Sunday, May 15, 2016

There’re a lot of stories I’d rather tell than this one, but this one’s the only one that really matters.

Our son, Cody Roman Dial, disappeared on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula in 2014.

Cody Roman was conceived in a tent in the Brooks Range and born in February in Fairbanks. When he was six we walked across Umnak, a remote Aleutian Island, just the two of us, sixty miles in a week.

After that trip he went by his middle name, Roman.

In grade school with his mom Peggy and sister Jazz we traveled to rain forests and coral reefs and deserts all over the world. In high school he helped me with my research. He, Jazz, and I skied around the Harding Icefield for a week counting ice worms. The next year Roman took two months off school while we studied the rain forest canopy in Borneo.

While he was in high-school and college we packrafted rivers and creeks all over Alaska, in Australia, Malaysia, even the Grand Canyon.                                

The last time I saw him was in Veracruz, Mexico, January 2014 where we packrafted waterfalls.

Roman had just started a seven month tour of Latin America. After Veracruz he wrote us emails about monarch butterflies in the Sierra Madre, nesting sea turtles on the Pacific, swimming with whale sharks in the Caribbean.

He wrote me about his plans to walk solo 200 km in ten days across the Peten, the wilderness border of Guatemala and Mexico to see remote Mayan ruins.

I wrote him back:  “Don’t do it, It’s too dangerous,” offering up what looked like a safer route from Google Earth.

But I deleted that email. Instead I wrote him back to be careful with his machete and watch out for snakes.

After that he wrote a six-thousand word story of his adventure that I sent to friends who’d watched him grow up.

We’d hear from him every couple weeks.                                     

He’d write and say, Here’s where I am going. Then come back and write, I’m out and then another, longer, And here’s what happened.

Seven months into his trip he wrote from Costa Rica. He asked about topo maps.

I went on my own trip in early July to the Talkeetnas, came back and went straight to the Kenai to dipnet.

I didn’t check my emails.

Peggy and I worried about how long it’d been since we’d heard from Roman. It was strange not to hear from him for so long. One day we were shopping and she got nauseous for no reason.                

We went home and I opened the email thread “Topo Maps” to find plans for his next trip -- five days across Corcovado National Park. Off-trail and alone, a traverse of the wild Osa Peninsula. His route was specific.

He closed with “I’ll be bound by a trail to the west and coast everywhere else It. should be difficult to get lost forever.”

The email was two weeks old. He was ten days overdue.

I immediately called the American Embassy, emailed Corocvado Park, asked my friend Thai Verzone to drop everything and come with me.

I planned to be back in ten days.

I stayed forty. 

Our first night there we found the hostel where Roman stayed, the gear he’d left behind. A few days later we found a group of miners who’d met Roman in the jungle cooking breakfast over a Jet Boil.                                                        

The authorities wouldn’t let me into the Park, so we snuck in to search for him on our own.

It was hot and wet and dangerous. Thai stepped over a log waist high with a coiled green viper on top. He didn’t even see it.

Thai went back to his family. Other friends came down to help.

More snakes. More dangers.

Flash floods in green slot canyons filled with waterfalls that we rapelled looking for Roman -- maybe he’d slipped in and couldn’t get out. One night a 150 foot tree fell and landed a dozen feet from one of our tents with three people inside.

The mountains of the Osa look smooth but they’re not. They’re like a folded maze.

As I climbed the narrow ridges and stumbled down steep creeks I called out “ROMAN!”, “ROMAN!!”

But nothing.   No sign.          

Peggy came down and we retraced the route Roman laid out in his last email.

Walking the beach in the dark, Peggy said, He’s not in the jungle. Someone took him.

There’d been this persistent rumor. Roman had crossed the Osa with a known thief and drug dealer. The details didn’t quite add up but we needed a real investigator, an American who spoke Spanish and could push people’s buttons to get answers.

I picked out this guy, Carson, who’d retired from the DEA agent after 25 years in Latin America. He was like eight feet tall, muscled and tattooed-up, bald and intimidating, the kind of guy who sniffs out criminals, and gets them to talk.

I spent seven weeks in Costa Rica with Carson last year, getting close to violent men. Sitting down with suspects. Drinking beer with them. Offering them reward money. It was surreal and sickening.

This past January deep in the jungle with cadaver dogs and Costa Rican investigators, I found the only real piece of physical evidence.

It was a piece of sleeping pad I’d given Roman in Mexico after we’d been packrafting. It was under a miner’s black plastic tarp.

The miner had lived with the mother of the primary suspect. The Costa Rican authorities said it’d be months before forensics confirms the pad as evidence.

It took a year to get our son’s case elevated from missing person to homicide. It’ll be another year, if ever, before an arrest.

In Costa Rica there’s no crime without a body.

I’ve spent six months of the last year and a half searching the Osa Peninsula. 

I’m tired, exhausted.  I don’t want to go down there again, but I will. Because without our presence, nothing seems to happen.


  1. My heart goes out to your family. I truly hope you find what you need to.

  2. Being an outdoors person from colorado and a family man, it's a heartbreaking event to say the least! I can't imagine loosing my son, that'd be a tough one. My heart goes out to you Roman.

  3. Roman was one of the strongest and most unique individuals I have ever known. I hope you find justice.

    1. thanks Arturo. Maybe justice is not needed. Maybe what happened is an act of God and nature.

    2. Ahora si piensas eso, luego de dejar en mal a todo un pais, culpando a todo un pueblo por las malas decisiones de tu hijo.

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  5. Replies
    1. Thank you Alastair. We are feeling better, like a weight has been taken off our shoulders.

  6. I truly hope you find your son. No stone left unturned if I was in your situation, but to have NatGeo filming you? Like a promo film...

    1. TV brings resources that we couldn't otherwise get, and the media attention can be a powerful tool. We needed that.

  7. My sincere condolences

  8. My heart goes out to you, your wife and your daughter. For having seen my parents go through when my sister passed away I know that losing your child is losing part of yourself. I sincerely hope that the truth unfolds so that you may find some serenity and solace. From miles away I carry you and your family in my prayers.

    1. Thank you, Nadine. We are finding some peace, now.

  9. Im regret that happened In Costa Rica!
    Im from Costa Rica and i saw that in the news i hope God give peace In your hearts and my sincere condolences !

    1. Costa Rica is a wonderful place with many wonderful people. It has problems like the US and everywhere. We can only work to solve them. One step would be for all of us fathers to be closer to our sons.

  10. Desde Costa Rica esperamos se haga justicia en caso de haber mano criminal, el lugar es muy peligroso tanto por su naturaleza y lamentablemente por la extracción ilegal de oro. Ya hay un cuerpo encontrado cerca de su pasaporte, esperamos se logren obtener las respuestas que todos exigimos.

    From Costa Rica we expect justice in this case , the place is very dangerous both for its nature and unfortunately by illegal gold mining. There is a body found near his passport, we expect to achieve get the answers we all need .

    1. It's looking that we might be getting closer.

  11. I hope you find peace Roman, the judicial system is not efficient and things seem to move faster only if you have someone on the inside to pull the lever. This is the case even for locals in this country.

    1. Joe, it is likely the way of humans everywhere.

  12. Hello Roman As a Costarican citizen my heart goes out to you, i read this letter and fell your pain im agree with "In Costa Rica there’s no crime without a body" absolutely true, there are many cases not just Roman's without justice (Jairo Mora,Fidel Gamboa, Gerardo Cruz, Alejo Leiva etc etc) our country could be the most beautiful and happy land of the world according to a magazine BUT NOT unfortunately there are a lot of bad people out there,this is a continuos battle every day (murders, kidnapped, car accidents, violence, drugs, rapes) unfortunately 95% of the people here is not interesting at all, on what is going on in our country, they just talked for the situation for 1,2 weeks after that they all forgot about it, and keeps leaving as normal, this is why we never get justice.

    But just as a reminder not all the country is that bad, im really sorry about your situation, im pretty sure you are a strongest person and i hope you can find justice here, please keep it up! WE ARE ALL WITH YOU!!


    1. Thank you Steph.

      Costa Rica is a beautiful place with many beautiful people and I do not ever fear for my life, either in San Jose or Corcovado, except maybe when too close to a terciopelo, in a flash flooding canyon, or when walking in primary rain forest during wind and rain.

      I wrote this from my heart, not so much from my head. I have no answers

  13. I am deeply sorry for all this situation!! Peace, love and light to you, family and friends!

  14. I'm sorry for your lost, I really do.

    But, I don't know, the way you are picturing Costa Rica its unfair. He was warmed, its dangerous to go to the forest alone, he went anyways. Bug mistake.

    "Violent men. Sitting down with suspects", so much dramatic statement, there is crime in CR... like every country in existence. The way you said, maybe, make it see it like a war zone or something. Far from true, we receive 2.4 millions of tourist by year, so we can say in 2014 2.399.99 arrive safe at home, Cody was a sad exception.

    The "no body no crime" statement its a lie, plain and simple. We spend like half a year looking for him, there was no crime, there was an accident, overconfidence; whatever, but not a felony; What else?.

    I may sound like an a**hole to you right now, maybe its inappropriate, sorry, but yeah, I believe you are being unfair with a beautiful and safe country.

    Good luck on all your future endeavors.

    1. Ok Pablo. Last year there was one conviction of murder without a body.

      But let me say that many people say, Costa Ricans said that he was murdered.

      Costa Rica is a beautiful country and it has many people with warm and beautiful hearts -- most people.

      Yes, going into the wilderness, any wilderness alone is by definition dangerous. But he's not the first, not the only, and not the last. Many people that we admire and even worship have gone into the wilderness alone. Some might say that spending time alone in the wilderness is a Christian thing to do.

      And Pancho, no you do not sound like an a**hole. Elsewhere I have been bitten by the trolls, but you are not.

      I have spent much time in Costa Rica and have been helped by so many Costa Ricans. I was really only trying to express how I felt less than facts.

  15. I am from Costa Rica and I am trully sorry to hear what happened to your son. This is a tragedy and I can only imagine what you are going through. I will pray so that God brings the responsible people to justice. May the Lord bring peace unto you in this difficult moment. Keep your faith in the Lord and leave the vengance onto Him. Your son is in a much better place than where we are.

  16. Hello Roman :)

    I've just finished the first episode in National Geographic. I came here to show my support. I am from Costa Rica. Living abroad.

    Yesterday I was talking with my mother about your son. How sad. How unfair. My mother remember so good when this happened in 2014. She had a lot of clipping from the newspapers.

    All about this. She was praying. Praying for justice.

    I don't understant how some people can say - he deserve it - Costa Rica seems to be in bad position/image - I really don't.

    A professional explorer is not just a "Mysterious Disappearance"

    I am sad to hear the news about how he was founded. However. I think at some point your beautiful family will have some sort of peace now.

    Most important of all justice.
    Greetings from Poland.


  17. Hi Roman. My heart goes out to you and your beautiful family. I think that Cody couldn't have been more privileged to have a dad like you. All the adventures that he lived, all the beautiful places that he has been to; such an intense life lived with passion.

    Greetings from Costa Rica,
    Ana (a biologist).

    1. Thank you, Ana, for your very kind words.

      I have very few regrets, now, very few. Any parent better have some, but sharing wilderness and science and the world with him and our family is definitely not.

  18. I was very saddened to hear of Roman's disappearance. I worked with him at USGS several years ago and really enjoyed his company. I still remember the first words he said to me, which were "never cook bacon naked". Still the best icebreaker I've ever heard. I wish I could have found out about this some other way than a TV show, but I'm glad that gave you the resources you needed. All in all, I miss him and my heart goes out to your whole family for the loss of a great guy.

    1. Thank you Sklyar -- he did like bacon! And he was both practical and witty, so that story resonates well with his character.

      Yea, the TV show -- maybe it got us to where we are faster, maybe it didn't, but with my son I was all in, to do anything.

      Again thanks for the kind words.

  19. Hi Roman,

    I few days ago I read about what happened with your son Cody and I felt so sad for you and your family.

    I cannot imagine my life without my daughter. I am from Costa Rica and once visited Corcovado National Park, but I didn’t realize how dangerous our national parks could be. When people ask me about the jungle in Costa Rica, I always responded to them that we don’t have jungles there, we just have national parks. When I thought about jungles in my mind I always pictured the Amazon, I never realized that my own country had such jungles.

    I was reading some of the messages that people wrote here, and at the end of the day we don’t need to say what Cody did or didn’t do. Simply, it is not fair that he went there to have an adventure, to do something that he loved it and he couldn’t finish it.

    While it may never be known what exactly happened to him out there, maybe at least there is solace in knowing he was doing something that was a passion for him?

    I hope that after the discovery about your son you and your family can be in peace.

    My condolences,

    Carol Gorman

    1. Thank you Carol, yes, there is some solace and peace, but there'll always be an emptiness. We're not really well equipped to outlive our children

  20. Hi Roman,
    I just wanted to extend my heartfelt sympathy to you and your family. If you ever come back to Australia get in touch with the Packraft community if you need anything at all. You will always be looked after here and thanks to the fantastic adventures you guys have had, I've been personally inspired to search for that feeling of being in wild and remote places.

    So thanks again mate. Darren McKenzie.

    1. Thank you Darren for your kind and generous words and the gracious invitation. Hope to see you Down Under.

  21. I'm sooo sorry for your loss. I'm watching the documentary on National Geo right now. I must say, the "evidence" and "confessions" are horrible. I can't imagine there's any good way to lose a child, but the thought of him passing doing what he loved doing is better than being killed and fed to sharks. I'll keep your family in my thoughts and prayers and I hope you find some tiny bit of peace knowing your son lived everyday to the fullest. Not many people had all the wonderful adventures that he had. He seemed like an amazing young man.

  22. Gosh Mr. Dial I am so grateful that you are the man that you are. When I read the words of so many that have been concerned for your family and then I read the words of one angry individual. It gives me comfort to know that you are still a compassionate person in the midst of such grief. Your son and your family will forever be remembered. Your words and your conviction of the wilderness move me and for that I am grateful. The greatest gift in life was taken away and your family with its strength was able to share your story. For that I thank you and we will forever remember your son. Jamie


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