro provinces that the trail connected to outside of Boquete.

A few hours later, around dinnertime, the mother of the host family, a woman named Miriam, noticed it was getting dark and neither of the women had returned from the jungle.

*Dog collar jingling & dog panting*

Something else strange was that Blue, had strolled back into town alone, unaccompanied by the young women.

Alarms bells didn’t go off right away though. Miriam just figured the girls had gone out to experience the local nightlife and would come home the next morning.

*Knocking on door*

But the next morning, around 8:30 am on Wednesday, April 2nd, a male tour guide from the town named Feliciano knocked on the host family’s door. He’d been looking for Kris and Lisanne. He said he’d come searching for them because they’d missed an 8:00 am scheduled appointment to go exploring.

When Miriam told him that Kris and Lisanne had not returned from their hike the previous day, the tour guide became worried. He knew that where the girls had gone hiking the previous day was not that complex of a trail system. They should have had no problem finding their way home and would have known better than to attempt to stay the night in the wild jungle.

I read that Feliciano was actually the first person to call the Panamanian police and report Kris and Lisanne missing.

He didn’t do this though until 5:00 pm on April 1st, hours after the girls were late for their appointment and he’d spoken with Miriam. It’s not exactly clear why Feliciano and Miriam waited so long to report the women missing, but again, I think it’s just that they weren’t sure where the girls were and wanted to give them time to show up.

By nightfall on April 2nd, authorities with Panama’s Civil Protection Services Force arrived in droves and began searching El Pianista for the two women. This law enforcement agency, from what I gathered, was sort of like a local regional police department.

They leashed up scent dogs and invited dozens of community volunteers to join them in scouring the nearby sections of jungle for clues.

According to news reports, during the first day or so of searching nothing of any investigative value was found. During that time, Panama authorities alerted both women’s families back in the Netherlands and Dutch police contacted Panamanian officials to offer their assistance.

On April 4th, both Kris and Lisanne’s families flew to Panama. They told reporters that up until Monday, March 31st, the day before the hike, the women had both been in contact with their families on a daily basis. Kris had spoken with her boyfriend Stephen on Sunday and Money and Lisanne had talked on the phone with her parents. The women expressed that they were enjoying their time in Panama and were excited to explore the area and start volunteering at the school they were assigned to.

According to BBC News on April 7th, after six days of searching the jungle, Panama’s Civil Protection Services Force officially scaled back the search for Kris and Lisanne. They claimed that all of the areas worth searching had been covered and no clues had turned up.

At that point, the Civil Protection Services Force transferred the investigation to Panama’s National Police Force.

News reports are a bit slim on what all was done investigation-wise by the national police between April 7th and April 14th, a whole week, but based on what I read, they apparently didn’t do a whole lot. Because, on April 14th, the national police officially passed the buck and handed the investigation over to Panama’s Public Ministry Department, which according to Embassy Panama is sort of like the country’s overarching national government criminal division. So, equivalent to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office here in the United States.

Figuring out what happened to Kris and Lisanne was now the responsibility of Panama’s Complex Case Unit inside of the public ministry department, which was headed up by a female prosecutor named Betzaida Pitty.

By the end of April, the Panamanian government wrapped up its formal investigation and publicly announced that despite not finding Kris or Lisanne’s bodies. The government felt confident that the two tourists had gotten lost on their hike or fallen and perished in an uninhabitable section of the vast jungle.

Head prosecutor Pitty said her office would still conduct some searches to try and locate the women’s remains, but as far as what happened to them, the government believed wholeheartedly the girls were likely dead as a result of an accident.

And for pretty much the entire month of May that’s what everyone seemed to accept as the likeliest scenario.

Everyone, except Lisanne and Kris’s families.

According to a UPI News article published on May 27th, 2014, both families were unwilling to accept that the girls had simply been injured and died in the jungle somewhere. Hans Kremer, Kris’s father, told the publication that based on information they had received since April 1st…the families were quote— “increasingly under the assumption there’s a possibility of criminal intent.”– end quote.

They demanded that Dutch police be allowed to aid in any further searches for the girls or begin a criminal investigation.

Around that same time, both families offered up a $30,000 reward for information that could shed more light on the case or what happened to Kris and Lisanne.

*Jet plane flying*

Shortly after that article was published, a Dutch search team flew to Boquete and was allowed to join Panamanian authorities in searches for the women. In total, the Netherlands police force flew 18 people and 12 dogs to Panama to work the case.

According to Newsroom Panama, as soon as both women’s families and the Dutch police arrived, investigators with Panama’s Public Ministry spread out over Boquete and began looking for security cameras in neighborhoods and commercial areas leading into the town.

Now, this seems like something authorities should have done during the first week of April when the women initially vanished, not something that’s done two months after the fact.

But, according to news reports that’s exactly what happened. Also, at that time Panamanian government leaders approved the use of the country’s National Air Service to conduct aerial searches over the jungle, something that before June 1st had never been done.

With pressure mounting from Kris and Lisanne’s families, Panama’s Public Ministry had to take a harder look at things.

With no sign of the women turning up or witnesses coming forward to report seeing them in distress, the first people investigators turned to talk to were the two young Dutchmen who were seen having brunch with Kris and Lisanne the morning before their hike.

According to an article by Dutch News, those men were questioned by police…but whatever information they provided was not helpful in figuring out what happened to the two women.

The publication also mentioned that two other Dutchmen who’d been seen in the company of the girls during their first two weeks in Panama were also questioned, but those interrogations also led nowhere.

The first substantial clue, that would break the case wide open, didn’t come until June 15th.

When Luis and his wife Irma made their discovery on the Culubre River.

*Tropical birds & river water*

When Irma and Luis found the abandoned backpack on the Culubre River near Panama’s border with Costa Rica, it had two pairs of sunglasses, two neatly folded bathing suits, again some reports say bras, a passport, $83 in cash, a digital camera and two cell phones inside of it.

The couple had heard the non-stop news about the two missing Dutch women and had seen searchers scouring the jungle for weeks looking for anything that could be related.

According to Dutch News, Luis immediately called a local rancher and that guy alerted Panamanian police about the discovery.

When authorities got ahold of the backpack, there was no doubt it had come from one of the missing women. The passport inside belonged to Kris Kremers.

Police were eager to get into the women’s digital camera and two cell phones too, but they’d have to wait for forensic techs to open the devices and review the contents.

The condition of the backpack stood out to authorities right away. Just like Irma had thought when she first found it, the bag seemed to be in remarkably good shape for having spent two months along a riverbank in the Panamanian jungle.

It was not damaged or wet and all of the contents showed no signs that the items had ever been in the water. To many investigators, it appeared as if the bag had been left there, recently, miles from where Kris and Lisanne had initially been hiking El Pianista Trail.

Within hours of the bookbag being reported to police, searchers found a pair of jean shorts not far from where the bag was wedged near the river bank. The shorts were determined to belong to Kris.

According to Medium.com, authorities found 34 different fingerprints on the backpack and the items inside, thirteen of which were on the outside of the bag itself. Reports are not clear if police determined if some of the prints belonged to Kris or Lisanne but I have to think at least some of them did. My question is, how many prints didn’t belong to them? Especially the ones on the items inside the bag.

Three days after the bookbag was found, Feliciano, the tour guide who’d initially reported Kris and Lisanne missing, was hiking in the Talamanca Mountain Range near the Culubre River.

*Walking in jungle brush*

While walking, he stumbled upon something disturbing about six hours hiking distance upstream from where the backpack was located.

Tucked away in a remote section of the jungle, scattered not far from the riverbank, were several human bones with clothes on them and a boot with a fairly distinguishable foot still in it.

The discovery quickly re-ignited Kris and Lisanne’s case and within a week or so, police officials confirmed through DNA that the bones belonged to both missing women.

Forensic experts revealed that 28 to 30 bones had been recovered. Many of these were from Lisanne’s foot, tibia, and femur but several were determined to be a rib and pelvic bone belonging to Kris. All of the remains were in advanced stages of decomposition.

The pathologist said that Kris’s pelvic bone was bleached by the sun, indicating that it had been exposed to direct sunlight for a significant period of time. Because so little was left of both women, the pathologist could not determine a specific manner of death OR even when exactly they’d died.

*Thunderstorm rolling in and rain falling*

Right after the remains were found, a lot of rain and bad weather settled in the jungle and subsequent searches for more clues, bones, or evidence around where the remains had been found were called off.

According to Weather Atlas.com, the rainiest time of year in Panama is between April and November. It’s typical for heavy rainstorms to come down in large bursts in the afternoon and evenings for days on end.

From late June until mid-July all search efforts by the Panamanian and Dutch authorities were suspended to keep searchers safe.

The discovery of the women’s remains and confirmation that the bones did belong to them seemed to many people like part of the mystery was solved. Except, that it wasn’t.

Not by a long shot.

Kris and Lisanne’s families felt even more certain that something terrible had happened to the women.

It made no sense for their backpack and belongings to still be in such good condition so far from where they’d been hiking If they had, like the government claimed, just fallen or been injured.

On top of that was the fact that the remains were clearly body parts. The women’s families were highly suspicious of how pieces of both girls had managed to end up together in a remote spot in the jungle miles away from their backpack’s location.

Panama’s Public Ministry’s argument to this though was that the women’s bones being so far from their original hiking path and their belongings was just more proof that they’d clearly been disoriented or something had happened that caused them to wind up way downriver.

The government believed one of the women had become severely injured and died…and the other stayed by her side and maybe tried to use the river to float to safety, and eventually died alongside their injured friend. It was at that time officials revealed that Lisanne did have asthma and an inhaler but the inhaler was not found in the bookbag or at their host family’s house, so they considered that as a possible reason she could have become incapacitated while hiking the highlands of the jungle where she’d most certainly experience shortness of breath from the altitude change.

Panamanian authorities said that over time, it was entirely possible for animals to scavenge the women’s remains and drag off body parts.

To contrast the government’s claims though was a Panamanian environmentalist named Ezequiel Miranda. He told Prensa News that when Kris and Lisanne disappeared, the Culubre River WAS not flooded or swollen, which meant that the women could not have been swept away by a strong current or carried very far if in fact they did fall in or wanted to use it to float to a village for help. He told the publication quote — “The possibility that the river really dragged them is very strange.”— end quote.

According to Newsroom Panama, on July 2nd the country’s head prosecutor Betzaida Pitty traveled with her investigators to the Netherlands to meet with Dutch police and analyze the contents of the women’s backpack.

Around that time, Kris’s father, Hans, spoke to Dutch television stations and said that seeing cooperation between both agencies was encouraging. He said he wished it had happened sooner because both families still had many questions about what was going on with the investigation in Panama.

In earlier statements via a spokesperson, the families told media outlets quote— “The hypothesis that they died after becoming lost is not definitive for the families and we are still considering the scenario of a possible third party being involved. This stance is based on issues that have come to light in the investigation for which we cannot give more details.”– end quote.

Kris and Lisanne’s families wanted to keep looking for clues and possible proof that something criminal was at play. They told news reporters that they just wanted to find more of the women’s remains to bring them home to the Netherlands and be able to say goodbye in a proper way.

In mid-July, with Dutch police now working alongside Panamanian authorities, the agencies were able to extract some incredibly useful information from the women’s digital camera and both of their cell phones.

Information that would once again take the investigation two steps forward but what felt like one giant step back.

When police investigating what happened to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon cracked into the data from their cellphones and digital camera, they discovered both women or someone had been using the devices multiple times during the first week they were missing in the jungle.

According to La Estrella de Panama, the memory card in the women’s camera showed that on April 1st between 12:00 pm and 1:45 pm they had taken several pictures of one another while on their hike. Most of the images were of them posing in front of mountains and climbing through rock scrambles along El Pianista Trail. They looked totally normal and happy like you’d expect two tourists to be.

After 1:45 pm though, no other normal activity was documented for the cell phones or cameras.

According to La Estrella’s reporting and the blog All Mystery, when authorities reviewed the call history of the women’s phones they found that on April 1st at 4:39 pm someone using Kris’s iPhone dialed the number 112, which is the Dutch emergency 911 line. The call did not go through.

Ten minutes after that, Lisanne’s Samsung phone attempted to call the same Dutch emergency number and failed.

*No cell service tone & phone dialing*

Then, between April 2nd and April 3rd, both phones tried a combined five more times to dial 911.

*Phone keyboard clicking*

From April 3rd  until April 8th, both devices showed multiple attempts to enter the PINs to unlock the phones and check the strength of the cell signal but the PINS were incorrectly entered and the phones did not unlock. No actual calls ever went through after that and eventually, both phone’s batteries died by April 11th.

When investigators examined the memory card for the digital camera to see if any activity on that coincided with the cell phone data. Timestamps on several images showed that seven days after the women were reported missing someone used the camera to take 90 photos between 1:00 am and 4:00 am on April 8th. This would have been the last day the wrong PIN number was used on their phones.

Dutch forensic teams determined that just three of those images were clear enough to show anything distinguishable. All of the other 87 pictures were too dark or blurry to see anything useful.

*Camera taking picture*

The first of the three visible photos showed a rock in the depth of the jungle surrounded by low-lying vegetation.

*Camera taking picture*

A minute after that image was snapped, the next image on the memory card showed a branch with some red plastic tied to one end hanging over a rock that looked like the same rock seen in the first picture.

*Camera taking picture*

The third photo showed a similar area of the jungle as the first two pictures but included an angle that revealed a small mirror and what appeared to be gum wrappers or trash littered on the ground.

Some investigators speculated that in the early hours of the morning on April 8th, the women had gotten so desperate to send out a distress call that they may have possibly been using the flash from the camera to signal a plane or search crew flying above the jungle and that the small mirror may have also been used to signal for help too.

Authorities also studied the image of the trash from the third visible photo and speculated that the litter could have been spelling out the letter S-O-S, but in the end they had no idea for sure.

The evidence from the cellphones strongly indicated to everyone that at some point on April 1st Kris and Lisanne had encountered a circumstance that prompted them to dial emergency numbers on their cellphones. Whatever had happened they clearly tried multiple times after that, for another week, to unlock their devices, check the cell signal in the jungle, and dial 911.

What authorities could not figure out was what had happened to the two women during that week and why had search crews been unable to find them if they were still alive using their phones and camera.

The answers to those questions never came.

Between September and December 2014, Panama’s Public Ministry officially closed the case and ruled both women’s deaths as accidental.

The government claimed all of the evidence collected so far indicated that Kris and Lisanne had somehow gotten into physical trouble while hiking and it was likely that one of them was incapacitated first, which prompted several attempts to dial 911…then over the following week after one woman perished, the other tried to use both phones to signal for help.

Officials said the mysterious images on the digital camera were likely taken by the women in an attempt to keep track of where they’d been or signal for help.

In January 2015, Kris and Lisanne’s families spearheaded another effort to investigate the case and search for evidence. According to Dutch News a group of scent dog handlers, forensic anthropologists, DNA specialists, and criminologists went back into the jungle where the women’s bones were found to look for clues.

That endeavor resulted in no new information according to news reports.

As far as everyone in Panama’s government is concerned, this case is closed and nothing is still being investigated.

But documentary filmmakers, authors, internet sleuths, and several online news publications have raised some really interesting theories that I have to tell you about.

First, there’s the obvious theory that the women were murdered.

In a multi-part investigative series, The Daily Beast reported that murder was a highly probable scenario as to what happened to Kris and Lisanne. The outlet said it had obtained never-before-seen documents produced by Panama’s Public Ministry that determined the women were killed by someone and the investigation at one point was considered a double homicide.

In that report, and others it was suggested that the women could have been followed on the trail and stalked by a serial killer.

In that event, it’s surmised that the pictures from the camera were not taken by either woman and the cell phone activity was a result of someone else, most likely their killer trying to punch in PIN numbers after killing them and failing to unlock the devices.

The problem many people have raised about that theory though is if a murderer did kill the girls, why would he or she not destroy the backpack, cell phone and camera? On top of that, if the killer was going to say keep it as a trophy or something, WHY then plant it by the river two months after the killings?

The fact that nobody knows where the rest of the women’s body parts are has also fueled serial killer suspicions and has led many to believe Kris and Lisanne were dismembered.

But according to news publications and the autopsy reports for the women, there was no evidence found on their bones that indicated they’d been cut up.

Something that definitely supports a serial killer theory though is a report of another young female tourist dying in Panama three years after Kris and Lisanne’s deaths. According to the New York Post, in 2017 a 23-year-old woman named Catherine Johannet was brutally murdered on a hiking trail 35 miles away from where Kris and Lisanne’s remains were found.

According to the newspaper, the FBI is working that investigation and announced at one point that they uncovered *potential* connections to all three deaths but would not provide further information as to what that link was.

Other people suggest that Kris and Lisanne’s camera pictures and cell phone activity indicate they weren’t being held against their will by a serial killer but instead were trying to signal that they were being controlled by someone or a group of people.

That’s where the theory emerges that perhaps Kris and Lisanne ran into drug traffickers in the jungle by accident and were taken hostage. Several news outlets reported in 2014 that Panama’s dense jungle was known to have pockets where illegal operations would take place near the border with Colombia. The problem with that theory is that Boquete, where the girls were hiking, is literally on the opposite side of the country from the border with Colombia and El Pianista Trail itself was considered one of the safest areas in Panama to avoid suspected drug cartels.

Another theory, discussed in the documentary Accident or Murder by Peaked Interest, is that the tour guide Feliciano had something to do with the girl’s deaths. According to that film, Feliciano was allowed access to the girl’s room at their host family’s house the morning he reported them missing.

The report says that Miriam, the girls’ host mom, gave him the key to the women’s room and he was inside it for 20 minutes before calling police.

There’s also reviews on his website that Feliciano was known to be too friendly with young female tourists traveling alone. He was a middle-aged Panamanian man who had expert knowledge of the jungle and the Culubre River.

Then there’s also the fact that he was the person to report the girls missing and discover their remains but according to Panamanian authorities, Feliciano has never been considered a suspect, which I’m not sure counts for much because the government thinks the women died from an accident, so who knows how much they really looked into him.

In the end, what happened to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon in 2014 may never be known.

And if there is a killer still lurking in the cloud forest, they’re most likely still hiding in the shadows of a wild jungle that refuses to answer the questions of a captivated global audience.

Park Predators is an audiochuck original show.

Research and writing by Delia D’Ambra with writing assistance from executive producer Ashley Flowers.

Sound design by David Flowers.

All source material for this episode is on our website, parkpredators.com.

So, what do you think Chuck, do you approve? *howls*