A young couple reportedly partied at a bar after allegedly murdering a 19-year-old girl, then argued about how to dispose of her corpse in text and Facebook messages!
New York (CNN) – When Patti Muldowney went snorkeling off the coast of Aruba last October, the Pennsylvania woman probably could not have imagined one of her underwater photos would renew interest in the nearly five-year-old Natalee Holloway case.
Three months after snapping travel pictures of 'colorful fish' on a disposable film camera during her Royal Caribbean cruise's first stop, Muldowney and her husband realized that one picture contains what they believe appear to be human remains.
"When I looked at that photo, I said, 'By darn, that certainly does look like a skeleton,"' John Muldowney said on HLN's Nancy Grace. "You can see the skull. You can see where the eye sockets were. You can see where the chin was," he said.
"It's lying flat on its back. And its arms are cradled around," Muldowney added. "You can almost see fingers. And then on the one sleeve it looks like some kind of maybe clothing that's deteriorating."
The couple, who took the photo to police and the FBI, says it was taken near an old shipwreck. However, there are several submerged ships in the area and their boat was far enough out to sea that they could not see the shoreline.
The picture has raised the notion that if it is of a skeleton, it could be Holloway. The eighteen-year-old Alabama high school student vanished on her graduation trip to Aruba. She was last reported seen on May 30, 2005, leaving a bar in the capital of Oranjestad.
The main suspect in the case, Joran van der Sloot, remains free. He has made several alleged confession-like statements in TV interviews, one of which involves dumping Holloway's body in the ocean after she had some type of seizure on the beach.
John Muldowney says Aruban authorities have not yet contacted him about the photo and the Aruban prosecutor's office was not aware of the photo until a Nancy Grace producer called for comment. They did, however, say they would investigate to determine if the photo is a potential lead in the half-decade-old case.
The FBI says it is investigating. "The photo has been made available to all elements of the FBI that are involved in this foreign police cooperation case," Mike Kortan, assistant director of the FBI's office of public affairs, said in statement released Friday.
'`Investigative leads are being pursued and the effort is ongoing."
Whether the object in the photo is really a corpse is still up for debate.
In underwater burials, it is typical for arms, legs and other extremities to be dispersed and for lighter bones to be carried away from heavier bones by fish, wildlife and water, according to Heather Walsh-Haney, a forensic anthropologist.
"It looks as if there's something that may be on top of the skeleton," Walsh-Haney said of the image in the photograph. "That would certainly bode well for preserving the center of the mass of the body and keeping most of it there."
But Marty Makary, a doctor and professor of public health at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, said he sees mixed signs, some indicating the image may not be a skeleton.
"What I don't like about the photo is there's no spinal cord or vertebral column," he said.
"In fact, below this roundish skull type profile you see a curvature, which doesn't really represent a normal spinal column.'