Costa Rica guards its secrets well

There must be solid reasons why people vanish in Costa Rica.

Certainly the cases of  Leo Widicker of North Dakota and Australian exchange student Brendan Dobbins the work of a criminal must be considered.

Others, such as the two Dutch woman missing in Panamá most likely were victims of some accident.

Tourists who go missing make the papers, but each week there are reports involving Costa Ricans, young and old. This is one reason why police agencies are slow to respond to cases that eventually are in the headlines.

Although the English-language publications report on tourists who have vanished in the wilds, this happens to Costa Ricans too. A university student is believed to be still missing in the rugged area around  Parque Nacional Chirripó and a park ranger has vanished at Parque Nacional Volcán Poås.

Despite the best efforts of family and friends, some of these cases never will be resolved.

Widicker vanished Nov. 17, 2001, from of all places the parking lot of Tabacón Lodge in La Fortuna. The search was called off a month later after Cruz Roja volunteers and police mounted an extensive effort.

Widicker was left on a bus when his wife and others went to Tabacón Lodge, and it is believed that he wandered away from the bus and left the resort grounds. Tabacón is about 10 miles (16.5 kms.) west of La Fortuna. There is not much in the area except a few other resorts, a river, farm fields and rougher land on the slope of the volcano.

The man was said to be ailing and suffering from some mental lapses. He carried about $300, police said at the time.

Dobbins was last seen alive walking down the beach at Tamarindo after a night of parties. That was March 4, 2005.

Dobbins, then 24 and a senior at the University of Florida, traveled to Costa Rica with several of his classmates over spring break. The man’s parents and the Australian diplomatic service instigated a massive search that failed to find clues.

In mid-June of the same year the bones of an adult male were found in mangroves near the beach. Judicial agents said that the bones and the remains that investigators have show no sign of violence, although the process of decomposition and the actions of scavenger animals has destroyed many clues. Irregularities in the teeth convinced judicial police that the body was Dobbins. That was later confirmed by testing.

Dobbins was thought to be carrying little money and no passport. Tamarindo is about 35 miles from Liberia. That’s about 56 kilometers, but the drive then took about an hour because of road conditions.

Several theories have been advanced in some of the missing cases. Some friends thought that the Australian, Dobbins, may have fallen in with criminals who killed him for their own reasons. His body was found too far inland for his death to have been the result of a water accident.

David Gimelfarb, 28, vanished Aug. 11, 2009, after he went hiking alone in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja north and east of Liberia. There was an extensive search and a local private investigator was called in.

The missing man was a student at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.

The 14,083-hectare (34,800-acre) park straddles the continental divide. It is in both Guanacaste and Alajuela provinces. Like most mountains in Costa Rica, the weather can change dramatically in a short period.

Park rangers kept watch at the park without



success for the grim sight of circling vultures.

Gimelfarb, was close to his parents and called them frequently. No one suspects that he might have simply vanished of his own accord. His parents, Russian immigrants to the United States, have come to Costa Rica several times and participated in the logistics of the search.

Michael George Dixon, 33, was seen last Oct. 19, 2009. He was staying at the Villas Macondo Hotel, also in Tamarindo. His brother, David, and his parents have tenaciously pushed for extensive investigations without success.

Michael Dixon, a British citizen who grew up in Haute Savoie, France, studied journalism at Leeds University and went on to work at Bloomberg News and Euromoney Plc in London. He moved to Brussels in 2002 to work for RISI, a United Business Media company. His mother and father are retired World Health Organization employees who live in France.

The case of the missing Universidad de Costa Rica student,  Nelson Gustavo Alvarado Montoya, is similar to the story of the missing Dutch women. He vanished in the rugged national park in early January 2011. An extensive search was mounted that Jan 7 with at least 40 volunteers. He was involved in a university program during the academic vacation.

Perhaps the strangest case was that of  Oscar Cruz Ramírez, a guide and ranger at the Volcán Poás park, that is a usual stop on tourism agendas.  The park ranger was accompanying two women tourism students when he said he wanted to go down another trail for a short time. He last was seen walking into the mist in early August 2011.

When he did not return immediately, the women reported later they thought he was pulling a practical joke. They said they waited more than 30 minutes and kept yelling for him.

He was determined to be missing when the two women showed up early the next morning at the ranger facilities asking for him.

As in many of the missing cases, there was an extensive ground search with up to 140 persons at one time and air overflights where crew members took detailed photos of the area for later inspection.

These cases produce their own tales, Gimelfarb has been said to be a wild man living on the forest economy near the national park. He also has been reported walking in downtown San José. Neither report has been verified.

The two Dutch women,  Lisanne Froon and Kris Kremers, were said to have walked a short way into a jungle trail near Boquete., Panamá. The case has affected Costa Rica because searchers from here have participated in efforts there.

The women were not likely to go far down the trail because the time was the afternoon and they had booked a guide for the following day for that area. This was three months ago. A backpack holding key possessions from the two Dutch women has just turned up in the wilds, suggesting that robbery was not a factor in their disappearances.

Another factor in these cases usually are criticism of the police. The Dixon family said they think investigators accepted testimony from hotel staffers too quickly. One worker said she saw the missing man in swim shorts carrying a towel. That led to speculation about a water accident. But the testimony later proved to be incorrect.  Michael Dixon later was believed to have been seen in a local bar on the night he vanished.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.