Alaskan goes to Taiwan to find son who went missing in May
Fred Frontier, hired to teach English, disappeared while sightseeing
By TATABOLINE BRANT
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: October 27, 2003)
On Saturday morning, the former school bus attendant boarded a plane in Anchorage for Taiwan, where she can neither read nor speak the language, to look for her son.
Klita doesn't know how long she'll be on the island or what she'll do to support herself while she's there. All she knows is that she doesn't want to come back to Anchorage without Fryderyk Frontier.
Frontier, 29, vanished five months ago. A longtime Alaskan with a colorful past, he went to Taiwan in May to teach English for Hess Educational Organization. He arrived a few days before he was scheduled to start work and went sightseeing.
No one has seen him since.
American and Taiwanese authorities are looking for Frontier, but Klita, who in July spent a few weeks searching in Taiwan, wants to start her own investigation with the help of a private detective.
"I am feeling I am going to find him," she said in a thick Polish accent during an interview before she left Anchorage. "If I don't, I don't give up. Somehow I have to find him. He is not a ghost."
Frontier grew up an only child in a single-parent family. He was born in Rome, where his father still lives, but the two have had almost no communication over the years, his mother said. Klita said her son changed his last name to Frontier from Veschi when he was 18 because he felt his father didn't love him. The new surname was inspired by Alaska, she said.
Frontier lived with his mother in Poland and Buffalo, N.Y., before the two settled in Alaska in 1985. He is known locally for his work promoting events and causes close to his heart: recycling at the University of Alaska Anchorage, dances and music shows around town, Rainbow Gatherings near Knik River and pushing for the legalization of marijuana. In 2000, Frontier ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat on the Green Party ticket.
Frontier was an outgoing, eccentric type whose promotional work was always done with gusto, his friends said. As circulation manager for UAA's student newspaper, for example, Frontier was known to hand people papers under bathroom stall doors to get them to read it.
"He was either really brave or really foolish, depending on who you talk to," said Crispin McCabe, 30, who attended Steller Secondary School with Frontier years ago.
McCabe recalled an anti-racism campaign Frontier worked on in high school. He handed fliers to everyone, including a group of skinheads, McCabe said.
"He was one of those people who refused to accept that people can't get along," he said. "He thought if he tried hard enough, he could find common ground. ... He is just very genuine. He doesn't have a bad bone in his body."
Frontier graduated cum laude with leadership honors from UAA in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology, university officials said. He was also fluent in Polish, Spanish, Russian and English.
Frontier's friendliness and curiosity won him many friends from all walks of life, said Richard Benavides, a legislative aide who met Frontier in a logic class at UAA and worked with him in student government.
"He was a lot smarter than he let on, because he was very laid back," Benavides said. "He was very much a mover and shaker on things he believed in. The bit about recycling, ... he really worked at it. It got to a point where we actually started a program because of his push and drive."
Frontier moved to Seattle about three years ago. He worked a series of computer-related jobs and made a new crop of friends. McCabe, who lives in Seattle now, said Frontier would hold potlucks at his house once a month.
"It was always quite an international crowd," he said.
By the end of the night, everyone would be talking in Polish and Russian. Before long, Frontier decided he needed a change and applied to the Hess Educational Organization, which offers teaching opportunities in Taiwan. Hess offered him a job teaching English for a year, according to James Li, a spokesman for the organization in Taiwan reached recently by e-mail.
Frontier arrived in Taipei, Taiwan's capital, the night of May 20, Li said. The following day, he checked in at Hess' main office in Chung Ho City. Frontier was not scheduled to start work until May 26, and he told officials that he planned to sightsee until then, Li said. He stored his luggage at the main office for safekeeping and left.
It was the last Hess saw of him.
Frontier did not tell anyone specifically where he was going, so when he didn't show up for work on May 26, Hess officials didn't know where to look. They started contacting anyone who might know something -- the hostel where Frontier had been staying, his family and friends.
The American Institute of Taiwan and the National Police Administration were also contacted, Li said. More than 1,500 missing person posters were hung around the island and Hess took out ads in English and Chinese newspapers, Li said.
According to Taiwanese newspaper reports, police have pieced together Frontier's last known movements and have appealed to the public for help. They have come up empty so far.
The last person in the United States to hear from Frontier was his girlfriend in Seattle, Klita said. On May 23, he left her a message on her answering machine, telling her how beautiful the mountains were where he was staying, Klita said.
After some investigation and with the help of Frontier's credit card statements, officials learned that he checked into the Tien Shang Catholic Hostel in Hualien from May 22-25, Li said. Frontier is believed to have gone hiking in Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan's premier tourist attractions, Li said.
It is not clear whether Frontier stayed at the Tien Shang hostel all the nights he paid for or who saw him last. The American Institute of Taiwan would not comment on the case, and the National Police Administration could not be reached by phone and did not respond to an e-mail.
According to police reports and newspaper accounts, Frontier's backpack and wallet unaccountably showed up in the room he had been staying in about 10 days after his checkout date.
Klita said her son's driver's license and credit cards were all in his wallet but his passport was missing. Klita said when she visited the hostel in July, one man wanted to keep her son's belongings.
"I asked people at hostel what's his name; they won't tell me," Klita said. "He was very aggressive toward me. I got this feeling that he was related to Fred's disappearing."
Klita believes someone is holding her son against his will.
Li said foul play has not been ruled out.
"We are remaining optimistic and hoping for a positive conclusion," he said.
Klita has spoken with missionaries in Taiwan who are going to help her get settled when she arrives. She has an open plane ticket that's good for a year and a five-year work visa.
Klita believes her son is alive because he came to her in a dream one night while she was in Taiwan. "I ask him: 'Fred, what happened to you? Did somebody hurt you?' He said, 'Very badly, you don't imagine.' ... Then he disappeared."
Daily News reporter Tataboline Brant can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4321.
Copyright � 2003 The Anchorage Daily News