When the blue backpack of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon was found, there was a number of belongings found inside the backpack. Aside from the camera, two phones, two bras, there was also $83 in cash. All of these things deserve careful consideration, but the eighty three dollars was an especially notable item to me.
Before I dive in, this is just one of many of my collections of ideas regarding the case of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon. A lot of foreigners aren’t able to have deep insights into life in Latin culture, so I want to offer some insights. You can’t learn this stuff in textbooks. My goal is to evaluate potential angles that others haven’t considered. Latin American life is different in subtle ways that can have a big impact on circumstances.
Also, I’ve started organizing all of my articles about them on this page: Kris Kremers Case Articles
Why is $83 interesting?
Obviously $83 sitting on a table tells us nothing. But it wasn’t sitting on a table. It was sitting in a non-waterproof backpack that supposedly washed up on the edge of a river, after two girls disappeared, near a region that has criminal activity. Cash money sitting in a poor public area after two girls disappeared says something.
One might think that $83 doesn’t deserve much attention. But this is Panama we’re talking about – a country with increasing crime and corruption. There are external considerations that deserve attention when cold hard cash is involved.
Below, I’m going to outline all of my thoughts regarding this. Again, the goal from this article isn’t to solve the case. I don’t have that ability, nor does anyone that was not directly involved. My goal is to share some insights from Latin America so that other people abroad might have a better chance at putting some pieces together.
An Intro Money in Panama
Let’s cover some basics. Just a warning – this initial part is boring, but necessary to set the stage.
Panama uses the United States Dollar as their currency. Traveling from the Netherlands, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon would have had to transfer their Euros into United States dollars. Exchanging money can be a pain in the ass. Therefore, any foreigner that doesn’t use the US dollar in their home country would need to exchange money more than once during a trip. They would likely exchange more than is necessary in order to reduce their transaction fees and to prevent multiple trips to the ATM. For example, instead of spending $3 in ATM fees for $100, they might take $200 from the ATM in order to avoid paying $3 two times ($6).
That also assumes that ATM’s are available. It wasn’t easy to find ATMs in 2016 when I was visiting Bocas Del Toro, Panama, approximately a year after their disappearance. I remember that in some areas of Panama no ATM’s were available at all, which means that us backpackers always had to have backup cash in case we needed to hire a Taxi just to find an ATM.
Also, ATM’s can be dangerous. Opportunists know that foreigners visiting an ATM alone, especially after dark, is a chance to score some easy money. Therefore, travelers tend to avoid going to the ATM in general.
$83 is too much money for a hike.
A good initial question is: why would they go on a 3 hour nature hike with $83? Everything in Panama is very inexpensive. Perhaps they were uncomfortable to leave their money at the hotel they were staying. Or perhaps they planned to purchase something that we don’t know about. Or perhaps they simply didn’t think about it.
There’s a lot of possibilities for why they decided to bring that amount of money. But my point is that it’s simply an unnecessary amount of money. $10 or $20 would have been entirely sufficient for both (total) – it was only a brief hike. There is nothing that a person could purchase on a nature hike that justifies having $83. The only possible exceptions would be if they had planned to purchase groceries after the hike or if they planned to pay a tour guide during their hike.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s evidence to suggest that Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon were frugal with their money. At one point locals suggested to investigators that the two girls were hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is a dangerous endeavor, especially in a foreign country that has increased crime. So, either the girls were taking an unnecessary risk, or they were being frugal, or locals were incorrect in claiming that they were hitchhiking. Any of these scenarios is equally possible.
Either it was intentional or it was unintentional to bring $83 with them. We don’t know. In either case, it’s unnecessary to bring $83 for a brief hike on Il Pianista Trail.
Cost of items in Panama.
$83 is a very rounded number. That probably sounds unusual. Allow me to explain. In developed countries, we often leave our coins at home and only travel with full “bills”. Who wants to carry around coins after all, right? Well, that’s not the case in undeveloped countries. A bottle of water costs about $0.35 in Panama, perhaps even less in 2014.
Vendors of water and snacks are usually local families that will carry their goods in a basket and sell them in streets and at tourist hot-spots. In most cases, vendors are not “stores” as you’d imagine in developed countries.
Having those nickels and dimes come in very handy, especially when local vendors can’t “break” a $10 or $20 bill, which happens to me often while backpacking. Having change on $20 for a $0.35 bottle of water is annoying to small vendors – so bringing change is convenient and respectful. More on the “respectful” aspect in a moment.
Sometimes items are priced in dollar increments. For example, supposedly Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon took a taxi that morning, before arriving at Il Pianista Trail. That taxi driver would have charged rounded fees, probably $3 or $5. I’ve never been charged an unrounded amount by a taxi driver in Central America. Similarly, hostels and hotels charge in rounded dollars. They were staying with a host family, but I’m unsure if that costs money. During my travels, I’ve only used hostels and hotels. The cost of a hostel room usually costs around $15. Bunk beds in hostels usually cost about $7.
However, nearly everything else is incremented in $0.10, $0.15 or $0.25. For example, nuts and fruit costs $0.25. Cookies cost $0.50. A lighter (for fire) costs $0.25. An egg costs $0.15. A pound of chicken costs $1.65.
So, I’m curious if the investigators rounded-off the dollar number when they published the $83 figure. Perhaps there was more change in the backpack but investigators thought it wasn’t worth mentioning. If they didn’t round the number and there was in fact exactly $83, then that feels unusual to me.
Inconveniences and coins.
Locals throughout Latin America work hard for their money. They’re willing to do tasks that most people from developing countries would scoff at. For example, it’s very common to see locals selling little individually packages of roasted peanuts for $0.25 each. They’ll walk around their town, sometimes with their children, in the humid conditions in order to earn $2 to $3 for the day.
If a foreigner doesn’t have change, it immediately presents an inconvenience to locals. The larger the denomination used to pay, the more the inconvenience. For example, using a $20 bill is less convenient than using a $5 bill for a $0.50 item. Most foreigners wouldn’t know to carry a large diversity in bills and change because foreigners are accustomed to buying food from “official” brick and mortar stores. So, if Kris Kremers or Lisanne Froon had wanted to purchase something without having coins, it would have presented a slight inconvenience.
The girls had already travelled through Panama long enough to learn this. It only takes two to three days in Latin America to learn that having coins is necessary. Their trip started two weeks before their disappearance. Even in the tourist areas Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon would have had ample chances to learn the necessity of carrying coins.
Even if Kris and Lisanne didn’t start their day with coins, they certainly would have received coins from change if they had purchased something. So, let’s look at that.
Did they purchase something?
Travelers from foreign countries often carry rounded amounts of money. In this case, $83 suggests that they may have initially travelled with $100. Obviously the difference is $17. So, based on a lot of assumptions, we can speculate a little bit about what they could have purchased. Here are the most likely possibilities:
- Snacks or food
- Their room/home for the day – Hostels and hotels often collect cash in the morning between 11:00 AM and 1:00PM. However, I’m not sure of the cost arrangements for staying with a host family.
- Taxi Services – their taxi driver, whom was later found dead, claimed that they took a taxi to arrive at Il Pianista trail.
- Bracelets – Lisanne clearly is wearing bracelets in one photo but not in the other photo. It’s common for travelers to buy bracelets and other hand-made crafts from local vendors, especially in “touristy” places such as Boquete.
The only things on this list that are incremented in full dollars is the taxi fare and the room. Food and water would cost less than $1 for each item. Bracelets vary and are less determinable, sometimes costing $1 and sometimes costing $1.50, etc.
Update 8/17/20: One of my readers pointed out to me that one of the bands on her left wrist was used as a hair tie. Also, I’ve investigated prior photos and realized that Lisanne Froon was, in fact, wearing two bracelets on her right wrist prior to this hike. Therefore we can safely ignore the possibility that bracelets were purchased during their hike.
Using $83 for help
Money comes in handy when a traveler needs help, especially in moments of desperation. Locals and indigenous people often give their advice for free. However, tipping someone $0.50 or $1.00 is a good way to show your appreciation.
Needless to say, $83 is a significant amount of money in respect to “getting help”. If the girls were injured or captured and perhaps needed to “bribe” their way to safer conditions, they would have had more than enough money to do so. So, the only other reason that the $83 wouldn’t have worked as a “bribe” is in two conditions: They truly died naturally (you can’t bribe nature), or the fear of danger was greater than a bribe.
Locals will never compromise their own safety for money and the reason is clear: There’s no amount of money that can guarantee their family’s safety. The moment after accepting a bribe and hindering a criminal’s efforts would be the precise moment that a target would be placed on the door of their family’s house. This fear is an effective form of terrorism. Let’s remember, the parents offered a $30,000 reward and nobody came forward. That shows the incredible silencing power behind threats. There are only two motivators: fear and desire. Both are very powerful.
There’s a lot of wonderful people throughout Central America. In fact, 95% of locals are friendly, charming, honest and good natured. It’s one of the many reasons that I absolutely love living in Latin America. Many locals will go great lengths to help a foreigner. Even just knowing “buenos dias” (good morning), “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thanks) goes a long way in winning appreciation.
In Panama, there’s a diverse mix of people. There’s expat foreigners, indigenous tribes and non-indigenous Panamanians. For now, I’m going to oversimplify and let those be the three groups that we discuss. Of course, there is further diversity in each of those three groups, but I’m going to simplify this for the purpose of convenience.
In Alto Romero, where the backpack was found, is the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous tribe of Panama. As much as I know about them, they are a peaceful people and just want to care for their families and community. The only exception is when the threat of violence is directed at them. In that case, they’ll go silent. This is a matter of survival. If they heard cries for help, they would only offer assistance if there was no immediate threat nearby.
It’s difficult to evaluate the other locals. Unfortunately, criminal activity muddies the analysis. While most locals are good and wonderful people, it’s sometimes difficult to identify the “good” people due to fear in communities. Crime in the area is a growing issue, and particularly attracts youth. Solicited or not, usually it’s a matter of pressure. Youth are socially active in the community, youth socialize more, and youth are the most vulnerable to being pressured into criminal involvement. It’s a scary and unfortunate situation for kids and families.
The concept of “support” in latin culture often comes with the “either you’re with us or you’re against us” mentality. “Do you support me?” often means “will you protect me if people ask questions?”. This is one reason why gang activity proliferates in Latin America. Respect is often completely void of “trust” and is usually only representative of submission. For example: “I won’t say anything because I know what will happen if I do”. In fact, trust exists to a substantially lesser extent than in lesser developed countries, and the reason is clear: Corruption runs rampant, Police are sometimes involved, and locals already have enough challenges in their own life. They simply don’t want more “problems”.
Parents will protect their children’s secrets, even if they disagree with their behavior. Not only do they love their children, but giving up a child (to law enforcement) is equivalent to giving up a vital resource, someone that can provide for the family and someone that they can trust more than other people in their community. A lesser-defined form of tribalism is prevalent even in people that are not indigenous, nor part of a tribe. In many ways, this other form of tribalism can be attributed to gang and group protection.
Backpacks Don’t Float
Supposedly the backpack had travelled downstream from the area where the two girls had died. The backpack was nothing fancy. It was not waterproof. It’s straps were rather flimsy and not reinforced which speaks to the rather low quality of the backpack, implying that it lacks a higher level of durability.
Let’s remember that even waterproof backpacks are typically not designed to be submerged in lakes and rivers. Most waterproof backpacks are simply designed to protect items from rain and splashing. That’s why travelers that want guaranteed water protection will purchase a dry sack or dry bag. Those other types of bags are designed for kayaking and extreme sports.
In any event, Kris Kremers blue backpack was not a quality backpack, therefore it would have gotten soaked and water-logged within 2 minutes of being placed in a river. If the river velocity was forceful enough to push it downstream, it would have been forceful enough to drench the inside contents of the backpack.
Brown and grey mold would have been on the backpack. As anyone in Central America will tell you, leaving any type of fabric in the rain will eventually be covered in a brown moldy residue which is difficult to clean by hand. The moisture in the air tends to create optimal conditions for mold to flourish. So, if this backpack was in or near the river, and exposed to rainstorms, there’s no explanation for why the backpack would be void of mold – other than human involvement.
The conditions of both the river and the rainy season would drench any items left exposed to the elements, waterproof or not. The rainy season of Central America often coats everything in a thin film of moisture. The air is so incredibly moist that it is inescapable, even often indoors when the rain is heaviest. Keeping clothes dry, even inside the home, is sometimes a challenge for locals and often entails covering clothes with sheets of plastic. The air gets incredibly moist!
The Backpack Randomly Appears
Considering that backpacks don’t float, the next question is how the backpack got there. It’s very simple – someone placed it there. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine.
Imagine that you’re a criminal with incriminating evidence in your possession. You want two things to happen:
- You want to rid yourself of the evidence.
- You want local search crews to stop searching (because it’s probably making you uncomfortable).
Notice number 2 above. It’s interesting because it suggests that perhaps someone utilized the backpack and remains as a deterrent to stop the local search crews from searching and reduce pressure that they were feeling. This absolutely suggests that it was someone local. Otherwise, why not simply toss the backpack into a ditch or a hole somewhere? Surely criminals wouldn’t have any other purpose – certainly they were not kind enough to give “closure” to the family. The criminals wanted investigators to stop searching for answers.
So, by placing the bones and backpack just barely outside of the view of search teams, they cleverly accomplished both of their goals. The bones and backpack were placed in public, someone found the bones, nearby searches stopped, the investigation slowed and the killer(s) got away.
In my other article about Kris Kremers bleached bones, I concluded that the killers were likely novices. And I still believe that. However, the clever trick of placing the backpack downstream essentially implies that someone more mature and methodical assisted them to help them cover their tracks.
So, I definitely believe that more than one person was involved, at least to some degree.
An Exposed Backpack In A Poor Village
I do not believe that the indigenous people were involved in the crime. If they had been, the backpack would not have been found on their land. Plus, they don’t “need” a lot of money as I’ll demonstrate in a moment. I believe that the backpack was placed there from another local, not affiliated with the tribe, and was attempting to mislead investigators into believing that somehow the tribe was involved.
The blue backpack and its contents were essentially a “hot potato” that needed to be discarded. And it was discarded in a clever way. Perhaps the backpack was even placed near this indigenous tribe as a “message” or threat to the tribe itself claiming that if they didn’t comply with private demands then things would get worse for them.
The tribes of Panama are already under significant pressure from criminal groups and the Panamanian government itself, both of which are encroaching on their beautiful land for mineral rights, water extraction and construction development for commercialism. It’s an ongoing issue that results in urban spread and deforestation.
The local value of $83.
Cash money carries value in all parts of the world. By Panama’s standards, in the Boquete region of Panama, $83 is equivalent to approximately one weeks pay for a standard local. To indigenous tribe members $83 is significantly more money considering that they often earn less than $300 for the entire year.
Indigenous tribes are highly self-sufficient from farming. They live as farmers, make their own clothes, build their own houses, raise their own cattle and educate their own children. To a tribe member, finding $83 would feel wrong. It would feel dangerous. It’s equivalent to finding a suitcase of cocaine in a developed country. Surely nobody in a tribe would want to touch $83 except for an honest person that would bring it to the authorities. Again, I’m offering my perspective. I could be wrong.
The more likely culprit responsible for placing the backpack in Alto Romero was a local from Boquete that had some form of frustration against these female foreigners and knew that foreigners wouldn’t be informed enough about the local social culture to draw conclusions. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned before, the person was likely young and probably had some form of relationship to criminal activity in the area, whether direct or indirect. Even if they weren’t in a gang, they probably had some form of association with them – it’s somewhat inescapable for youth in most regions of Latin America.
The $83 to muddy the circumstances.
Given the many inconsistencies of this case and the unexplainable aspects, I’m certain that human involvement resulted in their disappearance. Therefore I’m also certain that the backpack was placed there. And by default I’m also certain that the $83 was intentionally left in the backpack. This is undoubtedly not a perfect logic tree, but it’s approximate enough for me.
Many might assume that the $83 leads a person to conclude that it was an accident. However, I think the opposite. I believe that the $83 being present implies that someone attempted to murky the motives of the crime. Since the cash was in the backpack, it implies that the motive wasn’t robbery. But it absolutely does not imply that other more sinister motives were not at play.
Aside from money, foreign women have two other forms of value that could result in potential motives – their body and their sense of empowerment. Any young man with spiking testosterone levels will feel a sense of frustration for being rejected by a woman. Adding insult to injury could have been the manner in which the man was rejected.
Facing rejection from a foreign woman in one’s own country and being rejected in a way that led to embarrassment, perhaps in front of other male friends, in an environment with no other foreigners present, could quickly escalate to a dangerous scenario. Unfortunately, exerting dominance is sometimes the recourse.
Men often compete amongst each other by utilizing various forms of challenges. A challenge from a female foreigner may not be welcomed, especially in the form of a rejection coinciding with perceived mockery, such as a direct laugh or a challenge to one’s intellect. If one man responded by heavily exerting dominance, possibly accidentally inflicting injury on one of the two women, the situation could easily and quickly deteriorate. Even a slight push that resulted in a slip and fall accident could have created a bad situation.
We can’t know what happened. We only know that two educated foreign women disappeared.
This story is one reason why I suggest to foreign men and women that visit Latin America to avoid situations being alone when in public. In this case, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon both disappeared during broad daylight on a sunny day. Your independence is wonderful until it no longer exists.
Secondly, I suggest that women treat demonstrations of interest from local men with caution, especially when alone. If the scenario does occur, foreign women should express a sense of graciousness and flattery but also change course to escape the situation in a methodical and respectful manner. Do not laugh at any point during the situation. Laughing can make one feel embarrassed and disrespected, thus heightening frustration.
Granted, most locals are kind, respectful and reasonable. Some of my great friends are latino men – and they also advise caution as well. A local persons demeanor is largely influenced by various factors such as education, past experience socializing with foreigners, socioeconomic class, family upbringing, religious considerations and more.
Bank Account History Considerations
As a final note, the bank account history could be insightful. One could make a lot of determinations about the girl’s spending behaviors based on historical bank records. Surely, the families and investigators have access to that information. It would show their withdrawal history, other expenses and the locations where they used their bank cards.
What would be particularly interesting, and perhaps helpful to their investigating their case, may be to analyze trends their spending behavior. Although this is information is undoubtedly private, and should remain private, spending behavior can perhaps lead to more insight into why they carried $83 with them.
For example, did they typically withdraw $100 or more? Did they combine their money or use their own money separately? Were they known for purchasing small items, like bracelets? If not, could the bracelets be a gift, and from whom? What were their most recent card transactions? These are hypothetical questions. It’s the responsibility of law enforcement to investigate these questions.
Also, I wonder if they had booked anything or had plans that could have involved needing $83.
Monetary considerations are only one part of the equation. I believe that the fact that they were two women from a developed nation with vast cultural differences is more relevant to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon’s disappearance.