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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Joe Sommerlad

What happened to Natalee Holloway? Mystery murder by Joran van der Sloot explained

Natalee Holloway Resource Center

Alabama student Natalee Ann Holloway was just 18 when she disappeared without trace during a holiday to Aruba with her classmates in May 2005 to celebrate their high school graduation.

Despite an extensive search operation and the arrest of several suspects, Natalee’s body was never found and the case was long unsolved. She was finally declared dead by a judge in her home state on 12 January 2012.

Then, in October 2023, prime suspect Joran van der Sloot, 36, finally confessed to her murder, bringing closure for Holloway’s family after 18 years of anguish and torment.

Who was Natalee Holloway?

The missing girl was born on 21 October 1986 to Dave and Beth Holloway, an insurance salesman and speech pathologist respectively, and was raised in Clinton, Mississippi.

The couple separated when Natalee was seven and she and her brother Matthew subsequently lived with their mother and her new husband George Twitty in Mountain Brook, Alabama, an affluent suburb of Birmingham.

Holloway, a Wizard of Oz and Lynyrd Skynyrd obsessive, was a member of the National Honor Society during her time at Mountain Brook High School and was in the school’s dance squad, graduating on 24 May 2005, after which she, 124 classmates and seven chaperones set out for the Caribbean island of Aruba to celebrate the milestone.

She was thereafter set to attend the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on a full scholarship that autumn and planned to become a doctor.

What happened in Aruba?

Holloway and her classmates spent the following week partying at a Holiday Inn at the north end of the island, soaking up the sunshine by day and drinking and clubbing by night.

But, on 30 May, the day Holloway was due to fly home, she completely vanished, her luggage found packed but untouched alongside her passport in her room.

Natalee Holloway
— (AP)

She had last been seen outside of a nightclub called Carlos ’n Charlie’s in Oranjestad at 1.30am that morning, leaving the venue in a silver Honda alongside Dutchman Joran van der Sloot and two Surinamese brothers, Deepak and Satish Kalpoe.

Was Holloway ever found?

Beth Holloway Twitty was notified of her daughter’s disappearance and quickly flew in, whereupon she tracked down Van der Sloot at his home in Noord, where he told her that Natalee had been promptly dropped off back at the hotel after they had visited a lighthouse together.

A search party was meanwhile being assembled to hunt for the girl, composed of Dutch soldiers and three F-16 fighter jets, local police and more than 100 tourists. They never found her.

With law enforcement under pressure, Van der Sloot and the Kalpoes were arrested on 9 June and gave conflicting accounts of what happened, with the former this time saying he had parted company with Holloway at the beach.

They were released, then re-arrested and released again on 3 September before being picked up for a third time on 21 November 2007, at which point they were charged with involuntary manslaughter before again being freed for want of evidence on 7 December.

Seemingly now above suspicion in the eyes of the law, Van der Sloot’s role in the affair once more became the focus of attention in February 2008 after he was caught on a hidden camera, set up by Dutch investigative journalist Peter R de Vries, claiming that Holloway had lost consciousness after smoking marijuana and died on the beach.

Joran van der Sloot
— (Martin Mejia/AP)

After being made aware of the clandestine recording, Van der Sloot claimed he had been lying.

Two years later, he unexpectedly emailed John Q Kelly, Beth Holloway Twitty’s lawyer, offering to reveal the location of Natalee’s body for $225,000.

Having informed the FBI, Kelly agreed to his terms and travelled to meet Van der Sloot in Aruba on 10 May 2010, paying him an initial $25,000 in two instalments for the tip that Holloway lay buried beneath the foundations of a nearby house, only for the informant to again claim that he had been lying and abruptly leave the country, jetting out for Peru to take part in a poker tournament.

He would later be charged with extortion and wire fraud over the incident by the US District Court of Northern Alabama and indicted on those charges on 30 June 2010.

What happened in Peru?

Just 20 days after arriving in Peru, a 21-year-old business student, Stephany Flores Ramirez, was found dead in Van der Sloot’s hotel room in Lima.

He was arrested for Flores’s murder in Chile on 3 June, extradited to Peru on 7 June and confessed to the killing, telling police he had been angered by Flores accessing his laptop and claiming to have discovered information definitively linking him to Holloway’s disappearance.

Prosecutors, however, argued that he had murdered Flores in order to steal her casino winnings.

He pleaded guilty in court on 11 January 2012 to first-degree murder and robbery and was sentenced to 28 years in prison two days later, also ordered to pay his victim’s family $75,000 in reparations, the judge unmoved by the defence’s claim that he had suffered “extreme psychological trauma” from the Holloway affair.

Either side of those two dates, Natalee Holloway was officially declared dead by Alabama probate judge Alan King on 12 January.

How did Joran van der Sloot finally confess?

The missing girl’s unsolved disappearance remained the subject of huge interest over the next decade, in no small part thanks to the boom in true crime podcasts and streaming series.

After spending almost 11 years behind bars in Peru, Van der Sloot was unexpectedly temporarily extradited to the United States on 10 May 2023 to answer the extortion and wire fraud charges from 2010.

After pleading not guilty in a US District Court in Birmingham, Alabama, on 9 June, Van der Sloot was held in a local jail for arraignment.

Beth Holloway Twitty
— (Butch Dill/AP)

He then returned to court on 18 October to enter a plea deal at which he reversed his initial plea and also, finally, confessed to the murder of Natalee Holloway, explaining that he had beaten her to death with a cinder block after she rejected his sexual overtures and disposed of her body in the ocean.

Judge Anna Manasco sentenced him to a further 20 years in prison over the fraud charges, designed to run concurrently with his Peruvian sentence, and told him: “You have brutally murdered, in separate incidents years apart, two beautiful women who refused your sexual advances.”

Reacting outside court, Beth Holloway said simply: “It’s over. Joran van der Sloot is no longer the suspect in my daughter’s murder. He is the killer. After 18 years, Natalee’s case is solved. He gave a proffer in which he finally confessed to killing Natalee.”

Although Aruba’s 12-year statute of limitations for homicide has passed, the island’s Public Prosecutor’s Office has not ruled out taking further legal action against Joran Van der Sloot in light of the belated confession.

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