|Cody Dial and the Coconut Telegraph
|Paul is an engineer and geologist and the publisher of this mullet wrapper. Write him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org|
The discovery of Alaskan traveler Cody Dial’s remains on May 19th closes a troubling chapter for our Osa community. Dial went missing in July 2014; an email to his parents sent from Puerto Jimenez reported he planned to enter Corcovado National Park via unauthorized trails used by hand miners in the region. He would eschew the legally required permit application and not use the CNP official trails required for all park visitors. Investigators discovered that he had befriended gold miners and an informal tour guide in the Rio Tigre region and that in the days before his disappearance he had been hanging out with, new pal, Jose Fallas, aka Pata de Lora. When Dial did not re-surface, suspicion of foul play settled around Fallas and the hand-miner communities of the Piedras Blancas and Carate Rivers. The theory—advanced by the investigative Missing Dial film crew—was that he was murdered—probably not turned into a gold-mine slave after all, as Episode 1 speculated—the body stowed inside the jungle vastness, perhaps in an old worked-over mining tunnel . . .
Dr. Roman Dial, Cody’s world-renowned adventurer father, arrived to join the search, which included the Red Cross and helicopter support from the Aerial Vigilance Service as well as search and rescue teams. After two weeks of scouring difficult terrain, the official search was discontinued amid mounting speculation. A cloud began to settle over the miners. Conspiracy theories swirled: who knew what when and the why of the nefarious motives behind the miners’ collective and outrageous silence.
Roman Dial returned with telegenic hard-boiled US private investigators and a film crew sponsored by National Geographic to press—extra-officially—for answers from this same mining community, turning to the glitz and glare of cameras to uncover information that the official investigation had failed to unearth. The product, the six-part Missing Dial mini-series, debuted on May 22nd, just three days after Dial’s remains were found.
A conclusive report has not yet been rendered, but partial skeletal remains were found beneath a fallen tree. With DNA results pending, items in his backpack—notably his passport—appear conclusive that the remains are his. They were discovered in a tributary of the Piedras Blancas River, Quebrada Doctor, inside Corcovado National Park. It comports proximally but not exactly with that given by the last person known to see Cody Dial alive, Dos Brazos guide Jenkins Segura, who came upon Dial eating breakfast alone in the forest, on the boundary of the park.
“I’m debating whether to go deeper in or pull back out altogether,” Segura recalled Dial saying. It was the first time Segura had ever come across an unaccompanied foreigner alone so deep in the mountain.
The working theory is that Dial was killed by a falling tree and “probably not through foul play,” according to the Organismo de Investigación Judicial.
Since Cody Dial went missing, things have not been the same. The shadow of allegations of murder is a dark cloak antithetical to everything the Osa stands for. The discovery that his death may have a less sinister and even banal explanation lifts a cloud that everyone in the Osa has lived beneath since, no group more so that the miners working the Piedras Blancas placers, and no single individual more than the man investigators from Missing Dial settled upon as the principal target in Dial’s disappearance, Osa’s own José Fallas, nicknamed Pata de Lora.
A week earlier I happened across Fallas on Main Street, nailing up Missing Dog posters for an ex-pat couple offering a hefty reward for return of their pit-bull puppy. Fallas looked nervous to me as he tacked the flyers to town walls, glancing around awkwardly, clearly aware that everyone including me was eyeing him. It took chutzpah for a murderer to walk around scot-free and on downtown Main Street at that.
When I reported the news to an off-grid worker on a water project in off-pen boon-toolies, he cocked his head and pulled out a cigarette. Juan—I’ll call him Juan—is a masonry tradesman from the Tigre and an occasional miner. He’s mid-forties and ripped, sculpted in muscle, but not a kid anymore.
“He took money from the cajero from the gringo’s card,” Juan pointed out. “He had the gringo’s camera even. And everyone knows he had mucha plata in the days following—everyone knows that—until the cops find him hid out up in Rincón and lock him up!”
Only, none of that—nearly—is true. There were never any withdrawals from ATMs from Dial’s bank card. The effects uncovered were simply the contents of a larger backpack that he stored at Cabinas The Corner to lighten his load for the hike; there was no camera. And Pata de Lora did not go into hiding and reports that he was arrested and held for 24 hours in Villa Neilly in February and interrogated, with a “Nat Geo representative” present. He alleges OIJ torture in that interrogation. But local juridical authorities insist Fallas has never been charged with a crime. But Juan was sure of it and never suspected the hearsay as anything but verbatim fact. Juan was surprised to learn that Pata de Lora was not serving preventive detention in advance of a trial.
It was from this exchange that my own moral complicity settled in. I also had believed that Pata de Lora had murdered Cody Dial and had said as much privately to more than one person. Fallas, no paloma blanca in his own words, played an incidental role in the final few days of Dial’s life. Yet he guided Dial from Dos Brazos to Carate and they caught the bus back to Jimenez, where Dial checked back into his hotel, all on the record. Dial paid him and set out then on his own to re-hike the route solo and presumably cut into the park at some point along that bounding trail (El Dorado Trail, Tourism) and had an unfortunate encounter with a tree. In a massive irony, Dr. Roman Dial warns his fellow hikers in the same forest that downpours like these are when trees fall, towering primary giants all around.
There is not a single scintilla of evidence that Jose Fallas had anything to do with Dial’s disappearance, and there never has been.
Oh to be a gecko on the wall of the Nat Geo War Room the day after the remains were discovered about whether to move forward given the exculpatory eleventh-hour evidence that wiped out by pure dumb luck and fate the entire premise of the mini-series. Still, there was a lot of money sunk in production and promotion, and it was set to premiere in just two days! In previews it is clear that they will accuse Pata de Lora of a murder they weaved from whole cloth, a crime that never happened, that was never conceived outside of the biased minds of Hollywood producers.
I’m sure it will be an even more riveting mini-series given the premise will dovetail from the forensic facts after the production wrap. It’s a television audience of millions that will stay tuned in in what is sure to be a spell-binding mini-series, given Dial’s remains’ ironically-timed surfacing.
The gathering theory is that Dial lost his life alone in a forest by an accidental confluence of natural forces, none of which were ever beyond the young adventurer’s own control. He chose to evade the $10 per day price of admission to the World Heritage Site and crown jewel of Costa Rica’s vaunted National Park System. He knowingly disobeyed the CTP rule to stay on designated trails. Multiple sources—including his parents—attest that he wanted to hike Corcovado alone, without a guide, also forbidden by Park rules. In settling on his own law in a rugged wilderness with which he was unfamiliar, Dial unwittingly and by the wildest confluence of improbable circumstance set the wheels of his own death in motion. But his decision to skirt reasonable rules of visitation also set into motion search parties, the expenditure of a small fortune of public and private resources, and propelled our Osa community into a dark night of the soul as we collectively prosecuted an innocent man for a murder that was never committed.
“It destroyed my life,” says Fallas. “Imagine your friends suddenly say you are a murderer! You cannot understand until you live it what that means!”
We can never know how many people canceled or decided against visits to our peninsula and to CNP from the tongue-wagging and Hollywood confabulation it enabled. This chapter has weighed darkly on our self-image as a beacon of decency and a standard-bearer of social and environmental responsibility and action. Many further our society’s economy from resource-exploitation to environmental sustainability via ecotourism. We can be set back by internal things. But to have our regions thusly smeared by international media is more that we as a community should tolerate.
There is no reset button on hearsay that facts unveiled can ceremoniously push. It will take years for the penumbral saga to fully lift from the shoulders of our remote corner of paradise. We can’t undo the chain of bad consequences that resulted from one young man’s seemingly innocuous decision to skirt the rules, but we can now begin to heal from this unwelcome chapter of our peninsula’s history by the airing of actual facts under our blistering sun.
The lessons from this unfortunate chapter are several: Visitors and locals alike can learn that there are valid reasons that ACOSA forbids off-trail hiking and that the required permits are not for the trivial monetary revenues they bring—though all revenues protect the resource—but to allow rangers to know who is in the park at any given time. The bigger lesson for me is to hold the coconut telegraph at arm’s length and not conflate speculation with deed nor reach conclusions unsupported by at least shreds of physical evidence.