In May of 2005, 18-year-old Natalee Holloway went on a graduation trip to Aruba with about 120 of her fellow classmates. She and her friends visited the beach by day and the local bars by night. Natalee met Joran van der Sloot and brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe at a bar on the last night of her trip. She left with them in the early hours of May 30th, and that was the last time she was seen alive.
That same fateful day, Natalee's mother, Beth, was on her way home to Mountain Brook, Alabama after a relaxing three-day getaway. At around 11 a.m., she received a call from Jody Bearman, a chaperone on Natalee’s trip. Jody broke the terrible news that Natalee was missing and Beth flew into action. First, she dialed 911, then she phoned her husband, Natalee’s stepfather, George “Jug” Twitty. Her final call was to the FBI.
With the the help of a family friend who generously agreed to lend the Twittys their private jet, Beth, Jug, and two other friends arrived in Aruba less than 12 hours after Beth received word that Natalee was missing.
Who was Natalee Holloway?
The eldest of two, Natalee Holloway was born on October 21, 1986 in Memphis, Tennessee to Beth and David Holloway. Her parents divorced in 1993. Beth remarried in 2000 and moved her family to Mountain Brook, Alabama.
Natalee was a straight-A student at Mountain Brook High School. She was set to attend the University of Alabama on a full-ride scholarship as a pre-med student. Natalee was also a talented member of the school dance team. Friends describe her as someone who was always laughing.
The disappearance of Natalee Holloway
During the five-day trip, Natalee spent her days beachside and her nights partying. The legal drinking age in Aruba is 18, so the small island is a popular destination for American teens. On that final night, Natalee and her friends went to the Excelsior Casino, which was attached to their hotel. There, security footage shows that she met 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot.
The group went to Carlos’n Charlie’s next, a popular bar and nightclub. They enjoyed drinks before hitting the dance floor. Around 1:30 a.m., Natalee was seen leaving in a car with van der Sloot and the Kalpoes. It was several hours later when anyone realized that Natalee was missing. The Mountain Brook graduates were scheduled to return home later that morning, but Natalee didn’t turn up. When chaperones checked her room, it was empty except for her luggage and passport.
The investigation into Natalee Holloway's disappearance
The Twittys went straight to Natalee’s hotel immediately after landing. They questioned hotel staff until they learned the name of van der Sloot. Escorted by two Aruban police officers, the Twittys rushed to the van der Sloot home to question Joran themselves.
The teen denied knowing Natalee at first, but he soon changed his story. He and Deepak, who was at the van der Sloot home, said they took Natalee to the California lighthouse on Arashi Beach because she wanted to see the sharks. They stated that they dropped her off at the hotel around 2 a.m., however there is no hotel surveillance video to corroborate this.
From there, a major search and rescue effort began. Hundreds of volunteers, both Aruban and American, aided in the extensive search. The Royal Netherlands Air Force deployed F-16s to search by air, Dutch marines searched the shoreline, and a pond at a local racket club was drained. Unfortunately, there was no sign of Natalee.
The Twitty family offered $175,00p for Natalee’s safe return. Eventually, that amount rose to $1 million. The authorities followed up on several leads, searching Joran’s home and Deepak’s car. However, the evidence authorities collected didn’t reveal any answers.
Controversy between the Twitty family and Aruba
From the beginning, Beth Twitty has been very vocal about her displeasure with the investigation of her daughter’s disappearance. During almost every interview, Beth stated that she didn’t think the Aruban authorities were doing enough. Police Commissioner Gerold Dompig says it was the Twittys that slowed down the investigation.
This turmoil would soon effect the entire island. The Twittys called for a boycott of Aruba, citing tourist safety concerns.
Suspects and arrests in the Natalee Holloway case
In June of 2005, a total of seven people were arrested in connection with Natalee Holloway’s disappearance. Former security guards Nick John and Abraham Jones were arrested on June 5th, but were released eight days later without being charged. Joran and the Kalpoe brothers were arrested on June 9th. A DJ named Steve Croes was arrested on June 17th. Joran’s father, Paulus van der Sloot was arrested on June 22nd. Croes and Paulus were both released on June 26th without being charged.
The Kalpoes were released on July 4th, but were arrested again on August 26th along with a man named Freddy Arambatzis. On September 3rd, Arambatzis, the Kalpoes, and Joran were all released without being charged.
Did Joran van der Sloot murder Natalee Holloway?
From the outset, Joran van der Sloot has been at the top of the suspect list in Natalee's disappearance. His story has changed with each telling, though the Kalpoes brothers changed their story as well.
In later interviews, Joran claimed that Natalee died either from a fall or seizure. He also claimed to have buried her on one occasion, and on another he stated that he dumped her body out at sea. He even claimed that he sold Natalee to sex traffickers. With no body and no solid evidence, we simply can’t be sure.
In 2010, Joran allegedly demanded $250,000 from Beth Holloway in exchange for revealing the location of Natalee’s remains. He wanted $25,000 up front. Beth’s lawyer met with him in Aruba with $10,000 in cash, Beth wired an additional $15,000 to Joran’s account. The information proved false, but Joran had already traveled to Peru.
On May 30, 2010, Joran killed 21-year-old Stephany Flores in Peru and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Will there be justice for Natalee Holloway?
Joran was extradited to the U.S. on June 8, 2023 to face charges for wire fraud and extortion. Although he hasn’t been charged in Natalee’s disappearance, Beth Twitty hopes this will bring some long awaited justice to her family. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him during his June 9th arraignment.
Now, 18 years after her disappearance, on October 18th, 2023, Joran van der Sloot has finally admitted to killing Natalee. In the course of finally pleading guilty to extorting her family, he accepted a plea deal which required him to submit a proffer to the court taking responsibility for her murder. Though Natalee was declared legally dead in 2012, her body was never found. After reviewing the details van der Sloot provided about the murder, a judge indicated there is a very good reason why her remains will never be found, though she chose not to elaborate.
Considering van der Sloot's confession and his additional charges for murder in Peru, the judge sentenced him to 20 years on the federal charges. He must first finish out his 28-year sentence in Peru before returning to America to serve the next two decades.
Joran van der Sloot took the lives of two young women for refusing to have sex with him. Though he has not been charged with Natalee's murder, the justice system is taking what steps they can to ensure he doesn't bring more harm to innocents.