Natalee Holloway: New Clues
Ever since American teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared on the island of Aruba during a high school post-graduation trip last year, police say they have done everything in their power to crack the case. But Natalee's mom, Beth Holloway Twitty, disagrees — and accuses Aruban authorities of being slow in their investigation.
Authorities now say they feel confident this case will be solved soon. Correspondent Troy Roberts gets an exclusive, inside look at the investigation and at new clues police are considering.
"They say a picture speaks a thousand words? This one speaks 2,000 words to me," says Gerold Dompig, Aruba's lead investigator in the Natalee Holloway case, as he looks at what may be the last picture taken of the teen.
The photo, shown publicly for the first time by 48 Hours, was discovered by the FBI in the camera of one of Natalee's classmates. For Dompig, the picture is a constant reminder of his toughest case.
Deputy Chief Dompig has been under a strict gag order since last year, but Aruban authorities agreed to let him speak exclusively to 48 Hours about the latest details of his investigation.
Asked how he would characterize the current state of the investigation, Dompig says, "I would say 'critical last phase.'"
"Do you believe this case will be solved?" Roberts asked.
"Yes, I do," Dompig replied.
The story of what happened to Natalee Holloway has been marked mostly by speculation and rumor but very few facts. But , for the first time, police allowed 48 Hours inside the police investigation in Aruba. Among the things 48 Hours has learned is what authorities believe really happened to the Alabama teenager the night she disappeared, as well as clues that could close the case once and for all.
"We have been informed by a manager of a nightclub that he received a call. He wanted to talk about the fact that he knew more about the whereabouts of Natalee," says Dompig, who acknowledges that this is the first valuable lead he's gotten in a while. "Yes, concerning a specific burial location, yes," he says.
Holloway disappeared last May, and for nearly a year, police have received dozens of leads, all leading nowhere. But Dompig is convinced that the person who made the call may be the key witness they've been waiting for.
"The information that this person gave was too specific to just be a story that was just made up by someone," explains Dompig.
Now, based on this new information, investigators will begin searching again for Natalee's body on the northern tip of the island.
"Somewhere on the sand dunes that go all the way up behind the lighthouse … where we basically have to search," explains Dompig as he shows Roberts the general search area. "It's worse than looking for a needle in a haystack."
Aruba, just a stone's throw from the coast of Venezuela, plays host to more than a million visitors every year, most from the United States. In recent years, a younger and younger crowd has landed on its shores.
The senior trip to Aruba was a well-deserved vacation for Natalee. Days earlier, this honor student graduated from Mountain Brook High School, just outside Birmingham, Ala.
Three of her best friends, Liz Cain, Mallie Tucker and Claire Fierman, recall their last days with Natalee.
"It was so much fun. We would wake up, go like, brush your teeth, go straight to the beach. We would literally stay in the water all day long because it was so perfect," says Fierman. "We just hung out with our friends on this beautiful island. It was a really fun trip."
On their last night, Cain says they went to Carlos'n Charlie's, a local nightspot.
The legal drinking age on Aruba is only 18, and even that is not strictly enforced, making the island a preferred vacation spot for American teenagers. No one disputes that Natalee and many of her classmates drank alcohol during their senior trip. But the authorities tell 48 Hours they have evidence that Natalee's drinking got seriously out of control and may even have contributed to her death.
"She was, I think not differently from other students. She was having a great time and she was using … doing that," says Dompig. "Using way too much alcohol in combinations which could basically be lethal."
Natalee's mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, has been working tirelessly since last May, trying to unravel the mystery of her daughter's disappearance.
"You know she was 18 years old. She was on her senior trip. They were in this establishment of legal age," she says. "I'm certain they were drinking. We never even tried to say that they weren't, you know. But I have to ask myself, you know, 'Should that cost her life?' No. It shouldn't."
Police interviews with hotel staff, local bartenders, and her friends reveal that Natalee had spent much of the day with a drink in her hand.
"Do you know if Natalee could handle her alcohol?" Roberts asked.
"Yes," said Cain. "She was never somebody to be out of control if she had been drinking at all."
"When you hear stories, like people started drinking in mid-afternoon and drank through the night. Does that sound accurate?" Roberts asked.
"Yes," Claire Fierman said.
Fierman and Cain agreed that the drinking was kind of excessive.
48 Hours has learned that the Aruban investigation turned up another disturbing detail.
Asked if he has been able to confirm whether Natalee purchased or consumed illegal narcotics during her stay in Aruba, Dompig says, "We have statements claiming that she, that she had drugs."
What kind of drugs?
"I cannot say," Dompig replied.
Dompig notes that police don't have any proof that Natalee used drugs but "that they saw her with drugs in her possession."
Had Natalee's friends heard stories of people taking drugs?
"No. The only thing I heard about drugs is there were like people at the hotel that weren't with us that would like offer stuff to people. I was never offered drugs and I never even saw 'em," said Fierman.
However, police do believe that Natalee's judgment was impaired that night. Her friends were surprised that she was last seen willingly getting into a car with three strangers, 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot, 21-year-old Deepak Kalpoe and his brother, 18-year-old Satish Kalpoe.
Fierman says it would have been out of character for Natalee to voluntarily get into a car with three boys. "It frustrates me so much because I feel as much as, like, we say that, no one believes us 'cause you hear all that stuff," she says. "But, from the bottom of my heart, that is extremely out of character and not something that Natalee Holloway would ever do."
Holloway's mother agrees. "No way would she have left her friends and placed herself knowingly what she was getting into. They just took her when she just … There's no way."
"Do you think she may have been vulnerable because she had been drinking too much?" Roberts asked.
"Very much so," Cain replied.
Since Natalee disappeared almost 10 months ago, her mother has used any opportunity to keep the story alive to pressure the government of Aruba to solve this case.
"There are just no words to explain the frustration level that we have had to experience in dealing with officials from the island of Aruba," she says.
Last fall, Twitty called for a boycott of Aruba. The island's tourism industry has suffered: Travel bookings are off more than 4 percent from a year ago.
Does she still support a boycott of Aruba?
"The only leverage that we have in getting any traction in the investigation is when they feel the effects of a boycott," says Twitty.
According to Deputy Chief Dompig, the boycott is not the only thing that has cost Aruba dearly. He says authorities have about $3 million, on this investigation. "Which is about 40 percent of our operational budget," he explains.
As far as Beth Twitty is concerned, there has always been a simple solution to solving this case: Just ask the people last seen with Natalee — Joran van der Sloot and Satish and Deepak Kalpoe.
"If they had just gotten the suspects within the first 48 hours like they were supposed to have done, then they wouldn't have spent anything," she says.
"They were focused already from the first day, from the get–go, on these three boys. So, it's hard for them to understand that when we investigate, we have to go systematically. We have to go back to basics. And we have to do it by the book," says Dompig. "We are within the Dutch kingdom. We have a judicial system. We have a court of law. And we have rules. So we had to follow the rules of the game."
The police apparently did just that. Contrary to the storm of criticism from the American media, the Aruban police say they quickly put van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers under surveillance.
Dompig says surveillance of the three boys began on the third day after Natalee was reported missing and included observation, telephone wire taps, and even monitoring of their e-mail.
"Bringing in the prime suspect is basically the last thing we do," Dompig explains. "When we bring you in, we probably already know the story because we have observed. We have talked to all your friends. We have checked your phone line. We have done everything that is technically possible to know about your whereabouts."
But police say extreme pressure from the Holloway family forced them to stop their surveillance and make arrests. Just 10 days after Natalee disappeared, police took van der Sloot, the Kalpoe brothers, and later, even van der Sloot's father into custody.
Asked if pressure from the family compromised the investigation, Dompig says, "I think so. It at least distracted the investigators' efforts."
Twitty says she was just trying to get the police to find her daughter.
"We wanted justice and we wanted the truth. And I think that that was shocking to the officials in Aruba that we were so persistent in our quest for that," she says.
Paulus van der Sloot was quickly released on judge's orders, but the young men remained in custody.
Twitty says she is confident the three boys know what happened to Natalee.
But less than a month after their arrests, a court released Deepak and Satish Kalpoe. As police feared, simply questioning the brothers did not turn up enough evidence to charge them with a crime. To this day, they deny any involvement with Natalee's disappearance.
Despite the setbacks, the cops were able to play hardball with their prime suspect, 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot, thought to be the last person who saw Natalee.
As Aruban law allows, authorities detained him for months without charging him with any crime.
Aruban lawyer Arlene Shipper — who often speaks on behalf of the Aruban government — was sure Joran would crack. "It's mind-boggling to us that a 17-year-old, if he would have done it could not have been broken. It's incredible."
But as Dompig explained, Joran's age actually made things harder for the interrogators.
Dompig acknowledges Joran was afforded some special legal protections because he was 17 years old at the time of his arrest. Dompig says that did complicate matters. "Yes, that complicated matters seriously because he had more visiting rights with his father — his father being a judge in training was a problem for us because he could give his son certain advice."
Joran's father discussed the family's ordeal with CBS' The Early Show.
"We are telling the whole truth, nothing but the truth. And we spoke all this to Joran to tell the truth," Paulus van der Sloot said.
Police say they could not listen in on the conversations between Paulus and his son, citing that they were "privileged conversations."
Dompig says he believes Paulus van der Sloot does know more than he has been telling about the circumstances surrounding Holloway's disappearance.
But in spite of those parental visits, 48 Hours has learned that the interrogations were intense and tough. Special agents from the FBI were brought in, along with investigators from Holland to conduction the interrogations.
Dompig says while Joran van der Sloot wasn't subjected to questioning in the middle of the night, there were late sessions.
"So he was deprived of sleep but it wasn't going on for days?" Roberts asked.
"No," Dompig replied.
Dompig says it almost worked. "There were several moments where Joran almost broke. Several moments," he says.
Dompig says Joran's basic story changed three times. "But the little facts changed over 25 times. So it was never the same."
One critical element of the interrogation remains in dispute: did Joran admit to having sex with Natalee?
Twitty claims that Joran was clear with the police about one thing — that he had sex with her daughter the night she disappeared.
"I had access to several statements, and in one of Joran's statements he's describing Natalie as she's falling asleep and waking up, falling asleep and waking up repeatedly. And, as she's doing this, he is explaining, he's very sexually explicit, graphically detailing what he is doing to Natalie. OK?" Twitty said.
Twitty and her attorney would not share those documents with 48 Hours. In spite of her claim, Dompig says there is no proof of sexual assault.
Asked if Joran van der Sloot ever confessed to being sexually intimate with Natalee, Dompig says he never did.
"Believe me, we were looking for anything to throw him, to keep him in jail," says Dompig. "The only thing he admitted to was that he was fondling [her] sexually, like kissing, touching her. And there was no sexual in terms of penetration or whatever, really having sex with her."
After nearly two dozen lengthy interrogations, the police still had no confession and had found no body. So on Sep. 3, 2005, Joran van der Sloot was released to his parents.
"This young man, a 17-year-old-boy was able to withstand 90 days in prison, and undergo specialized interrogation, and they weren't able to get a confession from him," says attorney Arlene Shipper.
"What does that say ?" Roberts asks.
"It can mean two things — either he's innocent, he really doesn't know what happened, or he's a genius," she replied.
Joran van der Sloot has denied any wrongdoing, but he has done nothing to dispel Dompig's suspicions.
Asked what FBI profilers told Dompig about van der Sloot's psychological profile, he says, "They use the word sociopath. And the fact that he was capable of lying about basically everything."
Twitty says there's a reason she thinks van der Sloot is lying — he is covering something up. "He's covering something up so horrible that he can't tell the truth," she says.
But if Joran can't or won't tell the whole story of what happened that night, police think they may soon find someone else who will.
"New people are coming in the picture," says Dompig. "It is possible that there was help. Or it is possible that there was a second group involved other than these three boys."
With no major break in the Holloway case in the past six months, Aruban authorities are re-doubling their efforts to find Natalee's body.
One of the most persistent theories clouding the case is the notion that her body was dumped out at sea.
But Dr. Ruben Cruz, the head of the island's search and rescue team showed 48 Hours that an unweighted body thrown overboard near the shore would wash up on the beach.
Cruz says he and his team have tossed a dummy overboard many times, but that in every case, it drifted back to shore. The only way that wouldn't happen is if a boat sailed more than two miles offshore — a trip that would have turned up on police radar and been captured on tape.
Police have accounted for every boat in the water the night Natalee vanished.
Authorities now believe that the teenager's body may be buried somewhere among some dunes, but not because it washed ashore. The Aruban authorities' new theory is that someone, someone possibly very close to the young suspects, took the time to carefully hide the body, not once but maybe twice, literally re-burying her.
And there's another stunning revelation from the authorities: Though they're convinced Holloway is dead, they tell 48 Hours that they believe she was not murdered.
"This was a highly intoxicated body of a very small person," says Dompig.
Dompig laid out the latest scenario of what happened after Natalee was last seen driving off with van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers shortly after 1 a.m. He says investigators think the group did not go to the beach but that they possibly brought Natalie back to the van der Sloots' home.
Wherever she was, police now think that while Natalee was with Joran, she died suddenly from an overdose of intoxicants.
"We feel strongly that she probably went into shock or something happened to her system with all this alcohol maybe on top of that other drugs which either she took or they gave her and that she just collapsed," says Dompig.
The crime, Dompig suspects, occurred when the body was illegally disposed of. The boys may have acted alone.
"We're not talking about killers here," he says.
Or, as Dompig reveals for the first time, they could have had accomplices. "New people are coming in the picture. It is possible that there was a second group involved, or more people than these three boys," he says.
Dompig speculates the body was hastily buried once, and that those extra accomplices may have been needed to move it to a more hidden location.
These latest developments, the new witness, the chance of an accidental death by overdose, and the possibility of additional accomplices re-locating the body, have changed Dompig's view of the case.
"I'm convinced that there's no thing as a crime of this proportion, which goes unseen. There's the information on there. And we just have to get it," he says.
But the challenges are daunting: So far, there has not been a shred of forensic evidence found in the van der Sloot house, the Kalpoe car, or anywhere else on the island.
"It's very rarely that you have a case that somebody just disappears and there's hardly any evidence left behind," says Shipper.
Ten months after Natalee's disappearance, Natalee's home town of Mountain Brook, Alabama, is still starved for answers.
Natalee's schoolmates have had to handle a harsh lesson about the dangers of the adult world they've entered.
"You know, we went on senior trip. But then after that, it was basically like we were forced to not become adults, but definitely grow up a lot," says Cain.
Natalee's parents have filed a civil suit against Joran van der Sloot and his father, but Twitty knows she may never learn the truth about what happened to her daughter.
Asked what gives her hope today, she replied, "I don't have any."
"You don't have any?" Roberts asked.
"If somebody wants to tell me ..." she tearfully replied.
But Dompig is optimistic that answers will be found. "We are that much closer to knowing what really happened to Natalee," he says. "A crime like this cannot go unsolved."
Produced By Douglas Longhini/Josh Gelman/Miguel Sancho
for more features.