Another disappearance occurred back in 2014, this time in Panama. Two Dutch students went to the Central American country for a well planned vacation after graduating college. After spending the first few weeks seeing the sights, the two set out on a day hike on a well known jungle trail and never returned.
Weeks turned into months before evidence was unearthed that pointed to what became of the two young women.
This article will go over the details of the case as part of my continuing Missing in the Woods series, But, be forewarned. The more digging you do with this one, the more troubling it gets.
Girls on a Trip
Kris and Lisanne arrived in Panama from the Netherlands in the early spring of 2014, ready for a grand adventure – a much needed rest after graduating from college, and an opportunity to volunteer helping young girls in the local area.
They knocked around Panama for two weeks, checking out everything this rich country had to offer, learning Spanish as they went.
The two had recently become roommates and had saved for six months in order to pay for their trip.
Their itinerary landed them in Boquete at the end of March. This is a small mountain town near the border of Costa Rica, and is a big draw for natives as well as foreigners from the world over.
There were staying with a local family while they volunteered in the community. It was the perfect working vacation, filled with a zest for life, for discovery, exploration and purpose.
Their Disappearance & Remains
On a day like any other, the two girls set out for a well known three mile hike on the Piano Player Trail, a frequent hike by tourists to take pictures from the 6,660 ft high peak.
They left with their hosts dogs, but never returned. When the dogs came back on their own, their host family knew something was terribly wrong.
A search was quickly organized, and several more conducted over the course of as many weeks, but not a trace of the two girls were found.
It would take a few more months before a backpack was turned in by a native – found in a local area of the jungle – and then another search turned up scattered remains that were identified by DNA as Kris and Lisanne.
Conspiracies abound in the jungle. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, Dutch authorities, rewards offered, no evidence of a crime has ever been unearthed.
One part-time guide in the area has been suggested as a suspect in the girls’ disappearance. He met with the girls a few days before they went on their fateful hike, offering them an all inclusive guide package, which they declined for unknown reasons.
Instead, the girls decided to hike the mountain on their own.
When the backpack was found, inside was a passport, both phones, and a camera with over 100 pictures taken.
Those pictures show the trip up the trail to the top of the mountain to be nice weather, the girls smiling and enjoying the day.
But, the pictures also show a much different scene on the descent.
In this area, the Boquete side of the mountain is a trail well maintained my rangers. But, if one ventures down the other side of the mountain, you quickly plunge into a wild and unkept maze of trails used by locals. It almost instantly turns into a hazardous trek that even the natives avoid during bad weather.
The pictures show the girls did indeed head down the far side of the ridge, instead of going back the way they came.
There is no logical reason for this, which has led to a great deal of speculation about them being forced. But, as many experts have stated, if the girls had been abducted, their captors would have taken their items from them immediately, including the camera. They certainly wouldn’t let them keep filming.
Most likely, the girls got turned around at some point as they started their descent, got onto one of the wild trails, and then started to panic.
They would not be the first nor the last to get lost in the wilds of the Panamanian jungle. Even local guides have gotten turned around and had to be rescued.
Questions have been raised as to the location of the skeletal remains and the backpack, found several miles from the mountain.
In addition to the photos, the girls used their phones repeatedly, starting at 9pm that night.
The phones were subsequently used again and again, though no service was available in their location.
As they made their way down the mountain (in the wrong direction), the girls quickly and maybe unknowingly headed deeper into the jungle, at night.
They were without extra clothing, had no food, no water, and were most likely utterly and irrevocably lost.
On that side of the mountain, there are also makeshift bridges constructed of 3 cables that people must use to cross sweeping and violent rivers, many of which are in steep canyons, and cliffs as high as 60 ft.
If the girls were attempting to cross one of these bridges at night, it would be very feasible that one of them fell into the water and was swept away.
Interestingly, of the bones recovered in the search, there were several that did not match either of the girls’ upon DNA testing, but proved to be of indigenous ancestry. When natives are swept into the river, the locals don’t even report it.
It is suspected that the girls were attempting to follow the adage to always follow water when you’re lost. The problem in steep and treacherous terrain, you might be able to go down, but once you do, you can’t get back out again.
Lastly, one of the remains found was of Lisanne’s foot, which was still in her sock inside her boot. It was discovered at autopsy that multiple bones in her foot had been fractured, and such damage could only have occurred from a high fall.
It is most likely that, after Kris succumbed to an inadvertent fall from a cable bridge, Lisanne also fell to a similar fate, after trying to get out of the river system alive.
It is possible that she injured herself from a fall, causing the fractures in her foot, which would maim her to the point that she simply could not get out of the river.
Two months later, her bones would be found scattered along with her friend’s downstream.
So close to safety, yet they might as well have been several hundred miles away from anyone, for as much good as it did them.
Both girls reported missing two months before their remains were found along the river.
There is no conclusive evidence pointing to an accidental tragedy that took the lives of two young women at the prime of their lives.
Because of this, many will hold on to the idea that Kris and Lisanne met their fate at the hands of a human predator, that their deaths were the result of foul play.
But, the evidence as a whole does not really point to this. There is too much evidence provided by the girls themselves that would argue against a sinister outside threat.
Instead, the most likely scenario is, the girls took a wrong turn once they were at the top of the mountain, headed the wrong direction, away from town, and quickly got in over their heads. Kris most likely lost her life first – suddenly and brutally – while Lisanne most likely succumbed to death after a fall that left her with a broken foot and no means of escaping the jungle which eventually swallowed her whole.
Fate is to blame. Happenstance. Misfortune.
What can we learn from this ill-fated tragedy? First, we must always error on the side of caution, no matter how innocuous our intentions, no matter how equipped and prepared we might be.
Life has a way of humbling us. Nature has a way of exacting its due penalty out of the best intentions.
One mistake these girls made was not leaving a note or telling someone where they were going, what route they would take.
I am guilty of this constantly. As a hermit and recluse, I am constantly in the woods, away from people, isolated and continually in situations where the wrong turn could spell utter disaster.
No one knows where I am. If I were to fall, suffer a deep cut (because I use sharp objects all the time), or break a leg, they would not find me for weeks or months or years. They would not even begin to know where to start looking for me, let alone what direction I ran off to at any given moment of the day.
The truth is, as this tragedy with Kris and Lisanne proves, we have no idea when our time on this planet will come to an end.
We must not hide from the world outside, but we could embrace it with just a little more restraint.
In the end, at least with this missing person case, the families were granted a bit of closure.
Their children are still gone, stolen by a monstrously brutal and unforgiving wilderness, one in which even tonight, quietly, instinctively, moves and vibes and consumes life without concern for any hopes or dreams or desires of man.
And this is the world we live in, in which we must try to survive each day without fate or destine wrapping its tight tentacles around us and pulling us kicking and screaming down into the deep.
It has no care for us. No concern. It simply does as it does, consequences come what may.
Keep that thought in mind the next time you venture out on your next adventure.
Will it be your last?
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