GretaWire Flashback: Inside the Hunt for Natalee Holloway

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Since I am on the road for work in Europe today, this blog was written for you a few days ago — but obviously it's just getting posted today. I am hoping to find some time in Europe to blog and e-mail back to New York City for posting.

Even though I am traveling, I wanted to blog. I dug into my drawer for some old tapes to post — video you have never seen and which you might find instructive about how we do our work… yes, the good and the bad.

I found one video that, upon reviewing, made me groan. It is a tape of one of those "days from hell" in Aruba two summers ago. As you know, we aggressively pursued the Natalee Holloway story... chasing down every single tip given us. Most of those tips were dead ends... in fact, now that I think about it, since we don't know what happened to Natalee, all the tips were dead ends. But we never got discouraged — we still chased every single tip hoping that the tip would turn out to be helpful.

The video posted is about 1 minute 45 seconds of a 10-hour effort on our part to get you some information — I saved you and did not post all the tape! I cut out most of it and instead posted enough to give you a taste of covering this story from the ground in Aruba. If I posted all the video of that day, you would be so frustrated that you would want to pull your hair out. We felt like pulling our hair out after that day shown by the video since we got taken for a ride by a man named Raul.

Here is what happened:

At breakfast a tipster came to us and said that a man who our tipster only knew by a nickname knew where Natalee was buried in the landfill. Needless to say, we listened. Per our tipster, the man/witness observed Natalee being removed from a car at the landfill and buried. Needless to say, if true, that would be important information. We had been to the Aruba landfill many times before and it is vast. To find a body, you would need a tip like this. You needed someone to isolate an area in the landfill to search. As an aside, the Aruba landfill is particularly unattractive — in odor and sight — and the hot, hot, hot, hot sun does not make it a place you want to visit.

We probed our breakfast tipster more and not only got a nickname but we got a general location where the witness lived and, per the tipster, found out that the man's occupation is to dig in the landfill by hand, to find "stuff" to turn around and sell the "stuff" on the street. In other words, he is a "personal yard sale"-type guy. But who else would likely know this information than someone who spent his days there, digging in the landfill? And maybe this was true. Maybe this Aruban did see something. We could not just ignore a tip that, if true, could solve the mystery… or at least part of it.

We all piled into our rental car to go find the man — even though we had only a nickname and a general location where he lived. Our rental car was small (the largest car we could get at the time) and we needed as much help as possible to locate this person. Not only were we hampered by knowing only his nickname, but also our tipster said the man lived in a section of town with no street signs. (Of course if you have been to Aruba, you know that includes much of the island. It is frustrating that the rental car services give you a map of the island when you rent the car, but once you hit the road you realize the streets are unnamed and thus a map is of no value. You have nothing to match the streets to... plus, the maps don't have all the streets on them.)

We drove to the area where we had been directed to and each jumped out to begin the big task of finding the guy. We knocked on dozens and dozens and dozens of doors… we had only a nickname and no more. The day was hot — very hot — and we did not have much water and the water we did have, was warm. Some houses had particularly unfriendly dogs so we would yell from the street and not try knocking. We could only hope we would get lucky or someone would help us with information. We were obviously not from the area, so some were less willing than others to talk to us. It was really easy in that hot sun, pounding on doors to get discouraged.

Finally, from one of the houses we knocked on, we got another tip as to where the man might live. It was not in the area where we were knocking on doors. We jumped back in the car and drove a bit further and spotted the man who had been described to us. To say we were all ecstatic understates it. The man we had been looking for was lying in a hammock in his front yard in his underwear. To show respect, we women traveling in our daily caravan backed off, stayed in the car, while the men in our group got out and talked to the man. He was not feeling particularly shy and did not jump up to get more clothes, so the guys continued to talk to him. After some coyness, he said that he did see where Natalee was buried (or at least where someone was buried.) And yes, he was aware that an American girl was missing — everyone in Aruba knew it. He had not come forward because he did not want to get involved… or so he said.

I have forgotten his nickname, but his first name is Raul. Sometime during the conversation, Raul went into the house, got some pants on and returned to the front yard... that is when the rest of us joined the conversation. It took some convincing to get Raul to agree to take us to the landfill and show us where Natalee — or someone — was buried.

We learned from Raul that he spends all his days at the landfill (I think he had some sort of permit which allowed him into the landfill — we had no such permission and thus Raul became all the more valuable to us.) We did pry more details out of him and his story began to appear more probable. He wanted money from us before he would show us where Natalee or someone was buried, but we explained we could not pay him. He was not happy. We begged him to help us. Finally, he said he would go with us but had no gas in his car (which is why he was not at the landfill that day.)

We said come with us in our car and that is where the video I have posted starts.

Click here to check out today's video blog.

We took Raul several miles to the landfill and we waited outside while he hiked deep into the landfill. We could not go in — we had no permission. We videotaped Raul's trek into the landfill — frankly because there was nothing else for us to do except stand there and wait. (We had been at the same location the day earlier and were emotionally drained as we listened to a dog howl in pain under a trailer-like structure adjacent to the road. We spent must of our time trying to get the Aruban Humane Society or animal control out to the spot to attend to the dog. They promised they would come.)

Raul told us to wait while he went on his mission inside the landfill. We could see people in a vehicle deep inside the landfill and Raul had us believing that this was somehow linked to Natalee (official searchers maybe?) By this time we were very, very hot (the A/C did not work in our rental car — one day we had to use our drinking water to fill the car's radiator that had overheated.) By this time we were also hungry, since we had spent most of the day in the hot sun pounding on doors.

After more than an hour, Raul returned. We watched him trek back to us through the landfill. We could not believe the sight! Raul was walking toward us with a giant box. We all were saying to each other, "What does he have?" As he got closer, we could see that the box contained items he had picked up in the landfill (we later guessed for sale on the street.)

He said he had been mistaken or something... and he had not seen a body being buried earlier. We realized we had been taken. That day, because he had no gas, Raul needed a ride to the landfill so he could gather some stuff to sell. What good fortune for him that some naive Americans looking for an American girl showed up! In return we were exhausted, hot and at least that day, very discouraged. We were annoyed at being had, but decent and gave him a ride home with all his "stuff."

The video posted is posted for only one reason: To give you a bit of the behind the scenes of our job and of our time in Aruba. As noted above, it is compressed into 1:45 — so imagine an entire day like that with no product at the end (and being taken!) This was a common day for us in Aruba. Lots of work, lots of time and no answers. But we did not lose hope. The video posted also helps shed light on the frustration that Natalee's family felt one hundredfold: a billion leads, hot sun, despair and, in the end, no answers.

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