AMSTERDAM — On a sunny day on April 1, 2014, two girls in their twenties went for a hike in the Panamanian jungle and were never seen again. They were called Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers, and their sad story struck a chord around the world.
After their disappearance, the good weather disappeared as quickly as the girls. The number of people or organizations involved or the extent of the research no longer seemed to matter. The girls were lost, and would remain lost.
There is something about this tragic story that haunts people to this day, and speculation about what really happened to the missing girls has never ended. Now Dutch authors Marja West and Jürgen Snoeren claim that in their new book Lost in the jungle, the mystery is finally solved.
“It was 2016 and I was sitting on my veranda during a thunderstorm, pouring rain, at night. I was actually reading the cover of The Daily Beast’s Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers story, ”West told The Daily Beast. “The story totally fascinated me, I was like, ‘How would you feel as a girl in this situation?’ Deep in the woods, it’s wet, you’re hungry, lost. You cannot reach your parents, you are waiting for help that will not come. When does hope end? You are so young, in this beautiful adventure, an exciting vacation. After you start your studies, your room, your office, everything is arranged in advance. And then the moment comes, the pivotal moment where you start to accept that you’re going to die out there in the middle of the jungle. I found it so intensely sad. That’s what caught me.
A few months after their disappearance, a backpack containing their phones, camera, money and some clothes washed up on the banks of the Culebra River.
On the camera, dozens of photos were found, including a dark series of images taken at night. Panamanian authorities hoped this would shed light on what had happened, perhaps even tracing it back to the girls. But time was running out, and expectations were overshadowed by the near impossibility for anyone, even experienced jungle dwellers, to survive the rugged terrain, endless rains and ruthless torrents created by the now booming rainy season. .
Despite months of searching, during which no effort or expense was spared, Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers have not been found. It was not until August of that year that pieces of their bones were recovered.
“Reading the Daily Beast articles on the case left me perplexed. What set us off was that based on the same facts, different conclusions could be drawn. The first set of articles speculated that the girls had encountered an accidental death, ”West said.
A year later, Snoeren read the Daily Beast follow-up investigation assessing the likelihood of a murder scenario. Both scenarios were possible, West said, but what was the true version of events? Was there too little information available to come to a solid conclusion?
“That’s when we decided to figure out what really happened to ourselves,” the author explained. “We started by searching the Internet, where it was extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction. We have seen facts reappear as if the publications were copying each other. You can really move in any direction.
A little further in their research, they made contact with Dick Steffens, a former detective from Amsterdam, who was still investigating the case on his own initiative. “What he told us blew us away,” West says, explaining that “[Steffens] said: Kris Kremers may still be alive. “
As if that statement wasn’t controversial enough, Steffens added that he believed the Panamanian investigation was shoddy and should be redone. “He also claimed that a Stefan W. had come forward, saying that Kris Kremers ended up in the sex trade,” West added. “The man said he would be able to free her. Nothing came of it and the family never heard from Stefan W. ”
The encounter with Steffens left West and Snoeren stunned and overflowing with questions.
For the book, they spoke to behavior specialists, (native) guides, witnesses, police officers, lawyers, pathologists, members of the research team, survival specialists, forensic psychiatrists. and photography specialists. Although the subject matter is poignant and the reconstruction of the complex of the fate of the Dutch girls, West and Snoeren’s book is easy to read. Many different stories and statements are woven into a storyline that takes the reader through the lives of the girls before their trip to Panama, to their demise and beyond.
The real breakthrough in West and Snoeren’s investigation came when they got their hands on complete police records, forensic reports, autopsy reports, and brought in the former Panamanian prosecutor. Betzaïda Pitti.
Taking all of this information into account brought them closer to the last 11 days of the girls’ lives, leading to their deaths. An ending which, according to West and Snoeren, must have been accidental. “It also surprised us, but our conclusion must have been that it was an accident. It took us a while to get there.
But there had been a key moment, and it had everything to do with how the girls’ belongings and remains were found. Snoeren had called West and said, “With everything I read now in the police file, it couldn’t have been anything else… typical of the region and the season.” These flash floods made it impossible to stage scenes or strategically place objects.
Public prosecutor Pitti, during the investigation, never responded to the allegations made against her. It was said that she had failed in her job. Others said she botched the investigation in order to protect Panama’s tourism industry. In this book, Pitti wants to set the record straight.
“When I first approached her she was suspicious, wanted to know who I was and what my opinion was on the case,” West said. “So I asked her if, instead of an interview, she would be willing to share the police file with us, to let us translate and study. We also asked her if she would extend her collaboration to the book. She was ok with that and said you can ask me anything you want.
Debunking false information and refuting rumors has become an integral part of the book. There was so much of it on the internet and beyond it created a distorted picture of the situation and a misconception of what the possible scenarios are. According to West, “Once we got the files, we were able to understand where people outside the investigation were taken and why. ”
After reviewing the records, the authors say they believe the Panamanian authorities have done a great job. But the huge international attention to the case has not done much good. “There was that exact moment when the critical index reward went from $ 3,000 to $ 30,000,” the author explained. “Immediately after, the police were inundated with tips, everyone had to be checked, wasting precious time. It became a hell of a job. “
Most of the questions surrounding the case, but not all, are answered in Lost in the jungle. West admits that a few hours cannot be found. “From the time the last photo was taken on April 1, until the first emergency call that day, about two hours and 45 minutes later, those are hours that we have not been able to reconstruct. for sure. The timeline before that is pretty accurate, and by the time after the first emergency call, we were able to piece together what must have happened.
But during this small window of time, something unknown could still have happened. In cases like the disappearance of Froon and Kremers, the research can get closer to the facts and get you closer to the truth. But only simple and direct facts can be absolute and true. And as time blurs memories, misinformation persists. In this context, the authors of Lost in the jungle did a thorough job to unravel the mystery.