In May of 2005, Alabama teen Natalee Holloway’s future seemed brimming with bright promise. The straight-A student had just graduated from Mountain Brook High School, before flying to holiday hot-spot Aruba with her senior classmates. She was among a group of 124 students on the celebratory trip, accompanied by seven adult chaperones. The promise of spectacular sunshine and vibrant nightlife awaited. However, Holloway was never to return home, and the missing person case that followed—laced with ever-shifting and conflicting testimonies—would lead only to more questions, rather than the answers that her family continues to seek. The story of Natalee Holloway continues to fascinate and horrify true crime followers and mystify investigators of all backgrounds.
- A Parent’s Greatest Fear
On May 30th, the day that the students were set to return home, Natalee’s friends realized that she had vanished. The teen’s belongings and passport remained untouched in her room, and her mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, received news that her daughter was missing. The very same day, the family traveled to Aruba in search of Natalee. Not wasting any time, the family followed the teenager’s trail to the Holiday Inn where she was staying, a nearby bar, and the house of a seventeen-year-old boy named Joran Van der Sloot.
Soon it would emerge that Van der Sloot alongside two friends, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, had met Natalee the evening before, and together they had been seen leaving the bar sometime after 1 am. In the first of many contradictory claims, Van der Sloot and the brothers told the frantic family that they had left Natalee outside her hotel, where they saw a security guard helping her inside.
- A Substantial Search Effort
On June 1st, a search began that would quickly turn the Dutch Caribbean community upside-down. Volunteers started combing the area for signs of Natalee, and as her missing status was made official, the Aruban police, Dutch Marines, and even fighter planes from the Netherlands were enlisted to help—although every search strategy remains fruitless. Beginning on June 5th, the first arrests were made, starting with local security guards, and progressing to a club DJ and Paulus van der Sloot, Joran’s father.
On June 9th, Joran and the brothers were arrested. At this point, their stories began to shift, with a new narrative indicating that the brothers had left Van der Sloot alone with Natalee on a beach, and he himself insisting that he had left her there soon after. The next month, the Kalpoe brothers were released without charge, only to later be arrested again. Although van der Sloot was held for substantially longer, all were ultimately deemed free to go.
- False Leads and Legal Action
An array of false leads tugged all who were following the case—which was quickly garnering international attention—towards raised hopes that were repeatedly dashed. Strands of blonde hair found on a piece of duct tape, blood on a bed that turned out to canine, a gardener’s witness statement that led to the searching of a nearby pond, and the sighting of a scull in an off-shore fish trap all left the investigation without progress.
Over the coming years, Natalee’s family would launch lawsuits against Van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers, and each would be arrested again to no avail. The media furor that surrounded the case drew intense pressure upon the Aruban authorities, and Van der Sloot was thrust into the spotlight in a lengthy interview with Fox News.
- A Hidden Camera and Extortion Attempt
In February of 2008, Dutch reporter Peter R. de Vries spoke with Joran Van der Sloot while filming with a concealed camera. Within the footage, Van der Sloot could be seen telling the reporter than Holloway had collapsed on the beach and he and a friend had decided to dispose of her body at sea. As soon as the teen learned that the conversation had been captured, he declared that he had been lying.
Two years later, in March of 2010, Van der Sloot approached the lawyer of Natalee’s mother with the offer of a deal: he would reveal the location of her body, in return for $250,000. With the FBI on hand, lawyer John Q. Kelly coordinated an initial $25,000 payment for Van der Sloot—however, the promised location, which was claimed to be the foundation of a house, was also revealed as yet more misinformation.
- A Brutal Twist Away From Justice
In 2010, despite ongoing interest in relation to Natalee’s disappearance, Van der Sloot managed to slip under the radar and make his way to Peru. Here, he was soon charged with the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores Ramirez. Although Van der Sloot initially fled the scene of Ramirez’s murder before being arrested in Chile, in January of 2011 he pleaded guilty to the murder, and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Devastated at the thought that a second girl might have fallen victim to their daughter’s potential killer, the family reeled at this sudden change of circumstances.
At the request of her father, Natalee Holloway was declared dead by an Alabama judge in 2012. While the possibility remains that Van der Sloot might face extradition to the United States following his prison term in Peru, the Holloway family faces a long wait for a further pass at justice for Natalee. Still holding on to hope that answers will one day be granted, Natalee’s mother has since founded the International Safe Travels Foundation, a non-profit which informs and educates on traveling more safely, and the Natalee Holloway Resource Center in Washington, D.C, which supports other families navigating the disappearance of a loved one.