Our Search for Natalee

Nov 4, 2013 - 0 Comments

Nov. 4, 2013

Natalee Holloway

In 2005, 18-year-old Natalee Holloway was in Aruba on a high school senior trip. On the last night of her vacation she took a late-night ride with islander Joran van der Sloot and two of his friends, brothers Deepak and SatishKalpoe. She was never seen again.The author took it upon himself to try to find her body.

by Ken Close

I like cruising because you only unpack once, then your hotel takes you to different vacation destinations each day. In May 2012 my family and I booked a Caribbean cruise which would take us to three islands we had not yet visited: Grand Turk, Aruba and Curacao. When I noticed we’d land on Aruba on May 30, something compelled me to check Google. I quickly discovered that May 30th marked the seventh anniversary of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. I didn’t know Natalee or anyone in her family, but I remember reading about her disappearance.

In 2005, 18-year-old Natalee Holloway was in Aruba on a high school senior trip. On the last night of her vacation she takes a late-night ride with islander Joran van der Sloot and two of his friends, brothers Deepak and SatishKalpoe. She is never seen again.

Her disappearance launches an intensive international search effort conducted by special agents of the F.B.I., soldiers from the Dutch Army, Aruba police officers and hundreds of volunteers. Joran was held as the prime suspect in her disappearance, but he was eventually released because Natalee’s body could not be found.

Joran van der Sloot

In the following years Joran makes money by charging for interviews, telling different stories about Natalee’s disappearance. But the media eventually tires of his lies.In 2010 he takes a $25,000 payment from Beth Twitty, Natalee’s mother, pledging to tell the truth. But instead of revealing what happened that night, he flees to Peru. After gambling away his extorted money he murders, and then robs Stephany Flores in Peru on May 30, 2010. In 2012 Joran was convicted of his crimes against Ms. Flores. He is currently serving a 28-year prison sentence in Peru.

I think it is quite a coincidence that we’ll be in Aruba for the first time on May 30th.  So I tell my eldest daughter, Michelle, that maybe this means we should solve the mystery of Natalee’s disappearance. She apparently takes me seriously, and when we leave Toledo at 5 a.m. to drive to Miami, our port of departure, she hands me a book on CD titled, Portrait Of A Monster, by Lisa Pulitzer and Cole Thompson.The book chronicles the Holloway and Flores cases, and Joran’s involvement in each. Thus begins our search for Natalee Holloway.

First Expedition: May 30, 2012. Listening to the book takes about 12 hours during our two-day, 19-hour drive. My wife Pat, Michelle and her husband Brian, my youngest daughter Carol and her husband Matt, all listen intently when they aren’t connected to iPods or sleeping. I hear it all, and tell them when we get to Aruba we need to rent a car and go find the California Lighthouse. To me, that is where the mystery begins.

Deepak drives his brother, Natalee and Joran to the California Lighthouse after the nightclub Carlos & Charlie’s closes at 1 a.m. on May 30, 2005. Deepak later tells police that they arrived at the lighthouse around 1:20 a.m. The boys’ original story is that they drive to the lighthouse and then take Natalee back to her hotel, the Holiday Inn. When security tapes prove they never return to her hotel, Joran tells other stories. I notice that each subsequent story he tells takes Natalee further and further from the lighthouse.

He says Deepak drops them off at Palm Beach by the Marriott Hotel, which is about two miles from the lighthouse.But fishermen at the North end of Palm Beach say they see no one that night. After suspicion of murder chargesagainst him are dropped, he says that Natalee died of a seizure on the beach, and a friend with a boat dumps her body at sea. Another of his stories has her being sold to a brothel in Venezuela – quite a distance from the lighthouse.

Deepak originally tells the same story as Joran, because they collaborate before being questioned. But after the Holiday Inn lie is exposed, police question Deepak again before he has a chance to speak with Joran. Deepak says they drive to the lighthouse, and on the way back, before they reach the lit area, Joran tells him to pull over and let him and Natalee out. Deepak asks him how he will get home, and Joran says they’ll walk back along the beach.

Upon arrival we rent a car and drive to the California Lighthouse. Because it is daytime, we aren’t sure where the first lit area is. But the first streetlight we see is adjacent to Arashi Beach, near the lighthouse in the northwest corner of Aruba.

The book indicates that nearly every square inch of Aruba is thoroughly searched in efforts to find Natalee. It also states that beaches are checked by cadaver dogs. Given these facts, I suggest we begin looking in the shallow waters of adjacent Arashi Bay. During one of his interrogations, Joran says, “We just went into the water.”

My family enters the bay and spreads out, looking for any unusual rock formation large enough to hide the remains of a teenage girl. After an hour or so we have searched most of the bay, finding nothing. Pat and I continue looking in the water while my daughters and their husbands start looking under several of the large rock formations which overhang the shoreline.

In a half hour they call to us. Brian digs under a rock overhang, and removes a rock to discover a white candle wrapped in rotting black cloth. His find releases a foul stench, but without tools he can dig no further.

Since it is getting dark and almost time to return to the ship, I thank everyone for their efforts and tell them the search is over. As we walk towards the car Matt feels Carol’s finger trace a line down his back. He turns and asks, “What?” But Carol is 10 meters behind him. Hairs rise on the back of Matt’s neck as he tells me what just happened.

I believe that each of us is the result of a genetic roll of the dice. While I missed out on great height and looks, I was blessed with a pretty high I.Q. – good enough to qualify for a life membership in Mensa. But I’ll be the first to admit there is much more we don’t understand about life and our universe than what we do know.

I tell Pat I want to come back to Aruba, to continue the search.

Second Expedition: July 22-27, 2012. Back in Toledo after the cruise, I gather more information about the case. I contact the FBI office in Alabama because it is listed on a website for reporting tips. I hope to gain some insight into how a 17-year-old hooligan can baffle one of the world’s premier investigative agencies. But the agent I speak with says Natalee was declared dead in January, so the case is closed. They aren’t talking.

I email Natalee’s parents, telling them I plan a visit to Aruba to search for their daughter and ask for information. I hear nothing from her mother, but her father Dave emails me the link to a website called, Scared Monkeys. It holds all the case’s depositions, in English.

Dave asks me to call him if I find anything, and not to notify the Aruba police. He says he has a contact in the FBI. I think his request is a bit paranoid and it might subject me to an obstruction of justice charge. But I know the odds of finding Nataleeare slim, and as the father of three daughters I can’t begin to conceive of the agony he has suffered. So I tell him I’ll honor his request. I read the relevant testimony, book flights and a room for Pat and me, and begin our second visit to Aruba.

Our flight is smooth and getting through customs is easy. Aruba truly seems to be “One Happy Island” as advertised. But then my suitcase fails to appear on the baggage conveyor belt. In it are my swim trunks and an army entrenching tool – items I need to begin the search.

I file a lost baggage claim, which takes over an hour, and head to the rental car office. Getting a car takes nearly another hour – maybe the island is a bit too happy? Pat and I drive out of the airport towards our hotel on Palm Beach, seven miles away. We get about halfway there when the car conks out.

Some local fellas are nice enough to give us a jump and soon we’re back at the airport, where the car dies again, this time on the entrance road. I leave Pat with the car and walk back to the rental car office. It takes some doing, but I convince the clerk we need another car. Four hours after landing we’re finally in our hotel room, where I have nothing to unpack.

Pat and I drive around, familiarizing ourselves with the area around the California Lighthouse. Pat thinks that Joran murdered Natalee that night, but her body is long gone by now. She feels that someone, possibly Joran’s father, later helps him move the body to a place where she’ll never be found.

But I feel that since Joran represents himself as a tourist to the Alabama teens, he has no reason to move the body because authorities won’t be looking for an islander. Dave and Beth arrive the next day, identifying Joran as a person of interest, so he is under close scrutiny from the very start of the investigation. “No,” I tell my wife, “She’s still where Joran left her that night.”

My suitcase shows up the next day, with a note from TSA in it. Apparently a man packing an entrenching tool and rubber gloves on a trip to Aruba with his wife arouses suspicion. Soon I’m digging out areas under the overhanging rocks of Arashi Bay. But the entrenching tool doesn’t provide enough reach, I need something longer.

The upper floor of a local Chinese grocery store has lots of household items, but no gardening tools. Through sign language and what little Papiamento (the local language) I’ve learned, I’m able to ask the Chinese clerk where a hardware store is located. She is nice enough to draw me a strip map, and we find the hardware store a few miles away. Unfortunately, they aren’t always open in accordance with their posted hours.

The next day I buy a six-foot-long cultivator and begin my search in earnest. There are many rocks to be checked, and the temperature is scorching. So I pace myself, working early mornings, taking a break back at the hotel, and then working late afternoons and early evenings.

After three days of hard labor I was pretty sure that, assuming Joran murdered Natalee, he did not jam her body under an overhanging rock. The only way to keep a body there is to seal it in with smaller rocks, which would be a very difficult task in the water at night. And anything underwater always has a chance of resurfacing, depending on the whims of Mother Nature.

Besides, Joran was once asked if the girl was thrown into the sea and he answered, “No...I mean I don’t know.” Of course his initial answer means that he knows what happened to her.

I also figure he couldn’t have buried her in the land near Arashi Bay because it is all rock and hard dirt, and he has nothing to dig with. I dig up some of the sandy areas and find nothing.

I am ready to admit defeat and call it quits on our last day. When Pat and I return to the area we see a few maintenance crews sitting around in their trucks. I didn’t know what they were doing, but their presence prompts me to search further down the coastline. That is how I find the seaweed bed.

The seaweed bed is about 90 meters long by 10 yards wide. It appears to be only a few inches deep. Its top is cooked into a brown crust by the sun, and hard enough to walk on. But as I step towards the coastline I begin sinking into it. That’s how I discover it is over three feet deep in places.

Beneath its crust it looks like pickle relish – except it has a horrible stench and is crawling with worms and insects. It occurs to me that a local kid might know about this, and how easy it would be to hide a body in it. There is probably over 7,000 cubic feet of putrid seaweed in that bed, and no dog could alert on a cadaver inside it.

So I began digging, cutting trenches into its perimeter, then paths through its center. But by the time I ran out of time and energy, I’ve searched less than 15 percent of it.

The next morning we return to the site for one last look before heading to the airport. I’m shocked to see that the tide has rebuilt the seaweed bed – there is no evidence of the hours I spent digging in it the previous day. This means that in just a few minutes you can dig a three-foot-deep grave in it, put a body in it, walk away, and the next day its crust would harden and the seaweed bed will look undisturbed.

I tell Pat, “I’ve got to come back.” She rolls her eyes, but then nods in agreement.

Third Expedition: August 19-24, 2012. During his interviews with officials, Joran volunteers that he lost an expensive pair of athletic shoes that night. He tells them that he’d left them on the beach with Natalee, and walked home barefoot. I’m surprised they didn’t challenge him on that – nobody walks barefoot in Aruba anywhere other than on the tourist beaches. The island is filled with jagged rocks, cactuses, sharp seashells, thorn bushes, and broken glass. Joran’s feet would have been shredded if he walked home barefoot.

So it is obvious to me that Joran wore his shoes home, then threw them away. I can only think of two reasons for doing this: Either he got something on them that would tie him to the murder scene, or he left footprints at the murder scene. The stench from seaweed bed didn’t come off my sandals, so that made it a possibility.

On this trip I bring my “A Team” : daughters Michelle and Carol. Michelle is a Duke-trained physician assistant. Carol is a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. She’s had a combat tour in Iraq, and served on the honor guard for hundreds of military funerals. There are no better comrades for the mission of recovering a dead body. Also, they are determined that Joran be held responsible for his crime, and that Natalee’s family has closure.

Our flightis good and we lose no baggage. The rental car runs like a champ. Our first stop is to the hardware store where I buy two hoes and a shovel. My girls raise eyebrows when I speak to the clerk in Papiamento. They fear I might be going native.

I get my crew up at 6 the next morning because I know how hot it gets during the day. For Michelle and me that’s an early wake up, for Carol it’s sleeping in. I plan to work mornings, take a long break, then work a second shift starting around 4 p.m. I bring them to a fast food restaurant which isn’t so fast – it takes us over an hour to get our meal and eat. We stop at the Chinese grocery store to stock up on breakfast foods, so we won’t lose any more time in the future.

It takes us a few days of hot, dirty work to demolish the seaweed bed, which I figure must have weighed over 10 tons. We knock it down to the sand without finding a body. Our hands are covered in blisters and band-aids. Then we start using Michelle’s metal detector. We hope that Natalee might have something metal on her –earrings, a necklace, a zipper, etc.

We get plenty of detector alerts, too many. We dig up dozens of cans, bottle tops, lead sinkers, and Florins (Aruba coins). The metal detector works well; it detects the push-tabs from beer cans under three feet of sand. Putting so much effort into our search with so little results is disheartening, but Carol reminds us, “She has to be somewhere.”

To me, that is a profound statement. If we assume that Joran murders Natalee that night, he has no transportation, no tools and no accomplices. Any accomplice would have turned on him long ago because he attempts to implicate just about everyone he knows during questioning. Thus if he murders her in the Arashi Bay area, he has to hide her body near the murder scene. She must be somewhere near.

Joran’s later denial that they even went to the lighthouse further confirms that she is nearby. And he also tells investigators that, “I was with the girl on the beach by the Fisherman’s Hut, after we’d been dropped off there, the girl didn’t want to go back to her hotel, but rather walk in the Northern direction.” To me, it sounds like Joran is trying to blame Natalee in case her body is discovered near the lighthouse.

As we dig up the Arashi coastline we notice that this area seems to be a good spot for sexual liaisons and clandestine dealings, which we assume involve drugs. But Aruba truly is “One Happy Island,” and nobody bothers us as we go about our digging. Police cars cruise by occasionally, and they didn’t care that we are tearing up the coastline. We are the only tourists in the area.

We have one day left after finishing with the seaweed bed area, so we search the adjacent coastline and nearby thickets. The girls are attacked by a bright blue crab the size of a catcher’s mitt. Retreating from it, Carol spots what appears to be a bird’s nest made out of blonde hair on a thorn bush. I take a sample of it with me to check at home. The bush is part of a thicket shaped like a small cave, with a table-sized cement slab for its floor. Scattered around the slab are used condoms and roaches, the small remains of marijuana cigarettes.

The girls want to search Arashi Beach but I don’t allow it. The beaches were searched by cadaver dogs, and we can’t do a better job than they did. So sadly, we hide our tools under a thorn bush and depart.

On the return flight Michelle and I somehow get bumped up into first class, while Carol’s seat is in coach. I give Carol my seat and sit with two burly men so the sisters can enjoy the flight home – they earned it. They worked tirelessly under horrible conditions, for no reward other than justice. I think about how hard I looked for another man’s daughter, only to end up rediscovering my own.

Michelle and Carol suddenly appear in the aisle, each holding a small airline bottle of whiskey which they give me to mix in with my glass of Coke. What great daughters. After downing the booze I suddenly have a chilling thought about that cement slab. What if Joran had dug a grave weeks or even months before his ride with Natalee, and used the slab to cover it? Then he’d have a ready-made spot to hide a body whenever he needed it.

That scene from The Godfather III suddenly plays in my head, when Al Pacino cries out, “Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in!”

Fourth Expedition: April 19, 2013. Pat and I celebrate our 40th anniversary this year. Instead of having a party, I want to take the family on a cruise …one that stops in Aruba. I also want to visit Grenada since it’s been almost 30 years that I served there as an Army officer. But the cruise only stops at both islands in April, and only Carol can get time off to go with us.

After docking in Aruba we are among the first passengers off the ship. Soon we’re driving back to the Arashi Bay area in a rental car. Our four tools are right where we left them. It makes me wonder if you could simply stash a body under a thorn bush and nobody would find it?

The hair Carol found during our last trip turns out to be artificial, like from a wig. Still, I’m there to check out the cement slab. I hook my cultivator under it and pull hard, it slides off. The ground underneath looks undisturbed, but I dig it up anyway. There is nothing but rocks below.

Suddenly a man approaches us. He looks to be in his early 30s, very fit. I think he might be an off-duty cop.

“Excuse me, do you know where Arashi Beach is?”he asks us.

“Yes,” I answer, “You passed through it to get here. It’s that beach 300 meters back down the coastline.”

He thanks me and leaves. Pat, Carol and I look at each other, confused. How can a local not know where Arashi Beach is – especially when he passes a sign for it to reach us?

Since we have the time and the tools, we decide to search inland between the coastline and Smith road. This is a flat strip of land 75 meters wide by 500 meters long, covered in rocks, cactus and thorn bushes. Nobody could navigate this area at night, so we check out each cut and pathway we discover.

We find several piles of yard waste deep enough to hide a body. Each has to be raked down to the dirt. We also find an Aruba rattlesnake. I knew they existed because we have one in Toledo’s zoo. But they look much bigger in the wild.

As we rake our way down the coast I notice the stranger kite-surfing offshore. He looks like an expert, practically flying across the bay. Turning back, deep under a thicket of thorn bushes I see a flash of white bone. I push the thorns aside and discover an intact skeleton, of a dog. After five hours of hot searching we have completed our mission and stand at the north end of Arashi Beach.

The stranger comes ashore. He approaches us and says, “I found the beach.”

“So I see,” I reply, “You looked great out there.”

He nods and walks off to his car, parked 20 meters away. He is an islander – so why ask us if we knew where Arashi Beach was?

When we return to the thorn bush to hide our tools we see a heavyset couple, maybe in their early 50s, attempting to have sex against a large rock. They are about 50 meters away, and they don’t stop when they notice us watching.

I assume they too, are locals, and thus we can’t hide the tools with them there. So I started taking pictures of them, which breaks the man’s concentration. Soon they leave, and we hide our tools and return to the ship. That evening we spot the couple again, in the theater watching the ship’s live show!

I am very disappointed that we can’t find Natalee, until Pat reminds me that the FBI and Interpol couldn’t find her and now the case is eight years old. Anyway, we gave it our best shot. But it bothers me that none of the areas we searched were conducive to sexual activity. The couple from the ship proved that. If we assume Joran’s goal was to have sex with Natalee, Arashi Beach is the only place in that area where it could happen.

And Natalee probably wouldn’t have gotten out of the car unless it was at a beach where she could see her hotel in the distance. To Natalee on her first solo trip as a young adult, Aruba was probably a paradise. Of course every paradise, even the Garden of Eden, has a few snakes.

When I return home I email Dave, asking if cadaver dogs searched Arashi Beach. His response shocks me – Arashi Beach was hardly searched at all. An airplane flew over it and a couple of men walked the beach days after his daughter went missing. At first I feel awful because of all of the time and effort we wasted searching the wrong areas. Then I realize, through the process of elimination, we now knew that if Joran did murder Natalee that night he buried her in the sands of Arashi Beach.

Fifth Expedition 5: August 24-30, 2013. I arrange one final trip to Aruba for my family, minus Matt who can’t get off work. Our flight is good, the rental car runs well and our tools are again right where we left them. This time, providence seems to be with us. Then things start going bad.

I wake everyone at 5 a.m. because I want to begin searching the beach before people are on it. But sunrise isn’t until 6:30 a.m., a fact I should have checked. My family isn’t happy.

When we arrive at Arashi Beach it begins raining – the only rain I’ve ever seen on Aruba. Lots of people are gathered and the beach is dotted with orange cones. I ask what is happening and learn that a race is scheduled for that morning. So we return to the hotel to regroup. Getting into our rental car, I notice a back tire is almost flat.

I find an air pump and refill the tire, then call the rental car company. They tell me to bring the car back to the airport. I want to get a new tire from them, but instead they give me another car. They say they’ll come to our hotel and switch cars sometime during the week, but that never happens.

Back at the hotel, I suggest we check the depositions online to develop a time line for Natalee’s disappearance. I want to ensure it matches my Arashi Beach theory. Carol says I should also read the van der Sloot’s maid’s testimony. She apparently says that the next day Joran’s clothes are covered in sand.

But when we pull up Scared Monkeys on the Internet we discover all the depositions have been removed. Still, from our notes we construct the following:

May 30, 2005

1:00 a.m. - Natalee leaves Carlos & Charlies’ with Joran, Deepak and Satish.

1:20 a.m. - They travel in Deepak’s car, and arrive at the California Lighthouse.

2:00 a.m. - Deepak and Satish arrive home. Satish goes to bed while Deepak chats online.

2:26 a.m. - Joran calls Deepak, but the connection is bad and Deepak can’t understand him.

3:00 a.m. - Joran calls Deepak to tell him he’s walking home and asks if he’ll stay up until he gets there. Deepak tells him he will.

3:15 a.m. - Joran texts Deepak, “I’m home, see you tomorrow.”

3:45 a.m. - Joran brings his computer online.

We don’t know how much time the four of them spent at the lighthouse, but it is 11½ miles along two-lane roads from the lighthouse to the Kalpoe brothers’ house. That means that they probably left the lighthouse after only five minutes or so, dropping Joran and Natalee off on their drive home.

If Joran murdered Natalee, he probably did so between 1:40 - 1:55 a.m. It takes about 15 minutes to dig a grave over two feet deep in beach sand. We know this because Brian dug one for us with his bare hands. That puts Joran on his way home before 2:10 a.m.

He would have been about a mile down the road when he made his first call to Deepak, which was probably to ask for a ride home. At that time he is still about four miles from his house. He could travel that distance in 50 minutes with a fast walk or a slow jog. Being an accomplished tennis and soccer player, he can easily cover the distance in that time. But either way, he had to wear shoes.

And we’re just assuming Joran is home when he texts Deepak at 3:15. But we don’t know that he’s home for sure until 3:45, when he goes online. That means he could have had nearly two hours to walk home from Arashi Beach, a distance of about five miles.

The next day we arrive at Arashi Beach bright and early. The first thing I noticed is a tent on the north end of the beach, at the exact spot where I believe the murder was committed. So we form two teams and begin searching the rest of the beach. Each team has a hoe, entrenching tool and metal detector.

We uncover hundreds of bottle caps and push-tabs – the Aruba government should give us an award for cleaning the beach. Occasionally we have to dig deep for something, sometimes over three feet down. Usually we find a rock, which must have metal in it. The work is slower because, unlike other search areas, we must now fill in our holes. Before long there are too many people on the beach to continue, so we quit and go buy supplies.

I’m surprised to see the Chinese supermarket is out of business. We drive further down Smith Road to buy groceries, and then buy flashlights and batteries at another store. To avoid the crowd, we decide to search at night.

It is pitch black during our nightly searches. The beach has an eerie atmosphere, with no moon and occasional feral dogs barking and growling at us from the darkness. One night, around 11 p.m., a police car approaches and shines a spotlight on us. They watch us dig for a few minutes, then slowly continue down the dirt road running parallel to the beach.

Again the spotlight illuminates the night, this time targeting a young couple necking 100 meters north of us. A sudden burst of siren echoes down the beach, sending the couple on their way. I am pleased that the police ran the young couple off the beach. If the boy had been a large bully with a hair-trigger temper, and the girl had been a petite, naive tourist, who knows what might have happened if she had rebuffed his advances?

I want to search the tent area, next to the beach’s only tree, but Pat doesn’t want us too close to them at night. With only a few days left we have searched the entire beach except for that area. I decide that tomorrow I’ll talk to whoever is squatting on Arashi Beach.

While getting dressed the next morning I notice my watch has stopped during the night, at 1:46. It’s my field watch, the one I wore for 20 years in the army. It worked great in the diverse climates of Korea, Grenada, Central America and the Middle East, and it survived the impacts of 39 military parachute jumps. But now its crown is mysteriously fused to the outer bezel – and it won’t budge.

When we arrive at the beach the tent is gone. We get to work immediately, and soon the area looks like the surface of the moon. We are hot and exhausted, and still unsuccessful.

With only one day left we need to think like Joran. If he had drowned her and dragged her back to the shore, where would he bury her? I remember in the book that Joran said he left his size 14 athletic shoes on the beach. But an investigator confronted him with the fact that he wore a size 10½. Joran’s lie proves that he feared leaving footprints at the crime scene. And you can’t leave distinguishable footprints in sand – unless it’s wet.

The area between the beach ridge and the shoreline is called the swash zone. It is sand that’s above the waterline, but dampened by occasional waves. It is easy to dig because it’s firmer than the loose, dry beach sand. If Joran dug a grave in the swash zone, put her body in it, filled it back in and then stomped it down to ensure water wouldn’t unearth the body, he would have left footprints that might not be removed by the tide.

So we attack the swash zone, digging two foot deep trenches every three feet. Our metal detectors are useless because they always alert near water. We cover over 200 meters before exhaustion set in.

I realize that we don’t know where the tides were the night Natalee disappeared, or how much global warming might have raised the shoreline in eight years, or how much sand might have accumulated over time. We’re digging blind – we could be missing her by inches and not know it. I know the odds are thousands to one against us, so I call it quits. Reluctantly, we hide our tools and leave Aruba.

Arriving in Detroit’s airport at midnight, we are one of only two families on the shuttle bus taking us to our off-site parking lot. We flew in from Atlanta, the other family came from Washington D.C. Our lot is huge, it has over 6,000 parking spaces. When we get to our car the other family is parked in the space right next to us! The odds for two families arriving on different flights and being delivered to adjacent cars at the same time in a lot that big are astronomical. It is as if Someone is making a simple point: odds can always be beaten.

Back in the office, co-worker Jason asks me about our search for Natalee. I tell him, based on the evidence and our efforts, I think Joran drowned her and buried her in the swash zone of Arashi Beach. But I can’t prove it without a ground penetrating radar to locate her remains.

He tears a sheet of paper from a tablet and hands it to me. Its letterhead is for a ground penetrating radar company. His brother-in-law Casey works for them. While Casey works in Tennessee, the company’s headquarters is in Toledo – about half a mile from my house in the building next to where my wife used to work.

That’s yet another odd coincidence. It seems that just when I thought I was out of Aruba they pull me back in!

Natalee needs to be found – and she has to be somewhere.


Ken Close is a retired lieutenant colonel, having served in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1992. He holds a Master’s in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan, and is currently a self-employed Certified Financial Planner. He is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and a life member of Mensa.

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