Published August 11, 2011
FREDERICK, Md. – Robyn Gardner's wild and rowdy tattoos belie the kind, quiet nature of a trusting woman who sought solace in a tropical getaway with a man who is now suspected in her disappearance, a close friend said.
The 35-year-old divorced woman accepted 50-year-old Gary Giordano's offer of a trip to Aruba despite earlier backing out of a cruise with the man she'd been friends with for over a year, Gardner's friend and part-time roommate Christina Jones said Wednesday.
"She's a very trusting person," Jones said at her hair salon in downtown Frederick. "She's a hardworking, loyal, standup female who has never said anything bad about anyone."
Giordano's account of the disappearance had enough inconsistencies that authorities decided they couldn't let him leave the Caribbean island and arrested him, Aruban Solicitor General Taco Stein said.
"The only thing we have is his story, his statement, and it leaves us with some questions," Stein said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Giordano's Aruban lawyer, Michael Lopez, insists his client is innocent and is being unjustly detained.
Photos on a "help find Robyn" Facebook page feature Gardner's body ink, including a jungle-print design on her left shoulder and a Latin phrase tattooed over her right ribcage. Translated, it reads, "If I can't move the earth then I'll raise hell."
But the pretty, 5-foot-5-inch blonde was more reserved than the pictures suggest, according to Jones and Gardner's on-again-off-again boyfriend, Richard Forester of Rockville.
At Forester's home, where she often stayed, she took care of two cats, Kobe and Toonsy, and relaxed by watching travel and food shows on TV, he said.
She also enjoyed watching the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" and the "Real Housewives of New York," Forester said.
"She just liked the drama of it," he said.
A jogger and tennis player, Gardner also enjoyed traveling, whether to Florida, where her parents live, Las Vegas or Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach in Delaware, Forester said.
Gardner graduated from South Carroll High School in Sykesville in 1994. Forester said she had taken some college classes but didn't have a degree.
She was recently laid off from a dentist's office in the Washington area where she had worked scheduling patients, Forester said. She had also done some modeling, he said.
Giordano told police Gardner disappeared while snorkeling but Forester, Jones and Gardner's brother Andrew Colson all said she wasn't usually that adventurous.
"Robyn's more of a lay-by-the-pool kind of gal," Jones said.
The prosecutor would not disclose the specific doubts, fearing it could undermine the investigation, but one of them is fairly basic: So far, there are no witnesses who saw the pair go snorkeling in the late afternoon on the wind-swept southern tip of Aruba.
"She just wouldn't want to ruin her makeup or get her hair wet," Colson said.
Giordano called police in Aruba around 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 to say he and Gardner got separated while snorkeling and she never made it back to shore. Video and photos obtained by the AP show him assisting police in a helicopter and boat search of the Dutch island's coastline.
Stein said police have the woman's computer, which they are considering sending to the Netherlands for analysis, and the couple's rental car but no physical evidence of a crime. All they have is that a woman is missing and nagging doubts about Giordano's explanation.
Lopez said that after being detained, Giordano initially declined to cooperate further with prosecutors and police because he felt he was being wrongly detained.
"After reading and analyzing everything there is until now in his case file, there is no concrete or direct indication that our client might be involved in any illicit act concerning his friend," Lopez said.
Aruba has experience dealing with missing person cases following the still-unsolved disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway during a high school class trip to the island in 2005. Her remains were never found and the main suspect, Joran van der Sloot, is in jail in Peru on charges of killing a 21-year-old woman there last May.
Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway, said Gardner's disappearance resonated with her. Losing a loved one in a foreign country and in particular Aruba is difficult, she said. There's the communication barrier — the official language is Dutch — and it is hard to navigate the judicial system, she said.
"It's hard to know who to be connected to, the right resources, and how to make those resources go to work for your missing loved one," she said in an interview from New York.
"I know the challenges ahead of them are great," she said of Gardner's family.
Jones described Gardner on Facebook as her "kindred soul." She said friends and family members remain hopeful she will turn up. Meanwhile, she said, the family wishes journalists would respect their privacy and let investigators do their work.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Washington, Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Dilma Arends Geerman in Oranjestad, Aruba; contributed to this report.