IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Van Zandt: Vanished before our eyes

Former FBI profiler updates the Natalee Holloway and Taylor Behl cases.
(left) This undated family photo shows missing  freshman Taylor Behl. Ben Fawley, 38, who was identified as a person of interest in the disappearance of Behl, was arrested Friday, Sept. 23, 2005, Richmond, Va., police said. (AP Photo/Behl Family) (Right) Natalee Holloway at heir Mountain Brook High School senior banquet in Mountain Brook, Alabama in May 2005
(left) This undated family photo shows missing  freshman Taylor Behl. Ben Fawley, 38, who was identified as a person of interest in the disappearance of Behl, was arrested Friday, Sept. 23, 2005, Richmond, Va., police said. (AP Photo/Behl Family) (Right) Natalee Holloway at heir Mountain Brook High School senior banquet in Mountain Brook, Alabama in May 2005

Natalee HollowayAs a former FBI Agent and father of three, I would never deny any fellow parent the hope that their missing child might someday return to them.  After all, that is what has given Natalee Holloway’s mother, Beth, the emotional strength to be able to live her own personal nightmare for the past four months.  She must hope upon hope that some of the naysayers are right; that Natalee was kidnapped and sold into slavery and lives in the opulent home of a Middle Eastern sultan, or even the dirty, dank back room of some Caribbean crack house.  The parents of 23-year old Amy Bradley, last seen on a cruise shop off the coast of Curacao in March 1998, live with “the hope” that their daughter could have met a similar fate.  However, the parents of 17-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) coed Taylor Behl now know the “truth” about their daughter’s disappearance and death, this as provided by the man who says he choked her to death and unceremoniously laid her body in a shallow ravine off a short dirt road in rural Virginia.  A similar fate was experienced by family members of five-month pregnant LaToyia Figueroa who disappeared in Philadelphia on July 18 and whose body was found on August 20, 2005.  Figueroa’s boyfriend has been charged in her death, noting that boyfriends kill more than twice as many women as are murdered by strangers in the United States.

Some suggest that Natalee’s mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, has been used by the media to raise television ratings.  But who is using whom?  Perhaps it is Beth Twitty who is using the media to keep her daughter’s face before us (and especially before the Aruban government).  Others believe that no matter what the reason, the telling and retelling of the Natalee Holloway story constitutes oversaturation, overshadowing all other missing person and “legitimate” need-to-know news stories.  We all know the story of Natalee, the pretty Alabama high school graduate who walked out of an Aruban bar, climbed into a car with three local residents, and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth that same evening.  Night after night we have heard new aspects of this case.  How the local Aruban police may have botched the investigation, some suggest intentionally, while others recite the many versions of her last night in Aruba with the two Kalpoe brothers and everyone’s favorite suspect, Joran van der Sloot, as told and retold, and changed each time, by the suspects themselves. 

Subsequent to Natalee’s disappearance I was in Aruba and there met a former U.S. police polygraph examiner, Jamie Skeeters.  Skeeters was there interestingly enough at the request of Dr. Phil of “tell it like it is” TV fame.  I knew Skeeters was in Aruba to conduct a polygraph on a less than credible witness who said he witnessed our three suspects and the father of Joran bury a nude blond female in the local landfill.  So I asked Deepak Kalpoe if he would take a polygraph exam concerning his knowledge of Natalee’s disappearance.  After telling me lie detector tests were not admissible in court in Aruba, he said he’d consider talking one if his attorney agreed.  (We all know the answer to that one.)  Anyway, Skeeters subsequently spoke to (and videotaped) Deepak describing Natalee as follows:  “To tell you quite frankly, dressed like a slut, talked like one, too,” he said.  “Would go into a car with three strange guys, and her mother, claiming her to be the goody-two-shoes.  Enough with this BS already.”  When asked if she had sex with all three suspects, he responded, “She did. You’d be surprised how easy it was.”  This is the same Deepak who was indicated in a statement attributed to his friend, the junior van der Sloot, in which Joran suggested that it was Deepak who had kidnapped, raped, murdered, and buried Natalee.  As any investigator worth his or her salt will tell you, “If they can’t get their statements straight they probably have something to hide.”  Add to this that if someone puts a victim down in a very demeaning manner, he could be trying to justify what happened to the victim – perhaps making her somehow responsible for the fate that befell her. 

I spoke to Beth Twitty on MSNBC’s last week.  She believes that this videotape should be enough for the Aruban police to rearrest at least Deepak and perhaps the other suspects.  Aruban Deputy Chief of Police Gerald Dompig confirms that this could be done, with new murder charges brought against the suspects.  Beth believes Aruban police intentionally left key information out of initial written statements.  This information, provided by the three suspects, included the details of the suspects’ alleged illegal intimate contact with Natalee.  If true this would suggest a cover-up, a conspiracy or at best professional incompetence.  I usually don’t believe in complicated conspiracy theories, but in this case it’s hard to totally rule out conspiracy or cover-up, and incompetence seems too simple an answer.  I do know that Beth believes that Joran’s specific and statements concerning Natalee could only have been the result of intimate physical contact.  The issue that the police need to overcome is simple though; if such intimate contact took place, was the contact consensual or non-consensual?  Unfortunately the best witness, Natalee herself, vanished four months ago.  The answer to her mysterious disappearance continues to elude authorities.  And notwithstanding all of the statements by the three, four, or seven or more suspects, as well as the intense involvement in the investigation of Natalee’s family members, the fate of Natalee Holloway is still unknown.  Natalee’s birthday is this week, but so far island fly overs by Dutch F-16s and scuba divers searching the waters around the island have found nothing but sunken ships and, with them, sunken hopes.

This was not the case with Virginian Taylor Behl.

Taylor BehlAmerican investigators were much quicker than their Aruban counterparts to establish the final fate of another missing student, in this case VCU freshman Taylor Behl.  We learned that her last hours were spent in the company of a 38-year-old admitted friend, former skateboarder and current bipolar felon, Ben Fawley.  Fawley was easy to link with Taylor’s disappearance.  In fact his own words put him with her that last night.  He said that they had had intimate contact and that he had later walked her to her dorm where she disappeared; this while he was being kidnapped, robbed, and assaulted by unknown others.  From an investigative standpoint, Fawley’s statements, really crude taped-together alibis, appeared concocted, perhaps to explain his DNA on her body if she was eventually found.  By his wild story he attempted to explain his time and travels with Taylor the night she disappeared, including wounds on both Taylor and himself that could be linked together forensically.  Fawley’s Web site entries lead authorities to a rural piece of farmland 70 miles away from the VCU campus and to Taylor’s decomposed remains in a shallow grave. 

As the investigation appeared to close around Fawley, already in jail on child pornography and gun possession charges, he panicked and changed his story to police.  Fawley may have learned or guessed that police would find that his credit card had been used to purchase gasoline the morning after Taylor disappeared, this purchase occurring on a road between the location where her body was ultimately found and Fawley’s Richmond, Virginia, home.  This could account for his unbelievably wild kidnapping story.  Fawley told investigators that, after being robbed and dumped on a roadside, he was given a ride home by an unknown Hispanic benefactor, for whom he just happened to buy gas that morning.  He also said his abductors had placed a plastic bag over his head.  Taylor Behl’s mother suggests that this is just another clumsy alibi attempt by Fawley, in this case to account for his fingerprints on the plastic bag that he put Taylor in.  No matter what his reason, Fawley sent a message to the police; he wanted to talk about Taylor Behl’s death. 

The “I was kidnapped by aliens” story had now been replaced with a revised version, one that included both him and Taylor.  He is alleged to have told police that Taylor died as the result of some kind of accidental erotic manual asphyxiation, by this suggesting that during the course of intimacy he intentionally closed off her airway in an attempt to enhance sexual arousal through hypoxic euphoria, a high that she would never came back from.  Perhaps Fawley had learned that the autopsy of Taylor’s body would include examining her hyoid bone (the 2-inch long “U” shaped free floating bone at the base of the tongue that supports the muscles of the tongue and covers the voice box) for evidence of fracture that could suggest manual strangulation.  No matter that such is only evident in 50% of cases where the victim is under the age of 40; it could still be evident in Taylor’s death.  Or perhaps he knew that investigation could place him in her car and with her on the night that Taylor disappeared.  Or he might have figured out that latent fingerprints or DNA evidence in her car, on her body, and/or at the crime scene could place him uniquely with her and link him to her death that evening. 

No matter the reason for his new found “honesty,” Fawley appears to be the person that placed his hands around her throat and tightened his grip until she could no longer breathe.  “Fawley has a history of violence toward girlfriends,” says Taylor’s mother’s attorney.  “He has a violent nature.  He choked previous girlfriends.”

If Fawley’s “confession” is supported by the forensic investigation and the time line for her disappearance, it will then be up to twelve of Fawley’s fellow citizens to decide if someone with his previous history of violence against women, especially those who rejected him, would, by an act of murder or manslaughter, have taken the life of this young woman.  Murderers can come up with all kinds of excuses.  “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”  “The victim was asking for it.”  “Or the devil made me do it.”  Whatever Fawley’s ultimate excuse for allegedly killing Taylor Behl, most know that some type of mental competency defense is probably in the making.  After all, what else does he have left and whom else can he blame?  

There is a violent crime committed in the United States every 23 seconds.  A murder every 30 minutes.  If murder was the intent and the responsibility of the man with his hands last around the neck of Taylor Behl, his fate will be left to a jury in rural Matthews County, Virginia.  Fawley will get to put forth a defense; something he apparently denied Taylor Behl of.  “Will we ever know the ultimate truth” is yet another unanswered question in the death of one more person who was taken away far too soon from her friends, her family, and society.  Another grim statistic in a society laden with too many such grim statistics.            

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."