More than two million Americans visit the Dominican Republic every year. Ten have died in the last year during their visits. Because of the seeming similarities among their deaths, their family members have suggested that they are connected and have now aroused suspicions about the resorts where they died. Here’s what we know, and don’t know about the circumstances.
Shady things that happened on the resorts
- In January 2019 a Delaware woman said she was severely beaten by an attacker wearing a hotel uniform who dragged her down to the basement of a Punta Cana resort where she was left for dead.
- In March 2019 nearly 70 tourists were reported becoming violently ill while vacationing in the Dominican Republic, according to iwaspoisoned.com, a website that allows users to submit when and where they got sick from foodborne illnesses.
- In June of 2019 alone, 52 tourists reported symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and fever. More than 45 of them identified themselves as guests at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana.
Who has died and how?
- Yvette Monique Sport, 51, died in June 2018 of a heart attack. Her sister, Felecia Nieves, has said that Ms. Sport had a drink from the minibar in her room at a Bahia Príncipe resort, one of a number on the island, then went to sleep and never woke up.
- Mark Hulburt Sr., 62, died in June 2018 of a heart attack. His wife said that they had a normal night of drinking at the Punta Cana resort and then they went to sleep. The next morning she woke up and tried waking her husband Mark. She found her husband mark unresponsive and that he had something green coming from his mouth. Mark Hulburt Sr.’s cause of death was listed as a heart attack
- In July 2018, David Harrison, 45, died at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana. Mr. Harrison died of a heart attack and The Washington Post reported that his death certificate also listed “pulmonary edema, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that can cause respiratory failure, and atherosclerosis” as causes of death. He and his wife were in the Dominican Republic for their wedding anniversary with their son.
- Robert Wallace, 67, became sick at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, where he was attending a wedding and died. Robert’s family said that he became ill after drinking scotch from the minibar in the hotel.
- Joseph Allen, 55, of New Jersey, went to the Terra Linda Resort Punta Cana, to celebrate his friend’s birthday. His friends said that Joseph Allen started complaining about being hot at the pool. He said he was going to his room to take a shower. When his friends came back into his room, he said he wasn’t feeling 100%, and said he was going to lie down for the night. The next morning his friends said they hadn’t heard from Joe, so he knocked on his door and there was no response.
The friends of Joseph Allen then called down to the hotel front desk and asked for a wellness check. Upon opening the door to his hotel room they had found him on the floor dead. The cause of death was listed as a heart attack.
- Leyla Cox, 53, of New York, went to the Excellence Resort in Punta Cana to celebrate her 53rd birthday. On June 10, the day after her birthday, her son got a call from the U.S. embassy, saying that his mother died of an apparent heart attack.
The Dominican Republic has not released a toxicology report because they said and I quote, “The toxicology machines in the Dominican Republic are broken”. The son did not know if she drank from the minibar at her resort, but he did say that he was suspicious of the way the country has handled her death.
- Miranda Schaup-Werner (Died Within Hours of Arriving at the Resort)
Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, and husband Dan Werner, checked into the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville on May 25 to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary. The Allentown, Pennsylvania couple had only been at the property a few hours before Miranda went to the mini-bar to get a beverage and then collapsed on the floor.
“At one point she was sitting there happily, smiling and taking pictures, and the next moment she was in acute pain and called out for Dan, and she collapsed,”.
Paramedics were called and attempted to revive her but she died at the scene.
Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts issued a press release on Twitter which read, “According to statements from the National Institute of Forensic Sciences and the National Police Investigations Unit, Mrs. Miranda’s Schaup-Werner’s cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, aligning with official statements provided by her husband Dan Werner, who confirmed she had a history of heart conditions.”
Schaup-Werner’s autopsy report stated that she had “atherosclerosis with stenosis of right coronary ostium in the left ventricular wall, pulmonary edema and respiratory failure as a terminal mechanism of death.” She also had an enlarged heart, “petechial hemorrhages in the epicardium, endocardial fibrosis, fatty changes in the endocardium, and chronic passive congestion of the liver.” Miranda also had sternum fractures which were from the resuscitation attempts.
While atherosclerosis can contribute to a heart attack, Miranda’s brother-in-law stated she had been treated for a heart condition 15 years earlier but had not experienced any problems since.
- Nathaniel Edward Holmes 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, from Prince George’s County, Md., arrived the same day as Miranda Schaup-Werner and her husband Dan Werner. Nathaniel and Cynthia stayed in the close by neighboring property to the Werners, at Bahia Principe La Romana. Both were found dead in their room five days later. The two had recently become engaged. An autopsy found that the couple had respiratory failure and pulmonary edema.
On the morning they were set to leave, Nathaniel Holmes complained of not feeling well. The front desk summoned a physician but claim Nathaniel Holmes declined treatment. When the couple failed to check out on time and Cynthia Day’s cousin couldn’t reach them, a resort staff member entered their room and found the two unresponsive.
There were no signs of violence or struggle. Prescribed medications for high blood pressure and oxycodone were discovered in the room..
Initial autopsy reports determined that Nathanial Holmes had “petechial hemorrhages on the pleural surface, generalized visceral and cerebral areas, as well as pulmonary edema, an enlarged heart, gross hepatic cirrhosis, hemorrhagic gastritis, and pancreatic hemorrhage.”
Cynthia Day’s autopsy revealed “cerebral edema, petechial hemorrhages in the brain, heart and lungs, pulmonary edema, and an enlarged heart, chronic passive liver congestion, hemorrhagic gastritis, pancreatic hemorrhage.”
Other incidents that at the resorts?
- In January 2018, Doug Hand, 40, and his wife Susie Lauterborn, 38, were staying at the Grand Bahia Príncipe La Romana when, he said in a phone interview, they got sick with fevers, nausea, cold sweats, diarrhea and fatigue.
Doug Hand said that he didn’t drink alcohol on the trip, but he did notice a “moldy, mildew smell like the A.C. or filter hadn’t been cleaned.”
When Doug Hand told an employee in the hotel’s lobby that his wife was sick, the employee gave him directions to a doctor, but seemed more focused on ensuring the couple attended a meeting about buying timeshares.
- Kaylynn Knull, 29, and Tom Schwander, 33, were staying at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana in the Summer of 2018. On the sixth day of their vacation, Kaylynn Knull woke up with a headache after noticing a strange smell in the room. She went to breakfast hoping she’d feel better after eating but when she returned the situation had worsened. Kaylynn said that when they came back to the room after breakfast that it actually hit us a lot stronger and we smelled the smell of chemicals. They called a staff member from housekeeping for assistance.
When the housekeeper got six feet into the room she stopped and said ‘I’m not doing that,’” then called the front desk on her walkie-talkie and told them that “something was going on with this room.” Kaylynn and Tom were given new accommodations but their condition didn’t improve. Both got a persistent headaches and were sweating and drooling profusely. They also had blurry vision, nausea and diarrhea.
After returning back to the United States they went to see their family doctor who determined the couple had been exposed to organophosphates, a class of insecticides.
- In October of 2018, Awilda Montes, a 43-year-old woman from Queens, New York, says that she began to vomit blood and sustained “chemical burns” after drinking what she believed was soda from her hotel room’s minibar at the Bahía Príncipe hotel.
Awilda Montes and her then boyfriend had a few drinks at the bar when they arrived at the resort before heading up to their room. As soon as Awilda Montes got into her room she grabbed a soda bottle from the minibar.
Before taking a drink of the soda she noticed there was no fizz in it but she just figured it was Dominican soda, or that it was kind of flat. So she took a swig, held it in her mouth for a second and felt a burn. She accidentally swallowed a bit but then immediately ran into the bathroom and spit what was in her mouth into the sink.
After spitting she noticed a large amount of blood in the sink that came from her mouth. She called the front desk, someone was sent upstairs to bring her to the lobby, where a trolley took her to a medical clinic. She took the soda bottle with her but along the way, someone took it from her and she never saw it again.
Hotel management offered her a free couples massage and dinner on the house in return for her signature on a non-disclosure agreement which she rejected.
She was vomiting, had extreme stomach pains, and chemical burns all in her mouth and outside of her mouth. She still doesn’t have any sensation on her tongue.
The real kicker of this story is that it is the same resort and same place where Miranda Schaup-Werner would later die.
Are the hotels connected?
Four of the dead were staying at Bahia Príncipe resorts, which are part of a group of 14 hotels in the Dominican Republic that are popular among tourists because they are all-inclusive. The Luxury Bahia Príncipe Bouganville, where Miranda Schaup-Werner died, is less than a five-minute walk away from the Grand Bahia Príncipe La Romana, where Nathaniel Edward Holmes and Cynthia Ann Day both died a few days after Miranda. Both Hotels are near the town of San Pedro De Macoris. The Hard Rock is across the island from the other two hotels in Punta Cana.
What are the Hotels saying?
In a statement, Bahia Principe said reports of the deaths had been inaccurate and that the hotel was committed to “collaborating completely with the authorities and hope for a prompt resolution of their inquiries and actions.”
Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos said in a statement that it is waiting for official reports about the deaths and is, “Deeply saddened by these unfortunate incidents, and we extend our sincerest sympathy to the families.”
Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos also announced that it would be removing liquor dispensers from all guest rooms at the Punta Cana location, along with other safety measures. In a statement, the hotel clarified that it was doing this based on “guest feedback” and to “enhance safety moving forward,” not due to reports that some U.S. tourist deaths may have been caused by tainted alcohol. Neither U.S. nor Dominican officials have confirmed reports that authorities were investigating tainted alcohol.
What are Dominican officials doing?
The Dominican Attorney General’s office and the national police are investigating the deaths, but tourism officials have been downplaying them. The tourism minister, Francisco Javier García, said last week that in the last five years, more than 30 million tourists have visited the country, and that these deaths are “isolated incidents” and the island is safe for tourists.
“These are situations that can occur in any country, in any hotel in the world,” he said. “It’s regrettable but sometimes it happens.”
The tourism ministry said that hotels had 60 days to install security cameras.
What are U.S. officials saying?
In a statement issued, the U.S. State Department said that “Dominican authorities have asked for F.B.I. assistance for further toxicology analysis,” and it could take up to a month to receive the results. A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control said that the organization had not received a request for assistance from the Dominican Republic relating to these deaths.
Theories as to what might be causing the deaths?
- Poisoning – Symptoms that have been reported, like pulmonary edema, bleeding and vomiting blood, are consistent with poisoning. But until toxicology reports are available, it is difficult and too soon to definitively say what caused the visitors’ deaths.
It’s rare for travelers to die of unknown causes like this, and to have a high number of them in a relatively short period of time is alarming and shocking.
The fact that toxicology reports have not been released or completed adds to this theory.
What type of poisoning? The one mentioned above, organophosphates. It is a common pesticide that is used to fumigate rooms in tropical paradises.Organophosphates and phosphine from aluminum phosphide are lethal chemicals used for, among other things, hotel room fumigation. They’re not always regulated in developing countries and accidental poisonings involving humans are thought to be a serious, although underreported problem.
This brings me to an interesting thing that I found while researching organophosphates.
So over the past few decades the United States has had a super tight control over pesticides, how they can be used, pretty much banning all residential and indoor uses.
Let me first backtrack and give you guys and girls and quick overview of the history of Organophosphates.
Organophosphates were first developed before World War II and later developed by the Nazis for use as possible chemical weapons. They come in a variety of insecticides, herbicides, nerve agents, and flame retardants.
But, in 2017 the CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, and his company Dow Chemical contributed over $1 million dollars to President Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities.
Then shortly after, a study arose indicating that three organophosphates used in the U.S. were harmful to every endangered species studied. After the study arose, President Trump has asked for a two-year delay to review and determine whether the study is correct or not.
Adding to my theory – A 2014 investigation by Canadian journalists found that there were at least a dozen suspicious deaths of tourists in Thailand hotels between 2009 and 2013 and the majority, if not all of them, were caused by aluminum phosphide, an insecticide that can kill you within a couple of hours if you’re in a room that was recently fumigated or next to one. Why do they do these fumigations? Bed Bugs.
- Serial Killer – is there a serial killer in the Dominican Republic who is purposely going around and poisoning tourists?
- Local Cult – possibility of a local cult who is coordinating murders of tourists?
- Liquor Industry – is the liquor industry knocking them off so the hotels are forced to stock the mini bars with mini individual bottles (airline size). To date, the most widely reported theory regarding the U.S. tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic is that they may have been linked to counterfeit alcohol,