June 15, 2005
I don't even know where to begin. This is one of the most difficult, intense, and confounding stories I've covered. Information is hard to come by, false leads, and "reportable news" from actual government officials of "confessions" and "confirmed grave sites" (identified and detailed) are quickly amended or completely retracted.
No one is more frustrated than Natalee Holloway's family. I've met and spoken at some length with Natalee's mom Beth and stepfather Jug, and her uncle Jar Twitty. I’ve spent time with her stepmom, and her dad's sister. I've talked for a while with some of their family friends, too, who’ve travelled here from Alabama and Mississippi and elsewhere to offer support and help with the search. They're angry with officials, and have been since day one. They say authorities dragged their feet, and weren't nearly aggressive enough in pursuing the three young men now in custody, who were the last known to see Natalee alive. They weren't locked up until 11 days after Natalee vanished.
Natalee's family is especially upset with the way investigators handled the questioning of Joran Van Der Sloot, the youngest of the three now being held. He's the 17-year-old son of a high-ranking justice official on the island. They say they're sure he knows what happened to Natalee, and they're just as sure the kid's connections kept police at arms length for far too long.
We are trying to report developments in this case accurately and professionally. We have developed excellent sources on the island, and have gathered lots of background material that gives us context and perspective in covering this story. We don't report all we hear, for obvious reasons. Rumors are rampant, and some stuff can't be confirmed. And as we learned the hard way, sometimes even public officials can be far off base, despite their assurances to the contrary.
Just before midnight Friday, CNN reported Natalee was confirmed dead. They said there had been a confession, and police were heading to the lighthouse beach area to recover Natalee's body. We had just finished our late shift, and hadn't heard anything of a confession before breaking down our gear for the night, so we immediately began working the phones. No one could confirm the report — not the government or police spokespeople we reached, or the locals we had grown to trust.
Within minutes, an update from the Associated Press crossed the wires. A deputy police commissioner named Gerald Dompig was quoted by AP as saying one of the young men being held said, "something bad happened to her," meaning something bad happened to Natalee. This wasn't a confession, but it was certainly a development worth reporting. We went on the air with it, citing the AP and naming the official they quoted. A short time later, the prime minister announced there in fact was "no confession," and while not specifically refuting the police chief's statement, said there was no recovery of a body underway.
The next day, another official spoke to one of our producers. Edward Croues, a spokesman for the minister of justice, told Craig Rivera he had "official information" that Natalee was "confirmed dead," and told Craig her father had asked police to take him to the body and to do it before the press found out where it was.
We reconfirmed the information with Croues before going on-air with it. While we didn't have a second source, he was a government official, and was willing to be quoted, and it seemed in line with stuff we'd been hearing off the record all night and all morning in regard to developments in the investigation. We reported what Croues told us, citing him as the source. Within an hour, he was on the phone, saying he'd been a victim of a "campaign of misinformation," and what he told us wasn't official after all. We reported this as well, of course.
Police and officials don't talk here like they do in the States. They don't release probable cause affidavits, or other evidentiary paperwork. Their press conferences are woefully absent of any actual news or facts related to suspects or developments in the case. And the officials don't share information with the family members either, who continue to lead searches on the island on their own. Most of the relatives I've spoken with, including Natalee's mother, have accepted the likelihood Natalee is dead. They continue to pray for a resolution in this case, and a confession of some kind, so Natalee can be found, and the family can bring her home.
[Ed. note: Click the video tab in the upper right to watch Leventhal's reports.]
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I am wondering about this car that the fellows from Surinam are talking about. I thought when it was impounded someone said that the car belonged to the 17-year-old Dutch boy. It doesn't seem logical to me that the two Surinamese men would have dropped her and the 17-year-old anywhere. It was his car. It seems more likely to me that the 17-year-old dropped them somewhere. Why would he let them take his car and drive off? But then not much about this mystery makes any sense.
I have to agree with Barbara who wrote you about the car. I thought it was the Dutch boy's car. Are we wrong? Anyway, good work you are doing. If you can't get to the bottom of this, then no one can. You are the only one that explains everything including the frustration. It was good to see you and Greta together. I wish you two were investigating together more often. You two are the most logical and thoughtful people on television. Glad to see you out of the suits!
Gail, a FOX Fan from Wappingers Falls, NY
I believe this case will remain a "mystery," as the Judge's son will prove to be above the law. Odds are that she is dead, and odds are that he killed her! He even went so far as to try to frame the other two poor men. My heart goes out to Natalee's family, and I pray their efforts to find her are not in vain.
Of course the police know that when one of the boys said that something bad happened to Natalee, it could have been a bad accident like her falling from a drunken stupor, or the Dutchman pushed her around aggressively, as the press has mentioned Van der Sloot’s lack of anger management. Either one of these could have resulted in an accidental homicide in which they all panicked, throwing Natalee’s body into the ocean in which there would never be evidence unless the body washed ashore. I agree with Natalee’s mother and believe that they are definitely covering up due to the fact that the Dutch boy’s father is a well known judge on the island. What a terrible mess! We sure hope that the mystery will be solved soon.