08.12.11

Another Natalee Holloway?

Six years after Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba, another blonde American woman has vanished from the same beach. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the cases’ chilling parallels.

According to her boyfriend, Robyn Gardner is a fastidious 35-year-old dental assistant who decorated her trim physique with pithy tattooed verses like: “If I can’t move the earth then I’ll raise hell.” She obsessed about keeping her hair dry and avoided smudging her makeup at all costs.

That’s why her boyfriend, Richard Forester, is sure that Gardner did not disappear during a snorkeling accident.

“I just don’t think she was snorkeling,” he told ABC News Not only did the beautiful blonde hate water sports, but he is sure she wouldn’t have gone swimming in the evening. Forester says that Gardner would have already been gearing up for a night on the town, not looking at fish. “We went on vacations and I couldn’t even get her to put her head underwater in the pool…Knowing her, she would have had a few cocktails already and would only be getting ready to go out that night.”

Authorities in Aruba have called off their search for the Maryland woman, missing there since the alleged evening snorkeling excursion on August 2. Authorities say that a body would have washed up on shore by now, and they’ve dredged, searched, and dived the entire area. But already, evidence is beginning to point to what appears to be an avoidable tragedy.

Gardner decided to take a five-day holiday in Aruba with a 50-year-old man she met on the internet about a year earlier.

Gardner and Forester had a lovers’ quarrel in late July. Afterward, she decided to take a five-day holiday in Aruba with Gary Giordano, a 50-year-old man she met on the internet about a year earlier. Giordano and Gardner had cultivated a virtual friendship, and Gardner, recently laid off from her job, made plans to meet Giordano in Aruba on July 31 against her friends’ apprehensive warnings. She described Giordano as her “gay friend” to her companions, but none of them ever met him, and it remains unclear whether Gardner herself met him face-to-face prior to their trip together.

Either way, once in Aruba, Gardner sent her estranged boyfriend Forester frequent texts, assuring him that she loved him and that the two would “sort things out” once she came back home to Maryland. But the messages became shorter and more cryptic as her vacation wore on. In one that she sent to Forester via Facebook on August 2, the day she disappeared, she simply said: “this sucks.. really.”

Giordano is the last known person to have seen Gardner. He told authorities that the two had gone snorkeling at around 6 p.m. on August 2, but when the water started to get rough he tapped her leg and motioned that they should swim back to shore. He said that when he arrived on land, Gardner was nowhere to be found. After searching for her, he ran to find help. No witnesses have come forward to corroborate this version of events, though several people say they saw the couple together on the beach earlier that day. On August 6, Giordano was detained while trying to fly from Aruba to the United States after prosecutors told him he should stay on the island. He has not been charged with any crime. And if no body is found, he could easily be set free. Aruba police spokesman Taco Stein told The Daily Beast that Giordano was detained as “a person of interest” because he was the last person to see Gardner alive.

If the circumstances of Gardner’s disappearance sound eerily familiar, it’s because they are. In 2005, Natalee Holloway another pretty blonde American, disappeared from the very same Aruba beach under similar circumstances. Her body still hasn’t been found, and the only suspect in that case, Joran Van Der Sloot, is currently awaiting trial for an unrelated murder in Peru.

Not unlike Van Der Sloot, who once bragged on hidden camera about killing Holloway, Giordano had a formidable reputation—but Gardner likely never knew anything about it. In 2008, Giordano’s wife divorced him, citing allegations of domestic violence, according to court records reprinted in the Aruba Herald. He has been arrested for petty theft on several occasions, and since Gardner’s questionable disappearance, several women who say they dated Giordano have come forward to describe him as a frightening man with a violent temper—one woman felt compelled to get a restraining order against him to protect herself. Giordano denies wrongdoing in Gardner’s disappearance, and his attorney, Michael Lopez, told The Daily Beast that he expects his client to be released. “There is no proof and no motive,” he says. 

That is exactly what happened in the Holloway case, says Natalee’s mother Beth, who has reached out to the Gardner family to show support. Unlike the Holloways, however, the Gardners have been able to get the FBI involved in the investigation at an early stage. The only forensic evidence—including Gardner’s computers and smart phone, which were found in her hotel room in Aruba—has already been sent to Holland, which has legal jurisdiction over Aruba. But the FBI is playing a crucial role in the case as well, and has been asked to comb Giordano’s background and search for any clues that would link him to Gardner’s disappearance—anything that might help them keep him detained, at least until Gardner is found dead or alive.

Because Holloway’s body was never found, Van Der Sloot was set free and allegedly killed again. Whether Gardner’s fate is eventually unearthed or not, authorities in Aruba have the added burden not to let that happen again.