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."