Natalee Holloway disappeared during her high school trip to Aruba last May. The island’s deputy chief of police, Gerald Dompig, says the teenager was probably not murdered, but likely died from too much alcohol and maybe drug use.
"Scarborough Country's" guest host Michael Smerconish discussed the accusations with Holloway's stepmother Robin Holloway, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, Vanity Fair's Bryan Burrough and attorney Anne Bremner.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST, "SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY": Let me start with you, Robin Holloway. For months, we’ve been hearing all about how this was a case of murder. Now it sounds like it’s a case, perhaps, of blaming the victim. I take it you’re not buying it.
ROBIN HOLLOWAY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY’S STEPMOTHER: I’m confused. When Dave got on the island, from day one, Dennis Jacobs said, “Oh, she ran off with somebody to go find a beer. She’ll show up.”
And then a couple of months later, Dompig said, “They’re all three guilty as hell. We’re going to prove it. We’re going to close this case.” And now, blaming the victim, yes.
It sounds like they’re trying to say, “Well, she had too much booze, too much drug use, and, as a result, she caused her own death.”
HOLLOWAY: I have known Natalee for 13 or 14 years. She is not a drug user. She does not abuse drugs. The only drug we know that she was on at that time was a Z-pac for a sinus infection. If she was drugged, it was because of the last drink Joran gave her, either compliments of Joran or the bartender.
SMERCONISH: Have you had any conversations yourself with prosecutors in Aruba?
HOLLOWAY: Yes, I have. I talked to Karen Janssen today.
SMERCONISH: What exactly did they tell you?
HOLLOWAY: Well, she assured me the investigation was ongoing. As far as any concrete evidence where Natalee is buried, no, they have none. They’re still looking into the witness statement from. I believe she said it was prior to January, so they’re just now bringing in the cadaver dogs.
SMERCONISH: Did you ask whether she had any drugs that were known on her?
HOLLOWAY: When I talked to her, I had not read the statement yet from Deputy Dompig; so, no, I did not.
SMERCONISH: Cliff Van Zandt, you made your reputation as an FBI profiler. Does this fit with any kind of profile that you’ve developed in analyzing this case?
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: We all know that this is one of the ongoing theories. It’s a spin on an ongoing theory.
We always look in this case, you know, is it a homicide or could it have been an accident? I think, from day one, people have speculated perhaps—I mean, everyone acknowledges she had been drinking, but the question is: What type of drug could she have been slipped?
The combination of the drug that may have been given to her and then the alcohol that she had consumed, that may have had some obvious impact on her. But now we see this different spin, now this intimated drug, not that somebody slipped her, but perhaps— it’s almost like she was out doing a line of cocaine or something, or whatever it is.
SMERCONISH: But even if she caused her own death, there have to be bad actors in this case, because somebody disposed of the body, right? Why would someone do that? What would be the motivation?
VAN ZANDT: Well, we can go back 20 or 30 years. We’ve got a famous senator from the East Coast who was involved in an accident where the body had to be identified a day later. So, you know, that’s not unknown in the realm of the world.
In this particular case, I think what you’ve got to look at is: here you’ve got a group of guys, the last three guys who were with her. They’ve told anywhere, depending on who you talk to, from five to 15 or 20 different versions.
They’ve pointed fingers at each other. The chief has said they were guilty of everything. The question now becomes: what are they guilty of?
If, in fact this is true, they’re guilty of lying to the police; they’re guilty of, perhaps, giving her some type of drug; they’re guilty of a cover-up; they’re guilty of burying her body; they’re guilty of lying about it.
SMERCONISH: But can I send this to you, Cliff? There’s an element of this that, at least for me, is not passing the smell test, and it’s as follows: My understanding is that this information has been known to the Aruba authorities for a period of months. Now, why in the heck would they not have excavated the area where they suspect a body has been buried? What would account for the delay?
VAN ZANDT: You know, this is what bothers me. We’ve known about this since January. If they can afford to have F-16s do flyovers that cost, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps, to pull that whole thing off, why not rent a couple of backhoes for about a week and have this done two or three months ago? You’re absolutely right, Mike; why this buildup to nothing?
SMERCONISH: Let me ask Bryan Burrough a question or two. Bryan, you wrote a heck of a piece for “Vanity Fair,” “Nightmare in Paradise.” And among other things, you wrote, and no one else was offering this analysis:
“The Twitty family’s obsessive quest has proved to be a national trauma for Aruba.”
You go on to say that they’ve fostered this perception of, you know, the ugly American. You’ve essentially said that they may have deterred the solving of this crime. How do these developments fit into your perception of what’s really gone on in Aruba?
BRYAN BURROUGH, “VANITY FAIR”: Well, actually, Michael, I didn’t say that; Chief Dompig told me that, and I quoted him saying that.
I think that what’s interesting about tonight’s disclosure is the suggestion that Dompig now has new evidence that suggests he has some idea of what really happened. Now, the question is here—we have not seen the tape of the full interview yet, so we don’t know if he’s just spit-balling, which he’s done before, or whether or not he’s really saying, “We have evidence that she died in a certain way.” Certainly...
SMERCONISH: But if the quotes in your “Vanity Fair” piece are the quotes of Deputy Chief Dompig, then it sounds to me like this is a guy who’s got no love for the victim’s family to begin with, and maybe now, just in furtherance of that hostility that he feels, he’s blaming the victim in this case.
BURROUGH: Well, you know, you’re free to think that. Anybody can think what they want. I think, frankly, the guy’s less concerned with what you or people on TV think than in trying to solve this crime and get it off his desk. I think that’s what they really want to do.
SMERCONISH: Well, let me ask Anne Bremner a question about solving this crime. As a former prosecutor, what difficulties are posed by—and I hate to be gruesome, but we’re talking obviously about a badly decomposed body. I don’t know what remains there would be at this stage. That’s got to be a hindrance to a prosecution.
ANNE BREMNER, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Well, sure it is. And, you know, in a case like this, a bad beginning makes a bad end, because the investigation throughout has had problems, including now, with a whole new story, basically, that somehow she maybe was taking drugs, maybe overdosed on alcohol.
But the thing is, in one way that, when you don’t have a body in this case, with an island as small as Aruba, you can presume death. It’s been a year, come this May 1st. And the fact is she has never surfaced.
And if, indeed, she was out drunk and ingesting drugs—which there’s no evidence of. Dompig uses the word “maybe.”
SMERCONISH: But, Anne, there’s something else about which I’m awfully dubious, and that is I can’t think of another case in the span of the last 24 months that’s gotten the kind of attention as this. Who could be this mystery witness that suddenly comes forward and offers new data? And where the hell has this person been for all the time that the world has been focused on this case?
BREMNER: That’s exactly right. And the thing is that we know she didn’t just stumble off and die in the shallow water off of Aruba. Something happened to her, and we know it’s homicide.
And the other thing is, this case has been looked and at it’s been examined all over the world. It’s had a constellation of lies that have reverberated all over the world from these three individuals. And now, with this investigator pointing a finger at the victim, you know, when you have a finger pointing away from yourself, you have three more pointing back at yourself. And I think he wants out of this.
SMERCONISH: Cliff Van Zandt, I’m always intrigued by, you know, the work of you “Silence of the Lamb”-kind of guys. Get into the mind of someone who would have been out, would have been with her when she was abusing drugs, abusing alcohol, just to follow this theory through for a moment.
What would have been in the mind of that kind of a person, to then try and dispose of their body? If we buy into this theory, and it’s a big if as opposed to just dialing 911, and saying, “My god, there’s a woman, and she’s overdosed.”
VAN ZANDT: Sure. And I think what you’re dealing with—let’s play this theory out. Let’s say that the two Kalpoe brothers and Joran Van Der Sloot, they have contact with her that night. She leaves with them. She’s been drinking. Somehow, drugs are in her system; perhaps somebody put a Mickey, but a Rohypnol in her drink or something like that.
They take her out. You know, three guys are taking this woman out for one reason, and we all know what that is. She resists. She says, “No, you know, I’m not doing those kind of things.” There’s a struggle, a combination between the drugs, the alcohol, the struggle, and she expires. Now, you’ve got these three teenagers looking at each other, going, “Oh, my god. Now what do we do?”
SMERCONISH: Anne Bremner, you’re not buying this?
BREMNER: Well, I mean, yes, I’m not buying it, because the fact is we have pattern evidence with Joran Van Der Sloot. We’ve got all kinds of information. The lies they told were so important, “We dropped her off; let’s blame the security guys. Oh, the security camera shows that we’re lying.”
Those guys went to jail that they blamed, but that was OK with these three. And then they say—oh, Joran says, “Oh, the other two, well, they had sex with her. Oh, well, she wanted to fall asleep on the beach, so I left her there.”
You don’t lie unless you’re involved in some way. And, frankly, at a minimum, if you believe this story, which I do not, after listening to this case for so long, it is absolutely made out of whole cloth, but if you believe it, don’t you think they did have a duty to help her? And that is criminal negligence.
SMERCONISH: Bryan Burrough, you spent a lot of time in your piece for “Vanity Fair,” you know, thinking through and analyzing the events of that particular evening. I think you also reached the conclusion in here that she probably was drinking a heck of a lot. Does it sound plausible to you that she drank to such excess or did drugs to such excess that she could have caused her own death?
BURROUGH: Well, it’s certainly plausible that she died from a mix of alcohol and drugs, whether she would have taken drugs herself or had them given to her. I certainly find is totally plausible that these three young men, and perhaps others, disposed of her body.
However, it’s a leap from saying they disposed of her body to saying they murdered her or directly caused her death. It’s entirely possible that they slipped her a roofie and she died from it, they panicked. Joran Van Der Sloot is a kid who’s just about to head off to college, doesn’t want to ruin his whole future, in his mind.
SMERCONISH: Cliff, I guess you’re saying that this is the profile, that would be the mindset. In other words, I think 70-plus percent of the tourism for Aruba is coming from the United States. And so that, in a moment of panic, you’ve got these three guys who are thinking, “Hey, they’re never going to believe us. They’re going to think that we did, indeed, cause her death, so perhaps we should dispose of the body.” Is that a profile that makes sense?
VAN ZANDT: And one way or the other, whatever happened, these three guys would like, perhaps, to have you believe that, if you had to believe something. That’s why, day one, I wish some good Dutch investigators or FBI agents would have had a chance to take a run at these three guys before they started building lie upon lie upon, and give them a chance to hear their story.
SMERCONISH: How would you done differently? Quickly tell me, how would you have handled them, if you’d had that chance? A rubber hose and a phonebook?
VAN ZANDT: You know, real quick, it would have been guys, “We know you were with her. We know she had drugs, perhaps. Whether you gave them to her or somebody else slipped it to her, we don’t know how that happened. We know we had alcohol. We know how that happens.”
You’ll get out something happened to her. “It’s not your fault, but you know where she is. All you were trying to do is clean up something that was not your fault. Now, let’s it get it out right now.”
You know, give me about two or three hours to develop that, and I think one of these three guys would have raised their hand and said, “You know what? That’s what happened.”
SMERCONISH: Hey, I wish it had been you doing the interrogation, or maybe some of the guys that we rely on down at Guantanamo.
Anyway, thank you, panel, Robin Holloway, Bryan Burrough, Cliff Van Zandt, and Anne Bremner.