By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 10/10/2005 9:25:51 AM ET 2005-10-10T13:25:51

“I didn't mean to do it.”  This may well be the second best defense eventually offered by one or more of the suspects in the now four week old disappearance of 18-year-old American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, with their primary defense being silence.  The three current suspects in this matter, 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot and brothers Deepak (age 21) and Satish (age 18) Kalpoe, have changed their stories at least two or three times concerning their contact with Holloway on the night she disappeared.  The Kalpoe brothers, through their attorney, have also accused Joran of having changed his story to put the blame on them for Holloway's disappearance.  In Joran's most recent version of the night Natalee disappeared, he said the two brothers dropped him and Holloway off at the beach near the Marriott Hotel, and that he eventually left her alone on the beach, this as “that was what she wanted,” and he then walked the two plus miles to his home.  Joran's father, Paulus van der Sloot, a local judge in training, has been in custody for three days, charged with complicity in the “kidnapping and premeditated murder” of Holloway.  Paulus, who has waived his right not to testify against his son, has now been released by a judge who found that there was not enough evidence to continue to hold him in custody.  His arrest may have even been a ploy by Aruban police in their attempt to force his son, Joran, to tell what else he knew about Holloway's disappearance, one that may simply not have worked.
Two down, three to go
On Sunday Aruban authorities also indicated that they will release 26-year-old party boat disc jockey Steve Croes, the fifth suspect in this case.  It is unlikely that the other three suspects will be immediately released, but the 118-day detention clock is slowly ticking away on the Aruban authorities, and when the clock runs out they must make their case in trial or let the three go, and there will continue to be a mandatory review of their incarceration every eight days until they are tried or released. Evidently Croes, a friend of one or more of the Kalpoe brothers, voluntarily told authorities that he had witnessed Joran and the Kalpoes drop Holloway off at her hotel, thereby confirming their alibi, one later acknowledged by them as being a lie.  Because of Croes' false report he was arrested and held in custody.  Croes' arrest may have also been related to the authority's belief that he had access to a small boat that could, perhaps, have been used to transport Holloway somewhere on the waters surrounding Aruba.  Croes' release, like that of Paulus van der Sloot, is due to a similar finding by the local judge that there is not reasonable suspicion to support the belief that he was involved in Holloway's disappearance.
Searches on the island of Aruba to date by Aruban Police, Dutch Marines, local citizens, tourists and the FBI have not located Holloway.  Meanwhile, a private Texas search organization hired by the Holloway family has commenced its search for Natalee, although some members of this organization hold out little hope of finding her, while others confidently state that they will find her in two days.  The places that Holloway could be hidden on land in Aruba have supposedly been searched, but the ocean is wide and deep.  The searcher's best bet for finding her, should she be deceased, will probably be on and especially under the warm Caribbean waters circling Aruba, a vast sea area in which few searches have been conducted for her to date.

Current theories concerning Natalee's disappearance
But what has happened to Natalee?  Let's consider the current theories that have been advanced by many of you who have written to me at “Profiler's Perspective” to explain her disappearance, and the likelihood of each:

1) Theory:
  She simply ran away, escaping to start life anew on another island for some unknown reason.

Response:  At age 18, she has no history of any such prior behavior, and did not have the means, i.e., money, identification, etc., to facilitate her dropping out of sight and life of her own volition.

2) Theory:
  She was either kidnapped or sold by persons unknown as a white slave, perhaps being spirited off to another island or nation where someone of her age, sex, race and looks would bring a high price. 

Response:  Although as I wrote in another article in a Profiler's Perspective (Who's taken our Daughter?) that tens of thousands of international women and children are, in fact, the victim of kidnapping or are otherwise tricked or sold into slavery on a yearly basis, the likelihood that white slavers would risk their network and livelihood by kidnapping such a high profile victim is very slim, and there is no evidence to date that she could have befallen such a fate.

3) Theory:
  She was kidnapped by a local resident who found her on the beach, and she is now being held at an unknown location on Aruba.

Response:  Possible, but somewhat unlikely as Holloway's missing status is so well known on the island, as well as the reward for her return, that such should have led to her recovery by now.

4) Theory:
  She drown while swimming after being abandoned by Joran on the beach near her hotel, perhaps while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, ingested intentionally or unintentionally. 

Response:  No item of her clothing has been found on the beach, nor is there any other known evidence to support such an accidental incident.

5) Theory:
  She was murdered by someone who found her on the beach alone after Joran left her alone and vulnerable in the middle of the night. 

Response: This is impossible to discount, however there are no witnesses or other evidence to support this theory at this time.

6) Theory:
  She was drugged by one of the three young men whom she accompanied that night and expired due to an overdose.  They panicked and disposed of her body as they did not want to be blamed for her having OD'd. 

Response:  Possible, however we'll need a confession and probably an autopsy to support this theory.

7) Theory:
  She was assaulted by all three primary suspects and then murdered her to prevent her from reporting the assault.  The two Kalpoe brothers and Joran, with or without the assistance of Steve Croes, then disposed of her body, probably at sea. 

Response:  It would appear that either the two Kalpoe brothers or Joran would by now have rolled over and implicated the other in Holloway's disappearance and possibly murder, but if they stick to their stories it may be very hard to solve this case. 

8) Theory:
  As Joran's current story goes, perhaps the Kalpoe brothers did drop Natalee and him off at some beach location (he was, after all, the one in the back seat of the car with her) and while they were alone he assaulted and then murdered her, afterwards calling the Kalpoe brothers to help him dispose of her body and they, in turn, perhaps sought the assistance of Croes, knowing that he had access to a small boat. 

Response: Were this to be the case, they would probably have wrapped her body in some kind of cover, perhaps a tarp, weighed her body down with some metal weights, and then took her out in the surrounding dark night waters, dropping her into the ocean in a deep location where they believed her body would never be found or recovered.  But what about Paulus van der Sloot?  Well he may have aided his son, perhaps by providing him with legal advice (e.g., don't talk and they can never prove you did anything), or he may have picked up Joran after Natalee's disappearance/murder and failed to tell the authorities about where and when this occurred, and/or he may have withheld his suspicions or knowledge concerning his son's possible involvement in her disappearance.

The bottom line
If the three primary suspects had nothing to do with Holloway's disappearance, why did they need to lie, on multiple occasions, in their attempt to explain away their time with her?  This case hangs on the lies of these young people; men whom most believe have the key to Natalee's disappearance, but refuse to produce that key. 

But should this be the case, then why haven't the authorities been able to break the stories of these three to five suspects?  Well for one; they have taken the two Kalpoes and Joran through a number of versions of their story regarding their last hours with Natalee, noting that no one has acknowledged seeing her alive after she left a local bar in a car with the three young men.  Secondly, should you believe that these three men were originally allowed to remain free so that the authorities could monitor their cell phone conversations, perhaps following them in the hope that they would lead the police to Natalee, you must then consider the cost/benefit of this tactic.  No matter why they were initially allowed to remain free, it's apparent that if they were involved in Natalee's disappearance, they would have had a lot of time, perhaps with the input of Joran's father, to put a story together to cover their involvement in Holloway's disappearance.  Should this be the case, they would have assured each other that the chances of the authorities finding Holloway were slim, and that as long as they stuck to their story, they would all eventually be released.  By this, if there is no victim, no confession, and no evidence of foul play; then there is no case.  

Trial without a victim?
I have yet to find an instance of anyone being convicted of murder by an Aruban judge without the presence of a body, and although there was one such conviction in Holland years ago, there will still need to be a confession and one or more witnesses to support the confession.  In Aruba suspects can be interviewed for hours, days and weeks without the presence of their attorney, but they cannot be compelled to testify against themselves, and never has it been more important for any suspect to listen closely when told by the police, “you have the right to remain silent.”  As an FBI Agent, I helped to convict a number of defendants where the best evidence against them was their own words.  Although we all believe that the truth needs to be told in this matter, you also need put yourself in the position of the current suspects, i.e., would you tell what you knew?  Not if you were involved in her death and didn't want to do 20 years to life in an Aruban prison.

In the worst case, even the recovery of Natalee's body may not necessarily implicate any of the current suspects in her death.  Linking physical evidence, something that connects the suspects not only to Holloway, but to her murder will need be found.  Remember that when murder victim Laci Peterson was eventually located, her body was so badly decomposed by having been in the water that the authorities were unable to determine her cause of death. 

The current suspects in the disappearance of Natalee have willingly placed themselves with her on that potentially fatal night in Aruba; therefore merely proving that she had been with them will not convict anyone of anything.  Ultimately, without significant evidence that links a suspect to Holloway's disappearance and possible death, we may not see a resolution in this matter, and probably not without a confession and witnesses to support the confession.  As a father, I can appreciate her parent's hope and optimism for her safe return; but as a former FBI Agent, I know too well the devastating statistics concerning such matters.

So what now?  Keep up the searches, especially in the waters around Aruba, and continue to question the suspects in custody and anyone else who may know something.  Hopefully Natalee will be found or one of the suspects will talk, for if not, her family and friends will be left with a mystery that many feel they know the answer to, but no one will be able to prove their theory.  We no longer need theories though, we need resolution.  The local police have let the FBI know that Aruba is their island and this is their case.  That's fine, but now they need to solve it. 

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, 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