"You know, we were only in Aruba for 48 hours. From the time we landed until the time she was swept out to sea was 48 hours."
It was the 2nd of August 2011. A Tuesday. Thirty five year old Robyn Gardner had been staying with her boyfriend Richard Forester at his house in Maryland, United States. She had a nice life, she loved to travel and loved her two cats, Kobe and Toonsy, and enjoyed shows like the "Real Housewives of New York." Richard and Robyn had decided that they would like to live together and had just started looking for a new home.
Robyn Gardner and her boyfriend Richard Forester
On the 31st of July, Robyn told Richard she was going to Florida to see her parents. They lived in Florida so it was a trip she frequently made. Before she left Maryland, Robyn and Richard had an argument. Robyn went to Florida but she didn't intend on staying there. She flew to Aruba. And she wasn't alone. Robyn went with a fifty year old businessman Gary Giordano. He paid for the trip.
Robyn knew Gary for over a year. They met online. He asked her to go on several different trips with him but she said no every time. However, the Aruba trip was different. Robyn decided to say yes. She had recently lost her job as a patient coordinator in a dental office and wanted to clear her head. Robyn's friend, Christina Jones, wasn't happy about the trip. Christina saw text messages Gary sent to Robyn when she turned down a trip on a cruise previously. On that occasion she went to New York instead with Richard and Christina said that Gary flipped when he found out. Christina said:
"He was texting her while we were at breakfast, very angry at her because she decided she wasn't going to go on the cruise. And his responses by text, which I don't feel comfortable repeating, were aggressive, harmful, something that doesn't sit right within myself."
But even though Robyn was aware of that side of Gary, she also trusted him and thought that a break away would do her good. Robyn and Gary arrived in Aruba on the 31st of July and checked in to the Marriott hotel. Guests at the hotel and on the Island saw them at different locations. They went to the Beach, different bars and restaurants and a casino. Two days after they arrived, on the 2nd of August, Gary and Robyn went to the Rum Reef Bar & Grill in the Baby Beach area of the Island.
Robyn Gardner and Gary Giordano
Robyn sent Richard a text message at 3pm that afternoon. At that point, he still did not know she was in Aruba with Gary. Richard did not know Gary. The text message said:
"I love you. I care about you. We'll sort this out when I get back."
At the Rum Reef Bar & Grill, Robyn and Gary ordered food. But Robyn ate only a small bit of her salad. A waitress at the restaurant described Robyn as being woozy and others thought she appeared intoxicated. Robyn was wearing a dress and had her hair and makeup done. They left the restaurant after 4pm. A photo was taken just before they left and the time stamp was 4.12pm.
Just two hours later, a little after 6pm, Gary returned to that same restaurant. He tapped on the shutters and then went around to the back of the restaurant where the kitchen was and asked them to call for help. He appeared calm and said that he needed the police. Robyn was not with him.
Police arrived at the restaurant and spoke to Gary. They noticed he was sweating profusely at the time. There was a scratch on his neck. Gary told police that he went out snorkeling with Robyn and when he noticed the currents were getting strong, he tapped her on her leg indicating that they should swim back to shore. But before he reached the shore, he lost sight of Robyn. Gary then said he went to the restaurant to get help.
When asked if he went back into the water to look for Robyn, he said that he did not.
Gary went out with the police to look for Robyn in a helicopter. He told them he would show them the area where he last saw her. A huge search took place. More than 60 officials and FBI agents, Aruba riot cops and volunteers searched the area along Aruba's coastline. They found nothing. No trace of Robyn was found.
As police questioned Gary further and examined the details and area, they found some inconsistencies in the account provided as to what happened in that 2 hour window from when Robyn and Gary left the bar to Gary returning alone.
According to Gary, the explanation was a simple one. They decided to go snorkeling. And Robyn drowned. He said she had taken sleeping pills earlier that day and had two glasses of vodka at the Marriott Hotel before they went to the Rum Reef Bar & Grill.
But there were a few things that initially did not make sense to anyone. Gary did not get back in the water, he didn't try to find or help Robyn even though he was a licensed Scuba Diver. He went to the restaurant to call for help instead. When he got to the restaurant, he had no top on, was wearing sneakers and his toupee. There did not appear to be any urgency on his part to get help when he reached the restaurant.
Nobody saw Robyn or Gary snorkeling that day. In fact, a man on the beach said that they did not go into the water at all that afternoon.
A man who was fishing that day, the 2nd of August, saw Robyn and Gary walk along the reef around 4.22pm. It was around ten minutes after they left the restaurant. But he said that they did not get into the water. He said they drove off and he did not see them return.
Police obtained surveillance footage from the area. They found it difficult to identify Gary in all the footage they had access to as he had different toupees on at different times. Surveillance video showed Gary in his rental car parked at the back of the bar and restaurant. The Toyota Rav-4 had tinted windows, so no one else in the vehicle could be identified. He parked the car in the back parking lot twice. Blood was found on a rock behind the dive shop at the Rum Reef Bar & Grill. The dive shop was around 100 yards from where Gary said they went snorkeling.
The car was cleaned when he returned it to the Star rental at Aruba's airport. Police were unable to obtain any evidence from it. But the rental agents said that they didn't notice anything unusual about the car when it was returned.
As police investigated further, a sinister picture began to emerge and a possible motive for murder. It was reported that police obtained surveillance footage of a fight between Gary and Robyn. According to reports, the video showed Gary and Robyn engaged in a violent fight that resulted in Gary putting his hands around Robyn’s throat and forcing her into an elevator at the hotel before she went missing. Prior to the trip, a couple of restraining orders had been obtained against Gary from previous relationships in the United States.
Police also discovered that an American Express travel insurance policy for up to $1.5 million had been taken out on Robyn which named Gary as the beneficiary. But the alarming part about that was that just two days after Robyn went missing, Gary sought to redeem it. He called four times to try to redeem it. The agent notified police and told them that Gary seemed excited, like he was about to win something.
Gary claimed there was nothing unusual about the insurance as he often took out travel insurance.
A couple of days after Robyn disappeared, Gary tried to leave Aruba to return back to the United States but he was stopped and detained by the local police. Police found explicit photos on Gary's phone of Robyn.
Gary spent four months in prison in Aruba. He was arrested for suspicion of murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and fraud.He was not charged.
A Judge ordered his release due to insufficient evidence. When he was released, Gary returned to the United States.
Gary has maintained that Robyn drowned while the two were snorkeling off Baby Beach. He blames it on a riptide or powerful undercurrent. Robyn's sister Danielle doesn't believe his version of events as she described Robyn as an excellent swimmer. Robyn's boyfriend Richard and some of her friends believe that Robyn would not have gone snorkeling under any circumstances as she would not have wanted to ruin her hair or makeup.
AMEX Assurance Company sought to void the travel insurance policy that Gary took out in Robyn's name. They claimed the policy was not legally enforceable because Gary and Robyn were not married or related, were not business partners and did not own property together.
An American Express spokeswoman Gail Wasserman said that when taking out such a policy, you have to have an economic interest in the person.
The insurance company won their law suit and did not have to pay out on the policy.
Police believe that Robyn is dead but to date, no trace of her has been found.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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- Sandra Pupatello