Van der Biezen said she was confident the magistrate on the sister island of Curacao, where the case has been relocated, would give the prosecution more time given the high visibility and complexity of the Holloway case. But she acknowledged that the clock was ticking and, at best, they had a few more months to find a body or forensic evidence that a crime had been committed.

"There will come a time when we have to make a decision to prosecute or make it a cold case," she said.

Like many Arubans who understood the anguish of the missing girl's parents, Van der Biezen is reluctant to accuse them of interfering in the investigation. But she observed that their freelance actions in confronting witnesses and suspects blew early opportunities for clandestine surveillance.

In one of her frequent appearances on Greta van Susteren's "On the Record" legal show on Fox News, Beth Twitty, Holloway's mother, complained that the parallel inquiry that family members and friends conducted was being ignored by Aruban investigators.

"We've just about done all the investigation for them, I guess, so to speak — identified witnesses, put the three suspects on a silver platter and gave it to them," Twitty said of the sleuthing she did when Aruban police were still convinced her daughter had simply extended her vacation.

Recriminations are a two-way street here on Aruba.

Julia Renfro, a Los Angeles native who is editor in chief of Aruba Today, initially took the side of Holloway's parents when they sought publicity on the disappearance and lambasted Aruban police for following Dutch investigative procedures rather than those in the United States.

Galvanized by compassion for a desperate mother, Renfro stopped the presses of her daily newspaper for the first time in its history to include a picture of Holloway to aid Arubans in the island-wide search.

A mother of four, Renfro spent weeks shuttling the family from the scene of one rumored development to another but eventually became disenchanted with what she saw as Twitty's pandering to tabloid TV and "flat-out lies" she told on the air.

"I feel guilty saying any negative thing about a mother who has lost her daughter," Renfro said. "But her behavior was odd from the get-go."

Renfro has concluded that the body would have turned up by now if Holloway died on the island. She — and many Arubans — doubts the three suspects, who were all good students without criminal records, could have pulled off a perfect crime, leaving no forensic evidence behind and never caving in to the intense pressure of interrogations.

"I've spoken with all of the suspects," she said. "I don't believe any of them did anything to her."

Heavily intoxicated, according to accounts later given by her classmates to the FBI, Holloway could have staggered into the sea and drowned after the local men left her, Renfro speculates. She might have died of alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose and washed out to sea, as Deputy Police Chief Gerold Dompig surmised in a CBS interview last year. She might have climbed aboard one of the dozens of catamarans and cabin cruisers moored off the beach for late-night partying after a concert nearby.

Renfro says she was perplexed when Twitty immediately concluded that her daughter had been kidnapped and made no effort to check hospitals or police about accident victims. Within a few hours, Twitty had concluded Van der Sloot was responsible, and within a couple of days she was telling TV interviewers that she knew her daughter had been gang-raped and murdered.

Twitty didn't respond to e-mailed requests for an interview.

Renfro parted ways with Twitty and ceased front-page coverage of the disappearance after what she considered a malicious act of distortion. A video aired Sept. 15, 2005, on "Dr. Phil" appeared to show Deepak Kalpoe telling a California private investigator, Jamie Skeeters, that Holloway had sex with all three men on the night she disappeared.

The Kalpoe brothers sued talk-show host Phil McGraw, CBS and Skeeters (who died in January), alleging the clandestinely recorded jailhouse conversation was doctored heavily to change the elder Kalpoe's response from "No, she didn't" to "She did." Versions of the original and aired tapes available on YouTube and other websites appear to back Kalpoe's contention that his words were altered.

Although leads have faltered and investigators no longer seem to be focusing on the three named suspects, the case of the "missing white woman" promises to live on for years, at least in the legal TV and unsolved-mystery broadcasts.


carol.williams@latimes.com