SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Aruba's chief prosecutor said he might finally close the case of missing American teenager Natalee Holloway after a lengthy investigation that was labeled as botched in its early stages and has never led to anyone being formally charged.
Hans Mos told The Associated Press Friday he will drop the case unless prosecutors agree before the New Year that they have strong enough evidence to go to court.
"We promised the suspects that after Dec. 31, we will not pursue the case," Mos said. "This investigation should end at a certain point."
Mos said he imposed the deadline himself earlier this year because he feels two years is a reasonable amount of time for bringing charges against someone.
His comments come after the recent release of three suspects who have been arrested several times since the investigation began following Holloway's May 2005 disappearance.
Mos said if prosecutors believed they only had enough evidence to charge someone with a minor crime related to the case, he and the Holloway family feel pursuing such a charge "doesn't serve a purpose." A person convicted of making a body disappear, for example, would serve only six months in prison, he said.
Holloway's relatives did not return calls for comment.
"We have a strong conviction that something happened that night, and that it was a very serious thing," Mos said. "The question is whether we are able to prove it."
The search for the blond, blue-eyed Alabama girl who went missing the night of May 30, 2005 spanned more than two years and involved hundreds of volunteers, Aruban soldiers, FBI agents and even Dutch F-16 jets laden with search equipment.
The investigation has revolved around the same three suspects: Joran van der Sloot, a 20-year-old Dutch citizen and the Kalpoe brothers, Deepak, 24, and Satish, 21, from Suriname.
They were the last people known to see Holloway before she vanished, and all three have denied any role in her disappearance. They have been arrested several times — the latest arrests coming last month — but released after different judges ruled there was not enough evidence to keep holding them.
"The Aruban prosecution is going around in circles," said Joseph Tacopina, one of van der Sloot's attorneys. "They've bumbled this case from the beginning."
Government officials have agreed.
In 2005, Aruba's prime minister met with Holloway's mother and said authorities made mistakes at the start of their investigation.
No trace of Holloway has ever been found, although authorities have combed sand dunes, drained a pond and dove into the island's clear waters. They have detained people including a disc jockey, a casino croupier, two former hotel security guards and even van der Sloot's father, a judge in training at the time.
False leads have included blond hairs attached to a duct tape found along Aruba's coast, and a bloody mattress later linked to a dead dog.
Holloway arrived in Aruba to celebrate her high school graduation. On the last night she was seen alive, the Mountain Brook, Ala., native attended a beach concert featuring Boyz II Men and Lauryn Hill and then ate and danced at Carlos 'N Charlie's bar and restaurant.
She never showed up for her return flight, and police found her passport in her hotel room with her packed bags.
Prosecutor Hans Mos said he does not anticipate ever finding Holloway's remains.
"It's very hard to try a case without a body," he said. "It's not impossible, but you need substantial evidence that somebody was killed."