On November 6th, 2015 an entrepreneur, hotel owner and American expat living in the Philippines named Lewis Yakich left the Penthouse Hotel where he was living with his girlfriend to meet with a potential investor. He was meeting with a man named Skipper Pineda, a retired United States Marine, about a loan to help him develop a new business venture. It turns out that Pineda also happened to be related to Lilia Pineda, the governor of a province in the Philippines called Pampanga, and her husband Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda who reportedly runs the local numbers racket. Yakich’s girlfriend and several of his business partners all saw him leave with Pineda that night. It would not be the last time that they would hear from him, but it would be the last time that anyone would ever see him and — be the start of a strange and unsettling mystery.
A few weeks earlier, on July 16th, 2015, Yakich contacted 3DPrint.com to see if we would be interested in writing up a story about him. Lewis Yakich was the co-owner of Angeles City’s Lewis Grand Hotel as well as several other hotels and nightclubs throughout Pampanga, Philippines. But in addition to running hotels and nightclubs, Yakich was also a former engineer for Intel and had developed a 3D printer that was capable of using concrete to fabricate entire rooms and structures. When he contacted 3DPrint.com, Yakich was on the verge of using his 3D printer to build a luxurious two-bedroom villa for the Lewis Grand. At the time there had already been plenty of 3D printed rooms out there, but none had actually been used to manufacture something that was approved for actual use.
The finished villa, completed a few weeks after contacting us, was 10.5m by 12.5m (about 34.5 feet by 41 feet) with walls that reached as high as 3m (10 feet) for a total of 130 square meters (1500 square feet). That included two bedrooms, a living room and even a separate room with a 3D printed Jacuzzi. The printing process looked and sounded incredible, and it only took about 100 hours to complete the whole room. While Yakich first used his 3D printing process to build a room at his hotel, he had far more altruistic plans. Because there is a huge demand for low-cost housing in the Philippines, he was hoping that his technology could be used to help build cheaper and safer homes. In fact, the Philippine government had already approved Yakich to work with their low-income housing program as a qualified builder.
When Yakich emailed 3DPrint.com it was former owner and editor-in-chief Eddie Krassenstein who returned his inquiry, and the two of them would go on to communicate via email and Viber. Over the next few weeks Eddie and Yakich had several chats about his 3D printer and his future plans for the process. According to Eddie, Yakich was friendly and quite excited about his new technology and the article that was being written about it. He even invited Eddie to come visit him in the Philippines and see the room for himself. 3DPrint.com published the article about the villa on September 8th, 2015 as an exclusive feature, and the story quickly spread to other mainstream media publications like USA Today and Forbes. The last time that Eddie spoke to Yakich was the following day, September 9th, 2015, and it is at this point that his story gets very strange.
According to an anonymous source close to Yakich who contacted 3DPrintingBusiness.directory’s Davide Sher, about a month after the 3DPrint.com article was published, Yakich went missing at some point during his business meeting with Skipper Pineda. Initially his girlfriend and his business partners received several normal texts from Yakich and nothing seemed amiss. Until one of his business partners named Alvin Bautista received a chilling text saying only “This look shady”. Sher’s source provided him with screenshots of several text conversations between Bautista and someone that was assumed to be Yakich, but the texts seemed worrying almost from the start. First they indicated that Yakich had suddenly sold all of his shares in the hotel to Skipper and the general manager of the Penthouse Hotel, another of Yakich’s properties, Phillip MacArthur. They also indicated that Yakich would be going to Thailand to “clear [his] mind and move [his] money around”, but both his US passport and his Philippine passport were still with his girlfriend.
A few more texts would be sent from Yakich’s phone over the following weeks, but no one was ever able to meet up with him. Despite indications that Yakich would meet Bautista in Thailand, and that he would be back in the Philippines in a few weeks, he was never seen in person again. While his girlfriend and his business partners all gave statements to the police, so far there has been no movement on their investigation. According to Sher’s source, Yakich’s brother and half-brother, Edward Yakich Jr. and Randy Buan, have now taken over Yakich’s properties. The brothers, who both have a rather violent history, were reportedly able to accomplish this by coming to a meeting with Yakich’s partners armed, intimidating them into giving them control of the business.
Is this a case of organized crime taking over a business owner’s properties with the help of the local authorities? Is this a case of Yakich’s brothers taking advantage of his disappearance by taking over his businesses? Or did Yakich really sell all of his properties and run off to another country, abandoning his life, and the 3D printing technology that he was so excited about just a few weeks earlier? The final text message sent by Yakich suggests that there was far more going on between him and his brothers, including possible drug dealing. If Yakich, who has no criminal record and according to the authorities was never involved in an investigation, is trying to avoid being found because he was mixed up in something unscrupulous it would certainly explain why no one has heard from him. But it doesn’t explain how he got out of the country without a passport.
Sadly, instances of organized crime going relatively unchecked in the Philippines are pretty common these days. The country has a rather notorious history of elected leaders colluding with local criminal organizations, so much so that their new president Rodrigo Duterte has essentially declared war on crime and government corruption. While his girlfriend and his former business partners have continued to push the local police to investigate Yakich’s disappearance, there seems to be little faith in them taking the case very seriously. Sher’s source even claims that many of the local police are regulars at Yakich’s former hotel bars and nightclubs and currently enjoy free drinks and rooms.
While looking over the text messages sent to Yakich’s business partner and the chat transcripts that Eddie sent to me to read through, I noticed something seemed very different between the two. While talking to Eddie on Viber and in some of their emails, Yakich regularly used “u” instead of “you”, which is common enough while texting. He also regularly truncated words like “with” to “w” and even “be” to “b”. However the text messages that were sent to his business partner after he disappeared never used any of those shorted words, ever. And in fact the English seemed much choppier than his chats on Viber with Eddie, almost as if it was an entirely different person.
While that discrepancy is hardly decisive proof that the texts were not from Yakich, to me they certainly didn’t sound like the same person jovially chatting with Eddie. In fact, the last text suggested that Yakich was tired of living in Angeles City. However he spoke far more fondly of the Philippines in his Viber chats and emails. And curiously, the last text message that was sent was dated November 26th, 2015, which is the same date that Yakich’s Viber account says that he was last online.
Was that actually Lewis Yakich that was texting almost three weeks after he vanished? Or was that someone who was just pretending to be Lewis Yakich? What exactly happened between Lewis Yakich and Skipper Pineda that seemed shady on the night that he vanished? And what ever happened to his amazing concrete 3D printing technology? The incredibly complicated case, excellently detailed over on 3DPrintingbusiness.directory by Sher, has so many twists and turns that it’s hard to even try to piece together exactly what happened. And sadly, the longer that he is missing the less likely it is that we will ever get answers to the many questions raised by this bizarre story. Discuss further in the Disappearance of 3D Printed Hotel Suite Innovator forum over at 3DPB.com.