Investigation continues in Aruba

I am in Aruba to follow the case of disappearance of Natalee Holloway, having followed it from the USA since the beginning, and like most of the media people here I follow it from early morning to past midnight every day. It's easy to get caught up in this case, especially after spending a significant amount of time talking with Natalee's mother Beth. She is an intelligent, articulate, and focused woman with one goal, finding an answer to the disappearance of her daughter. She realizes that she is now the voice that speaks for her missing daughter, someone who cannot speak for herself. She is professional in her approach to this matter, she keeps very good notes (in a growing notebook) on everything involved in this case, and she is determined to get the answer she seeks. I would hope to be so tenacious were it one of my children that was missing.

This is a story within a story, intertwined with politics and other considerations on a 77 square mile piece of land that gets about 70% of its money from American tourists, and there are many here.  The investigation continues to center on 18-year old Joran van der Sloot and the two Kalpoe brothers, only van der Sloot who remains in jail.  It is hard to consider explanations for Natalee's disappearance other than foul play, although Arubans tell me that they believe that she simply ran away, perhaps with Joran's help, or she swam out into the water and drown, or she was carried away and sold into slavery, all versions that leave out the fact that the three primary suspects had the last known contact with the missing woman, that they have collectively told many stories or lies about their time with her the night she disappeared.  In a statement made by van der Sloot to the police he suggested that one of the Kalpoe brothers had perhaps sexually assaulted, murdered and buried her, that he himself (van der Sloot) has confessed to having sexual contact with her when she could not resist (drugs, alcohol?), and/or that he later left her alone on the beach, a second violation of local law as he apparently left a vulnerable person in a place and condition where she could be victimized, all similar to US misdemeanors, probably at most with a six month sentence. However, you cannot be convicted simply on your own confession here, therefore, as Joran's father, Paulus van der Sloot is alleged to have said, "No body, no case."

As has been reported, there were apparent errors in the investigation, things that should have been done from day one that were not done until day 5 or 10, that may have been fatal errors as far as the investigation itself. I'm told, for example, that the van der Sloot residence, other than Joran's apartment, has never been officially searched by the police. Aruban investigators apparently simply write down statements offered by suspects with few if any follow up questions.  Experienced Dutch investigators have subsequently been brought in to interview Joran, but by that time he was represented by counsel, and even though such counsel cannot speak to him during an interview by the police, a clearing of the throat, movement of one's chair, or other signals can be used to tell the suspect to watch out for that question.  Others have suggested that during questioning that Joran has a mental picture of a sign in front of him, one with the date of Sept 4th on it, the day that he could be released if no other evidence is produced to implicate him in this case.  Some believe that because of the Aruban national election on or about Sept. 25, that Joran may be held an additional 30 days, this to get the election past and then he could be released.  Like so many other aspects of this case, no body seems to know.

The island has been searched and short of a search of the land fill, noting that one "witness" said he saw a blond woman being buried in the land fill the night Natalee disappeared, there does not appear to be anywhere else to search.  Equa-Search has come and gone, and now one man with two search dogs remains, at least for another week, with no results to date. You will recall the Lori Hacking case in Salt Lake City where the murdered woman's body was found in the local land fill after an extensive search. The Holloway family has asked the local government to do the same here.  A decision is pending on this matter, but it they had Dutch F-16's do photo fly overs that probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, you'd think the local government would spend the money needed to search the land fill and therefore complete the land search.  There is one other lead. Someone has come forward with a machine that can allegedly detect human remains in water and has indicated that he has detected (from standing on the beach) such remains about one mile off shore from the beach where Joran said he left Natalee, this in about 100-180 feet of water.  Searchers are considering putting divers in the water to check out this "lead" -- one of many bizarre and not so bizarre that have proven worthless in this case to date.

Part of this investigation is to determine if any suspect in this case has exhibited a previous pattern of behavior toward young women that would render such women to somehow be his victim. Should this be the case with any suspect, both investigators and Holloway family members would like to determine if such a person then had a history of approaching and singling out other women who were on the island for their last night and assaulting them in some fashion, with the suspect believing that his "victim" would simply leave the next day as opposed to seeking to file charges. Natalee's mother has appealed for any prior victims of any suspect to come forward, but if others were victimized in a similar manner, it could be hard for such individuals to acknowledge their victim status at this time, this with the accompanying social stigma that might be associated with their statements. That plea by Beth continues, one that says such victims can still get justice for themselves and for Natalee, and perhaps prevent future women from becoming victims in such cases. 

This is, of course, investigative and emotional speculation at this time.  Answers to such issues could explain why Natalee went off with someone she had just met that night, something that the Holloway family believe happened within a few minutes of her encounter with the current suspects the night she disappeared. The family also believe that Natalee left with Joran, but believed she was getting into a cab when she entered the Kalpoe's car.  (Most "cabs" on Aruba appear to be in reality private cars with none of the identification normally found inside of US cabs, therefore it's reasonable for her to have possibly believed this.)  Then there are allegations of 151 proof shots of alcohol being given to unsuspecting women in bars, stories of the use of date rape drugs, and other unsubstantiated ideas as to why Natalee left her friends to go off with a complete stranger the night she disappeared.  The law and society of course provide for adults, Natalee was 18, Joran was 17, to have a consensual affair without any legal scrutiny -- the challenge here is to determine Natalee's level of consent that evening and what happened to her after she was seen driving away with van der Sloot and the Kalpoes.

Short of finding some evidence, or in the worse case scenario the victim herself in the land fill, this case may not be solved.  Should there be other woman who have been victimized in a similar manner by any suspect in this case, their statements could be crucial to the Aruban court.  The court could then consider such to represent a pattern of behavior on the suspect's part in its investigation, but such would still not directly address what happened to Natalee Holloway when she left the bar in Aruba, never to be seen again. The three current suspects in Aruba have nothing to gain by talking to the police -- no deals and no plea bargains can be struck, therefore there is no reason to tell what you know about another and possibly implicate yourself in the same case. 

I know that some level of interest may be waning in America, especially with the people who complain "why so much attention to the blond white girl -- she should have known better; the escorts from her school should have been there; her friends should have stopped her; and it's really her fault." None of this would, of course, justify her murder by anyone, and a mother is left without answers, probably like many other parents around the world, but for what ever the reason, we are left watching this case.  For the Holloway's this case will not end until they have their answer, and for the van der Sloot and the Kalpoe families, well, I'd expect that if and when Joran was released from jail that both families would probably consider leaving the island, and this matter behind them. And the Holloway family; they'll be left with fading pictures of Natalee and a mother's note book that has no final chapter.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of 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."