Kathmandu, Nepal — With the proliferation of Internet-based “hospitality services,” growing numbers of tourists worldwide can find low-cost lodgings well-suited to a traveler’s limited budget.
However, such accommodations — which may involve staying with a stranger who has been only minimally screened, if at all — are not without danger.
Early in September 2015 police in Nepal were searching the Seti River for the body of one such traveler: Dahlia Yehia, a 27-year-old humanitarian and art teacher from Austin, Texas.
She’d gone to Nepal to volunteer in the wake of a devastating earthquake that killed 9,000 people and and left nearly 2.8 million homeless.
To save money, Yehia arranged six months in advance for accommodations in Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city, via Couchsurfing.com, an international hospitality and social networking service based in New Hampshire. The website enables members to link up with lodging providers and “surf” or sleep on couches or beds as a guest at the host’s home.
Narayan Paudel was to be Dahlia’s host in Pokhara. He was a local English and science teacher in his early thirties. Not only was Paudel highly rated by other Couchsurfing users, in 2014 he’d been featured in an article about Couchsurfing in the Nepali Times.
Nevertheless, last summer Paudel was found guilty of beating Yehia to death and throwing her corpse into the raging waters of the nearby Seti River. Her body has never been found.
Yehia reached Nepal in July 2015 and almost immediately began her volunteer work. When that was completed, on August 4, 2015 she went to Pokhara where, as previously arranged, she stayed with Paudel in his small studio apartment, an 8-by-14-foot room with two twin beds placed perpendicular to each other. Yehia very likely found she had things in common with Paudel who was, after all, a fellow teacher who spoke English well. And because he was highly rated by fellow Couchsurfers, she had no reason to be suspicious of him.
Three days later she was dead.
Yehia had kept in regular contact with her many friends and family members. When she suddenly stopped communicating, they reached out to Apple, Inc. That company was able to track her iPhone. It was found that someone had replaced her SIM card with a new one not long after she’d disappeared.
The new SIM card was registered to Narayan Paudel.
Officials in Nepal were contacted by the American Embassy on August 28 and immediately began investigating Yehia’s disappearance.
Police arrested Paudel on September 2, 2015, for theft of the phone. He first claimed he had no idea where Yehia had gone. But he finally admitted he’d smashed her forehead with a hammer while she slept, killing her.
He then hid her corpse in a large burlap sack normally used for rice, and carried the body on his motorbike to the Seti River, where he dumped it into the raging waters from a bridge.
Paudel said he killed Yehia — who’d just finished helping his own people and assisting in rebuilding his country—for her iPhone and a relatively small sum she’d withdrawn from an ATM.
Ten months later in 2016, a Nepalese court convicted Paudel of the murder of Dahlia Yehia. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Couchsurfing’s safety advice includes the following:
“Meet [your prospective host] first in a public place” and “Remove yourself immediately from any situation that doesn’t feel right.”
The company asks to be informed of any negative interactions.