In the early hours of May 30, 2005, 18-year-old Alabama resident Natalee Ann Holloway was celebrating her recent high school graduation with classmates on the island of Aruba.
After a night of partying, Natalee vanished. She has been neither seen nor heard from since then.
The disappearance of Natalee Holloway remains very much an open case — at least in the court of public fascination, horror, and outrage. What follows are five key points to understanding the mystery.1. IT ALL BEGINS WITH JORAN VAN DER SLOOT Friends reported last seeing Holloway leaving Carlos and Charlie’s nightclub with an athletic, 18-year-old Dutch student named Joran van der Sloot. Obviously, only one of them ever turned up again.
Immediately, the case attracted international attention.
After an initial investigation, Aruba authorities arrested van der Sloot for Holloway’s disappearance on June 9, 2005. Police also arrested van der Sloot’s companions, brothers Satish Kalpoe, 18; and Deepak Kalpoe, 21. Citing a lack of evidence, the cops cut loose all three suspects that September.
2. JORAN VAN DER SLOOT KEPT IT ALL ABOUT JORAN VAN DER SLOOT
Despite being free to return to college in the Netherlands, Joran van der Sloot relentlessly thrust himself upon the mass media. For the next couple of years, neither Joran nor his parents, Paul van der Sloot and Anita van der Sloot-Hugen seemed to turn down a TV appearance.
Joran admitted that he’d lied about some details to the police, but maintained he was innocent and had no clue as to what happened with Holloway. In 2007, he even published a book, De Zaak Natalee Holloway (The Case of Natalee Holloway), in which he proclaims, “I hope every day Natalee will be found.”
The book only stirred up negative feelings and, despite denials by authorities, many observers believe it may have newly intensified the investigation.
Later that year, police cited “new incriminating evidence,” and again arrested van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers on “suspicion of involvement in voluntary manslaughter and causing serious bodily harm that resulted in the death of Natalee Holloway.” Regardless, the trio was once more quickly released. That’s when the media that van der Sloot had initially courted turned on him in pursuit of justice.
3. VAN DER SLOOT CONFESSED … THEN DIDN’T … THEN DID … THEN …
After angrily throwing a glass of wine in the face of crime journalist Peter R. de Vries on live TV in 2008, a Dutch news program aired an undercover video made by the writer. On the tape, van der Sloot appears to explain that Holloway suffered a seizure while they were having sex. After failing to revive her, van der Sloot seems to say that he and a friend named Daury took Holloway’s body out to the middle of the ocean by boat and dumped her overboard. Authorities ultimately ruled that the video was inadmissible in court.
Keeping up the pressure, De Vries next broadcast a video that purported to show van der Sloot participating in a Bangkok-based sex-trafficking operation of Thai woman. De Vries reported that pimps paid van der Sloot $13,000 for every female he delivered to them.
American TV aired an interview in November 2008 in which van der Sloot states forthrightly that he sold Natalee Holloway to sexual slave brokers who took her to Venezuela. He also claimed that he hired the Kalpoes to help him and that his father paid off two cops to keep quiet.
The same news show also played an audio recording of Joran talking to his Paul van der Sloot, making it seem as though his father knew about the sex trafficking. Many analysts, however, believe that Joran was simply doing both voices.
In 2010, after Paul van der Sloot died of a heart attack, Joran allegedly reached out to John Q. Kelly, a Holloway family attorney. He offered to reveal where Holloway’s body was in exchange for $250,000.
Kelly set up an FBI sting, in which he wired $25,000. Van der Sloot then stated he buried Natalee’s body in the foundation of a specific house. Authorities quickly determined he was lying, but before the feds could nab him for extortion, though, van der Sloot escaped to Peru.
4. JORAN VAN DER SLOOT DEFINITELY COMMITTED MURDER … AGAIN?
On May 30, 2010 — five years to the day that Natalee Holloway disappeared — Joran van der Sloot beat 21-year-old Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez to death with a tennis racquet. The murder happened in his Lima, Peru, hotel room, where he also robbed the college student and daughter of prominent Peruvian business leader Ricardo Flores, taking her phone, computer, and cash.
Police caught van der Sloot three days later. Initially he confessed:
“I did not want to do it. The girl intruded into my private life. I went to her and I hit her. She was scared, we argued and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck and hit her.”
Not surprisingly, he shortly thereafter retracted his statement.
Following massive public fury in Peru and global attention overall, van der Sloot finally pleaded guilty to the “qualified murder” of Stephany. He claimed he’d been driven to do it because nonstop coverage of the Holloway case had driven him insane.
Van der Sloot has since been held in a Peruvian prison, where he continues to generate headlines and shocking tabloid stories. On July 4, 2014, van der Sloot married Leidy Figueroa, a local woman who peddled day-to-day goods inside the prison. She was seven months pregnant with his child. That September, she gave birth to a baby girl.
5. IT ALL CONTINUES WITH NATALEE HOLLOWAY STILL MISSING
On January 12, 2012, the state of Alabama declared Natalee Holloway legally dead. Her father, Dave Holloway, had petitioned the court to do so, despite protests from Beth Twitty, his ex-wife and Natalee’s mom.
Both parents authored books about their ordeal. In 2006, Dave Holloway published Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and Corruption in Paradise. Twitty followed a year later with Loving Natalee: A Mother’s Testament of Hope and Faith. Twitty also founded The Natalee Holloway Resource Center, a charity to aid the families of missing persons.
For them, the nightmare never will never be over, even if the mystery may one day be solved.
To learn more about the case, watch Investigation Discovery’s “Natalee Holloway: Lost in Paradise” episode of Vanity Fair Confidential on ID GO.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Main image: Natalee Holloway missing poster [Aruba Police Force]