Aruba Prosecutor: Hundreds Questioned in Natalee Holloway Case

From the dusty, cactus-studded center of this Caribbean island to its palm tree-lined resort beaches, few stones have been left unturned in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway.

All the investigations, arrests, rumors and intense media coverage in the 11 months since Holloway went missing have taken a toll on islanders. Hundreds of people have been questioned, said prosecutor's spokeswoman Mariaine Croes, from beach workers, fishermen and the homeless to the scions of well-off families. At least nine have been arrested and released without charges.

Hundreds of volunteers, Dutch Marines, the local coast guard, theFBI and others have scoured the island's dunes, beaches and trash dumps. Scuba divers and sonar-equipped coast guard ships have examined the seabed offshore.

With the case still unsolved, islanders now fear that Aruba, which gets 70 percent of its gross domestic product from tourism, will be permanently scarred by the mystery.

The island off the coast of Venezuela has beautiful white sand beaches and is home to a lively mix of Europeans, Caribbean immigrants and descendants of the original Arawak Indians, but locals now fear they'll be known only for the night when a single U.S. tourist vanished.

A recent "Lonely Planet" guide devoted one of its four paragraphs on Aruba's 4,000-year history to the Holloway case.

"We're concerned about the negative publicity," said Myrna Jansen-Feliciano of the Aruba Tourist Authority.

Locals are quick to call the case a tragedy and say they hope Holloway -- last seen leaving a bar with three men early on May 30 -- will be found alive. But most also believe criticism about the investigation is unfair -- and they worry that the case is scaring away visitors, most of whom are Americans who patronize U.S. chain restaurants and hotels that accept U.S. dollars.

They're especially angry that cable TV crime shows echo criticism by Holloway's mother, Beth Twitty, that Aruban authorities were corrupt and incompetent, and that the governors of Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama have criticized the investigation and backed a travel boycott of Aruba.

"They're saying bad things about Aruba. Maybe if it is Aruba's fault, they can say bad things. But if it's not, they shouldn't," said Jason Angela, a 15-year-old Oranjestad student.

Hotel occupancy was down 3 percent through February compared to the year before, Jansen-Feliciano said. Big hotels were hit harder -- down 10 percent. It is unclear whether the drop is due to bad publicity and the boycott or to rising hotel rates.

And while some businesses that rent jet skis and take people tubing on the water report steady business, others blame a difficult low season last year on the Holloway case.

The arrest of Geoffrey van Cromvoirt, 19, on April 15 underscored the close ties of the island community. The Dutch teen's father owns a private security company that had also employed the son of Police Commissioner Gerold Dompig, who voluntarily stepped down as lead investigator amid criticism.

Dompig told The Associated Press that his own son, Michael, had made allegations against van Cromvoirt and was called to make a statement to police following van Cromvoirt's arrest. The official blamed "unreasonable behavior by members of the media" for forcing his son to grant a "regrettable" interview to a cable news channel, in which he called van Cromvoirt a liar and accused the Holloway family and others of trying to hurt his policeman father. Dompig complained that journalists had stalked his son and told him that van Cromvoirt had spoken badly about him first.

Police have said nothing about their latest arrest, of a 20-year-old man, identified by prosecutors by the initials A.B. He was released after six hours of interrogation on Saturday.

"I don't know who they're going to get next," said Danielle Gross, a 26-year-old friend of van Cromvoirt's. "It is like a never-ending story."