June 15, 2005 | 11:20 p.m. ET

One unhappy island
It has now been two and one half weeks since the disappearance of 18-year-old Mountain Brook, Ala., resident Natalee Holloway, who while on a high school graduation trip went missing after being last seen with three young men, ages 17, 18, and 21 when leaving a local bar (Carlos 'N Charlie's) in Oranjestad, Aruba. Brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe have indicated that they left Holloway with the third individual, 17-year old Joran Van Der Sloot (son of an Aruban judge), while Van Der Sloot has countered their statements, indicating that he left Holloway with two brothers.

Aruban authorities (finally) searched Van Der Sloot and his parent's local residence today and removed unknown items of potential evidentiary value, to include two vehicles. The evidence response/search team would be looking for anything that could link Joran Van Der Sloot to Holloway, noting that although all three male suspects acknowledge that she had been in a car with them that was operated by the Kalpoes. Should any linking evidence such as hairs, fibers, bodily fluids, etc., be found in either of the vehicles that were seized today, such would then confirm Holloway's presence in the vehicle and obviously indicate that Van Der Sloot had been less than truthful concerning his activities with Holloway as well as their mode of transportation the evening she disappeared. For example, should hairs be found in the vehicle or in Van Der Sloot's home that are linked to Holloway, examination could then determine if they had been pulled or yanked from her head as opposed to fallen out naturally. The presence of linking hairs or fibers, etc., in the trunk of a vehicle would, of course, suggest that she had been transported in this manner, probably against her will.

Authorities will also be looking for drugs that Van Der Sloot may have used, perhaps with Holloway, to include any type of so called "date rape" drug, e.g., GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyrate that is a colorless and odorless drug that if surreptitiously placed in a drink, would make the person drinking the GHB laced drink appear to be intoxicated, and could make such a person unconscious within 20 minutes. Victims frequently have no memory of what happened and the drug is difficult to trace, often leaving the body within 24 hours. Another similar drug is Rohypnol (or "roofies"). Although this search and the seizing of the vehicles should logically have taken place at the time the three were originally identified as having been with Holloway the night of her disappearance, the search could, in the extreme, still yield evidence of value.

For the truth to be known
From an interview standpoint, the Aruban authorities continue to conduct all interviews of the three suspects and others, allowing the 12-plus FBI Agents assisting the investigation to observe, but not participate in the actual interviews. It appears that the initial story told by the three suspects -- i.e. that the three of them dropped Holloway off at her hotel -- was a lie. Now, there are apparently two stories, one told by the brothers and a second and opposite story told by Van Der Sloot. The authorities need to first deal with the story told by the Kalpoe's, pointing out the discrepancies in their story, the differences or the much too close similarities between the way the two of them tell the story, and their need to be totally honest with the authorities. The devil is always in the details, and this is especially true when you must remember every aspect of a lie you have told without the benefit of memory and recall of something that actually happened.

Van Der Sloot appears to be the lead person of interest in this case, although the two brothers can help to fill a lot of blanks in the investigation. Since Van Der Sloot had been observed seated in the back seat of the brother's vehicle and acting intimate with Holloway, he is the logical person to know what had happened to her that evening. The brothers have said that they received an e-mail from Van Der Sloot the evening that Holloway disappeared, perhaps after they had left Van Der Sloot and Holloway together, location unknown. Because of this the authorities will have a time line from the time the four of them left the local bar to the time of the e-mail, a time line that needs to be filled in.

In a worse case scenario, especially without any reported sighting of Holloway, now one of the most well-known faces (from her many posted pictures) in Aruba in quite some time, it would appear that she is probably not lost or otherwise gone of her own volition, therefore suspicion of foul play is logical. Were she to have died from a drug overdose, from an accident, or were she to have been murdered, the longer it takes to locate her remains, the less likely the chances are that the presence of certain drugs can be detected in her system, as well as the potential cause of death and the recovery of other trace evidence that could link her killer to her death.

Other search methods
Aruban authorities have made reference to surveillance techniques that may have been employed in this matter, to include a GPS tracking devise that was placed on the car originally used by the three young men and wire taps on their cell phones, this in hopes of developing information that would lead to the recovery of Holloway.  Should this have been the plan of the authorities from the start, such could explain their reluctance to arrest the three and impound their vehicle early on in the investigation.  Although these techniques were suspected early on, they were not discussed in order not to compromise these potential investigative techniques and the information that might be gained through such techniques.

One potential way to complement the daytime ground search could be the use of helicopters with a heat seeking capability, perhaps to locate Holloway or her body in otherwise rural and hard to search areas. When the land cools at night, the presence of a body could give off a heat signal that could lead authorities to search a certain area of the island. Boats and aircraft are also being utilized to search the waters around Aruba and contact has been made with nearby islands to insure that she had not been located or found on another island. Other technical resources have been offered by the FBI and some may be accepted by the local police to assist their search for Holloway, noting that search dogs were obtained by the FBI from the Miami Metro-Dade Police Department to assist in the search. Of course, the resources of the Dutch Marines stationed on Aruba and Dutch law enforcement capabilities would also be available to the Aruban authorities.

A number of investigative avenues have been followed up on very late, relatively speaking, in the investigation. However, all such leads need to be followed, no matter how late, this as long as Holloway remains missing. Short of locating Holloway or her remains, the key to this investigation may be in getting the two brothers to finally tell all they know, and to then confront Van Der Sloot with the their story in an attempt to find out from him how his time was spent with her.

A lot of pain and misery to go around
Finally, should one of the three men that are suspects in this matter actually have harmed Holloway, there will be sad families in both America and Aruba, i.e., it would appear that mistakes, perhaps terrible mistakes may have been committed by one or all three of these young men and perhaps Holloway herself, in her case by trusting and/or accompanying them and not staying with her friends. Whatever the eventual outcome is, should these men be involved, their families will -- like the family of Natalee Holloway -- forever be victims.  Their families, like the Holloways, will have to attempt to explain and understand how something so unthinkable could have befallen any or all of these four young people on an otherwise fun night in Aruba. It is growing more and more painfully apparent that many will suffer and cry before this matter is resolved.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."


Discussion comments