Friday, June 4, 2010

A Cold Case Revisited

We live in an imperfect world.

Consequently, there are some mysteries that always will remain unresolved.

It is unlikely, for example, that we will ever know
  • what happened to Amelia Earhart, or

  • if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone — or if he even participated — in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or

  • if D.B. Cooper survived his leap from the Boeing 727 he hijacked in November 1971 and lived for awhile — or continues to live — on the $200,000 ransom he received, or

  • the identity (or identities) of the person (or persons) buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Those topics continue to make for lively discussions that no one ever wins and no one ever loses.

Nevertheless, some people spend their lives trying to solve the cold cases that perplex the rest of us.

Sometimes they succeed in tying up all the loose ends. Most of the time, they don't.

Sometimes, investigators know the answers they seek. They just lack sufficient proof to make their case hold up in a court of law, and they spend years sifting through the evidence they do have, hoping to find something that has been overlooked.

Sometimes that hard work pays off, and the guilty person is finally brought to justice.

Sometimes it doesn't pay off.

Sunday was the fifth anniversary of the still–unsolved disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway during a high school graduation trip to Aruba.

Holloway hasn't been seen since May 30, 2005, and no one really knows what happened to her. Most people assume she is dead. I've heard some people speculate that she was sold into white slavery. Others have said that she has been held hostage somewhere for the last five years.

There's always a lot of conflicting information in a missing person case. In this case, the missing person's parents believed what most parents probably believe of their own children — she was a good kid, she didn't drink or use drugs, she was a virgin. But the authorities put together a different picture — one of a young girl who drank excessively, at least when she was far away from home. If she was like others in her age group, she may have been sexually experienced and/or may have experimented with drugs.

Holloway's mother and stepfather descended upon Aruba almost immediately after she failed to show up for the flight home, and they apparently ran roughshod over the local authorities in their pursuit of justice. They did uncover some plausible leads (as well as some bogus ones). And the primary suspects — Dutch national Joran van der Sloot and two friends of his — produced some plausible rebuttals (as well as some bogus ones).

There may be some truth in what both sides have said — and there may have been some self–serving aspects as well. A lot really isn't known about the night Natalee disappeared.

What is known is that a lot of drinking was done by Holloway and her fellow graduates on the trip. Holloway may have been one of the worst offenders. The head of the original investigation said they had learned Holloway "drank all day every day" during the trip.

Now, make no mistake. If she had been on a five–day drinking binge, that didn't justify someone else exploiting her inebriation to sexually assault her, to kidnap or to kill her.

And, even if van der Sloot's mildest account of the events of that night (and he apparently has had more than one) — that he and his friends left a beautiful, young (and, presumably, intoxicated) girl alone on the beach at night at her request — turns out to be true, doesn't it seem plausible that he should be held criminally liable? After all, if that particular story can be believed, he was the sober one, as well as a resident of the island. She was intoxicated, a tourist, unfamiliar with the terrain.

Wasn't he, at the very least, negligent to leave her alone like that?

And then there have been the other versions he has told under various circumstances — one of killing her on the beach and another of selling her into slavery.

Well, at the end of the day, we're left with contradictory accounts, no body, no crime scene, no evidence that a crime was committed, although the fact that Natalee hasn't been heard from in more than five years now seems to be pretty compelling evidence that something happened to her. But what happened? Was she killed? Or is she being held somewhere against her will?

Maybe we'll get some answers now.

On the fifth anniversary of Holloway's disappearance, a woman named Stephany Flores was murdered in a hotel room in Lima, Peru. Today, van der Sloot was taken into custody in Santiago, Chile, and is being flown back to Peru, where he apparently will be charged with the slaying.

There appears to be a certain amount of hope in Holloway's family that, with van der Sloot in custody and facing a murder charge in Peru, the missing person case will be reopened in Aruba.

I'm sure it must be hard for Holloway's family, not knowing where she is or what became of her. And I hope they get some answers. But they might not.

Some mysteries never are solved.

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