The Man in Brazil

In December 2016, Sally Fowler was home sick when her nephew, Jimmy, sent her a picture he’d seen on Facebook–a photograph of a guy in his thirties from the abdomen up. The man appeared to be unconscious. A white sheet was pulled tightly across his bare chest. He had a full beard, blonde hair and a nice face. Sally’s heart raced. This man looked like her son and he was strapped to a hospital bed in Brazil.

Sally’s heart raced. This man looked like her son and he was strapped to a hospital bed in Brazil.

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Other families hoped the man in Brazil was their son as well. A mother in Scotland. A family in Germany. Eventually, those cases were ruled out. Sally sent the photograph to Kris’ ex-wife. “I can’t say it’s not him,” she replied. The young man was the right height and the right age. His eyes were blue. He spoke English. 

But Sally needed to know one more thing. Did he have a tattoo on his back? For some reason this simple question was difficult for the Brazilian authorities to answer. The language barrier didn’t help.

Sally requested assistance from Morgan Clements in Missouri. Morgan compared photos of the guy in Brazil to photos of Kris. He couldn’t rule out the possibility the man in the photograph was Sally‘s son. He found news articles in Portuguese detailing the events leading up to the man’s hospitalization. He had been robbed and beaten. He had no papers on him. He appeared to have had a mental breakdown. 

The scenario fit because Kris Fowler expressed interest in Woofing in Costa Rica before he disappeared. Woofing comes from WWOOF–World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming. WWOOF is a loose network of organizations offering homestay farming opportunities. It seemed possible Kris had lost it somehow and ended up in Brazil.

Example WWOOFers in Brazil
Example WWOOFers in Brazil

Translating the news articles into English was frustrating for Morgan. So he contacted a Brazilian thru-hiker he met when he hiked part of the PCT in 2016. 

The female thru-hiker spoke the local language and understood the culture. She was incredibly generous with her time and efforts. When her many phone calls reached a dead end, she drove eight hours from her home to see him in the hospital. 

Sally called Cpl. Ellis Nale, a Sheriff’s deputy who worked the Kris Fowler search in Kittitas County, Washington. Nale notified a government official in D.C. and that person contacted the American Embassy in Brazil.

At the hospital, Morgan’s friend confirmed that the man in the photograph spoke English. He was either American or Canadian. There was no tattoo on his back. He wasn’t Kris.

Soon after, a helpful man from the American Embassy called Sally. This may not be my son, Sally told him, but he belongs to somebody and they are looking for him. She sent him the photo she’d seen on Facebook. He may be from Canada, Sally added. 

Right away, the American official in Brazil walked over to the Canadian Embassy. They soon determined the man’s identity—Anton Pilipa, a 39-year-old Canadian who suffered from schizophrenia and had been missing since 2012. When he was well Anton worked for humanization relief organizations. But his illness got the better of him one day and he was arrested. To avoid his court date, he fled the country. With no passport and little money, he traveled from Canada to Brazil–a 10,000 mile journey–by walking and hitch-hiking. 

Anton’s family searched for years until they hit a wall. “I told myself he was dead,” Stefan Pilipa, Anton’s brother, told a reporter. “Because that was the only thing I could come up with (to explain) his absence.” 

“I told myself he was dead,” Stefan Pilipa, Anton’s brother, told a reporter. “Because that was the only thing I could come up with (to explain) his absence.” 

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The route Anton may have taken

Before authorities could act, Anton escaped the hospital but an astute police officer in Brazil recognized Anton needed help and he was soon reunited with his family.

There are many news stories about Anton’s incredible journey, but few recognize the role Morgan and Sally played in piecing together the puzzle. These two aren’t the type who want recognition. The truth is this: A few days after Sally first saw Anton Pilipa’s photo, Kris Fowler remained missing, but another mystery was solved. 

“If used properly, isn’t Facebook amazing?” Sally posted on the Bring Kris Fowler/Sherpa Home group. “Without it, this man would still be missing from his family. Without it, we would not have most of the info about Kris that we have today. Without it, we would not have so much support from all of you. So happy that something good has come from all of this. I didn’t sleep a wink for two solid days (since) this Brazil sighting started. It was all worth it. Happy endings are possible!” 

by Andrea Lankford

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