Caribbean nightmare: the disappearance of Natalee Holloway

Natalee Ann Holloway finished high school in 2005. She and a group of school friends celebrated this with a trip to Aruba. Aruba, one of the Caribbean Islands, is a well-known holiday destination.

Natalee Holloway class photo
Natalee Holloway, 2004, Wikipedia

Natalee, born in Mississipppi in 1986, had graduated from high school in Mountain Brook, Alabama, 5 days before the trip. She was the oldest child of Dave and Beth Holloway. She and her younger brother Matthew primarily lived with Beth, as Dave and Beth were divorced in 1993. She planned to go to the University of Alabama to study pre-medicine after the trip to Aruba.

Natalee and 124 other classmates left for Aruba on the 24th of May. There were also 7 chaperones, who met with the graduates daily to check if everything was okay. The chaperones later said that they were not supposed to keep track of every move the students made. Fellow classmates later told reporters that there was a lot of partying and drinking.

The flight back home was planned on the 30th of May, but there was no sign of Natalee at the check-in desk. Worried, classmates went to look for Natalee and found her passport, cell phone and packed bags in her hotel room. Her aunt Marcia later told reporters that Natalee being late ‘was a tip-off’, as it was out of character for Natalee to be late. Beth Twitty, Natalee’s mother, received a phone call that Natalee had missed the flight and instantly knew something had happened to her daughter, as she later told Dateline: ‘I knew instantly when I received that call that just from Natalee’s history and character and just her record, I knew instantly that she’d either been kidnapped or murdered. There was no hesitation. Absolutely none. Absolutely none.‘ She and other friends and family left to fly to Aruba immediately.

Carlos’n Charlie’s restaurant in Oranjestad, Aruba, Wikipedia

Aruban authorities were also searching for Natalee. Nothing was found in the initial search. Classmates were interviewed and claimed that they had last seen Natalee in Carlos’n Charlie’s bar in Oranjestad. She was seen leaving the bar with three men and got into their car.

Beth Twitty, Natalee’s mother, talked to the staff at the Holiday Inn and the night manager recognized one of the men Natalee left with that night. This man, Joran van der Sloot, was a 17-year old Dutch student, who attended the International School of Aruba. He was out that night with two friends (and brothers) Deepak Kalpoe, 21, and Satish Kalpoe, 18.

Joran (middle), Deepak and Satish, Living Magazine

Beth, other family and police then went to Joran’s house, to see if Natalee was there. Joran denied knowing Natalee at first, but after some questioning he told police that the three friends had driven Natalee to Arashi Beach, because she had mentioned that she wanted to see sharks. They also drove her back to her hotel, where, according to Joran, Natalee stumbled when she exited the car. When they drove away, they saw that Natalee was approached by a man in a black shirt, and thought he might be a security guard. Deepak Kalpoe, who was also at the house at this time, confirmed his statement. Due to this statement, two former hotel security guards were arrested on June 5th. They were later released, as no connection could be made to the disappearance of Natalee.

Poster used in the search, The Denver Post

Aruban authorities continued the search for Natalee. Hundreds of volunteers joined and the government of Aruba gave civil servants free time to help search. Dutch marines also joined the search effort. Video footage did not show Natalee returning to the hotel that night, but the Police Commissioner Jan van der Straaten stated that that was not the only way Natalee could have gone back to her room.

Joran and both Kalpoe brothers were arrested on the 9th of June on the charge of kidnapping and murder of Natalee. In Aruba the law allows an arrest on a serious suspicion, to keep someone in custody the evidence should confirm the suspicions. On the 14th of June, Joran’s house was searched, and two vehicles, camera’s and several computers were seized. When reporters asked why it took so long to search the house, the Aruban Attorney General Caren Janssen explained:‘You have to build up an investigation. You can’t just go in there like a cowboy.’ Later, it became known that Aruban authorities used surveillance, telephone taps and monitoring of email traffic to gather evidence. On June 11th, a spokesman of the Minister of Justice claimed that Natalee was deceased and the location of her body was known to investigators. This later turned out to be false and he claimed that is was a result of a ‘misinformation campaign’.

Joran and his father,

Police arrested Joran’s father, Paul van der Sloot. Paul van der Sloot was a Dutch attorney, who was in the process of becoming a judge on Aruba, during the time Natalee disappeared. Steve Gregory Croes, a DJ on a party boat, was also arrested at the same time. Both were arrested based on statements made by Joran and the Kalpoe brothers, it is unknown specifically why. Steve and Paul were released 4 days later, on June 26th.

And then… Satish Kalpoe admitted that the first story told by his brother and Joran was false. He now claimed that he and Deepak dropped both Joran and Natalee off at her hotel. Later the brothers told police that they dropped Joran and Natalee off at the beach near the Marriott Hotel. Joran agreed with this ‘story’ and added that he left Natalee there alive and well. Joran then later claimed that he was the one who was dropped off at home, and Natalee went with the brothers to the beach. The then Police Commissioner Gerald Dompig, who took over the investigation in 2005, stated this about the changing statements: ‘This latest story [came] when [Van der Sloot] saw the other guys, the Kalpoes, were kind of finger-pointing in his direction, and he wanted to screw them also, by saying he was dropped off. But that story doesn’t check out at all. He just wanted to screw Deepak. They had great arguments about this in front of the judge. Because their stories didn’t match. This girl, she was from Alabama, she’s not going to stay in the car with two black kids. We believe the second story, that they were dropped off by the Marriott‘. The Kalpoe brothers were released on July 4th after a hearing before a judge, but Joran was detained for another 60 days. He was later released in the beginning of September, as there was not enough evidence to continue holding him.

Six weeks after Natalee’s disappearance a 200.000 dollar reward for her safe return was offered by her family, and the reward for any information that could lead to help finding Natalee was 100.000 dollar. As time went by, and nothing was found that could lead to Natalee, her family started to realize she might not come back alive. Beth Twitty stayed on Aruba for two months and then went back to America, not knowing what happened to her daughter.

Police kept investigating Natalee’s disappearance, but were mostly searching for forensic evidence, believing Natalee to be the victim of a murder. Police Commissioner Dompig claimed in 48 Hours Mystery that they ‘feel strongly that she probably went into shock or something happened to her system with all the alcohol—maybe on top of that, other drugs, which either she took or they gave her— and that she… just collapsed‘. Aruban authorities later stated that multiple witnesses had told them that there was heavy drinking that night and that Natalee had drugs in her possession, although there were no witnesses who saw her take any drugs.

Joran van der Sloot continued to be the main suspect in the case. He was arrested again in 2007, with both Kalpoe brothers, on the charge of ‘manslaughter and causing serious bodily harm that resulted in the death of Holloway‘. Joran was staying in the Netherlands at this time, so he was returned to Aruba. The Kalpoe brother were released on November 30th by an order of a judge. The court denied an appeal by the proesuction, writing ‘Notwithstanding expensive and lengthy investigations on her disappearance and on people who could be involved, the file against the suspect does not contain direct indications that Natalee passed away due to a violent crime‘. Joran was also released on December 5th, citing the same reasons as with the appeal. On the 18th of December the case was closed by prosecutor Hans Mos, because of lack of evidence. They did state a continuing interest in Joran and the Kalpoe brothers as suspects (although legally, they could not be named suspects). Deepak Kalpoe’s attorney told the news:‘Unless [Mos] finds a body in the bathroom of one of these kids, there’s no way in hell they can arrest them anymore’.

Joran seemed to enjoy the attention as he felt he was somewhat ‘famous’, that this was from being a murder suspect did not seem to bother him. He travelled around the world, living in Thailand for a couple of months. Later people who met him claimed he talked about the case all the time, and he had a quick temper, angering easily if someone said or did something that bothered him. He later proved this statement, when he threw a glass of wine in the face of a Dutch crime reporter, Peter R. de Vries when De Vries had asked Joran why people should believe anything he said…

Joran, standing, throwing wine at de Vries, far left

Peter R. de Vries was invested in this case, believing Joran to be guilty of hurting Natalee. As he wanted closure for Natalee’s family he set up an undercover sting, in which a ‘friend’ of Joran’s videotaped their conversations. This friend, Patrick an der Eem, later claimed he was paid 35.000 dollar for his role in this undercover sting. After building trust for a while, Patrick asked Joran about the disappearance of Natalee. And Joran? He told Patrick that he had taken Natalee to the beach and that they had sex. Shortly after, Natalee suddenly started shaking and was unconscious. He said in the clip, taped in 2008:‘All of a sudden, what she did was like in a movie. She was shaking, it was awful… I prodded her, there was nothing.’ So Joran, deciding that Natalee had died, called a friend to help. Not to resuscitate Natalee or get her medical help, but to dispose of her body. Joran claimed the friend took Natalee’s body onto a boat and ‘he went out to sea and then he threw her out, like an old rag’. This friend, not identified on camera, but later named by Joran, later claimed that he was in the Netherlands at school the day Natalee disappeared.

Joran in Patrick’s car for the undercover sting

It probably wouldn’t surprise you that Joran changed his story again… and again. His mother once described him having ‘a problem with compulsive lying‘. Joran later claimed in another tv-show that his story to Patrick wasn’t true, saying ‘That is what he wanted to hear, so I told him what he wanted to hear’. He again denied any involvement in the disappearance of Natalee. However, the Chief Prosecutor of Aruba Hans Mos considered what Joran had said to Patrick a confession and told CNN they were considering what do to next. They did reopen Natalee’s case the day the interview aired. Aruban prosecutors tried to get a warrant for Joran’s arrest, however, they were denied by a judge. The court stated that the confession on the tape was inconsistent with the other evidence and that it was insufficient to arrest and hold Joran. Joran did meet with investigators from Aruba in the Netherlands and repeated that what he said on hidden camera wasn’t true, and that he was under the influence of marijuana at the time. Beth Twitty believed that this version of events is most likely what really happened. She also thinks that the person that Joran called that night was … his father.

In November 2008, CNN broke the news that two new witnesses were heard by police. A former girlfriend of Joran’s claimed that, while sitting on the beach, Joran had told her, ‘Who knows? You may now be on the beach with someone who is able to get rid of a corpse?’. Another witness told police he could place Joran’s father and Joran near a pond on the island the night of May 30th, just after Natalee disappeared. Paul van der Sloot had said to police he was home and asleep the whole night. The witness saw a young man, who he claimed was Joran, wet from the waist down and wearing one shoe emerging from the pond and running away. Ten minutes later he saw the same man drive by in a red Jeep, with an older man as the driver.

And Joran changed his story…again. He appeared on Fox New on November 24th 2008, looking somewhat unhinged, claiming he had sold Natalee into sexual slavery. Joran also said his father knew and paid off two police officers to keep quiet. Fox New aired a piece of audio, stating it was Joran and his father talking about human trafficking. Later, police claimed the voice on the tape is not Paulus van der Sloot, but rather Joran himself, trying to mimic his fathers lower voice.

Joran on Fox News

Natalee’s family hired a private detective, hoping he could give them more answers about what had happened to Natalee that 30th May. A new lead led them to search a particular part of the ocean floor. A ship, aptly named the Persistence, thought they had found what looked like a skull attached to a fishing trap. It was later confirmed that it was not a skull, and did not have anything to do with Natalee.

In 2008, the private detective started receiving messages from a man calling himself ‘Marcos’. Marcos claimed that drug runners had been paid to dump Natalee’s body at sea, but instead took it with them to Nicaragua. The private detective went all the way to Nicaragua to meet with this Marcos, but it turned out to be a hoax for money. Unfortunately, Natalee’s family would go through these sorts of scams more often. Even one by Joran himself.

After the death of his father in 2010, Joran seemed to be without guidance. He emailed John Kelly, the attorney representing the Holloway family, stating:’I want to come clean. My father’s dead now. I have nothing to hide. I want to help Natalee’s family, but at a price, you know, for a quarter million dollars… I will tell you what happened to Natalee, where she is now so you can help Beth bring her home‘. John Kelly met with Joran in Aruba. Joran claimed to know where the body was, but didn’t want to give up this information without being paid. After John Kelly asked what he would do without payment, he claims Joran coldly replied:‘Beth can wait another five years’. The family lawyer then contacted the FBI to help. The FBI and John Kelly set up a plan to catch Joran committing fraud, which they then could hold him on. After meeting a second time, John Kelly wired Joran 25.000 dollars. Joran told Kelly that he and Natalee were on the beach, when Joran wanted to leave and Natalee wanted to stay. Joran got angry and ‘actually threw her[…]. And she hit the back of her head, lots of blood and she was dead’. Joran then buried Natalee’s body and reburied her the next day, with his fathers help. He claimed her body was in the freshly poured foundation of a new house. However, the house that Joran claimed was the burial site hadn’t been under construction around Natalee’s disappearance. The authorities did not think Joran’s story was credible enough for an arrest. He was also not arrested for fraud. Joran later claimed to a reporter of a Dutch newspaper that he did the extortion, because he ‘wanted to get back at Natalee’s family—her parents have been making my life tough for five years. When they offered to pay for the girl’s location, I thought: ‘Why not?’. So… it seems this was another one of Joran’s stories. But it wouldn’t be his last.

Joran flew to Peru later that year, in May 2010. In Lima, he met 21-year old Stephany Flores in a casino. They played poker for a couple of hours and then went back to his hotel. Joran and Stephany were seen getting into room 309 together. At 8.36 AM on May 30th, 2010, exactly 5 years after the disappearance of Natalee, Joran left room 309 by himself carrying his backpack. He told the clerk at the desk ‘Don’t disturb my girl’.

Stephany Flores

Stephany’s body was found two days later. She was badly beaten and her neck was broken. Her cause of death was ruled to be blunt force trauma, and police believed a tennis racquet was used. Her parents had reported her missing after she failed to return home. Joran had fled to Chile, where he was arrested. He claimed he was innocent, but 4 days after his arrest he confessed to killing Stephany. Joran claimed that when he had left Stephany alone in his hotel room for a short period, she had found information on his laptop about Natalee’s disappearance. She started asking questions. Joran then flew into a rage and killed her. The prosecution believe Joran killed Stephany due to her big winnings at the poker table the evening before she was killed. Stephany’s father, a well known politician and former race car driver, told reporters when asked about Joran, ‘This man cannot continue to be out in the world killing people. This man needs to pay for his crimes. Joran was able to laugh at the crime he committed in Aruba, but in Peru he will not be able to laugh’.

Joran eventually pled guilty to murder and was sentenced in 2012 to 28,5 years in Peruvian prison. He was also charged in the US with wire fraud and extortion, so upon release in Peru he faces extradition to the US for those charges.

Joran in custody in Peru

Beth Twitty went to visit Joran in Peru. She told B-Metro Magazine in 2015:‘I think once I visited Joran at Castro Castro prison, and I was able to walk away from there, it was almost a freeing experience for me to know that it was time now. Joran was in prison, and this is what I had worked so hard for, for five years. This was what I had wanted in 2005′. Joran did not tell her anything more about Natalee. Beth left Joran feeling more peace than she had in years, saying on television show ‘Dr. Oz’ in 2017 that she did not expect to feel: ‘the empowerment that I would feel when I stood up from him and left him in prison… I almost saw him as this pathetic person, so I didn’t feel any hate. I saw him as so pathetic’.

Oxygen made a series called ‘The disappearance of Natalee Holloway’, in which an American man John Ludwick claimed Joran had paid him to dig up Natalee’s remains. He said they had crushed most of the remaining bones, but set the skull on fire. Joran had told John he had slipped Natalee a drug and that she died from a bad reaction. Based on this tip a search was done, but Natalee’s remains were not found.

You would think Joran learned from his past experiences, but in 2016 he confessed to killing Natalee, again, in an interview by a Dutch reporter. It was filmed by a hidden camera in prison in Peru. However, this ‘confession’ did not result in any new leads. New tips have been investigated as recently as February this year by American journalist Greta van Susteren.

Joran has to this day never told investigators where to find Natalee. He is still in prison. Natalee was officially declared dead in 2012. Her family still do not have any of the answers they were seeking. What do you think happened?



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