The disappearance of Natalee Holloway is a tragic mystery that has gripped the nation for 12 long years. The beautiful blonde teenager from Alabama went missing in 2005 during what was supposed to be a happy time in her life – she was partying with school friends in Aruba to celebrate graduation, but the holiday came to a sour end when Natalee failed to show up for her return flight home. When friends and teachers discovered the 18-year-old’s belongings and passport in her empty hotel room, she was officially declared missing and an island-wide search began that would take her loved ones to hell and back.
When Natalee Holloway disappeared on the morning of May 30th, 2005, her friends assumed she had partied hard the night before, but it soon became apparent that Natalee had been kidnapped and possibly murdered by 17-year-old Dutch student, Joran van der Sloot. Natalee met Joran at a beach bar on her last night in Aruba and he would be one of the last people to ever see her alive, along with van der Sloot’s two friends – 21-year-old Deepak Kalpoe and 18-year-old Satish Kalpoe.
For more than a decade, Natalee’s parents have chased dozens of fruitless leads in the hope of finding answers, but many have taken them to dead-ends and hoaxes (some set spitefully by Joran van der Sloot himself). Recently, however, Natalee’s father, Dave Holloway may have found a promising lead – human remains were discovered in Aruba last month that could belong to Natalee. Here’s hoping the Holloway family finally get the closure they’ve been looking for. To refresh your memory of the case, we take a look at some of the most tragic and disturbing details that were unearthed during the 12-year search for Natalee Holloway.
15 Prime Suspect Van der Sloot Changed His Story Three Times About His Last Night With Natalee
In early 2008, the Aruban authorities re-opened the case into Natalee Holloway’s disappearance months after closing it the previous December on the basis of insufficient evidence after more than 2 years of searching for her. Prosecutors in Aruba decided to re-open the case, however, after Joran van der Sloot appeared to confess on videotape that a friend of his had disposed of Natalee’s body after they found her dead on the morning of her disappearance. (At the time of giving this interview, van der Sloot was apparently under the influence of marijuana).
He later denied that what he said in the first interview was true and in 2008, he appeared on the Fox News interview segment On the Record with Greta van Susteren to tell yet another version of the events (comments which he later retracted). Throughout the 12 grueling years since Natalee’s disappearance, Joran claimed to have simultaneously dropped her off at her hotel, to have left her on the beach (at her own request), and to have sold her on to a stranger in exchange for money.
14 Van der Sloot Murdered A Peruvian Woman In 2010
In the middle of the long and arduous investigation into Natalee’s disappearance, the prime suspect in her alleged murder, Joran van der Sloot, was convicted in 2012 of murdering a young Peruvian woman two years earlier in 2010. Van der Sloot – a Dutch student who was one of three men with Natalee before her disappearance – was found guilty of murdering 21-year-old business student Stephany Flores Ramirez in Peru after reportedly “losing his temper” with her over accessing his laptop.
Creepily, Stephany Flores was reported missing exactly five years to the day that Holloway went missing. Van der Sloot apparently became frustrated with Stephany after he found her using his laptop without his permission. It later became apparent that she had discovered damning information on van der Sloot’s laptop that could link him to Natalee Holloway in some way. Van der Sloot pleaded guilty to Ramirez’s murder and is currently serving a 28-year sentence.
13 There Were Only 4 Chaperones For Almost 130 Students On The Graduation Trip
It’s believed that roughly 124 senior high school students traveled with Natalee to Aruba for their celebratory graduation trip and amazingly, for a group this large, only four teachers had accompanied them as chaperones. Individual accounts and testimonies concerning the graduation trip have changed over the course of Natalee’s disappearance, but the original claim – made by Natalee’s own mother, Beth Holloway - was that seven chaperones had traveled with the students.
However, one of Natalee’s classmates and close childhood friends from Alabama, Claire Fierman, joined Natalee on the trip and has confirmed that four teachers joined them all on two separate flights heading to Aruba. In hindsight, the idea that over 100 18-year-olds – some of whom were probably making their first trip abroad – had such little adult supervision is quite unsettling.
In hindsight, Natalee’s disappearance and possible murder could be a sign that four adults were simply not enough to keep such a huge number of party-loving grads in check.
12 Van der Sloot Admitted To "Selling" Natalee The Night She Disappeared
During his shocking interview with Fox News in 2008, the prime suspect in the case of Holloway’s disappearance, Joran van der Sloot, changed his original testimony of the night Natalee disappeared to reveal that he sold Natalee over to a man who dealt in sex slavery. In the jaw-dropping interview transcript, van der Sloot admits – seemingly without any remorse – that he sold Natalee to a man on a boat who gave him a bag full of cash (just under $10,000) and pulled her on to his boat. She was apparently taken to Venezuela.
Because van der Sloot has changed his story so often in the years since Natalie’s disappearance, it’s hard to know which account (if any) is the genuine one, but this supposed sex slavery story does not hold up for two reasons: One is that van der Sloot claims Natalee never struggled or made a sound while being led away by a total stranger on a boat in the middle of the night. Secondly, Joran later contacted Fox to tell them he had made the slavery story up.
11 Natalee Was An Incredibly Talented Student With a Promising Future
According to her teachers and fellow classmates at the Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Alabama, Natalee Holloway was a really bright and hard-working girl with bags of potential. After the fateful graduation trip to Aruba, Natalee had plans to become a doctor, having received a full scholarship to the University of Alabama to study as a pre-med major. Having excelled in her high school studies, Natalee’s parents were happy for her to celebrate graduating with a school trip to the Caribbean.
As well as working hard in class, Natalee was a hard worker outside the classroom, having joined the school dance team and the National Honor Society. She was well-liked and described by her close childhood friends Mallie Tucker and Claire Fierman as being “serious yet idealistic.” No one could have imagined that an innocent holiday to celebrate new beginnings could have ended with a plane journey home without her.
10 Van der Sloot Accepted Continuous Bribe Money from Natalee’s Boat Kidnapper
In his infamous 2008 interview with Fox news for the interview segment On the Record, the main suspect, Joran van der Sloot, revealed in a shocking confession that he had "sold" Natalee to a stranger on a boat in exchange for a big bundle of cash. Not only did van der Sloot willfully accept the bag of money (estimated to be around $10,000), he remained in contact with Natalee’s kidnapper and continued to receive bribes months after the incident.
According to the full interview transcription with Fox host Greta Van Susteren, Joran continued to have money wired to him from the kidnapper following each of his arrests in order to make sure he wouldn’t talk. While most people would inform the authorities of this activity, van der Sloot allowed the cash transfers to continue and even stayed in email contact with Natalee’s kidnapper in the hope for more. Joran apparently split some of his bribe money with the other two suspects in the case – brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe.
9 Thousands Of Aruban Civil Servants Were Given The Day Off To Search For Natalee
In a desperate bid to try and find Natalee, the Aruban government gave thousands of civil servants the day off from work in the hopes of finding any trace of her. In the wake of her parents reporting Natalee missing, the local people of Aruba also acted quickly to help with the search. Hundreds of volunteers joined the search party and even 50 Dutch marines were sent over to conduct a thorough investigation along Aruba’s shoreline in hopes of a sign of the missing teen.
As days turned into weeks following her disappearance, a search and recovery team from Texas was also sent out to Aruba with a pack of sniffer dogs. Back home in Alabama, some of Natalee’s friends who had gone with her on the graduation trip began making "Hope for Natalee" yarn bracelets and handing them out at home and to Natalee’s parents in Aruba in hopes of spreading the word.
8 Van der Sloot Conned Natalee’s Mother Out Of $250,000 In Exchange For Information
In addition to changing his story twice on official public record, the prime suspect in the case, Joran van der Sloot sent Holloway’s distraught family on a wild goose chase by inventing several leads that led to cruel dead ends. One of which was a claim that he had information about where he had buried Natalee and he wanted money in exchange for revealing it. In March 2010 – just weeks before he would murder 21-year-old student Stephany Flores in Peru – Joran van der Sloot contacted Natalee’s mother Beth telling her he had info on where she was buried.
Sickeningly, van der Sloot would only agree to tell Beth what he knew for the sum of $250,000. Desperate to follow any lead brought to her, Natalee’s mother initially wired a down payment of $15,000 to van der Sloot and he received a further $25,000 from an undercover cop working in Aruba. Once he received the money, van der Sloot falsely claimed that Natalee had died from a head injury after they had argued and he threw her to the ground. Van der Sloot led Beth Holloway and her lawyer to a bogus burial location and fled to Peru with the money.
7 Native Arubans Began To Despise The Holloway Family
Losing a child is hands down the worst thing imaginable to a parent, but to lose them in the way Beth and Dave Holloway lost theirs will understandably be ten times harder to cope with. Grief can do strange things to people and most of us will be able to sympathize with Beth Holloway’s passion and anger when it came to her daughter’s disappearance – even if this led to her decision to boycott the entire island of Aruba. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, many Aruban natives grew weary of the case and came to hate Natalee’s family for it.
After years of fruitless searching and false hope for her safe return, Natalee’s mother joined together with the Alabama government in a bid to boycott Aruba. Most of the population in Aruba sympathized with Beth Holloway’s ordeal but at the same time, they felt their government had done everything they could possibly do to help solve Natalee’s case.
6 Natalee Was Described As A “Very Careful Person” By Close Friends
In the early days of the investigation into Natalee’s disappearance, some chalked it up to alcohol and teenagers partying a little too hard and letting their guard down in celebration, but for those who knew Natalee well, this image of Natalee didn’t fit at all. She was described as careful and dependable by her family and “not a rule bender” by her closest friends. This made her absence immediately suspicious to the classmates who had traveled with her.
One of Natalee’s best friends from school, Claire Fierman, recalls how Natalee wouldn’t even let her drive her car because Claire hadn’t got a license. “I kept begging her ‘Just let me drive it, please?’ She finally let me move it one spot over in the parking lot. She wasn’t someone to take a risk.” Natalee’s friends revealed later that after she went missing, they felt afraid to start dating for fear of a similar experience happening to them.
5 The “Human Skull” Found By Philadelphia Couple While Snorkelling
In 2010 – five years after Natalee’s disappearance – a sighting by a couple holidaying in Aruba temporarily raised hopes for the Holloway family and the authorities, as it seemed to point to possible human remains. While snorkeling on the island, the couple from Philadelphia came across something resembling a human skull and took a photograph of their underwater discovery, They then contacted the police who arranged for a dive team to begin a vast underwater exploration in all snorkeling locations around the island.
After scouring all possible snorkeling areas for the artifact pictured in the couple’s photograph, the dive team found nothing. Despite the couple’s assurance that what they had seen resembled a human skull, the search team concluded that they must have mistaken some coral for the vague shape and form of a skull. Unfortunately, this was one of countless dead-end leads in the search for Natalee’s remains in Aruba.
4 Several Arrests And Re-Arrests Were Made, Prolonging The Holloway Family’s Misery
Early on in the investigation into Natalee’s whereabouts, several people were arrested in suspicion with her kidnapping and possible murder. This began with the arrest of two former hotel security guards in a nearby area in June 2005, but they were soon released when no evidence could be produced. Sadly for the Holloway family, months would turn into years in the quest to confidently hold three main suspects accountable – Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers, Deepak and Satish.
In the two years that followed Natalee’s disappearance in Aruba, a handful of male suspects were arrested and rearrested in connection with the case. By the time new evidence had appeared which resulted in the final re-arrest of Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers, it was November 2007. These multiple arrests and releases led the family on various dead-end leads – one of which involved Natalee’s father Dave Holloway tragically scouring 100 m below sea level for her remains.
3 In 2012, Natalee Holloway Was Declared Legally Dead By The State Of Alabama
In what must surely be every parent’s nightmare, Natalee Holloway’s family were made to come to terms with the fact that there would be no chance of ever finding their beloved daughter again when Dave Holloway (Natalee’s father) petitioned the state of Alabama to declare Natalee “legally dead” in 2012. Natalee’s mother Beth (Dave Holloway’s ex-wife) strongly protested the idea, showing how much determination her parents still have for her to be found.
Five years later (and with the latest discovery of human remains), the Holloway family have clearly stayed hopeful. But despite the bravery and hope that has sustained Natalee’s parents throughout their 12-year long search, nothing could have dealt a bigger emotional blow for her father than to decide that their missing child is now their dead one. Tragically, whatever comes of the case in the future, Natalee’s parents may never really get proper closure from her disappearance.
2 The Fake “Bird Sanctuary” Burial Claim Planted By Van der Sloot
Five years after Natalee Holloway first went missing in 2005, Joran van der Sloot hinted at a tantalizing clue to her whereabouts. While serving jail time for the murder of Peruvian student Stephany Flores in 2010, van der Sloot drew a map that supposedly revealed where he and the two other men (brothers Satish and Deepak Kalpoe) had buried Natalee in the early hours of May 30th in 2005. The map pointed to the Bubali Bird Sanctuary in Aruba and it wasn’t long before the media and Natalee’s father picked up on it.
Dave Holloway dredged the entire area but found nothing. A while later, it looked like something had come of van der Sloot’s false lead when a jawbone was found washed up on a beach very close to the Bubali sanctuary. Unfortunately though – like every other lead up to this point - this turned out to be a dud discovery. The jawbone, which was found with an intact molar, was not a match with Natalee’s DNA.
1 A Dutch Drug Trafficker Lied About Construction Site Lead in Aruba
In the 12 years since their beloved teenage daughter went missing, Natalee Holloway’s parents have had to face repeated disappointment in the search for a tangible clue to her whereabouts and a recent lead that appeared in 2015 was a cruel example of their hopes being dashed. Ten years to the month that Natalee disappeared, a witness came forward with brand new information, claiming that he hadn’t wanted to come forward before because he was living illegally in Aruba at the time and was involved in the island’s drug trade.
Dutchman Jurrien de Jong claimed to have witnessed something that would have charged Joran van der Sloot indefinitely with Natalee’s murder. According to Jong’s testimony, he had seen van der Sloot carrying Natalee’s limp, lifeless body into a construction site, before reappearing alone. The chief prosecutor in Aruba spent weeks looking into this, but officials confirmed that there was no construction or building work whatsoever in the area around the time Natalee disappeared. The lead that Natalee’s father initially described as “the key to finding her” ended in bitter disappointment again.
Sources: abcnews.go.com, people.com, foxnews.com, dailymail.co.uk, nydailynews.com