Police find woman’s body: Denise Pikka Thiem

Published: September 14, 2015

Police find woman’s body: Denise Pikka Thiem, Spanish police say that the arrest of a 39-year-old man on Friday led them to the body of U.S. tourist Denise Pikka Thiem who went missing this Spring.

A government spokesman says Miguel Angel Munoz took investigators to his farm near the Camino de Santiago, also called St. James Way, after being arrested on Friday in Asturias, reports The New York Times.

The arrest, and the discovery of the body, came after about 300 Spanish officers searched the area where Thiem, who is from Arizona, was last seen on April 5 in the town of Astorga.

Thiem went missing in April as she was walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in northwestern Spain.

She stopped posting pictures on social networks and communicating with friends on April 4.

‘Following months of intense investigations, our agents have found the body of Denise and detained the alleged perpetrator,’ the head of the Spanish police, Ignacio Cosido, said on twitter.

Thiem, who was from Phoenix, Arizona, was 40-years-old when she disappeared and would have turned 41 in August.

The Spanish national newspaper El Pais reported late on Friday that police had found the decomposed body on the arrested man’s property.

Astorga is on the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, also called the St James Way, which ends at the Roman Catholic cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Spanish TV showed footage Friday of officers at a small apartment building taking away the suspect, a bearded man later identified as Munoz.

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid declined comment about the arrest of the suspect, citing privacy laws that prevent the disclosure of information about the case.

Thiem’s disappearance prompted safety concerns about the 470-mile (760-kilometer) series of pilgrimage routes, which tens of thousands of people walk annually. Some do it as a spiritual quest, while others go for a physical challenge or hike it for a vacation.

Five months before her disappearance, Thiem quit her job at the corporate headquarters of PetSmart and took off for a round-the-world journey, inspired by books like Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’ and the film ‘The Way’ which stars Martin Sheen as a man who decides to walk the Camino de Santiago.

She started her journey in Asia, visiting Singapore, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam before making her way to Europe, all while keeping in close contact with her brother, who stayed behind in Phoenix to take care of their parents.

Thiem was about three-quarters of the way done with the pilgrimage on Easter Sunday (April 5) – the last day she was seen.

That morning, Thiem went to get breakfast with a fellow pilgrim, an Italian man, in the town of Astorga, followed by Mass.

‘After Mass, she went on her way and he went on his way,’ her brother Cedric told Fox News in June.

Cedric says he quickly started to worry when he didn’t hear from his sister, who he skyped with about every other day on her journey.

‘At first I thought maybe there was just really sketchy Internet,’ he said. ‘But there’s only so many days you can go without connection.’

Cedric says he first tried to get help from American authorities both in the U.S. and Spain, but felt like his sisters case wasn’t getting enough attention.

‘Does the U.S. even have any services in cases where citizens go missing abroad?’ Thiem asked. ‘There’s no one there to really guide you.

‘It sounds like they’re just calling the embassy over there and asking for an update,’ he added.

Eventually he decided to pack his luggage and go search for his sister himself, arriving in Madrid on April 20.

Immediately after arriving in Spain, he filed a missing persons report with local police and then decided to start walking the pilgrimage backwards, just in case his sister was still on the trail.

But after two days he decided it was best to return to the town where she was last seen, where he spoke with police and locals, hoping to get any clues as to what happened.

While local authorities were happy to help, they weren’t successful in turning up any answers as to what happened to Thiem.

Since publicizing the story more though, Cedric received several messages from other women who say they have been harassed by men on the popular route, leading him to believe that foul play is involved in his sister’s disappearance.

And just a few weeks after Thiem was last seen, two men attempted to abduct a woman who was jogging near the part in the path where Thiem is thought to have gone missing.

‘I really feel that she got into a bad situation,’ Cedric said in June.

The woman in her 50s who was targeted says she was running by a resting place for pilgrims when the two men showed up in a car.

She says the two tried to get her attention, and she knew something was wrong when she looked and saw that one of them had their face partially covered.

One of the men then grabbed her by the arm and tried to force her into the car and she says his grip was so tight that it left marks.

Luckily she was able to slip out of his grip and take off running.

‘I headed into the bushes and he was behind me,’ she told Atlas media. After finding a place to hide, the woman called police but they were too late to catch the would-be kidnappers.

In addition to that recent attempted abduction, several other women told stories about how they were approached by strange men on the trail.

A 60-year-old woman from Germany said she was walking on her own near Astorga when she noticed a white car following her.

‘It was kind of strange. I was trying not to look at him. I think he was masturbating,’ she said.

The woman ran to catch up with a group of Irish pilgrims just ahead of her on the trail, and the white car stopped its stalking.

The Irish pilgrims took a picture of the car and sent it to Spanish police after they heard about Thiem’s disappearance.

And just three weeks before Thiem went missing, another pilgrim wrote on a Camino de Santiago chat room that she had been lured off the trail by a ‘fake’ arrow, where she was met by a strange man.

‘On the wrong path, a masked man attacked me with a stun gun. However, I was able to free myself and run away,’ the woman named Josie, from Germany, wrote.

In light of Thiem’s disappearance and the attempted abduction in May, one of the largest English-speaking forums dedicated to the pilgrimage has issued a warning for women not to walk alone on the 15-mile stretch of the trail where the two incidents happened.

Site adminstrator Ivar Rekve says this is the first time he’s had to issue such a warning.

Thiem’s brother stayed in Astorga for three weeks before returning to the U.S. on May 3.

During the search, he wrote to Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake for help with the case. Senator McCain said he had spoken with the U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos and is ‘working with the family on this’. Flake said his office was ‘monitoring the situation’.

The family had set up a Facebook page to publicize Thiem’s disappearance and a GoFundMe account to raise money to help find her.


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