May 30 marked the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. It was, I'm sure, an occasion of great sadness for her family and friends. And a source of frustration for those who would like to see some resolution.
The case is at a standstill. Last March, a husband and wife from Pennsylvania went to the press with photos they'd taken while vacationing in Aruba a few months previously, photos they claimed might show Natalee's body resting on the ocean floor. These images--taken by the wife while she was snorkeling--were widely publicized. According to some reports, an Aruban diving team was sent to investigate the site where the photos were shot. Apparently the diving team reached the same conclusion that everyone who saw the images, including Natalee's father, reached: that the pictures were of a rock formation.
Peter Blanken, the third Aruban prosecutor to handle the case, has said that he's unable to prosecute Joran van der Sloot, still the principal suspect in Natalee's disappearance, because of the lack of forensic evidence and of any credible independent eyewitness testimony as to Natalee's fate. And Blanken is quite right, not just from an ethical and legal standpoint but a practical one. No sensible (nor civilized) prosecutor takes a case to court without hard evidence.
If I were Blanken, or his predecessors, I'd be fuming. (In real life, though, prosecutors learn to deal with this kind of frustration. If they don't, they should probably find another job.) Joran van der Sloot has made three public confessions to being involved in Natalee's disappearance. They're not admissible for the simple fact that none was made to a law enforcement official, and two were made in exchange for money. Of all three confessions, the first one, which he made unwittingly to an agent of Dutch crime reporter Peter De Vries, seems the most credible. As I've mentioned before, I believe that Joran confessed to police the night he was arrested, ten days after Natalee's disappearance. (In a previous post on this case, I speculated on the reasons why this initial confession was also deemed inadmissible.) The police investigation that followed Joran's arrest led them to locations that Joran had mentioned in his confession to the sting operator hired by De Vries.
De Vries's agent, Patrick van der Eem, was in trouble with the law before he was the recipient of Joran's confession, and in trouble with the law afterward. Does that render Joran's confession to him fake? (Joran's defenders have claimed that his confession to van der Eem was just the innocent braggadocio of a naive boy trying to impress a hard case.) No, it doesn't. Would Joran, who told van der Eem that his ambition was to become a drug dealer, have detailed the manner of Natalee's death to a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church? Or a member of the faculty at the Dutch business college where he was, for a short time, a student? Of course not. There's an old saying: It takes a thief to catch a thief.
Another feature of Joran's confession to van der Eem was his reference to Natalee as "the bitch". Lovely. Not "Natalee". Not even "the girl". It was as if she were nothing more than a mechanical disposable sex toy that had suddenly stopped working. Even Joran's American defense attorney was outraged by the complete and utter disregard Joran had for Natalee's humanity. I should emphasize here that rapists and murderers of women--though I'm not accusing Joran of either crime; I have no idea exactly how Natalee died, though I do know that Joran has said twice that he was present when she died, and that he summoned help to dispose of her body--use similar locutions when they refer to their victims. She's always "the bitch" or "the whore". Maybe that's how you distance yourself from the atrocity you've perpetrated.
Joran also whined to van der Eem that his first thought, when Natalee convulsed and appeared to die, was "Why does this shit always happen to me?" I beg his pardon? Did the same thing happen before? And what kind of reaction is this when someone goes into respiratory or cardiac distress in your presence? Is it normal to think "why does this shit happen to me?" No, it isn't. I think you grab your cell phone and call emergency services. And try to help the person in distress. Unless there's a reason why you don't want emergency services to show up and try to revive the victim, or transport the body to the morgue for an autopsy to determine the means of death. Do you also call someone to help you hide the body, as Joran has twice said he did? I don't think you do, unless there's a very good reason why you don't want anyone to see the body.
On June 8, 2010, the Natalee Holloway Resource Center for missing persons will open at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C. Admission is free to this non-profit center.