From a travelogue last October:

Danger In Croatia
by Jonathan Dudley

Remember a few weeks ago I wrote about my favourite coaster? Well today I’m going to share another of my personal ride experiences with you, this one ever so slightly less positive.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

In his infinite wisdom my father had decided that a family holiday to Croatia was in order. Yes, Croatia. I have literally no idea what possessed him to take us to a country I swear was the inspiration for Dante’s Inferno. A country that had been locked in a bloody war so recently I swear I saw bullet holes in the hotel, but hey, I guess it was cheap.

I would love to say the hotel had the air of a building that had once been great and had entered a kind of genteel decay, but it was just decayed. Hot water only came if the taps were in the mood to provide it, food was simply horrific, there was not a decent pizza or coffee to be found in the entire place.

Perhaps sensing that I was somewhat disappointed with Croatia (but by no means ungrateful) my father took me to what appeared to be a cross between a fun fair and an actual theme park. Some seriously shady looking coasters rattled along their disconcertingly rickety tracks. Swarthy men beckoned us towards various unwinnable games of chance. It was night-time, so the whole place was lit with a combination of builder’s spotlights and fairy-lights attached to every available surface.

The centrepiece of this distinctly ghetto theme park was a “bungee catapult”. This consisted of a large spherical cage with two seats inside, a great deal of strapping, what appeared to be two cranes and two massive bungee cords. The cage was attached to the cords and cranes, stretched downwards and attached to a massive hook. I was ushered into the sphere, strapped down like some kind of mental patient and there I sat, waiting.

As I waited to be flung skywards I looked to my right, the bungee cords were frayed — badly. I waited for a moment, thought about saying something and eventually summoned up the courage to point out the obvious safety flaw to the ride’s attendant. It quickly became apparent that he didn’t speak English and took my pointing at the cord to be excitement. After a “reassuring” toothless smile and a thumbs up from the blissfully ignorant attendant I was released and flung upwards with what felt like 100G’s pressing against my chest.

While bouncing I realised that I was in fact on a beach, should the cords have snapped I would have been pitched into the sea in the dead of night with not a coast guard in sight. My worries quickly disappeared as a monumental adrenaline rush flooded my bloodstream. Despite the huge safety issues the whole experience was actually quite a lot of fun. I’d not recommend it, but it was certainly a buzz.

Oh and what did my father (who incidentally didn’t join me on the ride) have to say when I eventually stopped vibrating and told him about the bungee: “you’re alive aren’t you? Stop being a poofter”……it’s a miracle I ended up so well adjusted…

Here’s another kind of ride that’s not recommended:

U.S. Bans all Croatian Airlines

The US aviation authority has put Croatia on a black list of countries whose airlines do not meet its safety standards.

The decision was made by the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) following its first assessment of Croatia.

The country was given a Category 2 rating – meaning a Croatian airline would not be permitted to operate to the US.

There are currently 18 countries with Category 2 status, including Swaziland, Uruguay, Indonesia and the Gambia.

Currently no airline operates between the two countries, and until Croatia achieves Category 1 status, its airlines are unable to commence transatlantic flights. […]

A different kind of danger in Croatia emerged late last year as well, when news came out of an Australian girl gone missing while backpacking through Croatia. There’s nothing distinctly Croatian in this, as it happens everywhere, but there is something distinctly Croatian about the condition in which her body was found :

DALE Lapthorne won’t rest until he knows the truth about what happened to his daughter.

The shattered Victorian father is convinced his daughter Britt is the victim of a “heinous crime of the worst order”.

Mr Lapthorne is struggling not only with Britt’s death, but with the knowledge of the horrific state of her body.

The shocking facts, as told to Mr Lapthorne, are that the 21-year-old backpacker was found with her legs and an arm missing, and most of her teeth and hair gone.

“Britt did not jump off a cliff and cut her legs off on the way down and do something else to decompose herself,” the devastated father said yesterday.

“There’s foul play at least.”

Britt had been missing for 18 days when her body was found in the Bay of Boninovo, Croatia, a short distance from cliffs that have a sheer drop of at least 60m.

Mr Lapthorne suspects she may have been murdered elsewhere, then butchered and doused in accelerant to cover up the crime before being dumped at sea.

Police have refused to say whether they believe Britt had been murdered or died accidentally.

As investigations continued, there were reports Britt’s T-shirt may have been discovered on the outskirts of Dubrovnik.

Police said there yesterday were “no clear indications” it belonged to Britt.

Mr Lapthorne said he would not rest until he knew what happened.

“There are a number of questions I need to ask,” he said.

“Britt’s body was in a bad state of decomposition. Why?

“These are gruesome things, and horrible for a parent to realise, but they’re questions I want answered through an autopsy.”

When he asked investigators why the body was so decomposed, he was told it was because “the water is warm”.

“I said that’s rubbish, that’s a rubbish answer. And don’t take me as stupid,” Mr Lapthorne said.

Also strange was that his daughter’s body had also managed to go unnoticed in a popular area for so long.

“Cruise boats going past, helicopters flying over. She jumped off a cliff in Dubrovnik and has sat there for 18 days? Something is wrong. I can smell a rat.”

An autopsy later today should be able to confirm or rule out his fears. […]

Even the Financial Times printed a column late last year giving the EU a warning that a sun-drenched coast does not a country make:

Criminal Croatia

Croatia likes to be seen as a sun-kissed holiday destination, with beaches, fishing villages and sailing boats. But this week’s car bombing in the centre of Zagreb is a sharp reminder that Croatia has a dark side so dangerous that it threatens to destabilise the whole country.

In the latest spate of violence blamed on the local mafia, Ivo Pukanic, a well-known journalist, and a colleague were killed by a car bomb outside the offices of their magazine, a campaigning journal that has often exposed crime. The outrage followed the recent shooting of Ivana Hodak, the daughter of a top lawyer, and assaults on a prominent crime reporter, a Zagreb city official, and the head of a construction company.

Pukanic, who had alleged links to the mafia, was not the cleanest journalist in the Balkans. But that is beside the point. Nobody should face extrajudicial execution, especially not in a country hoping to join the European Union.

Ivo Sanader, prime minister, condemned the car bombing saying, “I shall not allow Croatia to become another Beirut. This is no longer a fight against organised crime. This is something all of us in Croatia will rise up against.”

He must deliver on his pledge. For too long, the authorities have dragged their feet over fighting crime. Newspapers have often published allegations of links between criminals, businessmen and politicians. But the authorities have not responded effectively. Under public pressure, Mr Sanader this month finally replaced his justice and interior ministers after Ms Hodak’s killing. Now, the authorities must launch a real crackdown on crime.

Serbia managed it after the 2003 shooting of Zoran Djindjic, the late prime minister. If Belgrade could act in far more fragile political conditions than Croatia’s, Zagreb must follow suit.

The EU, which sees Croatia as its next accession candidate, must ensure Zagreb transforms its record on fighting crime well before it actually enters the union. The embarrassing example of Bulgaria, which joined the EU before the job was done, should make Brussels take extra care with its future members in the western Balkans. If that means making Croatia wait, then Croatia must wait. Sunshine alone is not a protection against crime. Just ask the Sicilians.

Meanwhile, some updates on the Britt investigation — if it can be called such, given that we’re talking about Croatia (Feb 8th):

…[Another] woman has told how men in a blue van — which could have links to Britt’s disappearance — almost abducted her off the street after she had been to the same nightclub where Britt was last seen alive, the Fuego Club, in Dubrovnik’s old town.

The explosive new findings show two women — an American and an Australian — have identified the same man as being involved in separate abduction attempts on them.

New Yorker Jennifer Blanchard told of a late-night incident 10 days after Britt vanished, while she was outside Fuego nightclub with friends.

Two men — one short and one tall — tried to chat her up and when she refused their advances they flashed an ID card and tried to arrest her.

It is understood other women have also told police they were approached by men who claimed to be undercover officers.

Ms Blanchard did not make a report to Dubrovnik police, saying she distrusted them from other encounters with local officers.

The petite blonde, similar in looks to Britt, prepared a composite sketch of the shorter man with the help of American forensic artist Steve Mancusi. When shown the finished image, she said it was “strikingly similar'’ to her attacker.

The image was then shown to another victim, an Australian backpacker identified only as Kate, who was visibly shocked and confirmed the same man was involved in her attack.

About a year before Britt vanished, Kate met “a tall man and a short man'’ who bought her rounds of tequilas at Fuego nightclub.

She “foolishly'’ accepted a lift from the men in a taxi, which one of them drove, but she became “petrified'’ when they silently started heading to the town’s outskirts.

“I knew that there was something terribly wrong. I jumped out of the car while it was still moving,'’ she said.

The men pursued her as she ran screaming down the street, only leaving when a female security guard helped her call the police.

A Dubrovnik police officer at first denied to the program that there had been any previous abductions or attempted abductions in the town.

Confronted by a medical report confirming that Kate did go to police, he admitted he was aware of two incidents.

A third woman will also reveal how a group of men in a blue van tried to snatch her from the street, just five days before Britt vanished.

The Australian woman, who had been at the same nightclub where Britt was last seen, has prepared a second sketch and will make stunning claims about the identity of the men.

It is understood that evidence will also be revealed that potentially links a blue van to Britt’s death.

“I heard a car accelerate and I turned around and saw a blue van with two men in the front seat and a man hanging out the side sliding door, coming towards me,'’ says the woman, identified only as Amber.

“I have never run so fast or screamed so loud in my life.'’

Amber informed the Australian Federal Police of the incident after Britt’s death and a report was forwarded on to Croatia.

Autopsies in Croatia and Australia could not determine a cause of death for Britt and an on-going police investigation appears no closer to solving the case.

Britt’s devastated parents, Dale and Elke, last night called on Croatian police to thoroughly investigate the new leads.

“This is opening up areas the Dubrovnik police have not even looked at. For us this is extremely significant,'’ Mr Lapthorne told the Sunday Herald Sun.

“I do not want to hear any more that Dubrovnik is crime free, this just blows away that myth.'’

Sunday Night journalist Ross Coulthart last night said: “We believe very strongly that there are past attempted abductions of foreign female backpackers in Dubrovnik that should have been very aggressively investigated by Croatian police and they were not.'’

Dale Lapthorne: Croatian Police Ignore Evidence

…Britt’s father Dale…said that they were frustrated due to the procedures by Dubrovnik’s police who are ignoring the other crimes and evidence of the whole case.

He added that the Croatian police want to show Britt’s death as an unfortunate accident.

Dale mentioned that Dubrovnik’s police keep on mentioning the autopsy results. He said that the autopsy did not show that Britt was not killed, and that nothing was proven. The autopsy did not manage to reveal the cause of death. Dale said that he cannot understand how the police can keep giving such statements.

Dale concluded that the Croatian police do not want to know exactly what happened to Britt.

He said that Dubrovnik’s police should firstly protect the tourists.

Dale said that normal young people are now afraid to visit Dubrovnik after all of this, and that the police can fix that only if they protect tourists.

Britt’s father voiced his gratitude for the support from the Croatian and Australian media.

We tried to contact the Dubrovnik police, but nobody answered the telephone all morning.

However, at around 1pm an announcement arrived from Zlatko Sokolar, the head of the Dubrovnik-Neretva police department. They repeated that the case of Britt Lapthorne’s death is still open, and that cooperation with Interpol is continuing, as well as the bilateral cooperation of the police with certain countries.

The report states that up until now, the police have every notice or information that they have received aimed at solving the circumstances of her death.

“Only after a detailed study of the Channel 7 documentary, and new information, we will be able to say more” it says in the report.

A few days ago they said that they have no new evidence and that they cannot speak about a suspect because the autopsy did not show the cause of Britt Lapthorne’s death.

The police spokesman quoted above is “head of the Dubovnik-Neretva Police Dept.” This is starting to come together. Let’s recall that the Neretva River was teeming with dismembered and gutted Serbian bodies (though some were tossed in still alive) during WWII, and Croatians still sing about those glory days today.

Well, what can we say about Croatia. When an entire population has a taste for blood and still takes pride in its Hitler-bestowed independent state, there won’t seem to be anything strange about that taste morphing into what the rest of the world considers criminal behavior — hence the lackadaisical attitude toward crime in Croatia. The poor, suppressed Ustashe need an outlet for their bloodlust. So let the old boys have a Westerner or a few — being abducted and hacked to pieces is just part of the authentic Croatian vacation experience. Come one, come all! Welcome to the new EU!

Oh wait a second, this may help explain the tortoise-like pace and minimal interest by Croatian police:

Men in Lapthorne sketches are police

TWO men depicted in forensic sketches and linked to the Britt Lapthorne investigation have been identified as Croatian police officers.

Dubrovnik police revealed the identity of the men at a press conference called to address new claims made in a Seven Network report about Ms Lapthorne’s death in the Croatian city.

Dubrovnik police spokesman Krunislav Borovec confirmed the men in the sketches were police officers.

But he said they were “very good quality'’ policemen who did not harass or rob foreign tourists. [That’s all it takes to be a “good quality” policeman in Croatia: refraining from robbing or harassing tourists. Of course, you don’t need to rob a tourist if you’re taking the whole person with you.]

Mr Borovec denied gangs of men were involved in attempted abductions targeting women in Dubrovnik.

“There are no groups that rob girls,'’ he told Croatian reporters.

One of the three women interviewed by Seven, identified as Amber, said a group of men armed with guns yelled ‘police’ as they attempted to abduct her as she walked back to her cruise ship from Club Fuego.

She said the attempt failed and she ran, screaming but moments later “men just started coming out of nowhere, five, might have been seven'’.

“They were yelling ‘police, police’ and they told me to go with them. But when I looked up I knew that the main man that was yelling ‘police’ was the same man who was hanging out of the van and I knew that we were in trouble.'’

Amber said she faked an asthma attack and the men fled.

Of the Lapthorne case she said: “Now that I know what I know, I’m pretty confident that they were the same people.'’

New York woman Jennifer told Seven she and two friends were outside Club Fuego 10 days after Ms Lapthorne disappeared when two men - one short, one tall - approached and tried to chat her up.

She rejected them but they approached her again inside the club.

“These guys just came up and said ‘hey you’re under arrest’.

‘’(They) showed me what looked like a badge and put it back in really quickly.'’

Jennifer said the men beat up her friend to stop her getting away but ultimately left the club in a waiting taxi with several other men.

“We all felt like it was very, very organised,'’ she said, adding that she had no doubt the men were a threat to her. […]

Hm. Organized. Kidnapping. Death. Possible torture. Dismemberment. I think I saw this movie and it was called “Hostel.” Again, my advice to director/writer Eli Roth: Tell your location scout to check out Croatia.

More evidence as to why the investigation has been “lagging”:

THE mother of a Slovenian woman found dead in Croatia believes the case is linked to that of Australian traveller Britt Lapthorne.

And like the Lapthorne case, those close to 35-year-old Irena Mlakar accuse police of failing to properly investigate her death, and suspect police may have had something to do with it.

Irena’s body was found in August 2007 on Krk Island, a tourist spot about 570km north of Dubrovnik, where Britt’s body was found in October last year, three weeks after she disappeared.

Irena’s mother Stasa Mlakar has told the Slovenian newspaper Delo: “It seems that the death of my daughter and the Australian Britt Lapthorne, who died in Croatia last year, are linked”.

“There are many similarities because both were found three weeks after disappearing, both were identified via DNA, and the autopsy did not reveal the cause of their death.”

Friends, who were on holiday with Irena when she disappeared and began their own hunt for the missing woman, told Delo they believed police were watching them.

Officers wanted to stop them from finding out anything about the disappearance, one unnamed friend told Delo.

A retired criminologist, also unnamed, who joined the search, said police were involved, but did not offer any evidence.

Finally, we have another death, by different culprits, but very similar layout — making abduction, death, and under-water as the ultimate destination — par for the course in a Croatian vacation:

A BRITISH mum has told of the startling similarities between her son’s murder and the death of Melbourne backpacker Britt Lapthorne.

Grace Rushton was stunned to learn Ms Lapthorne had died in almost identical circumstances.

Son Peter, 30, was on holiday in Croatia in October 2005 when he vanished during a night out.

His body was found at sea several weeks later, but just as in Ms Lapthorne’s case Croatian authorities said the remains were too badly decomposed to be his.

“When I heard about the Australian girl, I couldn’t believe it. It was identical,” Ms Rushton said.

Her daughter raised the alarm when Peter did not return home to Bournemouth, southern England, a week after his departure.

His belongings, including his passport, were still in his hotel room. He had gone out on a Friday night and had not returned.

Like the Lapthornes, Ms Rushton and her daughter flew to Croatia to meet police and launch a public appeal to find him. But his body was already in a morgue.

A fisherman had discovered his remains, but a coroner wrongly stated the body had been in the water for at least 10 months.

Ms Rushton said: “We kept asking ‘Are you sure it’s not Peter?’ but he was sure.” Police only identified Peter after a Croatian teenager, racked with guilt, admitted being involved in Mr Rushton’s death.

It emerged he had been drinking with a group of locals at his resort when he was bashed, stripped, and stuffed into a sack filled with lead weights. At night, he was loaded onto a boat and dumped at sea.

Two men were later jailed for 15 years and 12 years for his murder.

Britt Lapthorne vanished from Dubrovnik’s Fuego nightclub in the early hours of September 18. Her backpack, passport and mobile phone were found in her hostel, but her family was not informed of her disappearance for several days.

Her body was found in the sea on October 8, but police said the remains were not hers.

A DNA test later overturned that error, but her remains were so badly decomposed the cause of death was unknown. […]