Questions dog Aruban investigation

Associated Press
Published June 26, 2005

ORANJESTAD, Aruba - As the mystery of a missing Alabama honors student drags on, questions abound about Aruban authorities' handling of 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 disappeared before searching the home of the Dutch youth who was flirting 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 missteps could make it harder for Aruban investigators to crack the case and may 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 people seen with 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 Holloway to a northern beach before dropping her off at her hotel about 2 a.m.

The three were questioned soon after she disappeared but were not arrested until June 9. At the time, 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, who 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."

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

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

Investigators led a massive and fruitless search of Malmok beach June 14.

Only the following day, 16 days after Holloway disappeared, did investigators search van der Sloot's 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.

Authorities also have arrested a 26-year-old party boat disc jockey, Steve Gregory Croes.

No one has been charged in the case.

Aruban authorities have 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," Janssen said.