Kris Kremers bones are discussed less often regarding the disappearance case of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. When Kris Kremers bone fragments were found, forensic investigators claimed that Kris’s bones were bleached in some fashion, that phosphorus was discovered on her bones and the experts also suggested the possible use of lime. Kris and Lisanne were two young Dutch women that mysteriously disappeared during a hike on April 1st, 2014 in northern Panama.
The concept of “bleached bones” has stuck in my mind. It’s one of the many key indicators that significantly increase the likelihood that foul play was involved in their deaths. I live in Central America, I’ve visited that region of Panama before and I’ve written about dozens of disappearance stories, including Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon.
If you haven’t read their disappearance story, I suggest that you start by reading the link below. You won’t understand the story of what happened regarding the bleached bones of Kris Kremers if you don’t know the full background of the story.
Full Story Link: Unsolved: Kris Kremers And Lisanne Froon In Panama
Graphic Warning: I’m going to cover some unsettling topics here, reference scientific studies and share some photos that may be disturbing. I did my best to share only photos that are scientifically necessary. Please don’t continue reading if you’re squeamish or unwilling to read graphic content.
Why Analyze Kris Kremers Bleached Bones?
I didn’t intend to research all of this. And I wasn’t particularly something that I wanted to research. I’ve already considered the camera photos and backpack contents. My next search for answers entailed looking into the remains that were found. As I was exploring this morbid subject, I considered that other people might be interested in this too. The more that I wrote, the more questions I had. This research is the result of that.
Truly, this is the job of forensic investigators and medical examiners. However, as everyone knows, the “official” analysis provided by authorities was very limited and mostly inconclusive. Neither the Dutch nor Panamanian governments released any official documentation or reports – which gave me very little to work with unfortunately.
I decided to research this from a different angle – the surrounding conditions as they correlate to Kris Kremers bones.
A lot of discussion about Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s case references the photos from the camera, the phones and the blue backpack. The problem is that all of those materials may have been tampered with to some degree, or just not investigated altogether (such as the fingerprints). Many people have already analyzed, more than once, how nearly everything may have been tampered with.
The only things we can be truly certain about is two facts: 1. The two girls disappeared, and 2. Some of their remains and belongings were found and inspected by investigators. At the core of everything, that is the only “substance” the public knows. Everything else is debatable.
“For her part, prosecutor Betzaida Pitti said that it is essential to maintain the confidentiality of the summary to clarify this case.”Panama America Newspaper
Granted, privacy and confidentiality are necessary. But that also comes with the expectation that they’ll do their jobs and “clarify” the case properly like Pitti herself suggested – but they absolutely did not clarify the case. Was anything about this case clarified? Too many questions were left unanswered. It’s dangerous and irresponsible. Panama’s government has a responsibility to investigate disappearances properly and thoroughly in order to protect visitors and locals from criminal activity in their country.
At this point, 6 years after Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s disappearance and death, obviously no government officials are going to investigate nor discuss the case any further. Both the Dutch government and the Panamanian government have made that clear.
Therefore, I decided to do my best to evaluate the information that is publicly available. Partially for curiosity and partially from the frustration of having so many unanswered questions.
There is a lot of information and analysis here: Climate conditions, rivers, bone review, chemical research, local animal species, etc. Peer review is helpful – I invite anyone with insight into this case to review my research and provide feedback.
Kris Kremers Bleached Bones
Kris Kremers on Left in red and white shirt. Lisanne Froon on Right in turquoise shirt.
This article will focus mostly on Kris Kremers. Kris’s bones were bleached. Lisanne Froon’s bones were not bleached. However, a lot of this analysis can also be utilized to analyze the conditions of decay of Lisanne’s bones too. I tried to leave my personal opinions out of this article as much as possible. My goal was to be as objective as possible.
The bleached bones lead me to ask a lot of questions: What exactly does it mean for bones to be bleached? What are some possible ways that their bones could have been bleached? Can bones be bleached naturally, such as in a river where their bones were found? How does phosphorus affect the bleaching process? And how did the forensics experts handle the discovery of the “bleached bones”?
These questions lead me down a long path of late-night research – for a week. So if you’re interested in the disappearance case of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, I just saved you many hours of research.
Keep in mind – I’m a software engineer with experience working in health care information systems. I now live in Central America. I am not a forensics professional, nor a biologist, nor a doctor, nor a journalist. I had to piece together this information painfully slowly.
Kris Kremers Bones And Lisanne’s Remains
Only two bones from Kris Kremers body were found: A piece of her pelvis (hip bone) and a rib bone (rib #10). The other 99% of Kris’s bones were never found. The only photo publicly available is a medial view of Kris’s left coxal bone.
Also, something more disturbing was found. In late August of 2014, a large lump of Lisanne’s skin was found and it was still in an early state of decomposition. In other words, the chunk of her flesh was relatively “fresh”.
“These remains were found on the banks of the Culebre River, and are sent for analysis“Betzaida Pitti, Office of the Attorney of David
Somehow Kris’s bones had disconnected from all flesh and “aged” rapidly, but Lisanne’s bodily tissue was discovered intact and in relatively fresh condition.
Kris’s bones had no flesh attached. Lisanne Froon’s bones still had flesh attached. So, given the inconsistency between the states of the bodily tissue of the two girls, we can assume that the conditions of decay were quite different, for reasons that we do not know.
Many people believe that Kris died before Lisanne, for a number of reasons. If Lisanne was alive, even only for a couple weeks longer than Kris, she should have had ample time to find help under normal circumstances.
Where Kris Kremers Bones Were Found
On August 2nd, 2014, the residents of Alto Romero found two bones: A coxal bone and a rib. They were later verified by IMELCF, a forensics office in Panama. The remains found highest in elevation were discovered at 800 Meters (~2,600 feet) above sea level near the headwaters of The Serpent River, with cool water flowing north.
“It is important to indicate that the N / W (north and west) is not marked, and therefore the precise location of the bone remains is unknown, making it impossible to locate them on a geographic map.”Autopsy Report – September 19, 2014
In the interest of clarity: The word “Culebre” in Spanish means “Snake” in english and can also be translated to “Serpent”. In this case, sometimes “Culebre” is incorrectly spelled as “Culubre” or “Celubre”, which I needed to lookup to ensure that my research was consistent with the facts of the case. Also, there exists more than one river named “Rio Culebra”, with an “a”, which are entirely different rivers altogether. Be careful not to confuse the spelling. It’s sometimes common to see misspellings to identify one river in various languages and, in other cases, the misspellings could in fact represent two or more different rivers. In this case, we’re referring to one river: The Rio Culebre, the Serpent River which is located in Valle Risco, Bocas del Toro, Panama.
The river has the name “Serpent” because it curves back and forth like a snake. The Serpent River mostly flows slowly and is relatively shallow. It also isn’t a wide river by most comparisons. As I’ll discuss later, the velocity of the river increases substantially during the rainy season.
Getting back to the case…
The bones were discovered a 14 hour hike north and past two rivers from where the two girls originally known to be, which means that Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon had somehow travelled considerably further than anyone in their right mind would travel without being better prepared.
If they had walked that far, why? Why would they embark on an unguided trek over Panama’s Continental Divide when they only had a few hours of daylight? And how? As you’ll see from my research, Kris’s pelvic bone was broken in at least two places.
If their bones were carried downstream, how? Is it possible that they experienced a tragic accident and then were swept downstream by the river? I’m going to analyze the river water and rainfall conditions in detail below.
I can say with certainty that they were educated enough not to go on a spontaneous nighttime hike with an ill equipped backpack and without proper clothing.
Additionally, their hiking route exists on paths commonly used by local villagers. Local inhabitants utilize these trails to visit neighbors and to access the town. If Kris or Lisanne had survived an accident, as their camera photos might suggests, then their cries for help surely would have been heard in the subsequent hours or days following the accident.
Elevation Of The Bones
The elevation of the bones deserve consideration because it affects the temperature and rainfall. Therefore it affects the rate of decomposition of human remains. Also, as you’ll see later, the elevation comes in handy when I compare climate variables with other nearby regions.
Quick note: Elevation and altitude are different. Altitude = elevation + height. Elevation specifically refers to land mass above sea level, while altitude refers to an object’s height (such as airplanes). Both are based on sea level.
This helpful graphic from MapScaping demonstrates the difference:
I put together this Google Earth Map (public access) to better understand the elevation where each item was found. Much of this is based on this map and this map (much thanks to Scarlet). The intention of this Google map was not to mark every important point – the intention was to identify the approximate elevations.
Here are the approximate elevations of various areas that are discussed regarding their disappearance:
- Boquete – 1,250 Meters (Southernmost point)
- Los Naranjos – 1,400 Meters
- Palo Alto – 1,250 Meters
- Il Pianista Trail – 1,800 Meters
- Continental Divide – 1,300 Meters (Last place the girls took photos)
- Alto Romero – 800 Meters
- Jean shorts found – 800 Meters
- Last remains found – 400 Meters (Northernmost point)
For reference, 1000 meters = 3,280 feet.
As you can see, the remains were not found at very high elevations. However, the remains were also found at higher elevations than typical tropical environments. Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon went missing between 1,800 to 1,300 meters in elevation and their remains were found between 800 to 400 meters. After you pass the Continental Divide the elevation begins to decrease.
When most people think of “tropical climate”, they think of hot and humid or they think of sun-bleached sandy beaches. This is not the case where Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon disappeared, nor where their bones were found.
The elevation of 800 meters has temperatures more mild than a typical tropical climate. It’s not the very hot tropical temperatures you would experience in a coastal town. But it wouldn’t be cold either. The river water are cold because it flows down from higher elevations – more on that later.
Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s Bones Were Scattered
The bones were scattered, sometimes kilometers apart and sometimes in the same precise area without being connected by soft tissue.
“Two bones from different parts of the body, from two people, never end up together on a sandbar. This shows that someone placed them there. There is no other reason.”Octavio Calderón, Criminologist
Certainly it’s possible, even likely, that the bodily remains could be spread a far distance from each other in a river. Rivers move objects and debris, including corpses. But what doesn’t make sense is that many of the bones washed-up on the same exact small bank of the river, many kilometers downstream.
It’s important to know: the Serpent River is very inconsistent. In most places the river bottom is rocky. In some places it’s sandy. In most places it’s relatively shallow and slow moving. In some places it’s a couple meters deep and also slow moving. The velocity of the river is largely dependent on the season. During early April, when the girls disappeared, the river is slow moving. April is on the verge of the start of the rainy season. Later in April the river multiplies in size. Increased rains drastically increase the depth and movement of the river.
Corpses float due to gasses that are internally released postmortem. If they died on the bank of the river, it’s likely that their remains were eventually swept away as the rainy season took hold, depending how high the remains were on the bank of the river. This may sound like I’m eluding to the idea that they died naturally – I’m not. As you will see, there is ample information in my research below that suggests otherwise. The goal here is to be objective.
“The buildup of putrefactive gases within the gastrointestinal tract and lungs will cause the body to float and eventually resurface.”1997 Rodriguez reference, Found in this USF Dissertation (local link here)
Note: If you’re interested in this subject, I found this book to be referenced in dozens of studies online: “Decomposition of buried and submerged bodies“. It’s very popular in the forensics field.
Lastly – bones don’t float. Bones are more dense than water and therefore will sink to the bottom of the river, thereby being more likely to get trapped between rocks, boulders and other river sediment. So if there was some level of unusual rapid-decomposition, and the bones were separated from the corpse, then the bones would have simply sunk and received visible scratches if they had moved along the rocky bottom.
What is the Continental Divide?
A lot of what we discuss in the next part will refer to the Continental Divide. Understanding the Continental Divide is important to understanding the climate conditions of their disappearance and the discovery of their remains. So we should cover what that actually means first.
The Continental Divide is a series of connected mountain ranges that runs from the southern tip of South America to the norther edge of North America. It’s enormous. The Continental Divide connects the Rocky Mountains in the United States to the Andes Mountains in Argentina.
The mountains of the Continental Divide essentially cuts western Panama in half, based on north and south. That’s why the vast majority of Panama’s citizens live in the southern half of the country.
River & Rainfall Data
In order to understand the potential environmental factors involving the conditions of Kris’s timeline I had to look into the river and rainfall.
First, I looked into the river temperature. I found that a river’s temperature doesn’t change much based on elevation, meaning that river water from low elevations carries the same temperature as the same river’s higher elevations.
“Mountain ranges, highland plateaus and volcanoes reach high elevations in some parts of the tropics and these areas are drained by streams as cold as their counterparts at higher latitudes.“Dean Jacobsen – Tropical High-Altitude Streams
This seems to defy common sense. However, the reason is clear. Mud, sediment and debris act as insulators, essentially maintaining the cooler temperature of the river water from higher elevations. This insulating effect is the same reason that cold-blooded reptiles burrow into muddy riverbanks during seasonal changes – to be insulated from colder temperatures.
Also, I looked at what determines rainwater temperatures. It should come as no surprise that rainwater temperature is determined by the temperature of the air. Sunlight has an impact to a lesser extent during the rainy season because cloudy conditions are more prevalent, as you’ll see below.
Next, I wanted to understand the rainfall in the region.
I found an excellent historical weather database called worldweatheronline.com – it also shares accumulated rainfall by month, including in some regions of Panama. I captured the following screenshot for Boquette, Panama:
Boquete is on the southern side of the Continental Divide. But I also needed to understand the rainfall conditions on the northern side. We don’t know exactly where the girls disappeared, we only know that their remains were found downstream north of the Continental Divide.
It’s a mistake to believe that the rainy conditions on both sides of the Continental Divide are the same. In fact, they’re quite different. In a phenomenon known as orographic lift, mountains can suppress rainstorms from passing over the mountain. To get more answers, I gathered rainfall data from Cauchero, Panama, the closest town north of the Continental Divide to where the girls remains were found.
Quick note: Cauchero is only 11 kilometers (7 miles) north of Alto Romero. Cauchero’s elevation is 200 Meters above sea level. The comparison of rainfall between Cauchero and Alto Romero is more reliable than comparing rainfall data with Boquete. Lastly, there is no historical rainfall data that I could find for Alto Romero.
Here are the rainfall records that I found for Cauchero:
We immediately see that there is are sizable differences between the rainfall in Boquete (south of the Continental Divide) and Cauchero (north of the Continental Divide). Cauchero’s biggest rainfall month was July, whereas Boquetes biggest rainfall month was October, a 3 to 4 month span between the heaviest rainfall months.
I was still missing information. I felt like I was incorrectly assuming that the rainy conditions on top of the Continental Divide would somehow be similar to these two cities that are north and south.
It was really difficult to find rainfall data about the Continental Divide itself. The challenge was that there are no cities or towns in the mountains in that region of the Continental Divide of Panama. But something stood out to me – The Fortuna Forest Reserve is an enormous protected nature reserve nearby. It has the same climate and sits slightly on the northern edge of the Continental Divide. I knew that sometimes nature preserves permit scientific research, so I searched for studies published in the region.
After two hours of research, I found this 2015 study by ecologists, which was later published in 2016. The study has rainfall data, elevation data and maps.
Here’s the table that I found in the study:
This study was helpful to see the differences in rainfall.
Note: Hornito, mentioned in the table above, is only 17 kilometers (11 miles) from where Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon disappeared. Rainfall conditions may not be exact but they would probably be similar to where the girls went missing.
I put all of the data into the following table to make it easier to understand:
|City||Elevation||Position||Average Annual Rainfall||Collection Period|
|Boquete||1250 M||South||2932 mm||1982 – 2012 (source)|
|Cauchero||200 M||North||2278 mm||2010 – 2020 (source)|
|Hornito (Fortuna)||1330 M||North||5100 mm||2007 – 2014 (study)|
Based on this data, we can see that rainfall increases with elevation on the northern facing slope. Hornito is on the northern slope, similar to where Kris and Lisanne disappeared north of the Il Pianista trail. Boquete is only slightly lower in elevation but it’s located on the south side of the Continental Divide, which is not helpful in determining rainfall on the north side.
The data above is an improvement, but it doesn’t permit us to evaluate rainfall for specific months, so I had to keep looking.
I discovered that the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is located at the Fortuna Reserve too. They record rainfall daily. This gave me an incredible amount of information – the holy grail of relevant rainfall data. I downloaded their excel file and added Fortuna data to my data table. Here is all of the monthly rainfall data:
|Month 2014||Millimeters of Rainfall Fortuna||Inches of Rainfall Fortuna||Days of Rainfall Fortuna||Millimeters of Rainfall Boquete||Days of Rainfall Boquete||Millimeters of Rainfall Cauchero||Days of Rainfall Cauchero|
Now we can see a lot more detail. Rainfall during the 2014 rainy season was considerably higher each month when accounting for elevation and positioning on the mountain.
From April to May the rainfall doubled. From May To June rainfall increased 32.55%. May and June probably didn’t have turbulent flash floods because the rain was disbursed over so many days (for almost the entire month). However, the water levels undoubtedly rose, perhaps to flood-like conditions. Then again later in September and October river levels would have risen considerably. Considering that these rainfall rates were from Fortuna, it’s likely that these conditions were slightly more mild where Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon disappeared, but I believe that this comparison is fairly accurate.
It’s interesting that April had 24 to 25 days of rainfall north of the Continental Divide. This is a substantial difference than south of the Continental Divide where Boquete only had 13 days of rainfall. In fact, Cauchero and Fortuna received more days of rainfall than Boquete every month until September.
I also looked into rainfall rates for each location during the first 15 days of April:
|Rainfall Cauchero (mm)||0.2||0.1||0.3||0.2||0.4||0.3||0.1||0.4||2.6||0.9||1.5||0.3||0.1||0.5||1.8|
|Rainfall Fortuna (mm)||0.5||1||2.1||1.8||3.7||0||0||0||9.1||12.3||33.3||2.8||2.9||2||2.5|
|Rainfall Boquete (mm)||0||0||0.8||0.8||0.3||0.1||0.3||0.6||0||0||0.3||0||0.1||1.5||2.4|
On the 9th of April the rainfall in Fortuna starts to increase somewhat substantially. The 11th of April must have been a particularly stormy day. Interestingly, Boquete had little rain during this same day. I pulled up the weather forecast for Boquete for that day and it only showed “Patchy rain possible” at 3:00 PM.
If we take into account the suspicious cell phone activity, both Kris and Lisanne were alive as late as April 11th. During that day and the subsequent days, the river levels started rising. This tells us a lot of things about the climate conditions when Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon were missing:
- The weather was mostly cloudy.
- The rains may have somewhat preserved their bodies and reduced the effects of insects.
- The vast majority of rainfall in April happened during the second two weeks of April.
If Kris Kremers died on the edge of a river, then by May her remains would have been at least partially submerged in water. After May the water levels would continue to rise, suggesting that her remains may have been fully submerged for the remainder of the rainy season.
I also researched Tropical Storms during 2014 and wasn’t able to find any notable storms that could have unexpectedly contributed to flash floods in the region. Historically Panama is mostly immune to intense Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms. I looked into earthquakes too and found that a 5.8 earthquake did hit Panama on April 2nd, although a 5.8 on the richter scale isn’t big by Central America standards and would need to coincide with heavy rainfall to have a large impact.
Why does any of this matter?
These things are important for three reasons:
- Assuming that Kris Kremers died on the bank of a river, water levels would have to rise in order to relocate Kris’s remains further downstream. It’s unlikely that Kris died from drowning if there was no human involvement associated with their death because water levels in nearby rivers were too low during early April to be a serious threat. Therefore if she died from an accident and her remains were found in or near the river, we can assume that her remains must have been “swept” into the river at some point from increasing water levels.
- Corpses that travel downstream in a river don’t typically disarticulate (break into pieces) quickly compared to when they’re on dry land. They decompose significantly more slowly. Understanding the rainfall helps us understand the potential turbulence of the rivers, which would help us more accurately derive conclusions about Kris’s remains being found in the unusual way that they were found.
- Rainfall itself also contributes to decomposition rates. Insects prefer “moist” carcasses, but too much water is problematic for insects. That’s one reason why corpses last so long when submerged in water.
Given that the Serpent river is curvy and heavily covered with boulders and rocks, we can assume that friction would be high, thus naturally slowing the flow rate of the river and catching more debris, including bodily remains. Inversely, flat river bottoms tend to have less friction, therefore permitting a higher river velocity.
“The velocity of a river is determined by many factors, including the shape of its channel, the gradient of the slope that the river moves along, the volume of water that the river carries and the amount of friction caused by rough edges within the riverbed.”Sciencing.com – Factors Affecting a River’s Velocity
River friction is the same reason that rivers becomes chaotic and turbulent at times. The accumulated water pressure at higher elevations essentially forces the water through resistance areas.
The Serpent River bed is armored with rocks. It’s less common to find vegetation and aquatic plants in the Serpent River because the conditions are less favorable – the gradient of the slope and the constant rise and fall of the river’s depth make it difficult for plants to take root and flourish.
The study of hydrology refers to river water accumulation as “discharge” because the water is discharged into the river. When researching this aspect of the conditions I realized that there are too many variables involved and insufficient data that would be necessary to calculate the exact rise in the water levels and velocity of river discharge.
With that said, I found that the typical speed of a river’s velocity:
“The speed of a river varies from close to 0 m/s to 3.1 m/s (7 mph).”The Physics Factbook – Speed of a River
However, that’s a river’s velocity, not necessarily an object in the river or an object floating on the river. There’s a lot of factors involved that we can’t estimate based on assumptions. Until more information is gathered we can only assume that the level and velocity would increase.
“A creek only 6 inches deep in mountainous areas can swell to a 10-foot deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm lingers over an area for an extended period of time.”NOAA – Flood Basics
Unfortunately I’m unable to determine how much the river height would have increased. It would be significantly easier for someone to simply check water levels of the Serpent River during a heavy rain. Anyone up for the task? Contact me.
Fortunately, we’re only getting started. There’s a lot more to evaluate.
The Local Temperature
Temperature conditions are important because temperature contributes to the decomposition of human remains in more than one way. Not only do cool and rainy temperatures keep human remains cool and therefore assist in preserving the bodies, but it also reduces insects and scavenger interactions with the remains.
“The most significant factor (by far) affecting the decomposition of a body is ambient temperature, the temperature of the area in which the remains are found. The higher the temperature, the faster the decomposition occurs.“EcoBear.com – Overview Of Human Decomposition
So, temperature is very important.
I read on this Panamanian news website that the local temperature was 12 to 14 degrees Celsius (53.6 to 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit). But that was very vague. Is that average daily temperature? Was that temperature taken on the Continental Divide? Which day was this temperature recorded?
I was skeptical of that temperature reading. That temperature is considerably lower than any recorded temperatures in nearby regions where the girls went missing. After some research, I learned that the only possible way they could have found that temperature was the volcano nearby called “Volcano Baru”. Temperatures near the peak of the volcano are consistent with their claim. However, that volcano’s peak elevation reaches 3,475 meters (11,401 feet) – which has temperatures that are drastically different than the approximate region where Kris Kremers went missing. I believe this is the lazy work of a journalist (which is unfortunately very common in Latin America) so I discarded that number.
First, I looked at temperature of Boquete.
Boquete, Panama had an average temperature of 24 degrees celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) in April 2014. Originally I thought that Boquete’s temperature might be a good temperature to rely on but I changed my mind after I gathered more temperature data.
The temperature data provided by the Fortuna Nature Reserve indicates that temperatures are consistently 4 to 5 (C) degrees cooler than Boquete. This is probably due to one main factor: the northern slope is exposed to northeasterly trade winds. The Continental Divide essentially acts as a wall of protection for areas south of the mountains, such as Boquete.
In my estimation, the average temperature where Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon went missing was probably somewhere between Fortuna’s temperature and Boquete’s temperature. My reasoning is that Fortuna is more directly exposed to the northeasterly trade winds, whereas Il Pianista trail is set back further south in the mountains of the Continental Divide. There are other lower-level mountains and foothills in front of the northern slope that would probably offer some degree of protection from cooler winds.
To verify this assumption, I compared average temperature data points:
I didn’t want to rely only on temperature data from Fortuna, so I included Cartago, Costa Rica in this analysis. Cartago is also on the northern slope of the Continental Divide, has a similar elevation and isn’t far north of Panama. The city of Cartago is slightly set back in the mountains, similar to the region in Panama where Kris and Lisanne went missing. As you can see, this verified my suspicions that temperatures are cooler on the northern slope. The temperature difference is approximately 3 to 4 degrees less than Boquete.
Based on this data, I’ve estimated that the temperature where the girls went missing was approximately 20 degrees Celsius (68 F) in April and approximately 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 F) each subsequent month.
The camera of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon recorded the temperature: 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 F). It was interesting to learn that the camera temperature matched the temperature of Boquete with precision. This is peculiar because the temperatures of the camera should have recorded cooler temperatures, approximately 3 degrees cooler (Celsius) by my estimation. That’s a 7.5 degree difference in Fahrenheit.
Mosquitos are surprisingly delicate to temperature and humidity. Of course, when the temperature and humidity are optimal, they are an absolute nuisance.
“Temperature and mosquito activity goes hand in hand with the insects flourishing in moist, relatively warm environments, functioning best at 80°F. Once the temperature lowers to about 60°F they become lethargic and anything below 50°F they find it hard to function at all.”Mosquito Squad
There are more than 245 species of mosquitos in Panama. Mosquitoes would have been a problem for them, particularly during mornings and early evenings. Only during rainy moments would they have been safe from mosquitos. Mosquitos don’t like rain. They only like stagnant water (puddles), specifically for laying eggs.
As anyone that’s visited Central America knows, mosquitos alone would be enough reason for an unprepared person to forgo an evening hike with short sleeves and shorts.
Blowflies are the most common species of decomposition insects. They prefer temperatures between 10°C and 30°C (50 to 86 F), a temperate range which covers all of Panama.
Blowfly eggs take approximately 23 hours to produce larvae. Assuming that the bodily remains were dry (not in the river), it would only take one 23 hour period without rain for these insects to start decomposition. Otherwise the Blowfly eggs would be washed away by rainfall, depending on how heavy the rain was.
I found an interesting 2015 study from Boston University: The effect of rainfall on blowfly (Calliphoridae) activity and decomposition on recently deposited animal remains – it’s relevant to this topic and shows how complicated the initial decomposition process can be.
Blowflies are generally the fastest insect to arrive on a corpse, but there are other species of flies that arrive soon after. Dermestid beetles typically arrive 11 days later. I discuss arthropod succession further below in the section: “The Unexplainable Joints Detachments”.
Chemical Traces On Kris Kremers Bones
On September 24, 2014 forensic experts found traces of phosphorus on the bones of Kris’s remains. The Chiriquí Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences (IMELCF) confirmed in a private forensic report that lime was probably used in the deconstruction of Kris’s body.
“Much depends on the quantity and quality of the lime used, but the action can be a matter of days”Humberto Mas, Director of the IMELF
Betzaida Pittí, the prosecutor of the case, wasn’t satisfied with Humberto’s report. Regardless of what evidence was presented, Pitti always upheld her theory that Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon had gotten lost and were dragged to death in the river. At one point she mentioned the possibility of animal predators being involved.
“In turn, they all had a white coloration which tells us about two facts: that they were exposed to the sun for a long time or, that the burial site corresponded to an area of very basic chemical elements, affecting the phosphates. and the calcium carbonates of each of the bone components, causing the whitish coloration.”Autopsy Report – September 19, 2014
Additionally, no phosphates were found in soil samples from the region, therefore Phosphorus could not have been a natural cause of accelerated decomposition of Kris Kremers remains. This discovery implies that chemicals were used during the deterioration process. We’ll discuss this in detail later.
What Does It Mean For Bones To Be “Bleached”?
“Bleached” can mean a lot of things depending on context. In some cases, such as skeleton preservation for art and scientific purposes, “bleaching” implies cleaning the bones and making the bones white. In other cases, the sun itself can result in bleaching, although, it takes longer than chemicals.
Before we get further into bleaching, let me share this quote:
“There shouldn’t be bleaching on these bones.”Dr. Georgina Pacheco, Daily Beast Article
That’s important mention, one of many from the fine journalism of Jeremy Kryt, whom has heavily investigated the case. Dr Pacheco reviewed the autopsy report herself and has been involved in investigating other notable disappearances, such as the disappearance of Cody Dial.
So if the bones were bleached, then how were they bleached? That’s unknown.
Bleaching can sometimes refer to the process of maceration. When I researched “bleached bones” I came across the process of maceration often.
Maceration is the natural process of permitting bacteria to remove flesh from bones. It’s a primitive method, but apparently it works rather well. A demonstration is provided in this YouTube video from a Florida man that put the bones in water during 85 degree weather to remove flesh from sheep skulls. In the video he explains that the process takes 2-4 weeks with a heat source. Without a heat source, he claims that the process will take a lot longer.
In the context of Kris Kremers, “bleaching” implies that someone intentionally tried to dissolve the body and/or bones in some form of chemical, likely fertilizer that contained lime. This process is called alkaline hydrolysis.
It’s important to recognize that the forensic investigators intentionally used the word “bleached” in parallel with the traces of phosphorus that were found. It wasn’t a matter of speculation from the forensics team: they knew that chemicals were involved somehow. Never did the forensics team suggest another form of bleaching.
An Overview Of (Natural) Human Body Decay
Photo: Steven Bridges / University of Tennessee
There are 5 stages of decomposition. In order: Fresh, Bloat, Active Decomposition, Advanced Decomposition and Skeletal Decay.
Kris’s remains reached the fourth stage: advanced decomposition. This is because no flesh was present on the bones. Bizarrely, Lisanne’s remains were only between the first and the second stage. In fact, there was still insect larvae on her remains. Larvae is often used to identify the postmortem interval (PMI). In this case, the PMI made no sense to forensic investigators, leading them to question if a cooling method (perhaps refrigeration?) was involved.
According to the National Library of Medicine, the adult human body has 213 bones. We can’t be certain how many bones were discovered. As many as 33 bones were counted, but some of those were found to be from other people (not Kris or Lisanne), which we’ll discuss later.
Skeletanization happens during putrefaction – when the soft tissue of a body attracts insects and bacteria, breaks down and only the bones remain. This process takes anywhere between three weeks to three years. The variables involved are: airflow, moisture (water), minerals, insects and animals, and temperature. Like most decomposition processes, water and heat when combined especially speed up the process. Water enables microbes (that once helped with digestion) to more easily escape the body. Similarly, water grants microorganisms greater mobility. However, water slows the putrefaction process, because oxygen isn’t available. Normal insects can’t access the remains. Additionally, moving water, such as rivers, further slows the process.
In one publication I found from 1989, they stated:
“The variability in the rate of postmortem change can be impressive. Obviously, in arid engironments such as coastal Peru or even the American southwest, mummification can occur naturally, leading to soft tissue preservation for hundreds of even thousands of years. In a tropical environment where remains are exposed to scavenging animals, a human body can be skeletonized within 14 days“.Forensic Taphonomy: The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains – 1989
I looked further into this and discovered a few important things.
- The tropical conditions that this publication refers to are low-elevation, hot and humid conditions. Kris and Lisanne disappeared in higher elevations with cooler air, lower temperatures and more rainfall.
- Fourteen days is extremely fast for a human body to decompose. More recent studies that I found stated that “three weeks” or “a few” (three or more weeks) was the minimum amount of time necessary for a body to decompose.
- Lastly, this study assumes that the human remains were decomposing on land, not in a river.
Based on this, I believe it’s more accurate to estimate that the absolute minimum amount of time necessary for decomposition is be three weeks. We need to compare apples to apples to ensure that we’re evaluating the conditions properly.
Next I looked into the breakdown process.
Disarticulation of Human Remains is when the “pieces” break off of the main cadaver. This 1993 study describes the process of disarticulation in aqueous environments, which basically states that the “smaller” pieces come off first: fingers, feet, hands and so forth.
Given that the two girls were missing for two to three months in the cool temperatures of the high elevation of the rainforest, that didn’t provide a sufficient amount of time for their bodies to have decayed into skeletons.
“After 2 months the bone should not be bare, but still covered with significant amounts of flesh unless of course there was human intervention.“Carl Weil, Colorado Wilderness Medicine School
Carl Weil was interviewed by the Daily Beast and stated that most bodies are found in rivers whole, in one piece, sometimes up to an entire year after the initial disappearance.
Bones themselves don’t decay for decades. It takes approximately 80 years for the soft collagen in bones to break down inside a coffin. Outside of a coffin and in a natural setting, that process still takes multiple years. Once the collagen has deteriorated, the brittle bones will eventually crack and break down.
In a 2016 forensics study, it was observed by two scientists that parts of a pig carcass remained fairly intact after 6 months of being submerged in a freshwater lake. Although that study had differing variables, there are some similarities for this study to provide some insight into the decay process that Kris’s body would have experienced if she died naturally.
Panama doesn’t have piranhas. Piranhas are sharp toothed, highly predatory fish that attack prey in large numbers. They’re found in South America, usually in the Amazon Basin, which is south of Colombia. This is an important note, because piranhas are known to attack everything from livestock to humans. However, they’re not in Panama and could not have contributed to the decomposition of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s bodies.
More About Decay In Aqueous Conditions
Here, I mostly discuss the decomposition process more.
Decomposition in this case would have been largely dependent on the following variables:
- The composition of the water
- The composition of the soil
- The temperature of the water
- The temperature of the air
- The river’s velocity
- If the bodily remains were dry, submerged, or partially submerged
- Microorganisms and bacteria present
- Carnivorous insect species in the area
- Scavenger animals in the area
- The changes of these variables based on day vs night
- The changes of these variables based on seasonal changes
We can determine fairly precisely the conditions of each variable. With that said, I haven’t gathered all of this data, as these variables alone would require my presence in Panama’s jungles and likely take hundreds of hours for me to collect, submit for analysis and interpret. And in truth, it’s unclear if a deep analysis of that level would prove to be helpful, for the reasons that I mention next.
The biggest factor we cannot know is: At which point Kris Kremer’s bodily remains were placed into the river. Regardless of whether she died from an accident or by human action, we do not know when her body was “taken” into the river. Our previous research into rainfall rates illustrated that it could have been as early as late April. But without further testing of river conditions we can hardly speculate on an exact date.
If her bones had not been bleached then the time at which her bones arrived in the river could possibly have been determined by forensic investigators without a deep analysis of river activity, velocity and movement.
Not only did the bleaching bones confuse how she died, but it also confused when she may have died. And further, it also prevented utilizing modern methods to determine the time of death. Necrobiome is the utilization of the age of insect larvae to determine time of death, but unfortunately that process isn’t possible in this case. Lisanne’s bones tell a different story, but that’s for another article altogether.
During my research, I found a very helpful 2016 study from the National Association of Medical Examiners:
Warning – Extremely Graphic: Decomposition Changes in Bodies Recovered from Water
Note: I also downloaded the PDF in the event that the link is not available. The local file is here.
Keep in mind, that by utilizing this study, we’re ignoring the very likely possibility that Kris did not die near the river. There is litte evidence to suggest that Kris and Lisanne died near the river, except for the single fact that their remains were discovered by locals on the river bank.
The study contains a lot of information. Here are the key takeaways:
- “The typical decomposition changes proceed more slowly in the water, primarily due to cooler temperatures and the anaerobic environment. However, once a body is removed from the water, putrefaction will likely be accelerated.”
- “In shallow water, the hands, knees, dorsal aspect of the feet, and the forehead may drag along the bottom, creating postmortem cutaneous abrasions that may be difficult to differentiate from antemortem injuries. These abrasions will be exaggerated in a strong current.”
- “Cooler temperatures generally slow the decomposition process. Exceptions include hot tubs and tropical bodies of water.”
- “Not only will a strong current transport the remains for a moderate or even long distance, but other objects in the water can get caught up in the current and come into contact with the remains in a similar manner.”
Note, if Kris and Lisanne died near a river, the water would have been shallow and moving. There are no deep bodies of water in the immediate region and the rivers would not have been deep prior to the rainy season. Even during the rainy season, the water would likely not be much deeper than a couple of meters. Let us remember, these are valley rivers that are created from rainwater flowing downhill, not craters, cenotes or lakes.
Again, it’s difficult to determine how relevant these statements are to the case of Kris Kremers because we don’t know how long her body was in the river.
The Effect Of Sunshine On Bones
Although we already know that sunshine wasn’t a possibility to cause the bleaching effect on Kris Kremers bones, I wanted to research it more thoroughly.
When considering natural bleaching from sunshine, we must consider that the bones must be exposed to the sunlight first. The bleaching effect from sunshine exposure can only happen in four conditions:
- The flesh must no longer be present, therefore exposing the bones.
- Any cloudy weather must disburse for the sun to be available.
- The bones must be directly in the sunlight’s path.
- The bones must be exposed for long durations of time.
This presents two key problems in Kris Kremers case.
First, the decomposition process would take too long to expose the bones. If we assume that the two girls died on April 11th, the day that their camera last had photos, we can assume that the decomposition process would start soon after the 11th, perhaps on the 12th. Decomposition would take an absolute minimum of 3 weeks if the body was not submerged in water, and if insects were not hindered by rainfall. Three weeks of decomposition would brings us to May 2nd. Only then would the bones become exposed. Chances are, given the cooler elevation and rainfall, the decomposition process would take a lot longer.
Second, not enough sunlight was available. After the bodily remains were decomposed, the bones would need ample direct sunlight to experience even a mild form of bleaching. As the rainfall data suggests, there were very few sunny days in May and even less in June and August when the bones were found.
Third, suns exposure would demonstrate extreme bleaching gradients. Sunshine doesn’t bleach bones evenly. Sunshine radiation typically torches the upward facing part of the bone, which highlights “shadows”. In the example below this becomes more obvious.
For the sake of comparison, the pelvis bone photo below (link here) demonstrates signs of sun bleaching:
This specimen shows the very clear effect of bleaching. Additionally, notice how sun bleaching makes bone more brittle. A clean and jagged fracture can be observed at the bottom of the photo.
The effect of sunlight on bones has been heavily documented by forensic anthropologists.
I found a fantastic explanation of what happens to bones when exposed to direct and indirect sunlight:
“As bones decompose, they go through several stages. In the first state, articular cartilage on the bone ends dries and cracks, then disintegrates. In the second state, the bones themselves are “greasy.” If bones are found that have a splotchy brown discoloration and greasy texture, it generally means that fat is still present in the bones and that the bones are from a recent death that occurred months, not years ago. In the next stage of decomposition bones blanch and whiten. Finally, the bones cracks and exfoliates, and the surface flakes off.”
“The color and appearance of old bones are indicators of the amount of time that has passed since death, but they are far from definitive. These changes can give only a general indication of whether the bones have been exposed to the environment for a long time or relatively short time. Bones exposed to air and sunlight blanch more quickly. Buried bones take on the color of the material in which they are burried. In fact, a single bone may show different stains if it is partially exposed and partly burried.”The Use of Forensic Anthropology
Blanch: to make white or pale by extracting color.
Observing the photo of Kris Kremers pelvis bone, there is no visible surface cracking or flaking present. Any “grease” or oil from fat has been removed by chemicals. If Kris’s bones were exposed to sunlight, the evidence shows that they certainly were not exposed for enough time to cause bleaching. In fact, it looks more like it has an earthy olive green tint.
And of course, all of this ignores the fact that chemical traces were also found on the bones.
A Quick Look At The Composition of Bones
Bones are living, growing tissue that are primarily composed of Type 1 Collagen (~94%). Collagen is a protein that gives hard tissue it’s solid, yet semi-flexible structure under stress. Joints, ligaments, bones, tendons and skin contain collagen. It is considered to be “connective” tissue, meaning that collagen essentially gives everything it’s definitive shape.
“Two types of bone are found in the body—cortical and trabecular. Cortical bone is dense and compact. It forms the outer layer of the bone. Trabecular bone makes up the inner layer of the bone and has a spongy, honeycomb-like structure.”NIH.gov
Bones make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of total body composition. Most red and white blood cells are created in the bones. I found a cross-section graphic of a typical bone on Arizona State University‘s website:
The above graphic illustrates the Osteon area inside of a bone, which is porous. However, the red bone marrow at the center of the bone is where new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made. The marrow inside of Kris’s bones was destroyed by the chemical traces present on the bone. Importantly, bone marrow is often the longest surviving soft tissue during natural decomposition, because it is directly protected by the hardened bone itself. However, saponification (chemicals) would destroy the bone marrow.
Saponification is the process of the breakdown of triglycerides from lye. Triglycerides are lipid fats stored in human fat cells, which is why lye reacts so heavily with fatty tissue, or “flesh” (rather than bones). This also explains why lye has a significantly slower reaction on bones (relative to soft tissue) – bones are primarily made of hardened protein and calcium – not fatty tissue.
A List of Bone Bleaching Methods
Bones can be “bleached” both naturally and unnaturally. Naturally available chemicals, such as lime and lye speed up the decomposition process rapidly. Unnatural chemicals are those that are mechanically engineered (manmade) and wouldn’t form naturally in Panama’s environment, or in some cases may form at virtually indistinguishable levels.
Keep in mind, this was essentially a crash-course in organic chemistry for me. I learned a lot about these concepts from various websites that explained the information in layman terms. I was meticulous in my research and have confidence that the bulk of these writings are accurate. However, it’s possible there are some inaccuracies.
I’ve organized bleaching methods into this table:
|Method Of Bleaching||Availability||Where It’s Comes From||Local To Panama’s Rivers|
|Lime||Natural||Extracted from heating limestone.||Yes|
|Calcium Oxide (Quicklime)||Not Natural||Extracted from lime through significant heat.||No|
|Sulfuric Acid||Not Natural||Manufactured in labs.||No|
|Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)||Natural||Originally produced naturally from ashe (from fires), but now it’s produced from salt. When mixed with lime, it becomes especially caustic.||Yes|
|Potassium Hydroxide (Lye)||Not Natural||Used in making other chemicals. Derived from lime and potash.||No|
|Phosphorus||Natural and Manmade||Used in fertilizers to boost plant development. More about Phosphorus later.||In Some Areas|
|Nitric Acid||Not Natural||Synthetically produced in labs for propellants and explosives.||No|
|Hydrofluoric Acid||Not Natural||Used primarily in making medications.||No|
|Citric acid (Citrus)||Natural||Typically used in flavorings of food and cleaning products.||Potentially|
|Acetic Acid (Vinegar)||Natural||Vinegar comes from fermented liquids. Large quantities are not produced in nature. Vinegar neutralizes lime.||No|
|Sunlight||Natural||Transfers heat energy via radiation.||Yes|
|Hydrogen Peroxide||Unnatural||Generates heat when exposed to oxygen and water.||No|
|Sodium Hypochlorite (Bleach)||Unnatural||Releases oxygen molecules in a process called oxidation. Breaks the bonds of other chemicals. Alkaline.||No|
|Gastric Acid (Stomach Acid)||Natural||Also known as stomach acid, is how humans digest food. Gastric acid is primarily composed of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride.||Yes|
Note: I mention a lot of acids in the list above for comparison sake. There was no indication in the investigation that acids were present. In fact, investigators only claimed that phosphorus remnants were present in Kris’s investigation, not acids. I included acids because they kept showing up in my research and I figure that it may be helpful for comparison.
Also, acids and alkali are “opposites” on the PH spectrum. In fact, Acetic Acid (Vinegar) is used to neutralize the harmful effects of Lye and prevent injuries when Lye is mishandled.
None of the various chemicals mentioned above could have resulted in the accelerated natural decomposition of Kris’s bones under the given circumstances of their disappearance. Either the chemicals are not naturally present in that region of Panama, or the chemicals need human manipulation (such as unnatural high levels of heat) to produce an effective chemical reaction.
Limestone must be heated to significant levels to become Lime in order to aid in the breakdown of organic matter. Lye, the secondary possibility and derived from lime, could only impact the natural decay process if it was readily available in large quantities in the river. Soil samples denied this as a possibility.
Volcanic ashe can be present in soil, especially in Central America where volcanoes are numerous. Ashe, as mentioned in the table above, can be used to make lye, especially when mixed with lime. However, this theory was also disproven – soil samples also denied this as a possibility.
The Use Of Phosphorus In Farming
Why would forensic investigators associate lime with phosphorus? At first I had a difficult time understanding this connection between lime and phosphorus. But when I learned more about farming principles, I understood the connection rather quickly: Farmers utilize lime to balance soil acidity levels for phosphorus to be more efficiently absorbed by plant roots.
Phosphorus is a key component in photosynthesis and root development within plants. When phosphorus deficiency occurs, plant growth is stunted and plants sometimes display brown leaf edges. Adding some lime to the soil helps the plants.
Phosphorus is available in Panama’s tropical soils to some degree, however, continuous farming in one area over time results in phosphorus deficiency. This happens both in small gardens and large farms. Therefore, phosphorus must be relocated, either from organic or inorganic sources and tilled into the soil.
“Soil phosphorus is classified into two broad groups, organic and inorganic. Organic phosphorus is found in plant residues, manures and microbial tissues. Soils low in organic matter may contain only 3% of their total phosphorus in the organic form, but high-organic-matter soils may contain 50% or more of their total phosphorus content in the organic form.”CropNutrition.com
There is a lot of helpful information available on the Crop Nutrition website. I also found this information rich study regarding soil samples taken in Panama (2010), but this study requires chemistry knowledge beyond my area of understanding.
Phosphorus mostly stays in soil, which is referred to as its “fixing capacity”. This means that very little phosphorus is removed from soil during rainfall, and would affect nearby rivers very little.
Key point: The utilization of phosphorus and lime together is common. When soils grow too acidic, lime is added to the soil to balance the PH, which therefore enables phosphorus to be more easily absorbed by plants.
“Under acid conditions, phosphorus is precipitated as Fe or Al phosphates of low solubility. Maximum availability of phosphorus generally occurs in a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. This is one of the beneficial effects of liming acid soils.“CropNutrition.com
That explains the direct connection between phosphorus and lime.
The Process Of Dissolving Bones
My internet search history is going to be littered with terrible search queries. Here I am late at night trying to understand how bodies decompose and which methods could have potentially been used to “bleach” Kris’s bones.
I’m not going to go much deeper into this subject. There’s plenty of information online if you dare to look it up.
From my understanding, it typically takes less than 24 hours to complete the process of dissolving human remains with lime. Lime is commonly used in breaking down fats and oils, which is why it’s a commonly used ingredient in the process of making typical soap (think of the movie Fight Club). You can read more about it in this Slate article. Also, you can watch this YouTube video which dives into the details (warning, it might make you vomit).
After considering the timeframe required to dissolve a body, it’s most probable that the process was botched in this case. Utilizing chemicals properly would have dissolved the bones to only small fragments, essentially making them beyond recognition.
It’s also important to mention that dismembering a body and dissolving bones is a dirty process. Blood, hair, skin cells and bodily fluid would be present everywhere surrounding the crime scene. Most farms and residential spaces wouldn’t be adequately equipped to handle the dirty process. The fact that 99% of the remains were never found suggests that there was much more to be found somewhere.
Accidental Bone Preservation
I came across this accidentally but it was interesting to learn. Utilizing lime improperly can actually preserve bones and tissue. The reason for this is that lime dehydrates soft tissue and reduces putrefaction, essentially mummifying the remains. Lime’s “disappearing” powers only works when used in conjunction with hot water, which activates its caustic abilities.
“Quicklime does have uses for burials. In the Red Cross Emergency Relief Items Catalogue, quicklime and lime are listed as a tool for aiding in proper disposal of human remains that cannot be afforded a deep burial. However, the goal of the product is not to destroy the body but rather to prevent putrefaction that create odor, and attracts flies and animals.“Kathryn Meyers, Mortuary Archaeologist
Putrefaction is exactly what attracts animals and insects. When bones are laced with chemicals, it destroys the smell which also slows decomposition because animals and insects aren’t attracted to the remains.
A novice criminal, possibly someone young, sprinkled lime on the remains and buried the remains in a hole, which also had phosphate fertilizer remnants in the soil. The assailant had hoped that it would quickly dissolve the remains. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the fleshy tissue was dehydrated and fell off, while the bones were preserved.
This also tells us something unexpected: If the perpetrator was educated enough to use farming fertilizer to dispose of the bones, they didn’t do it “properly”. So, why didn’t they do it properly? This opens a lot of doors for speculation.
Perhaps they were trying to do it conspicuously while search teams were in the area? Maybe they had curious neighbors or family members that they were trying to hide it from? Perhaps they did utilize a caustic soda solution on Kris’s remains but then realized they wouldn’t have enough time to perform the same process on Lisanne’s remains. Many questions come from this.
Chemical traces explain the absense of blood.
It’s fair to assume that the river would wash away blood. That’s a reasonable assumption. But Kris’s bones had no blood on them or inside of them. This is curious and is consistent with the fact that the phosphorus traces demonstrate that chemicals were involved.
This Is Not New To Central America
Unfortunately, dissolving bodies in farming chemicals isn’t a new concept in Central America. I previously wrote a story about “The Stewmaker“, a man in Mexico that was contracted to do the horrifying work of Mexican cartels by dissolving their victim’s bodies in caustic soda (lye). He was later caught and arrested after using the process on approximately 300 victims.
Gangs and cartels exist in Panama too, although their atrocities are less frequent and often covered less by local news media (or just not covered at all). In fact, gangs exist in the same area where Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon went missing. Ana Belfor, the Attorney General of Panama, requested additional funds in 2013 to combat the growing issue of gangs in Panama.
Sometimes crime groups use this heinous procedure to “disappear” people. It’s nothing less than disturbing.
Gastric Acid & Bone Bleaching
One of my readers suggested the possibility of stomach acids being involved in the bleaching of Kris’s bones. The idea is that a rupture from a fall may have caused Kris’s gastric acid to seep out and bleach her bones during decomposition. It’s a reasonable proposition and sparked my curiosity.
I wanted to understand how all of this could work. Here’s was my initial guess:
- A traumatic fall takes place.
- The stomach or small intestine is ruptured.
- The stomach fluids fill the abdomen’s peritoneal cavity.
- The stomach fluids dissolve through the small and large intestine, or travel around them.
- The stomach fluids dissolve through the superficial parietal layer and the deep visceral layer of the peritoneum.
- The stomach fluids dissolve through the pelvic floor.
- Finally, the stomach fluids start dissolving (bleach) the bone of the pelvis.
But is this all possible? The stomach fluids would need to travel approximately 20 centimeters while maintaining it’s dissolving strength. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any specific research studies or cases with that exact scenario. It seems that this scenario is very uncommon.
“While it’s not common to die of a ruptured intestine, it is often a sign of a larger underlying health condition”Dr. Anton Bilchik, John Wayne Cancer Institute
Of course, just because it’s not common to die of ruptured intestine, that in no way indicates how often ruptured intestines to lead to a dissolved or “bleached” pelvis.
So, I had to keep digging for information.
Stomach acid is a strong digestive fluid, primarily composed of hydrochloric acid. Empty, the stomach contains about 75 milliliters of fluid. The concentration of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is about 0.5 percent (0.005%) or 5,000 parts per million, therefore an empty stomach contains approximately 0.375 Milliliters of hydrochloric acid. Enzymes work in conjunction with the hydrochloric acid to break down food.
An important mention: Anyone that’s vomited before knows that their tongue doesn’t dissolve when their stomach contents are expelled. Surely there is an acidic taste. Although unpleasant, that demonstrates the limited strength of the hydrochloric acid in one’s stomach. On a similar note, bulimia patients (whom vomit repeatedly for years) often suffer from loss of tooth enamel. So it’s effect is small, but long durations of exposure can cause damage to hardened organic material.
The stomach’s “job” is to break down food. After the stomach’s contents are passed on to the small intestine, the acidic fluids are neutralized by a bicarbonate solution that’s produced by the pancreas. This is important because, of the 3 liters of the fluids in the digestive track, only the stomach contains powerful enough acid to break down food – the small intestine contain enzymes and bile (which is alkaline, not acid) and the primarily function is to absorb food nutrients.
The entire human digestive tracts naturally produce approximately 1.5 liters of digestive fluids daily. Depending on size, humans typically average between 1.5 to 5 liters of fluid present in the gastrointestinal tract.
Does stomach acid have the ability dissolve bone?
In one word: Yes. The stomach’s “strength” comes from three primary activities:
- The stomachs ability to churn contents in the stomach
- The rate at which the stomach reproduces acids (which dissipate)
- The length of time that the stomach holds the items
If bones were to sit in a living persons stomach for numerous days, the bones would break down. However, that doesn’t happen, except perhaps for very small bones, because bones and other solid items pass too quickly through the stomach.
Postmortem, the process changes substantially.
“Digestion is an active ante mortem process, which does not continue after death. Although acids and enzymes are present, the peristaltic movements necessary to churn food with them are absent.”Digestive Status of Stomach contents – An indicator of Time Since Death
Digestion is an active process that requires both churning and acid availability. After death, acids are present but the stomach stops churning its contents which means that the stomach content can’t be broken down. Forensic investigators often look at stomach contents of postmortem victims in order to retrieve potential clues about their death – and the stomach contents are typically intact.
Hydrochloric acid dissipates as a gas and therefore loses it’s strength postmortem. This is one reason why morticians use a “trocar” during embalming – essentially a large metal spike designed to release postmortem gasses.
Additionally, other bicarbonate solutions in the intestines neutralize any acids in the stomach. Bile from the gallbladder, which is alkaline, also aids in neutralizing stomach acids. This is the same reason that the stomach essentially fails to dissolve itself postmortem – the acids lose strength.
Stomach Rupture (Gastrointestinal Perforation)
In order for stomach acids to be released from the tract into the abdominal (peritoneal) cavity, the tract must be ruptured from a hole being created. This can happen from blunt trauma, such as a hard fall.
“Bowel perforations may occur spontaneously (unexpectedly) as a result of a medical condition or instead be a complication of various diagnostic and surgical procedures that accidentally create a hole in the colon. Trauma, especially blunt trauma to the abdomen, is also an important cause of bowel perforations.“verywellhealth.com – Understanding a Bowel Perforation
When the tract wall ruptures, what happens next depends on the location of the rupture. For example, if the large intestine ruptures then the bodies autoimmune response will be to stop any infection. This often results in sepsis due to colon bacteria being released, which eventually leads to organ failure and later death.
“More than 400 bacterial species have been identified in the feces of a single person. Anaerobic bacteria predominate.”Microbiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract
This rupture results in a complex mixture of fluids and bacteria that are never intended to merge. Gastric acid, bacteria, and other solid materials mix together.
When this happens, the fluids reach the mesentery.
“The mesentery attaches the intestines to the abdominal wall, and also helps storing the fat and allows the blood and lymph vessels, as well as the nerves, to supply the intestines.”KenHub.com – Mesentery
In simple terms, the mesentery keeps our intestines in place. When exposed to gastric fluids, the mesentery will essentially start to break down as if it is being digested. Following the mesentery would be the parietal layer of the peritoneum, then the deep visceral layer of the peritoneum, then the pelvic floor, then the pelvic bones themselves.
So, could Kris’s gastric acid have been the culprit of her bleached bones?
It’s a long shot but it’s possible. And it’s somewhat a Catch-22 situation. Kris would have to be alive long enough for her stomach to produce enough acid for it to dissolve organs and bleach bones in her body. But if her stomach is dissolving parts of her body, she would quickly face organ failure, her heart would stop and the digestive fluids would rapidly lose strength.
I wasn’t able to find any studies that demonstrated stomach acids and bile breaching the pelvic floor. It seems this is extremely rare, although potentially feasible (according to my understanding) given the proximity of the organs. If anyone can identify a specific study that investigates this more thoroughly, please share it with me.
Another major challenge with this theory is that the bones were not scratched. If the gastrointestinal fluids had breached the peritoneal cavity and the pelvic floor, and the bones had disarticulated to the high degree that they were found in the river, then micro-abrasions would be present on the bones.
Kris Kremers Bones Were Not Scratched
Another important consideration is that the bones that were found were not scratched in any way.
“There are no discernible scratches of any kind on the bones, neither of natural nor cultural origin— there are no marks on the bones at all. There’s no evidence that animals scavenged the Holandesas.“Panamanian IMELCF Forensic Anthropologist
They evaluated the bones under a microscope. This provides us with a lot of information. It tells us that:
- If Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon had been victim to a predator, some teeth scratches or other indicating marks would have been found on the bones.
- If the bones had been scratched from being dragged by the natural current of the river, surely scratches from rocks and boulders would be present.
- If their bones had knife or “slash” marks, it would imply that a knife or machete was used in some fashion.
Granted, we must consider that many of their large bones were never found. Kris Kremer’s arm bones, leg bones and skull were never found, which tells us something important – the largest bones, that would normally be easiest to find, weren’t in that area. So what happened to them? That’s a mystery.
Normal Bone Scratches From River Sediment
I had to learn the correct scientific terminology when researching natural bone scratching in rivers. Instead of searching “bone scratches” I had to use “microwear” and “abrasions” in my search terms. Instead of “bones” I had to use “taphonomy” or “osteology”. After I changed my wording, I was able to get a lot further.
In the image above, we can see microabrasions, scratches and cracking present on a bone after being bombarded in underwater conditions with various common forms of river sediment.
It turns out that bone scratches is a very common field of study in forensics. The effect that rivers and waterways have on bones is a subject of particular interest to forensic scientists, probably because bodies and bones are dumped in waterways by criminals so often.
“Within the taphonomical studies, many of the efforts have been concentrated in the understanding of the processes that affect the disintegration, dragging, transport, dispersion, and other post mortem alterations on human remains and in which way this alterations can be interpreted within the forensic context.”A Taphonomic Approach to Marine Abrasion on Human Bones
Here are some more key parts I found in this study:
“In the bones that were affected by the fluvial transportation, the entire surface appears affected.”
“Also the damages by abrasion depend on the elasticity of the bone; this will bring final differences in the taphonomical history.”
“All fracture edges are round and polished surface, giving a fragile look to edge of the fracture line, but without affecting the structural integrity of the diaphysis of the bone.”
This study brings to mind two important points:
- Flesh would have protected Kris’s bones from scratches or abrasion. Because the bones didn’t have flesh, the bone would undoubtedly have some clear abrasions, impact marks and dents from rocks and sediment on the bottom of the river. Given the significant distance the bones were found from each other, it suggests that the bones would have scraped along the bottom of the river for many kilometers. During that time, without flesh, the bones would have been subject to visible inflictions.
- The fracture edges should demonstrate signs of rounding and smoothing, without affecting the structural integrity of the bone. Did they? We’d need a clearer picture to make a determination.
Also, this study brought me to the concept of “bone weathering”, which proved to be relevant.
Kris’s bones were still between stage 0 and 1. There was no cracking, flaking or splintering present. Keep in mind, this is different from “broken” bones. A bone fracture is different from “cracking” and “flaking”.
Finally, I was interested in this study: “Experimental abrasion of water submerged bone: The influence of bombardment by different sediment classes on microabrasion rate” (another link here)
From this study I realized the high degree in which forensic scientists study these concepts. In this study, the biologists “bombard” bones underwater with a large variety of sedimentary material in order to see the effects on bones. Microabrasions from all sedimentary material were present under 100X and 1,000X magnifications.
This study demonstrates that some level of microabrasions and scratches should have been present on Kris Kremers bones.
The fact that there was no scratches is perplexing. If Kris’s bones had endured enough time in the water to be free of all tissue, then the bones equally should have shown visible signs of abrasions and scratching.
Only A Piece Of Her Pelvic Bone Was Found
Pelvic bones are strong. They don’t break easily, particularly in young people.
Most people that suffer from pelvis fractures experience these injuries from serious car accidents or from falling during old age (due to brittle bones, especially victims of osteoporosis).
According to AAOS, a “high-energy event” would be required to cause either a lateral compression fracture or a vertical shear fracture. Both fractures would be possible if Kris Kremers fell from a height. The angle that Kris fell and landed would also play a role in the injuries.
The Ilium, Ischium and Pubis are initially three different bones when we’re born. During our early teens these three bones fuse together to become one bone. Each bone is only able to be distinguished in adulthood by a very faint line that marks the location of the fusion points. Here is the structure of the coxal bone (medial view is most relevant):
Two parts of the bone were broken: the ischium and the pubis. Kris Kremers ilium pelvic bone was disconnected from all ligaments, which I’ll discuss next.
The Unexplainable Joints Detachments
Perhaps the most bewildering aspect of the bone found was the complete lack of joint tissue present.
All of these major joints were cleanly detached:
- Sacroiliac joint
- Articular capsule of the hip joint
- Sacrospinous ligament
- Arcuate pubic ligament
- Lilolumbar ligament
The sacroiliac joint is a hardened ligament that is designed to handle impact and balance while walking. This sacroiliac joint connects the Ilium to the sacrum and offers a limited range of motion, as seen in this video. However, it’s very strong because its intended purpose is to support the entire weight and movement of the upper-body.
Note: that’s five considerably strong joints and ligaments that somehow managed to completely disconnect from Kris Kremers pelvis. Could insects have caused this through decomposition, in such a short span of time? Let’s evaluate.
Natural Human Joint Decomposition And Decay
Joints are made up of bone, muscles, synovium, cartilage, and ligaments. Ligaments are considered to be “tough soft tissue”.
A human skeletal system can remain held together for decades due to ligament tissue being so strong.
“The soft tissues eventually liquefy and disintegrate, leaving skeletalized remains articulated by ligaments.”Decomposition of Human Remains
Articulation means “still attached”. Decomposing tissue, especially ligaments, are likely to remain intact for longer periods of time in cool water. However, the decomposition of both soft tissue and ligament tissue would be hastened when exposed to the air.
The study of forensic entomological decomposition looks at the rate of decay, specifically regarding the insects present during each decomposition stages. In forensic terminology, when insects arrive on a carcass, this is referred to as “arthropod succession”. Given that ligaments are hardened tissue, they would likely survive the decomposition process through much of the “advanced stage” of decomposition.
Dermestid beetles, also known as “skin beetles” are the most common carnivorous beetles and are known to clean ligaments from carcasses, including human remains. Dermestid beetles are widely studied because they can assist heavily in determining timelines of death and decomposition.
“Adults [beetles] generally arrive five to 11 days following death. This beetle can become one of the dominant insects present in mid to late decay.”University of Florida – Featured Creatures
Based on this information, the carnivorous beetles that is capable of decomposing hardened tissue would arrive approximately 5 to 11 days after death. Then, after arrival, it takes approximately 4 days for larvae to hatch from eggs. Altogether that brings us to between 9 and 15 days, which is certainly longer than the Blowflys that we discussed earlier.
I found a potentially interesting study (see link) of arthropod succession in Hawaii, perhaps a similar climate to Panama. But I wasn’t able to find a public copy of the PDF. That study might be helpful if someone has the PDF version.
Local Animals That Could Break A Pelvis
The pelvic fractures mentioned above are something that doesn’t happen during immediate natural decomposition, nor would a predator have the ability to achieve this, certainly not without significant and repeated force from a large beast. Let’s look at the potential threats:
|Animal||Fatal Human Attacks||Present In Jungles Of Panama||Jaw Strength:||Average Size:||Notes:|
|Jaguar||Extremely Rare||Yes||200 PSI||56–96 kg (123–212 lb)||Largest native cat species in the americas.|
|Puma||Extremely Rare||Yes||650 PSI||80–90 kg (180–200 lb)||Also known as the mountain lion and cougar.|
|Wild Boar||Extremely Rare||Unknown||5,000 PSI||60–100 kg (130–220 lb)||Also referred to as wild pigs and feral hogs. Called “Jabalíes” in Spanish.|
|Peccaries||Extremely Rare||Yes||Unknown||20 to 40 kg (44 to 88 lb)||Also referred to as “Javelina” or “musk-hog”. Jaw strength is probably slightly lower than a common wild boar.|
|American Crocodile||Yes||No||3700 PSI, 16,460 Newtons||57.2 to 238 kg (126 to 525 lb)||Only found in coastal regions. Live in salt water. Grow up to 6 meters (~20 feet).|
|Spectacled Caiman||Extremely Rare||Yes||1,000 PSI||7–40 kilograms (15–88 lb)||Species of alligator. Also known as White Caiman. Relatively small compared to crocodiles. Hunt at night. Live on the edges of rivers. Link|
|Boa Constrictor||Extremely Rare||Yes||6 to 12 PSI||3–13 ft (0.91–3.96 m)||Usually ambush small game animals. Utilizes suffocation as its method to kill. Swallows victims whole.|
Note: PSI means “pounds of pressure per square inch”. For comparison, the average human jaw delivers only 162 PSI.
I considered adding three other “cats” to this list: the ocelot, jaguarundi and the margay. But these three cats have no history of attacking humans, are considerably smaller in size and have very low jaw strength.
Jaguars and Pumas have two primary ways of crushing bones: biting and pouncing. Pouncing is a method used to surprise and capture prey, not so much for delivering crushing force. Their powerful jaws can deliver crushing force but deep scratches would be present on the bones collected.
Jaguars and Pumas certainly have the jaw strength to crush bone. However, they do not consume bones whole. They pulverize bone with their strong jaws in order to swallow it. Additionally, Kris’s bones would undoubtedly have scratch marks from a cat’s claws or teeth.
Jaguar attacks and Puma attacks are extremely uncommon but they do happen. Jaguars and Pumas are afraid of humans, especially multiple humans. It leaves a simple question – if one girl was attacked, why couldn’t the other have gone to get help?
One of my readers (see comments at bottom) mentioned the possibility of Wild Boars. This was a plausible suggestion, certainly worthy of further investigation. It sparked my interest.
Wild boars are omnivores and have a diet consistent with that of humans. They eat fruit, vegetables and meat. They have incredibly powerful jaws. Any farmer knows that pigs will eat anything – wild pigs are no exception. Generally, wild boars don’t attack humans unless they feel threatened. They’re known to be aggressive as a form of self-defense. In 2019 a wild boar attacked and killed a woman in Texas, the fifth documented attack on a human since 1825.
It was difficult to find information about their distribution in Panama. I kept finding information about wild boars in Panama City, Florida – a city in the United States. The only way wild boars could be present in Panama is if they’ve migrated down from the USA. Wild boars are an invasive species in the USA, which started in the 1800’s. They’re known to be prone to disease and parasites and are a major problem in the United States – some of my friends in Florida are hunters and intentionally hunt them to prevent these wild pigs from destroying farmlands.
But are wild boars in Panama? Honestly, I don’t know. In 2011, Mexico started a campaign against wild boars that migrated south from Texas. They certainly could have travelled further south, but there’s no evidence to suggest they’ve made it further than Mexico.
In Spanish, Wild boars are called “Jabalíes”. In my searches in the Spanish language, I found nothing that suggests that invasive wild boars made it further than Mexico. In Mexico, locals would have no problem benefitting from killing wild hogs to protect their farms, plus boars are considered to be safe to eat, similar to pork from the supermarket, a welcomed source of meat. All forms of meat is costly to locals in Central America and Mexico. Still, we can’t know if they made it down to Panama – there’s no information about them migrating that far.
Peccary vs Wild Boar
Peccaries are small boar-like animals that are a native species in Central America. They’re not pigs and they’re not boars, although they have similarities. They’re smaller. They travel in packs, with between 20 to 300 in a herd. They’re a threatened species because they require a delicate and vast ecosystem to survive (unlike wild boars). They eat roots, grubs, a variety of palm-tree fruits and less than 1% of their diet is from small invertebrates. I wasn’t able to find data about their jaw strength. Their jaws are undoubtedly powerful – they eat palm fruits (think of coconuts and similar hard-shell fruits).
They’ve earned the name of “stink pigs” because they give off a raunchy stench, similar to skunks, which is noticeable from a distance. They’re also very loud. Between barking and clicking their teeth – it’s not easy to sneak up on a herd accidentally.
The white-lipped peccary (tayassu pecari) is considered to be the most aggressive of the Peccary species, especially while protecting their young. Attacks on humans are extremely rare, although I found this one story where a woman was attacked in Arizona. Piccaries fear humans and therefore are generally invisible to humans, except when food is offered or when hunters locate them in the wild. They generally eat fruit and nuts (99.1% of their diet), but also sometimes small animals and carrion.
Could a herd of Wild Boar or Peccary have been the culprit? I suppose anything is possible. It would be very out of character for them to attack, disable and kill two humans. These animals aren’t hunters. They’re grazers. It would seem to me more like a low-budget horror movie – like the Sharknado film series. It’s cringeworthy to even consider it. I can’t imagine Kris and Lisanne entertaining the possibility of going anywhere near a herd of smelly and loud wild pig-like animals. Peccary are known to practice strong anti-predator behavior, which essentially means that they’ll run away quickly.
As ridiculous as the theory may sound, I suppose it’s not impossible.
Amphibians: Alligators, Crocodiles and Snakes
Crocodiles prefer salinity (salt water) and therefore wouldn’t be found this far inland where small freshwater streams flow downstream from the mountaintops, with numerous waterfalls preventing crocodiles from swimming or climbing upstream. Also, American Crocodiles are coastal by nature. We can rule them out quickly.
There are no snakes in the region that have the ability to swallow an adult human whole. The Boa Constrictor feeds by ambushing its prey, suffocating it and then swallowing it whole. While it’s possible that either of the girls could have been attacked by a Boa Constrictor, they certainly could have escaped with each others help. Additionally, Boa Constrictors are nocturnal. They are capable swimmers but prefer to be in trees. Therefore they are sometimes found near rivers where small birds and animals (prey) are present. Given this collection of facts, I believe we can rule them out.
Out of all of the animal predators, in addition to a bizarre Piccary attack, the Spectacled Caiman appears to also be a possibility. Although extremely rare to attack a human, Caiman are present in the region and have the ability to crush bone. They have powerful teeth which are designed for grip, not for mastication (chewing). In fact, alligators don’t “chew”. They bite to crush, then attempt to swallow their catch whole.
There are a lot of problems with this theory:
- Spectacled Caimans have two stomachs that digest everything, including bone. Their stomachs are highly acidic. Their feces has very little material present after defecation. Caimans often eat turtles whole and their shells are digested completely. There are no noticeable remains.
- Spectacled Caiman are very small, about the size of an average human child.
- Spectacled Caimans don’t have the ability to swallow adult human remains. They would not be able to swallow anything much larger than a standard softball, due to the restriction of the palatal valve, a flap that permits caiman to swim without drowning. They have been known to eat carrion (animals that are already dead).
- Spectacled Caiman don’t demonstrate signs of aggression until the rainy season, which is when mating season begins. Mating season typically happens between May and August.
- Lastly, not only is it extremely unlikely for Kris Kremers to be attacked by a Caiman, but it’s even more unlikely for both Kris and Lisanne to be attacked at the same time. Certainly one would have the ability to seek help.
Alligators are apex predators, which means that nothing hunts them except for larger alligators (and sometimes humans). They’re also cold-blooded, meaning they do not have the ability to heat themselves. They must surface for oxygen because they do not have lungs.
At first, I thought that Spectacled Caimans could be a worthy culprit to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s disappearance. However, as I learned more about alligator’s physiology and behavior, I realized that it’s so unlikely that it’s virtually impossible for an alligator to have been involved in their disappearance and death.
The two most likely scenarios remain: Either Kris Kremers suffered a catastrophic fall that decimated her pelvis, or someone intentionally attempted to destroy her bones. All other theories are too far fetched.
Only One Rib Bone Was Found
There’s a lot of great information about rib structure on this website.
The rib bone found was rib #10. Unfortunately, no photos were made public. This bone also had traces of phosphorus on it, implying that it was also bleached in the same way as the pelvis bone. Men and women have 12 rib bones, and in rare cases some people have 11 or 13. Contrary to popular belief, men do not have less rib bones than woman. I’m going to assume that Kris had 12 rib bones.
The structure of ribs
Ribs create the Thoreac Cage, which protects the organs. Costal cartilage is the cartilage that holds the ribs in place and it’s flexibility permits expansion for respiration. The ribs are represented in pairs, which technically means that we have 24 ribs altogether, but scientists refer to “12 pairs”.
The first seven pairs are fixed ribs. The following three pairs below are called “false” ribs. Then two pairs below that are called “floating” ribs. Therefore Kris’s #10 rib that was found would technically be the last “false” rib.
This means that the rib would not be directly connected to the sternum. Instead, it would only be connected to flexible cartilage and therefore would have been weaker relative to the fixed ribs above it. Of the false ribs, it’s also attached by the least amount of cartilage.
“The most common ribs fractured are the 7th through 10th ribs.American Association For The Surgery of Trauma
According to Live Science, it takes a significant amount of force (3,300 newtons) to have a 25% chance of cracking a rib. In a simple comparison, dropping an apple on the ground equates to approximately one newton. Now imagine 3,300 apples hitting you in the rib simultaneously. That force would result in a 25% chance of a rib fracture. A typical punch with a fist, usually only achieves approximately 2,000 newtons of force. This may be irrelevant though, because we’re unsure of how the rib became separated from the rib cage.
It’s impossible to do a complete rib analysis.
There are many conclusions we can’t determine. Only one rib was found which is inadequate to draw conclusions. If other rib bones were available the evaluation process would be possible because we could compare the differences between them. Also, unfortunately we cannot determine the potential rate of decay for this specific bone, because it was bleached. We can only discuss the normal functioning of this rib bone and speculate.
We don’t know which side of the sternum the rib was from. We also do not know if it was the whole rib or a fractured piece of the rib. Lastly, no photos of the rib were publicized.
Therefore, this is the extent of the analysis that I can do regarding Kris Kremers rib. This concludes the forensic analysis portion of this research article. I provide a full list of my conclusions below.
How Investigators Handled The Bones
I’m going to be blunt, this was handled very poorly. Panama’s authorities clearly didn’t follow typical standards in the handling of crime scenes and forensic evidence. This was the fault of multiple Panamanian officials.
“The package [of bones] was sent by the Prosecution of Chiriquí Province and came with brief instructions: ‘These remains were found on the banks of the Culubre river. We sent them for analysis’. The note carried the signature of Betzaida Pittí.”
“The document lacked a detailed description of the custody chain, necessary information in this type of cases. The information must include the place of the finding, the exact location, the picking of the remains, the packing and transfer from the scene. This wasn’t the case.“La Estrella De Panama
According to Octavio Calderón, the criminologist on the case, he believed that Betzaida Pittí should have been disqualified from being involved in the case: “This is enough reason to disqualify her from the investigation“, he affirmed.
And she was disqualified.
Hernán Mora replaced Betzaida Pittí in January of 2015, only 3 months after that happened, probably a decision made by Ana Belfon, the Attorney General of Panama at the time. And it was a good move, especially considering the Kremers family sued Panama’s prosecutors office in international courts.
Panama conducted multiple searches in the area. But there was more than one issue:
- The evidence collection procedures were poor.
- The locals often disrupted the investigation sites, such as the “folded” jean shorts that were supposedly found in the river.
- Many pieces of evidence weren’t followed up on, such as the fingerprints.
- The case was closed before questions could receive appropriate answers.
- Communication with the public was sub-par. No information was made directly available to the public.
I’m not going to go into great detail about each of these things and I’m not going to discuss each politicians role in the outcome of the case. Surely one can surmise that the mishandling of this case was intentional to some degree.
Had this disappearance case involved the missing daughters of any elite Panamanian authorities, you can be certain that more answers would have been found. Politicians in Latin America don’t play games. They utilize force and exercise their power because that’s usually their only option.
In this case, the fact that so many people died in relation to the case, presents numerous possibilities. Panama is an undeveloped country in Latin America. Numerous people involved in this disappearance case somehow accidentally drowned or got hit by cars – some died within days and some died only months later (while the case was still widely publicized internationally).
Lastly, I’ll mention this important article, in which the coroner claims that the remains of Lisanne appeared to be manipulated in some fashion, which the Panamanian government ignored.
Before many questions were answered, the case was closed in March of 2015. This was approximately a year after the two girls had gone missing. There were plenty of additional leads to follow but Panama’s leaders clearly wanted to put this behind them.
The Bones Of Other People Were Found There Too
After searchers had finished gathering the bones, forensic investigators discovered that bones of three other people were found mixed together with Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s bones. So this wasn’t a first time occurrence.
“…a long bone that corresponds to a child’s left radius (forearm), another occipital bone of the skull, whose DNA is from a male adult.”Panama America
Apparently bones of multiple people are scattered in the Serpent River. And these other bones were discovered unexpectedly. According to an IMELCF spokesperson, these other bones were likely from a “washed-out indigenous cemetery”.
The indigenous tribe in the area is the Ngäbe tribe. They’re highly respectful to the dead, utilize caskets, and only bury the dead on dry land (they don’t place corpses in rivers, for example). Nor would they likely build a cemetery near a river, knowing well that flooding season is an annual event.
I found this great website by the Ngabe tribe that discusses the pressures and frustrations that the tribe feels from the national governments interest to increase land development, mining and energy production in the region – a growing issue in Panama.
Perhaps an ancient burial ground was near a river. But if rains and flooding washed the bones into the river, then I’m curious how an ancient decomposed “child’s long forearm bone” managed to survive turbulent river conditions while Kris’s bones happened to be broken down into fragments. Surely a recently deceased adult woman’s pelvis is significantly stronger than child’s brittle forearm bone that had been decomposed.
Let’s look into this concept a little further.
Mummification of human remains happens when bodies are essentially dried by the removal of moisture. However, once exposed to water, the decomposition process continues as normal.
With that said, mummification is very uncommon in the moist regions of Central America. There’s simply too much constant moisture. Therefore, if the bones of an ancient burial ground were present in the river, they would have been especially vulnerable in a river to damage, both from cracking, splintering and fracturing. Ancient bone remains would be unlikely to survive the moment it was placed into a rocky river.
I think that the timeliness that these unanticipated bones were found contributed to the case being closed so abruptly thereafter. Although authorities in developed nations would likely view the unearthing of these bones to be worthy of further investigation, the leaders of Panama probably saw this as an embarrassment, especially in light of the international publicity. The many disappearances without answers, the subsequent “drownings” of people related to the case, then the unexpected discovery of the bones of unidentified persons, altogether, essentially exposed major systemic shortcomings in Panama’s leadership.
Surely the political issues go deeper than that, but we’ll probably never hear those details.
There Is More That We Don’t Know
There’s a lot of whispers around Panama about what really happened to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. I’m tempted to provide more details about those unofficial conversations. The problem is, nobody can verify, nor accurately rely on whispers nor blog comments. So, I’ll forgo that discussion for now and provide a morsel that was written by a different blogger.
According to a hitchhiker that visited Panama, expats local to Panama have heard stories of bones being found with saw marks:
“And according to one expat who gave me a ride, investigators discovered some bone fragments that had clearly been sawed into pieces and doused with bleach.”Hitchhikeadelic.com
I think it’s highly plausible that the public was only presented the bones that aligned with the “official” story of Panamanian authorities. If the authorities had discovered bones that had been sawed or hacked with a machete, there’s a good chance they could have discarded them or simply didn’t permit them to be involved in the case from the start.
Also, as mentioned before, there are many other inconsistencies with this case, such as the state of the blue backpack, the fingerprints that were never investigated, the cropped camera photos, and many more inconclusive parts of the case.
Summary & Conclusions
I’ve learned a tremendous amount from this research. I’ve learned valuable information and I’ve learned things that I didn’t particularly want to know. In both cases, this research has granted me more confidence in my conclusions.
Conclusion #1: There are no animal predators in the area that have the ability to incapacitate two women simultaneously. While it’s possible that an animal attack could have created substantial problems for one woman, an animal certainly didn’t cause both of their deaths. It’s so incredibly unlikely that an animal, or herd of animals, could have been the cause of the deaths of both Kris and Lisanne, that it’s seemingly impossible. However, a very small possibility exists.
Conclusion #2: Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s remains decomposed at different times, likely at different intervals, with Kris Kremers remains having decomposed earlier and with the use of fertilizer chemicals. Both Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s remains experienced different forms of decomposition in different surrounding environments.
Conclusion #3: The rainfall in the region would have started raising river levels at some point between mid April to early May. More data about the serpent river is necessary to determine the rate of increase in river levels based on rainfall and to determine the river’s velocity based on rainfall.
Conclusion #4: The cool temperature and high elevation suggests that the decomposition process would take more time than typical tropical conditions. Low-elevation tropical conditions can decompose a body in as little as two weeks. Bodies found in rivers and lakes can last up to a year and sometimes longer depending on various factors.
Conclusion #5: Kris Kremers bones were not bleached by sunlight, nor did her bones demonstrate signs of sun bleaching. Under the grey clouds at this elevation during the rainy season, it’s unlikely that sunlight is capable of bleaching bones rapidly.
Conclusion #6: Phosphorus is often used in unison with lime in order to balance soil acidity levels and promote plant growth. Natural lime levels present in Panama’s rivers are incapable of bleaching Kris’s bones.
Conclusion #7: There are no other known natural sources of phosphorus or lime that could contribute to the rapid decomposition of Kris’s remains. Therefore, unless another unknown source of chemicals is available naturally, we can confidently assume that chemicals, likely from fertilizer, were utilized by humans.
Conclusion #8: Both the lack of Kris Kremers bones and the bleaching effect on the bones have prevented us from being able to determine the following: the approximate time of death, the decomposition timeline and the possibilities of injuries that took place. A separate analysis regarding Lisanne’s bones is necessary to make the same conclusion.
Conclusion #7: The person that attempted to utilize chemicals to chemically destroy Kris’s bones was likely a novice or amateur to the process. The soft tissue experienced rapid decomposition, the bones experienced mild chemical alteration, then later the bone decomposition process was abruptly halted.
Conclusion #8: Decomposition studies suggests that if they had died naturally their remains would have a clear presence of abrasions and scratches in the river. It’s impossible for bones to travel many kilometers downstream without displaying visible micro-abrasions.
Conclusion #9: Given that Lisanne’s skin was in an early stage of decomposition, yet her remains were clearly dis-articulated, we can confidently conclude that her remains went through an unnatural process. Inversely, to be in an early state of decomposition would imply that her remains should have been articulated.
Conclusion #10: The Panamanian government was insincere in their assessment of the child’s bones that they unexpectedly discovered. Additionally, the government did not make public any analysis of the child’s bones in order to further verify their claim.
Conclusion #11: The Panamanian government overlooked numerous vital pieces of evidence and mishandled evidence during the process of the investigation.
Numerous Unanswered Questions
I’m interested in finding more answers involving this case. I’m willing to do more research if anyone can answer any of the following questions.
Please note: I only want verified information. This case already has too many rumors which do nothing to help us find answers. If you provide information to me, please be willing to verify the legitimacy of the information.
The most important questions we need answered are the following:
- Does anyone have higher resolution photos of the bones?
- Does anyone have additional photos of the other bones?
- How much does the Serpent River’s level rise based on rainfall?
- Does anyone local to Panama’s Continental Divide have precise river water temperatures from April to October?
- Did anyone purchase Quicklime, Lye or Phosphate fertilizer during the approximate timeframe proceeding or immediately following the disappearance of the two girls?
- What evidence was destroyed or went missing during this case?
- If any vultures or other scavenger animals were seen during the weeks following their disappearance, where exactly were they seen?
- What unusual behavior was observed in locals during the days following the disappearance?
- What was the method that search teams used to comb the riverbed?
- If other bones were discarded, where are they now and what is their condition?
- Can any locals confirm that any bones were discovered with marks from a machete or handsaw?
- Has anyone local found any other unknown personal belongings?
- Why wasn’t Lisanne Froon capable of going to find help for Kris?
- If they experienced an injury during this hike, why weren’t their cries for help heard?
- Does anyone have any information that is relevant to this research that I may have missed?
If anyone can provide information about these questions, please send me a message. If you wish to remain anonymous, I will respect your privacy. I will not publish your name unless I have your approval.
This Case Should Not Be A Mystery
There was ample evidence in this case, certainly enough to uncover the truth.
Evidence was mishandled. Leads were not followed. Numerous critical parts of the investigation were not carried out. The case was closed far too early. Persons of interest mysteriously died following the days and weeks of the disappearance of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon.
There was enough evidence to solve this case.
The rainforests are not guilty.
First, the girls disappeared in a place that’s rather difficult to get lost. They were on a trail with open spaces surrounding them. It wasn’t heavy jungle as many people might imagine. Numerous people walk these paths everyday. If one girl was injured, the other girl would have ample opportunity to find help.
Second, rainforests are not some dark and obscure place where “strange” things happen. There is no magic. There are no “dark forces” nor mujer empolleradas, ceguas, nor chupacabras (all are Central American folklore). Like everywhere, rainforests are ecosystems. Variables can be calculated. Information can be gathered. Science works.
Unexplainable things only happen when poor decisions are made or criminals are involved (or both). In the case of two girls going missing at the same time – it’s certain that criminal activity was involved. There is no reason for two experienced travelers to disappear simultaneously near frequently used walking paths.
Humans are the culprit. Opportunists knew they could get away a crime, so they did that – and there wasn’t any repercussions. Panama’s authorities should feel deeply ashamed for protecting the criminals that were involved in this crime. Two women lost their lives while Panama’s authorities hid in embarrassment instead of responsibly investigating this case to the fullest extent possible – Que vergonzoso!
A Final Word
I offer my sincere sympathies and deep condolences to the families of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. I cannot imagine the torment and frustration they felt from the disappearance and poor handling of their daughter’s case. The international community is still deeply troubled from their disappearance and people continue to look for answers, including myself. In an ideal world, the public could have received adequate answers from Panama’s authorities. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. My heart breaks for any family that experiences the disappearance of a loved one abroad.
If anyone has information regarding the disappearance of these two girls, please contact me. I will respect your anonymity. I recognize that providing information can be dangerous and my first priority is always everyone’s safety.
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Below I’ve provided “Sources & Information” that includes a lot of information about the case of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. While gathering information about Kris Kremers bones, I came across a lot more information than I had expected.
Thank you for reading.
Sources & Information
Leading Articles About This Case
Koude Cass – Cold Case (English Blog) – A big thank you to Scarlet for so thoroughly documenting the story, writing so many details in her excellent blog and providing links. It made this work easier.
La Estrella De Panama (Spanish News Website) – I appreciate the work of the news organization that thoroughly covered the case of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. They did an excellent job.
History Of Things To Come (English Blog) – Interesting comments from “Anonymous” in the footer.
Los huesos presentan rastros de fósforo (Spanish Article)
Refutan hipótesis de la fiscalía sobre muerte de holandesas (Spanish Article)
Hay huellas digitales y ADN en objetos de holandesas (Spanish Article)
La cámara de las holandesas registró 90 fotos en tres horas (Spanish Article)
Indígenas encuentran mochila de holandesas en Bocas del Toro (Spanish Article)
Tras las huellas de Lisanne y Kris a su paso por Boquete (Spanish Article)
Deep Inside the Panama ‘Paradise’ Murder Mysteries (English Article)
Wat gebeurde er met Kris Kremers en Lisanne Froon? (Dutch Article)
Lateinamerika: Zwei Touristinnen aus Holland in Panama verschollen (German Article)
Investigators And Other Parties Involved
Betzaida Pitti – Initial lead investigator on the case.
Hernán Mora – New lead investigator on the case (replaced Betzaida Pitti).
Humberto Mas, Director of the IMELCF.
Octavio Calderón – Criminologist on the case. His death was a mystery in 2019.
Ana Belfon, Attorney General of Panama (2013-2014) – Later admitted to having paid bribes in to officials and individuals involved with Odebrecht. Interestingly, Odebrecht has done construction in Chiriquí province. They also worked on the Remigio Rojas Irrigation Project by building a dam on the Chico River, and facilitate the sale of local farmers produce to the Netherlands. Probably no relationship – but noteworthy.
Enrique Arrocha – The privately hired lawyer of the Kremers family.
Nikki van Passel – Spokesperson for the Kremers family.
answersforkris.com – Website by Kremers family, attributed to Kris.
findlisannekris.com – Website by both families.
Giovanni and Doris – Owners of Il Pianista Restaurant and owners of Blue, the dog. Both stated that Blue followed the girls to the trail. Giovanni is sicilian and Doris is from Panama. (Link)
Arturo Alvarado – Director General of the National Civil Protection Service. (Spanish Article)
Feliciano Gonzalez – Local tour guide that discovered the remains.
Henry Eliezer Gonzalez – The son of Feliciano Gonzalez.
Osman Valenzuela – Disappeared only 3 days after the girls went missing. Osman was later found dead from drowning. Was potentially part of a youth gang. Later was discovered that he had met Kris and Lisanne.
Jose Manuel Murgas – Worked with Osman (mentioned above). Killed a year later (2015) in a hit and run collision. After he died, Henry Eliezer Gonzalez wrote on Facebook that Jose was his “Little soul brother”.
Caldera Hot Spring – Where Kris and Lisanne possibly went swimming before their death. Photo found in Osman’s camera after he was found dead.
Jorge Rivera Miranda – Friend of tour guide’s son. On April 4th, 2015 he was found drowned in very shallow water.
El Sabroson – Restaurant in the area. Son of restaurant owner is Edwin Aguirre.
Heriberto Gonzalez – Man that may be involved in the disappearance of the two girls.
La banda ‘Los ND5′ – Gang of 5 people in the area at that time.
Ángel Palacio – Local in the area that worked with Feliciano Gonzalez in finding the remains.
Ingrid Lommers – Owner of Spanish Location, a language school located in the same region of Panama.
Dutch Forensic Institute – Confirmed the validity of the bone samples.
Spanish by the River – The hostel where the girls were staying in the town of Alto Boquete, which is slightly south Boquete.
Lee Zelter – Expat of Panama that helped interview locals. Was the owner of boqueteguide.com and started boquete.ning.com. He later past away after being released from the hospital from health conditions.
Adelita Coriat – Journalist of La Estrella that covered much of the case from Panama. Has since stopped working as a journalist.
Jeremy Kryt – Journalist from The Daily Beast that covered many details of the case from the USA.
Note: If anyone listed here prefers to have their name removed, please contact me.
WikiPedia – Phosphorus – “Fertilizer is often in the form of superphosphate of lime”
Gardening Know How – When to Use Superphosphate
American Association For The Surgery of Trauma – Rib Fractures
Rodriguez, William C.
1997 Decomposition of buried and Submerged Bodies. In Forensic Taphonomy:
The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains. Haglund, W.D., Sorg, M.H., eds.
Pp. 459-467. New York: CRC Press.
Note: most of the sources are referenced in the article above.