Transcript: 137. The Mysterious Death of Mariska Mast | Honduras

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On Thursday the 21st of August 2008, Dutch backpacker Mariska Mast wrote this blog post from Roatán, Honduras.

“Just a short message with some pictures. I have to tell you something. Not only can I dive, but I am an advanced diver! After the PADI Open Water, I took another course, PADI Advanced Open Water. Incredibly cool dives: a Shipwreck, Underwater Navigation, a Night Dive, a Deep Dive and Underwater Photography…

And yes, this is good for you too, because I can post a few photos on my blog. Now I have to tell you that I’m not a good underwater photographer, but I have some really cool photos.

But believe me (for those of you who don’t dive) no photo can capture the true underwater beauty. One is surrounded by fish and coral. I can pretty much control my buoyancy by now – something I’m quite proud of.

The shipwreck was really great! We were 108 feet deep (that is 30 metres). We swam all around the ship, seeing fish at least 50cm long. Navigation and deep dive are mandatory as well as a night dive – in the dark and with lights on your back.

I think diving is really cool and I’d love to do some more dives, but yeah … I think I have to wait a little longer. Tomorrow I have 1 or 2 fun dives and hopefully somewhere else along my trip I’ll have the opportunity. and otherwise I have to wait until I can again …

Tomorrow Barbara and I will take a plane to Costa Rica. We will have to say goodbye, because Barbara is doing a Spanish course and volunteering there and I will travel on to Colombia. My next post is probably from Costa Rica.

I’ll keep it short because I only have 1 day left to enjoy this wonderful island. Until the next message!”

But Mariska would never leave Honduras. After a night out she went home with her diving instructor, Dan. He dropped a badly injured Mariska off at Roatán Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Dan and his flatmate Jisoo claimed that Mariska had fallen and that it was an accident. But forensic testing proved otherwise…

>>Intro Music

Mariska Esmeralda Mast was born on the 30th of November 1984 to parents Herbert and Margriet and had a sister, Amanda.

In 2008, Mariska was 23 years old and a qualified teacher, who lived and worked in her hometown of Hoorn, North Holland. Her parents had separated, and she was close to both of them. After the divorce, Mariska’s dad, an artist, moved to the family’s holiday home in France. She visited him whenever she got the chance.

Mariska was a free-spirited young woman, who loved dancing and playing soccer. She was a film-buff who also loved reading and listening to music. The young, unattached woman had an insatiable zest for life – and above all she loved seeing the world, eating good food and trying out new things. Although she always found herself in the heart of the action, she never liked being the centre of attention herself.

In 2007 Mariska took some time off and spent eight months traveling through South America. She spent most of her time in Colombia, where she volunteered with Amigos Colombianos, an organisation that supports underprivileged young women in becoming independent. In her blog, Mariska wrote about her trip:

“It was such an incredible journey; I have no words that would do it justice. The only thing I know is that I have definitely caught the travel bug, and that I fell in love with Colombia.”

As soon as she arrived back in Europe, Mariska started planning her next trip – this time to Central America. On June 27th 2008, she finished up at work, and felt strange that she would not return to her job after her holiday. She had decided to take this second trip to South America, to consider her options, and counted herself lucky – as a Dutch citizen – to have so many options in life.

Her first port of call was Havana, where she arrived on July 15th, and looked forward to the next two and a half months of carefree living. Some people thought she was brave to travel alone, but for Mariska it was the only way to go. She immersed herself in the culture, often using the phrase ‘I can feel it’ in her blog. ‘It’ being the Latino spirit. Mariska embraced the unpretentious lifestyle – and respected those who made the most of life with only the  essentials: music, dance and food.

After two weeks in Cuba, Mariska went across to Cancun, Mexico. Here she met a fellow solo-traveller, Austrian national Barbara Meshner. They hit it off and decided to travel together for a while. They went to Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador, and changed their itinerary as they hopped from one country to the next. In Guatemala, Barbara was pick-pocketed, and the girls were a bit rattled. She only lost her notebook, but they realised it could’ve been worse: her money or passport even. After the incident, Mariska and Barbara decided to become more vigilant, they were, after all, in an area where crime was rife.

From El Salvador, the two travel buddies went to the island of Roatán, Islas de la Bahias. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. However, it’s unspoilt natural beauty makes it a diver’s paradise. Backpacking divers flock from all over the world to qualify as instructors in the idyllic Caribbean setting.

One of the most reputable dive shops, Coconut Tree Divers, is located in the West End district of Roatán – about a 30 minute-drive from the island’s capital Coxen Hole. Most diving tourists stay in West End when they visit Roatán.

On Saturday the 16th of August, Mariska and Barbara began their PADI Open Water diving course at Coconut Tree Divers. This is something Mariska had always wanted to do, and loved every minute of the course. Once she completed her Open Water, she signed up for another course, this time PADI Advanced Open Water. She went on multiple dives that week, making the most of her time on Roatán.

But there was more than coral reefs and exotic fish that drew Mariska to Coconut Tree Divers. Among her instructors was a 29-year-old Australian man, called Daniel Ian Ross. Barbara could tell Mariska had a crush on him, and saw how the two of them flirted all week.

On Thursday 21 August, the time had come for Mariska and Barbara to hang up their fins, and pack their bags, as they were heading to Costa Rica the next day. After their last dive, Mariska told Barbara that she had trouble breathing. But she felt better soon, and joined Dan and others for drinks on the deck at Coconut Tree Divers.

Around 8pm, Mariska and Barbara went home to change. Less than an hour later, they went back to the dive shop, where they met Dan and the other for dinner at the grill-restaurant upstairs. After dinner, Dan, his Australian friend Madi, Mariska and Barbara migrated to the  Purple Turtle bar.

Dan’s flatmate, Jisoo Han saw the party arrive just after 10pm. There was a lot of banter and Mariska was excited to spend her last night in Honduras with her instructor. During the diving course, Dan had said if anyone made a mistake, they owed him a beer. Mariska felt she owed him one, after a week of teaching her, but he said he preferred a Bacardi and Coke.

Barbara and Mariska ordered drinks and joined Dan. They chatted a while and joked around about being able to speak more than one language. Dan said one only needed to speak English, and the multilingual girls strongly disagreed. It was all light-hearted fun and soon Barbara moved away, talking to some of the other divers. She saw Dan and Mariska move into a backroom and moments later Mariska returned, and told Barbara Dan had kissed her. Barbara was excited for her, because she knew Mariska liked Dan.

At the end of the evening an overly-bubbly Mariska said she was going home with Dan. Barbara thought she was QUOTE unbelievably happy UNQUOTE. Although they had had a couple of drinks earlier in the night, Mariska only really had the one drink at Purple Turtle. Barbara thought she was probably just super-excited about Dan, so after warning her to be safe, Barbara said goodnight.

Dan, Mariska, Dan’s flatmate Jisoo and his friend Madi all left the bar around 11:30pm. The foursome split up along the way and Jisoo arrived home first. She brushed her teeth and went to bed, and heard Dan and Mariska arrive moments before she fell asleep.

What happened next remains a point of debate. According to Jisoo, she woke up around 3am, because she needed to use the restroom. She became aware of a thumping sound, but wasn’t sure where it was coming from. In the small apartment Dan and Jisoo shared, their rooms faced each other and the bathroom was in the middle. When Jisoo opened her bedroom door, Dan was standing in front of the locked bathroom. They tried to talk to Mariska through the door, but she didn’t answer.

Then the door suddenly flung open and Mariska fell forwards without any attempt of breaking her fall. She bumped her head on the tiled floor, and chipped her tooth. Jisoo said she brought ice for the gash on Mariska’s head. Mariska was conscious, so Jisoo, who was studying first aid as part of her Divemaster’s course, went to fetch her textbook for information about first aid. Dan and Jisoo asked Mariska to count to ten, asked her what her mother’s name was and so on. Mariska was able to answer coherently, and admitted that she felt silly for falling. Dan assured Jisoo that he would take care of Mariska and told her she could go to bed. Jisoo and Dan helped a fully clothed Mariska to the sofa, and Jisoo went back to sleep.

Just before 6am, Jisoo woke up once more, because Dan was calling for her. She rushed into his room, and found a panic-stricken Dan, trying to help Mariska who had trouble breathing. According to Jisoo, Mariska was naked in Dan’s bed and had soiled herself. Next to the bed was a pot with Mariska’s vomit. Dan shouted:

“I have never seen anything like this before, I don’t know what to do. Go next door and ask for help!”

Jisoo ran to their neighbours, and asked them to call for an ambulance. Their phone didn’t work, so she went to the gas station across the road. They called an ambulance, but on an island like Roatán, there was no telling when help would arrive.

Meanwhile Dan was performing CPR on Mariska, but her condition had deteriorated. The next door neighbour, their landlord, offered to drive Mariska to hospital. The guys from the gas station loaded a mattress onto the back of his pick-up truck while Dan and the landlord carried Mariska down a flight of stairs to the car. Dan and Jisoo sat in the back, on either side of Mariska.

It was a bumpy and winding road and it was challenging to perform CPR, so Dan and Jisoo took turns while the other one helped to keep Mariska steady. After a 20-minute chase, they reached the run-down, hygienically questionable hospital in Coxen Hole. Patients and family members mulled around, curtains partitioned make-shift consulting rooms and there was a general feeling of chaos. It was a far cry from hospitals Mariska would have known, coming from the Netherlands.

At Roatán Hospital, Dan filled out some forms, but struggled to communicate with the doctors, seeing as he did not speak any Spanish. Dan and Jisoo they waited about 20 minutes and then returned home, because the landlord said he was leaving.

According to Dr Ricardo John, the physician on duty that morning, Mariska was dead on arrival, but he concluded that she had passed not long before, most likely while being transported, somewhere between 6 and 7am.

When Dan, Jisoo and the landlord arrived back home from Coxen Hole, the landlord’s girlfriend was hosing down the stairs, as there was faeces on the steps. She had also opened the windows in Dan and Jisoo’s apartment and turned off the iPod. Dan thanked her and he went back to the apartment to clean up.

Both Dan and Jisoo claimed that they were hopeful that Mariska would be okay. They were unaware that Mariska had passed away and did not realise he was destroying vital evidence. By the time police arrived, the apartment was clean.

Just before 8am, Dan and Jisoo arrived at Coconut Tree Divers and told them what had happened. The manager called the hospital and learnt that Mariska had died. Everyone was shocked. It seemed impossible – she was a 23-year-old, lively young woman in the prime of her life – how could she simply drop dead?

Dad and Jisoo were distraught and mauled over their actions, wondering if they could have done anything more to save her. A shaky Dan told Jisoo that after the 3am incident, Mariska went to sleep. He woke her up every twenty minutes – customary care for someone who is suspected of having a concussion. Dan claimed that Mariska woke up every time and that she was okay. It was not until 6am when she started vomiting and struggled to breathe, that he knew something was seriously wrong.

Soon after learning about Mariska’s death, Dan and Jisoo returned to the hospital, where police officers asked them to go to the station to give statements. Barbara was only informed about the situation when she arrived at the dive shop, looking for Mariska at 10am. She went straight to the police station, where she met Dan and Jisoo. According to Barbara, Dan gave her a hug, but she felt no empathy from him.

After giving their separate accounts about the night before, Jisoo was free to go home, but police kept Dan in custody. He was sent to Coxen Hole jail – a run-down facility with bare cells – nothing but a concrete floor and bars. The owners of the dive shop took him some food and blankets everyday and Madi informed his parents back in Australia.

Dan’s sister, a lawyer, asked Madi to stay with him until she arrived. Dan was held in custody for five days, before appearing in court. Although he was Australian, he held a British passport. British Consul Mat Harper visited him there and tried to understand what happened.  

This is from Dan’s statement regarding the night of 21 August 2008:

“On the evening of that Thursday, between 5 and 8 in the evening, I was working at the dive centre, Talking to Mariska and another person from the dive centre.  Mariska was picked up at that moment, but I don’t know how. When I closed the dive centre, we went upstairs to the restaurant for dinner. Mariska and her friend Barbara, went home to change. Mariska returned at 9:00 in the evening.”

Dan confirmed that they all went to the Purple Turtle. He said he didn’t want Mariska to go home with him that night, but she insisted. This is what Dan said:

“We started walking towards the house. Mariska followed us and asked if she could come home with us. I agreed but told her I was going to bed.”

According to Dan, when they got home, they went straight to his bedroom, and started making out. Then he recounted the events that took place at 3am and 6am, echoing Jisoo’s version.

At Dan’s hearing on the 26th of August, Jisoo Han cancelled her PADI exam to testify in court. She claimed that she never met Mariska before that evening. She was studying for a diver’s exam at the dive shop, and did not go out diving with the group.

Jisoo had to explain why they abandoned Mariska at the hospital. Why didn’t they – or at least one of them – wait to see if she was okay? Jisoo said that their landlord wanted to leave, and he was their lift. When Dan said they were going home, she just went along. Jisoo was also asked why they cleaned the apartment that morning, and she told the court they didn’t know Mariska had died and that police would have to examine the scene.

The judge agreed to release Dan Ross, but he was ordered to stay on the island until the autopsy had been concluded. As security, he had to surrender his passport to the British Consulate. Honduran authorities were unaware of the fact that Dan was a dual citizen, so, using his Australian passport, he left the very day he was released. On the same day, there was a memorial for Mariska on the island.

Jisoo Han said she never saw Dan Ross again. Because she had cancelled her exam, she had to wait another month to take it. She eventually left on September 24, to go to the United States.

The report of the postmortem examination noted multiple wounds on Mariska’s body, face and hands. She had one swollen, black eye, a swollen lip and a chipped tooth. According to the report, Mariska’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Her death was ruled to be a homicide.

From Coxen Hole, Mariska’s body was transported to San Pedro Sula on the mainland for a second autopsy. The time and dates on the first and second autopsies indicate a level of inefficiency of the people who conducted it. The first examination report was dated 22 August, 10:00am – hours after Mariska arrived at the hospital. The second one (conducted more than an hour’s journey from Roatán was recorded on the same date, at 10:20am). This is physically impossible. Someone made an error – bringing the entire standard of the examination into question.

During the second examination, forensic pathologist Heybee Yessenia Caballero noted the presence of defensive wounds and traces of amphetamines, like the kind found in recreational drugs, in her blood. Yet, Mariska was not a drug user – everyone who knew her testified that she had never taken any drugs before. Strangely, there was no alcohol in her blood. Many witnesses said that she had had a couple of drinks in the course of the evening, at least three Bacardi’s and Coke and a Vodka/Pineapple. Was the test wrong, or had the alcohol broken down completely?

On the 3rd of October 2008, six weeks after her death, Mariska was laid to rest in  her hometown of Hoorn.

Roatán Police were informed by pathologists to investigate her homicide, but such a murder is not a common incident on Roatán. Honduras has one of the most murders per capita in the world, but Roatán and the Bay Islands are different. Tourism is the life-vein of the islands, so for the most part, a backpacker like Mariska would be safe. In this instance, a European woman died in an Australian’s apartment, and a South Korean was a vital witness. However, expecting standard, first-world investigation methods on a Caribbean Island would be naïve. For the most part, police on Roatán are either disinterested or corrupt, or they simply don’t have the necessary resources.

There was a search of Dan and Jisoo’s apartment, that yielded ‘six packets of pills’ in Dan’s room, and a large blood stain on the floor. The question arose whether the pills were the reason for the amphetamines in Mariska’s blood. Things did not look good for the main person of interest, Dan Ross. But he was no longer in the country, and investigators did not seem urged to find him either.

But there was someone else in the apartment that night too. Investigators had a look at Jisoo Han’s background. She arrived on Roatán on the 10th of June 2008, to complete a three-month PADI Divemaster’s course. She met Dan Ross, while working as a trainee Divemaster at Coconut Tree Divers. They became friends and on the 15th of August, Jisoo moved into Dan’s two-bedroom apartment in the West End district.

Dan had been on Roatán since March, so he was somewhat more settled in. Their relationship was platonic and their living situation was practical – a mutual decision so they could save money. Because Dan was an instructor and Jisoo a trainee, they had a kind of hierarchal friendship. Dan called the shots, Jisoo listened. She later explained that it is part of her culture to respect one’s teacher, and that is how she viewed Dan.

At the time of Mariska’s death, Jisoo was studying for a divemaster’s exam. A month later, she passed the exam and became a certified Divemaster. She left Roatán shortly afterwards, and stayed in the US for a couple of months, before returning to her home in South Korea. At the end of the year, she took a job in Egypt.

It seemed like everyone had put Mariska’s murder behind them. Several theories floated among the international dive community, speculation about what had caused her death. Could it have been related to decompression sickness? Symptoms of decompression sickness typically show up shortly after a dive. Although Mariska complained that she had some difficulty breathing, she did not display any other symptoms, like fatigue or dizziness. Could it have been a delayed onset? Her last dive was a deep one – 30 metres, that’s 180 feet. One cannot exclude the possibility that her diving adventures had something to do with her behaviour that night: she was unusually energetic at the bar and according to Dan and Jisoo, she just collapsed later at the apartment. Was her drinks spiked perhaps?

Other theories doing the rounds on the island and online included speculation that Dan and Mariska had consensual sex, but that it was rough and something went wrong. Some speculated if Mariska was sexually assaulted. For the most part, people believed that it was a tragic accident and that she died because if injuries sustained during her fall when she came out of the bathroom.

In 2009, Dutch diplomats and private investigators visited Roatán, hoping to persuade Honduran authorities to re-open the case. They were assured that it was an ongoing investigation and that they would act soon. What followed was an international arrest warrant for Dan Ross, as well as for Jisoo Han.

Jisoo was working as a scuba instructor for Korean tourists in Dahab, Egypt. On the 27th of August 2009, she was heading back to South Korea when she was detained at Cairo International Airport. Because of the international warrant for her arrest, an Interpol officer questioned her and she was made to stay in police custody in Cairo. Jisoo claimed that she was shoved into a ‘chicken cage’ cell and had to sleep on a concrete floor. When she asked to contact the South Korean Consulate, her request was denied. On the 22nd of September 2009, Jisoo Han was extradited to Roatán, after a brief stop-over in the Netherlands, all the while still in Interpol’s custody.

At the time, Dan Ross was a scuba instructor in Singapore. When he learnt of Jisoo Han’s arrest, he immediately made his way to Australia. There is no extradition treaty between Australia and Honduras, so Dan could not be arrested. Although this made him appear guilty, Dan claimed he did not want to be arrested for a crime he did not commit. Through his lawyers, he denied causing Mariska’s death, and said that he did everything he could to save her. According to Dan’s lawyer, the Australian Federal Police had been in touch with Dan, and questioned him, and that he was co-operating with them.

Dan was labelled a fugitive but he claimed that, due to his limited command of Spanish, he did not understand what was being said in court. He asked his lawyer in Roatán if he was allowed to leave, and he said that he could. Dan was under the impression that he had been cleared and that he was good to go.

Once Jisoo was in Roatán, she was subjected to a brief court hearing, of which she said she didn’t understand anything. Confused and powerless, Jisoo was taken to La Ceiba prison on the island – a jail for men and women. Jisoo was warned about rapists in the prison by fellow inmates and feared for her safety.

Jisoo’s family went to Roatán to help their daughter in any way they could and her plight was prevalent in the South Korean media. On December 14th 2009, after three months in prison, Jisoo was released on $10,000 bail, but had to remain under house arrest. While on remand, she had to stay at a church in San Pedro Sula, on mainland Honduras.

Meanwhile, Dan Ross was as quiet as the grave. Jisoo made a public appeal for him to come forward to give evidence in her case. Mariska Mast’s father, Herbert, approached Australian authorities and pleaded with them to extradite Dan to Roatán so he could testify at Jisoo’s trial. When Mariska’s family approached him to ask what happened the night she died, he refused to speak to them. Dan Ross claimed he ignored all their requests, because he wanted to carry on with his life, and put the tragedy behind him.

In September 2010, while awaiting a trial date, Jisoo Han said this:

“I want to know the truth but I am not the one who has the key… I don’t know if [Dan Ross] might be able to help clear my name but it would be great if he can and does.”

Jisoo’s uncle, Sung-ho Choi filed petitions with Amnesty International hoping to ensure her release. He said the charges were “total nonsense”, as there was no evidence against her. South Korean president Lee Myung-bak met with Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa at the 2010 summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and raised Jisoo Han’s case with him, asking him to pay close attention to her trial.

Dutch crime reporter Peter R de Vries took it on himself to follow up on Mariska’s case. He hired private investigators in Australia and established that Dan lived in Wollongong South of Sydney in 2009. They lost his trail for a while, but found him again, on the other side of the country, living a suburban life in Subiaco, Perth.

Peter de Vries went halfway around the world to confront Dan Ross at his home. When Peter and his team showed up on Dan’s doorstep, Dan alerted local police and De Vries was arrested for disturbing the peace. His fellow journalist received a $200 fine for ignoring police requests to leave Dan Ross alone. De Vries refused to admit guilt, insisting he only wanted to hand Dan a letter and ask why he wouldn’t cooperate.

For a brief moment, De Vries was hopeful that Dan would be arrested too, seeing as he was still on Interpol’s wanted list at the time. However, Australia does not have an extradition agreement with Honduras and local police do not arrest people on the basis of Interpol notices.

Once released, De Vries commented on his arrest by stating:

“I didn’t touch him, I didn’t insult him, I didn’t threaten him… This is a homicide case and I tracked him down and now you’re putting me in jail. That’s the world upside down.”

De Vries and his crew left Australia, in the wake of Dan Ross’ application for a restraining order against him. But the relentless Peter R de Vries does not scare that easily. He compiled a three-and-a-half hour investigative documentary about Mariska’s case, which aired in the Netherlands.

The extensive international investigation conducted by De Vries and his team concluded that Mariska’s death was nothing more than a terrible accident. They felt there was a lack of motive for either Dan or Jisoo to have wanted to harm her. At the end of the three-part exposé, De Vries declared that he did not believe Mariska was murdered.

Meanwhile, back in Honduras, Jisoo Han was still awaiting trial. A third post mortem report was issued in September 2009, by Honduran authorities. Bear in mind, Mariska was buried in The Netherlands the year before. This third autopsy report claimed that the cause of death was asphyxiation as a result of strangulation.

Jisoo’s trial started on the 14th of October 2010 – if found guilty, she was looking at 30 years in prison. Korean authorities sent a diplomat and forensic specialists to assist with the case.

A third autopsy report was presented to the court, and stated the possibility that Mariska Mast’s death could possibly have been attributed to a combination of alcohol and drugs, but that she most likely died due to strangulation.

On the 16th of October, Jisoo Han was found not guilty by the three-judge panel of the regional court of Roatán, and she was finally acquitted of all charges on the 24th of November 2010. Mariska’s family agreed with the acquittal, as they never believed it was Jisoo who had killed Mariska.

Jisoo Han returned to South Korea as soon as she could. She expressed her relied to local media, saying:

“I thought I was going to break down when the verdict was reached, but it didn’t really hit me right away… After I spoke with my father from Korea and took other congratulatory calls, I realized I was found not guilty and was really pleased.”

Dan Ross weighed in on Jisoo’s verdict via his lawyer in Australia. He said he was ‘delighted’ that the court supported his claim that Mariska’s death was an accident, and that neither he nor Jisoo had caused it. He insisted that he tried everything he could to help her.

Honduran and Dutch authorities still seek to have Dan extradited, even if it’s just for questioning. Floris Kluck, Dutch Honorary Consul for Honduras stated:

“There has been co-operation from lots of countries already to see that justice takes place and it would be nice if Australia would do all the best so justice for this Dutch girl takes place.”

The case had come to a screeching halt. But Mariska’s family was not about to give up. Herbert Mast expressed his frustration with Dutch authorities for the lack of assistance. He took it upon himself to investigate the case, hoping that he could understand what happened in that Roatán apartment in 2008. He said that he promised her, standing next to her grave, that he would not let anyone get away with killing her.

This is no small task… The Honduran investigation was shoddy – the two conflicting autopsy reports make one question both. Mariska was seen drinking all night, yet there was no alcohol in her blood. There is not much evidence of an investigation, and when Peter de Vries and his team interviewed the District Attorney, who on Roatán was the main officer presiding over the case, she could not even answer the most basic questions about the case.

It’s the chaos, disinterest, incompetency and sometimes blatant corruption that frustrates Herbert Mast to no end. And although Dutch authorities have taken made some attempts to help, it was only because of his relentless efforts that Mariska’s body was exhumed in 2011.

Before her body was transported to back home, it was embalmed, so, three years after her death, it was still in a good condition.

Peter de Vries and his camera crew were allowed to film the examination that took place in Antwerp. Two Honduran pathologists were also invited to observe the examination. The pathologist team of Dr Werner Jacobs used the best available technology, and left no stone unturned.

Using CT scans, they were able to see that the hyoid bone was still intact. When a victim is strangled, this soft bone typically snaps, but Mariska’s did not show any injury. Strangulation could not be excluded, but it did not seem likely. As for Mariska’s forward fall onto a tiled floor… She did not break her nose, nor did she injure her chin. It was not the fall that caused her death either.

The Antwerp autopsy concluded that the examinations conducted in Honduras did not stand up to standard forensic procedures. Dr Jacobs pointed out that the first autopsy, taken hours after Mariska’s death on Roatán, mentioned blunt force trauma, but did not give any indication what could have caused it. According to the Belgian doctor, a fracture to the back of her skull – that had not been noted before – may very well have caused Mariska’s death. She also had multiple wounds on her hands and arms, undeniably defensive wounds.

Peter De Vries spoke reported on the findings and apologised to Mariska’s family for having had tunnel vision in his investigation. His documentary series concluded it was an accident, where forensic evidence showed the contrary. Sadly, despite this independent autopsy result, the case went nowhere. Jisoo had been acquitted and Dan was not leaving Australia.

Herbert Mast tried his best to keep his daughter’s murder investigation alive. He looked photos of Dan and Jisoo’s Roatán apartment, and studied at photos of Mariska’s autopsy, to reconstruct his version of events.

Because of Mariska’s swollen black eye, other facial injuries and the fracture on the back of the skull, Herbert theorised that his daughter was attacked from the front and fell onto her back. He looked at police photos of the apartment, taken after Mariska’s death and saw two barstools at the kitchen bench. They were close to each other, making it appear like there was space for one more. Scouring the crime scene photos, Herbert discovered the third barstool in Dan’s bedroom, a couple of feet from where Mariska was gasping for breath when Jisoo came into the room.

Herbert approached independent experts and they agreed it was possible that the bar stool was the murder weapon. If someone had picked it up, holding the seat-part, and struck Mariska over the head with one of the legs, all of her facial injuries lined up. Her eye was bruised so severely, making it likely that someone threw it at her. The sheer force of it caused her to fall backwards, and hit her head on the tiled floor.

One point that Herbert raises in his investigation is the presence of a fourth person in the apartment that night. He found it strange that, according to all eyewitness accounts, four of them left the Purple Turtle: Mariska, Dan, Jisoo and Dan’s Australian friend, Madi. Herbert Mast finds it strange that her name disappeared from the investigation completely. Madi was doing a diving course in Utila, a neighbouring island, at the time.

Herbert speculated whether Madi was meant to crash at Dan’s place – having been a family friend for years. He thinks that Madi came upon Mariska and Dan and, in a jealous rage, lashed out. A fake nail, found on Dan’s sofa, next to the position of the missing barstool, may have been Madi’s.

Herbert pulls the so-called ‘two incidents’ into question, the 3am incident, as well as the 6am incident. He feels that Mariska died earlier, at 3am, and in the panic of the situation, Dan and Jisoo concocted the story and made sure their versions of events were the same.

Madi denied having any involvement in Mariska’s death and pleaded with Herbert Mast to stop implicating her. She categorically stated that she only met Mariska briefly and that there had never been anything between her and Dan. And having her pictures circulate online in connection with a murder is damaging.

The problem with this case is, there are facts, but they are often conflicted. So many people have been affected by Mariska’s death. If there had been a proper investigation from the beginning, speculation would not have been necessary.

Dan Ross was the last person to see Mariska alive. Did he flee Roatán because he had something to do with her death? Or was he an innocent bystander, who, after experiencing the vile conditions of the Roatán prison, feared a lifetime of hell, a wrongful conviction, and did whatever he could to avoid it?

In December 2017 a cold case team in The Netherlands re-opened Mariska’s case – it is still an ongoing investigation. While Dan Ross remains silent in Australia, and Jisoo Han is living free in South Korea, Mariska’s family and friends still mourn her mysterious death. And as tourists trickle to diving schools in Roatán, the memory of Mariska’s tragedy still lingers on, with the unspoken thought: will we ever know what happened to her?

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