- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2005

ORANJESTAD, Aruba — The mystery of a missing Alabama honors student intensifies, and questions grow more pointed about how Aruban authorities are handling the Dutch Caribbean island’s highest-profile case in decades.

Why were the young men last seen with 18-year-old Natalee Holloway left free for days after she disappeared May 30, the last day of a five-day high school graduation trip with 124 other students?

Why did police wait 16 days after she went missing before searching the home of the Dutch youth who was known to have flirted with her? Why did Aruban officials ask the FBI to send divers, who came to the island but never searched its waters?

Criminal experts say these apparent mishaps could make it harder for Aruban investigators to crack the case and may ultimately prevent the Holloway family from ever knowing what happened.

Attorney General Caren Janssen refused to comment on the criticisms, saying only: “I can’t comment on the investigation until it’s over. Investigators must be allowed to do their jobs.”

Joran van der Sloot, 17, and Surinamese brothers Deepak Kalpoe, 21, and Satish Kalpoe, 18, were the last persons seen with Miss Holloway, an honors student from Mountain Brook, Ala. Her passport and packed bags were found in her room.

After a night of eating, drinking and dancing at Carlos’ N’ Charlie’s restaurant, the three men told police they took Miss Holloway to a northern beach before dropping her off at her hotel around 2 a.m.

The three were questioned soon after she disappeared, but were not arrested until June 9. At the time, Mrs. Janssen said there were “tactical reasons,” and there was speculation authorities hoped the freed young men might lead them to a clue.

That was an error, according to Joseph Pollini, a criminal-justice professor at John Jay College in New York, where he spent 33 years as a homicide detective.

“Once released, it’s problematic because somebody surely coached them,” he said. “A lawyer wouldn’t be worth his weight in salt if he didn’t tell them simply not to say anything.”

Mr. Pollini doubted any confession was now possible.

Instead, authorities arrested two former hotel security guards, apparently because the young men told police they had last seen Miss Holloway in the garage of her hotel, being approached by a black security guard.

The guards, both black, were released a week later. One of the guards, Antonius “Mickey” John, said that while in jail one of the brothers told him they had never taken Miss Holloway back to her hotel, but had dropped her off together with Joran van der Sloot at a beach neighboring the Marriott Hotel.

Investigators led a fruitless search of Malmok beach on June 14.

Only the following day, 16 days after Miss Holloway went missing, did investigators search the van der Sloot house, seizing two vehicles, computers and cameras.

“They should have immediately done a forensic sweep of van der Sloot’s house, his car, his clothing, and done the same with the Surinamese boys,” said Ron Watson, a retired Alabama police chief who runs a crime-scene reconstruction business. “You’ve got 48 hours after a disappearance, after that you are in the red zone and may never find the person.”

Police did not interrogate the Dutch suspect’s father, Paul van der Sloot, until June 17. In a surprise move, they arrested him Thursday. A court appearance was set yesterday for the father, who is a judge-in-training on the island. Authorities also have arrested a 26-year-old party boat disc jockey, Steve Gregory Croes.

No one has been charged in the case.

Beth Holloway Twitty, the missing girl’s mother, said before the elder van der Sloot’s arrest that she suspected authorities were protecting the son because of his father’s standing as a high-ranking judicial official.

Aruban authorities defended their handling of the case, saying meticulous police work takes time.

“You have to build up an investigation. You can’t just go in there like a cowboy,” Mrs. Janssen said last week.

There also are questions about efforts to find Miss Holloway.

Aruban police, Dutch marines, seven FBI agents and thousands of tourists and locals have done islandwide searches that proved fruitless. Aruban authorities also appealed for the FBI to send expert divers. The bureau sent two search-and-rescue divers, but they never got in the water.

“They never had any information like, she could be in this place or that area,” FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said.

The decision not to dive was “bizarre,” said Joe Huston, a rescue diver with Dickinson, Texas-based Texas EquuSearch. The volunteer group began a new search in Aruba yesterday that was expected to include divers and sonar equipment. “If her body was put in the ocean, there’s a good chance now she’ll never be found,” Mr. Huston said.

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