Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Deconstructing Natalee

Deconstructing Natalee
© 2007 Ross Williams

Due to popular demand [sic], not to mention being somewhat bored with having my essaying being done scattergun in various other fora and in less than well-rounded literary styling, I’m going to address the rampant criticism my commentary on the renewed-and-dropped “Aruba Incident” has received over the past several weeks.

For the record, I have no idea what happened to Natalee Holloway in Aruba. I have not made any positive claim one way or another. Was she murdered? died of natural, if premature, causes? abducted by aliens? swam off to Venezuela to meet her internet boyfriend Raul and live a simple life picking tarantulas off bananas to the tune of Day-O? … I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care.

I don’t have the time or emotional energy to devote concern to everyone on the planet for the outrages and tragedies they suffer. My own are quite enough, thank you. This is selfish, perhaps, but most acts of self-preservation are. I can’t think of any which aren’t to be honest, but I’m going to say “most” just because I don’t want some pretentious wag coming back shaking a scolding finger at me later as if it’s a valid trump card.

Issues from which I cannot maintain emotional detachment I rarely discuss with others. Which means that I don’t talk about divorce or child custody/support issues much, but it leaves foreign policy, land-use, scientific charlatanism and Natalee Holloway open and available.

People, including myself, who discuss issues to which they are emotionally attached have a tendency to see what they want, only what they want, and connect the dots in ways that draw conclusions convenient to their pre-conceived notions. And since I don’t have any emotional attachments, or the pre-conceived notions which accompany them, one way or another as regards the missing Miss Holloway, I have run afoul on more than one occasion of those who have drawn the conclusion that she was murdered pretty much before the plane with her classmates landed back home in Birmingham.

…Because I’ve said that while it’s possible she was murdered, there’s no direct [public] evidence which points uniquely and inexorably at that conclusion. In essence: “murder” is, at this point, an emotional reaction not supported by the known facts. It is worth pointing out here and now that the general public – which includes both me and my critics – have as information only what the Aruban authorities have given out. I know no more about it than they do and, just as importantly, they know no more about it than me.

The single difference, therefore, between my commentary and theirs is the emotional attachments we give the subject.

Instead of drawing conclusions on the case like most people have done, though, I started a list of “likelihoods” that was met by nearly uniform disdain … for those discussing the Natalee Holloway saga two and a half years into it are pretty much whittled down to the junior detectives from CSI: Aruba … and me. They because of emotional attachment, and me because of the very reason that I am not emotionally attached. I gotta talk about something.

So the way the Natalee thing breaks down is this:

She’s either alive or dead. This may seem trivial, but it’s important to gaining scope. It is “extremely unlikely” that she’s alive, and “extremely likely” that she’s dead. Why? Because that’s the way it tends to work far more often than not. Compare and contrast against similar situations, always.

Let’s deal with ‘alive’ first, since it’s the more affirming of the two options. If she were alive, then she’s either missing because
1] she wants to be missing, or
2] someone else wants her to be missing.

There’s pretty much bupkus to point at her own self-disappearance. American and Aruban authorities both looked into this and drew the same conclusion: she did not run away from home. This is not absolutely definitive, but it is the educated and experienced conclusions of the experts.

This leaves another party disappearing her.

If someone else wanted her to be missing, then it was for one of two reasons:
1] they want her; or
2] they want something in exchange for her.

If she’s been kidnapped by someone who wants her, she has been taken for white slaving duties. If she’d been kidnapped for ransom then there’d have been some kind of note or other contact made by her kidnappers. There wasn’t. After two and a half years, you can’t say the kidnappers simply hadn’t gotten around to making their demands yet. Two days, maybe. Two and a half years … no.

The results so far:
1] Dead: most likely
2] Alive: white slavery, extremely unlikely
3] Alive: ran away from home, beyond extremely unlikely
4] Alive: kidnapped by forgetful thugs
Alive: abducted by aliens
Alive: fell into the southern apex of the Bermuda Triangle and exists in suspended animation … all about the same level of preposterous.

Now on to her being, alas, dead.

If she were dead, it would be because:
1a] someone else deliberately made her dead;
1b] someone else accidentally made her dead;
2a] she deliberately made herself dead;
2b] she unintentionally made herself dead … by doing foolish things
2c] she unintentionally made herself dead … by doing otherwise normal things that had horrible results
3] her deadness was imposed upon her by heretofore unknown medical condition.

But that isn’t enough. Not only is there “dead” to consider, but there is also “missing”. Indeed, “missing” is the only thing we know for certain here, and hence the mystery. If she were not missing, it would be trivially easy to tell if she were alive or dead [with the exception being if she were in some Atlantean suspended animation, I guess] and, if dead, it would also be pretty simple to get a rough idea of what killed her.

There is less than no indication that she would have killed herself deliberately. She never displayed any suicidal tendencies. Again, not out of the question, but so vanishingly unlikely that it goes down in the “preposterous” pile along with running away from home.

She had no known medical conditions [heart defect, bulging aneurysm, etc], but then young people pop up all the time, or perhaps plop down all the time, with unknown medical problems which kill them on playgrounds and school cafeterias and whatnot. It’s not out of the question, but it’s extremely unlikely – much like her being a white slave.

Dead from medical cause and missing from …? Well, Aruba is a tropical island, and there’s many animals that will take gift meals from anywhere they present themselves. It’s also surrounded by a whole ocean full of water, which has tides and everything. Die close enough to the water, you can get washed away to be gobbled by scavengers in the water[1] or hung up on underwater debris[2] … where you’d be nibbled by scavengers at their leisure. Being missing through natural mechanisms is easily explained.

If someone deliberately or accidentally killed her, it would be trivially easy to understand why she’s now missing. In the first case [murder], the person[s] would not want to be discovered and a missing body makes that easier; avoiding punishment is in one’s self-interest. In the second case [ooops, we were messing around and I knocked her down and she hit her head], pretty much the same thing – don’t want to be discovered. However, the reason isn’t to avoid punishment, but to escape the shame of being a stupid and careless idiot. Who needs the publicity?

Whether someone else killed her accidentally or deliberately, the ability to get rid of the body with any amount of certainty is problematic. The barracuda may or may not be cooperative that night – they might have already had a full meal. Disposing of the body, deliberately, and making certain it would be gone would be a matter of luck … and any compound event which relies on luck suddenly makes it less likely. Again, not out of the question, but not likely.

In favor of this idea, though, is that there were three people [known to be] involved with Natalee Holloway that night. The rich son of a local judge, and two of his “other side of the tracks” friends … brothers. All eyes would be on the rich son, and the two brothers could use each other for alib…, er, excuses. The logistics were possible.

But not likely.

Even if that the death was accidental, the disposal of the body would have been deliberate [and a crime, although substantially less than murder], meaning that any one of the three could suffer pangs of guilt afterward and sell the other two out. This happens in the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of such cases, but it hasn’t happened here. Which means:
1] they are all three hardened criminals used to keeping and concealing criminal activities – which is as likely as the space alien theory; or
2] they are extremely lucky to have all three with no known conscience with which to feel guilty – not out of the question, but extremely unlikely; or
3] the three accidentally killed her but other forces – natural or otherwise – disposed of the body in their place. Which would be similar to them winning the Criminal Sweepstakes. I.e., down in the weeds with the space invaders.

Furthermore, if she were deliberately killed and disposed of, it would be at odds with our understanding of the murderer’s mind, as there’d have been no known motive.

Motiveless murder does occur, but it’s extremely rare. The Missing Miss was with three young men, and she had been drinking what was described as moderately large amounts of alcohol on her last night in Margaritaville. If the three wanted to rape her, it’d be 3-to-1 on it being consensual, and the son of a judge being one of the three, it’d be a slam dunk. Not to mention that most places on the planet which aren’t called USA and Canuckia, being drunk and female is often, if not nearly always, considered to be an open invitation to sex. Young Holloway saying no to sex and threatening to scream rape was not a viable threat which would have been met with murder to conceal.

There’s simply no reasonable motive that leaps out of the known facts. We’re stuck with a motiveless murder – an extreme rarity – and since there hasn’t been a string of these random missing girls, it can’t be ascribed to a “serial murder” which is also rare [but made notorious in our culture] and which has a motive, even if non-traditional: thrill of killing, mainly.

Additionally, it is possible that these three in fact did not deliberately kill her but others, known or unknown, did. And since everyone under the sun has been concentrating so hard on the three boys, it means for all practical purposes that they have been unwilling to look at other possibilities. You cannot find what you refuse to look for. Considering the narrow focus from the git-go, it’s somewhat more likely that a deliberate death by another party occurred than three boys on their virgin murder having committed the perfect crime.

The remaining options are all based around Holloway having died from her own actions. She had been drinking, reportedly heavily. Aruba is still part of the Netherlands, although they snootily declare their independence – like many teenagers do. Aruba is, in fact, independent in the same sort of way as American high school graduates who will have mommy and daddy and step-daddy paying for college are independent, even as they travel to Aruba and drink themselves silly.

Be that as it may, Aruba comes under Dutch law and it is worth noting that the Dutch have no minimum drinking age. You can start drinking the moment you’re weaned – if someone else buys it. You only need to be 15 to buy beer or wine yourself, 16 to purchase liquor.[3] The standard Caribbean age is 18 [16 in Cuba, 19 in Nicaragua]. Guess why young American college students and high school graduates want to party outside the country? Americans are prohibitionary prudes compared to everyone on the planet except fundamentalist muslims.[4]

Natalee had been drinking. A lot.

Sadly, alcohol poisoning happens, and it’s mostly seen in alcoholics [apparently not the case here] or in virgin drinkers not used to gauging their alcohol intake [ding ding ding ding!!].

It is unlikely that she would have died from alcohol poisoning. But “unlikely” is more likely than “extremely unlikely and relying on luck”. Her dying from alcohol poisoning is a better choice than her being murdered with no motive and disposed of by chance.

Similarly, she could have suffered a tragic consequence of a reasonably common activity. The suggestion that I’ve offered several times, and which ties in all the known facts – she had been drinking a lot and was last seen on the beach – is that she started puking up Bahama Mamas [she was drunk, remember], staggered into the surf to wash up [drunk], got sideswiped by a wave [while drunk] couldn’t regain her footing [tough when sober, she was drunk], and ended up drowning only to be washed away … and thereupon nibbled by hammerheads, barracuda and foreign alligators in the mangrove swamp.

Again, unlikely, but more likely than motiveless murder.

So let’s rate them all again, somewhat in order of their rational likelihood, and leaving out the ridiculous:
1a] Dead: by own action, washed away – unlikely
1b] Dead: by tragic consequence, washed away – unlikely
2] Dead: accidental, body disposed and no one got guilty – more unlikely
3] Dead: deliberate, unknown parties – very unlikely
4a] Alive: white slavery, extremely unlikely
4b] Dead: deliberate, motiveless, by virgin murderers who felt no guilt and have not squealed, body disposed – extremely unlikely
4c] Dead: accidental, washed away – extremely unlikely
4d] Dead: medical cause, washed away – extremely unlikely
5a] Alive: ran away from home – quite extremely unlikely
5b] Dead: suicide, washed away – quite extremely unlikely

These are not a comprehensive list of the possibilities by any stretch, just what I could fit into a long-ish essay detailing how I go about the process of thinking these things through. She also could have died from alcohol poisoning while with the three boys, who panicked and threw her into the surf, to name just one example. The three of them have given some indications that they know her to be dead, so it’s possible. Rate it where you wish, but it’s still more plausible than three virgin murderers committing the perfect crime and not having one of them tattle.

Just for contrast, let’s briefly juxtapose this with some fairly notorious stories in the news recently, of which I will cite three:
1] Steve Fossett, the rich “adventurer” who disappeared while flying around Nevada;
2] Stacy Peterson, the missing 4th wife of a Chicago cop whose 3rd wife drowned “mysteriously” in a dry bathtub and had been reporting abuse to family; and
3] Anu Solanki, a young woman, newly married, who left her car running in a remote forest preserve and disappeared.

Rationally, we expect that Fossett crashed and simply hasn’t been found – Nevada is huge and sparsely populated. But it is possible that his wife “cut his brake lines” so as to inherit his sizable fortune; murder is a possibility. She’s already requested that he be pronounced legally dead after only three months … does she have a boyfriend? anyone check on that? Could he have run away from home, perhaps? does he have a girlfriend? Did he fly over Groom Lake [Area 51] and get shot down by the Air Force, or black helicopters, or space aliens?

Rationally, we also expect that both Stacy Peterson and Anu Solanki are dead. Statistically, women are more likely to die at the hands of their husbands or other long-term intimates than by strangers, and when a wife or female romantic partner turns up nowhere to be found, statistics suggest that you start looking real, real close to home.

Stacy remains missing, while Anu beat the odds and turned up in California with another man [not romantic, she says; I’ll bet he feels differently] saying that she simply made a mistake getting married and didn’t mean to put anyone out by searching for her.

But in both cases involving these women, among the most plausible explanation is for intimate foul play. In Fossett’s case, foul play is a huge stretch … knowing what we know.

The same is largely true in Holloway’s case, even if not to the same degree. Knowing what we know, foul play is not one of the stronger candidates. Stupid play is.

This is unemotional, granted, and therefore not likely to appeal to those who need emotion to justify their beliefs, but that can’t be helped. And, for the murder-mongers out there, keep a good thought: Anu Solanki beat the odds and simply ran away from a reportedly good marriage; Natalee Holloway might beat the known odds as well and be a murder victim. Stranger things have happened.[5]

[1] Barracuda, shark and caiman – which is what a foreign alligator is called, and is the namesake of the Cayman Islands.
[2] Mangrove roots, old discarded fishing nets – Aruba is a tropical island with typical tropical island vegetation and social habits. Locals don’t often pick up after themselves.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drinking_age
[4] Fundy-muzzies and MADD would seem to have similar agendas
[5] http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/12/06/missing.canoeist/