Image courtesy of FBI.gov

Natalee Holloway is the name of an American national that disappeared in the Caribbean nation of Aruba in 2005.

Natalee’s disappearance resulted in significant media attention, a large hunt for her whereabouts, and general confusion as to what happened to her. While multiple arrests have taken place down the years, nothing concrete has as of yet been discovered.

This article reviews this disappearance. There is a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we hope you vote on. This will result in us all having an idea of the general consensus of what happened, judged by our readers.

Editor’s Note: In late 2023, according to court transcripts, Joran Van der Sloot confessed to murdering Natalee Holloway.

Aruba is known for its idyllic beaches, though this case shows a darker side of the nation

Background

Natalee Holloway was born in 1986 in the state of Mississippi, United States. She moved to Alabama, which is where she was living prior to her disappearance. She was 18 at the time she vanished.

Natalee’s parents were Dave and Beth Holloway. However, they divorced when she was young, with Beth remarrying in 2000 with George Twitty, who was the stepfather of Natalee.

Natalee was due to study a medicine-based degree at the University of Alabama on a full scholarship – owing to her strong intellect.

Natalee graduated from Mountain Brook High School in May 2005. A 125-strong group of graduates, including Natalee, went to Aruba on holiday to celebrate their graduation.

Seven chaperones attended Aruba with the students to help them if they needed. They would regularly meet with the students on this five day trip.

The Disappearance

Natalee and her fellow graduates spent the majority of the time partying wildly – which included consuming a large amount of alcohol. Natalee especially drank a lot, with some going on record to say that she “drank all day every day”, in behaviour deemed “excessive” by classmates.

The classmates, including Natalee, were due to fly back to the United States on the afternoon of 30th May 2005. However, she was last seen in the early hours of the 30th – approximately 1:30am – outside a bar.

She was seen leaving in a car with Dutch student Joran van der Sloot – who was living in Aruba at the time. Two Surinamese friends – brothers Deepak Kalpoe (aged 21) and Satish Kalpoe (aged 18), also accompanied them in the car.

When it came to the time of the flight, Natalee was nowhere to be seen. Natalee did not ever appear, and missed the flight. Upon touching down in the United States, Natalee was reported as missing.

The Investigation

The Aruban Police launched a search for Natalee. With American tourism being of great importance to the Aruban economy, there was pressure on the authorities to find Natalee.

Natalee’s mother and stepfather flew to Aruba immediately. It didn’t take long for the duo to get a lead. They were able to get the full name of van der Sloot – whom Natalee was last seen with.

After passing this onto the Police, the duo, and two policemen, went to the house of van der Sloot. While van der Sloot initially denied knowing Natalee, he eventually admitted to knowing and seeing her, but produced a version of events that was corroborated by Deepak Kalpoe – who was present at the time.

Van der Sloot said that they had driven Natalee to the nearby Arashi Beach as she supposedly wanted to see sharks. He said that afterwards, they dropped Natalee back to the hotel at around 2am.

Moreover, van der Sloot said that Natalee fell down as she exited the car. As they drove away, he said that she saw Natalee being approached by a dark man wearing the sort of shirt that is seen on a security guard. They then allegedly drove away and never saw Natalee again. While the Police were suspicious, they had nothing concrete to suggest van der Sloot was involved.

Meanwhile, the Aruban government attempted to help by mobilising a large number of government officials to participate in the search effort. Hundreds of volunteers also helped in the search. Special Agents from the FBI also arrived in Aruba to help in the search effort.

Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, making the Netherlands a key nation in this case. 50 members of the Dutch military, a further 50 from the Dutch Marine Corps and even an F-16 Air Force fighter jet also became involved.

Besides the ground search, diving specialists were brought in to try and search the ocean for Natalee’s body – in case she had tragically ended up in there.

The effort to find Natalee was colossal. Surveillance footage was also trawled through, though there was no sign of Natalee being spotted anywhere besides her getting into the car with van der Sloot.

Despite the extensive search effort, there wasn’t any sign of Natalee. Within this time though, the Police came to the belief that Natalee was dead.

Just five days after her disappearance, the Aruban Police made arrests. On 5th June, two former security guards – Nick John and Abraham Jones – were arrested on suspicion of murder and kidnapping.

However, further arrests followed on 9th June, with van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers all arrested on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. The Police had observed all three men in the days after Natalee’s disappearance.

The reason for the detainment of John and Jones is still to this day unknown. It is believed that the account given by van der Sloot may have led the Police to search for security guards. They were released without charge on 13th June.

On 17th June, a sixth arrest happened – this time a man named Steve Croes. Croes’ arrest was linked to those of van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers.

On 22nd June, a seventh arrest took place – with the Aruban police detaining van der Sloot’s father Paulus. On 26th June, Croes and Paulus were released without charge, leaving three people arrested.

The three suspects all changed their stories around this time. The consistency in their story was that they had all gone to a beach, with van der Sloot and Natalee being dropped off.

Van der Sloot said that he had left Natalee on the beach, and didn’t harm her. The Kalpoe brothers were deemed to have not been involved in whatever had happened to Natalee, and were released on 4th July. On the same day, the decision was made to detain Van der Sloot for a further 60 days.

In the ensuing days, satellite images were taken to try and look for any shifts in the ground that could have indicated a burial point. Moreover, a pond was drained following a tip-off, but this failed to yield any findings. Similarly, a landfill site was searched with search and rescue dogs, but again there was nothing found.

Within 2 months of her disappearance, the Holloway family put up a reward of $1,000,000 for her safe return, with a $250,000 reward for information leading to the location of her body – if she had died.

On 26th August, three months after disappearance, the Kalpoe brothers were re-arrested, alongside a new suspect, Freddy Arambatzis. Arambatzis was a friend of van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers. However, just over a week later, all three were released. At the same time, van der Sloot was also released.

After being released, van der Sloot was interviewed by several media outlets, in which he outlined his series of events. He said that Natalee had wanted to have sex with him, but that he decided against it, as he did not have a condom at the time.

Furthermore, van der Sloot said that Natalee had requested that they remained on the beach, but because he had school the next morning, he left at 3am, having been picked up by Satish Kalpoe, leaving Natalee at the beach.

However, this version of events was doubted by many, especially after the Kalpoe’s lawyer said that Satish had fallen asleep and did not pick up van der Sloot on the night in question.

Over the next few months, hope remained that Natalee would be found. Further searches took place, which included many more digs. But with there still no sign of Natalee, it appeared that she would not be turning up alive.

In a decision that was criticised, the Aruban Police handed over the investigation to the Dutch Police in April 2007. In this same month, two further developments happened. Firstly, van der Sloot published a book on his account of what happened, where he maintained his innocence.

Secondly, the Dutch Police raided the van der Sloot family residence. A large digging operation followed, and personal items were seized. However, nothing was found, and the personal items were returned. Soon after, the Kalpoe family residence was searched by the Dutch Police. Again, nothing was found in this search.

On 17th May 2006 – now a year after the disappearance – a man called Guido Wever was detained in the Netherlands on suspicion of murdering Natalee. However, he was soon released without charge.

On 21st November 2007, van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers were re-arrested once again on suspicion of manslaughter. This was down to new evidence that had been discovered.

But just nine days later, the Kalpoe brothers were again released. Then on 7th December 2007, van der Sloot was again released. It was never revealed what this new evidence was.

On 18th December 2007, prosecutors announced that they were closing the case, which was left unsolved due to a lack of evidence. This decision was criticised by many, especially many American officials that were still intent on bringing their citizen home.

Later Developments

However, just three months later, the case was re-opened, after prosecutors became aware of potentially incriminating video footage of van der Sloot. This came as a result of a broadcast on Dutch television on 3rd February 2008.

The broadcast was a documentary created by famed crime reporter Peter de Vries. de Vries enlisted former convict Patrick van der Eem, who befriended van der Sloot, and used hidden cameras and microphones to record their interactions.

During a conversation, van der Sloot said that Natalee had died on the morning of her disappearance. He said that Natalee had a seizure, before becoming unresponsive. After trying to resuscitate her unsuccessfully, he said a friend disposed of the body. However, van der Sloot was under the influence of marijuana at the time, and reasoned that he was merely telling the reporter what he wanted to hear.

Another issue came when Van der Eem disclosed that he had known van der Sloot for several years. Van der Eem’s extensive criminal past was heavily discussed. Moreover, he was arrested later in 2008 following an assault. His involvement only ended up hampering the case, rather than helping it.

Nevertheless, prosecutors attempted to get an arrest warrant for van der Sloot. However, it was denied, with the belief that the statements made contradicted the evidence, and that van der Sloot’s words did not constitute a confession.

In November 2008, van der Sloot was interviewed by America’s FOX News. In this, he said that he had sold Natalee into sexual slavery, before paying off two police officers for their silence. However, van der Sloot later retracted his statements. These claims were seen as fantasy-like by investigators.

The Holloway family searched lower depths of the surrounding sea in an effort to find Natalee, but again there was nothing found. They made periodic visits to Aruba in the following years, albeit to no avail.

In March 2010, another development happened. Van der Sloot anonymously contacted the legal representative of Natalee’s parents. He offered to reveal the location of Natalee’s body and how she died, if he was given $250,000, with $25,000 paid upfront.

The representative contacted the FBI. Six weeks after the first contact, van der Sloot was transferred $15,000 via wire transfer, with $10,000 provided in cash. The information that van der Sloot provided was inaccurate, with the house where he said Natalee had died having not been built at the time she disappeared.

Van der Sloot was soon charged with wire fraud and extortion. However, another development came just weeks later in June 2010, when the dead body of a 21-year old woman called Stephany Flores Ramirez was found in a hotel room registered in van der Sloot’s name in Lima, Peru.

Van der Sloot was arrested in neighbouring Chile days later, before being extradited to Peru. The Peruvian authorities stated that Van der Sloot confessed to murdering Ramirez after she used his laptop without his permission.

Van der Sloot pleaded guilty to murdering Ramirez, and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. In January 2023, a further 18 years was added to his sentence after he was found to be trafficking drugs while in prison.

Van der Sloot was incarcerated in Peru, before he was extradited to the United States to face charges of extorting Beth Holloway.

In October 2023, Van der Sloot admitted to killing Holloway, according to court transcripts. Van der Sloot explained what had supposedly happened. He said that the duo had initially been at the beach together and were kissing, with the Kalpoe brothers having left at this point.

Van der Sloot said he made multiple attempts at “feeling her up”, before Natalee kneed him in the testicles. In response, Van der Sloot said that he kicked her in the face, resulting in her becoming unconscious.

Van der Sloot explained he then picked up a nearby cinderblock, which he hit her with repeatedly. He then pushed Natalee’s body out to the sea.

Following this admission of guilt, her mother Beth said that “we got justice for Natalee”. Beth said “he is a killer”. Van der Sloot will return to Peru to serve the rest of his prison sentence.

It isn’t known if Van der Sloot’s testimony is truthful. Some have questioned if Natalee would have washed back up on the beach. But at this point, it seems Van der Sloot would gain nothing from lying about this.

Searches have never ceased, and every now and then the case comes up in the news. A bone discovery in Aruba in 2010 raised hope, but this proved to be unrelated to the Natalee Holloway case.

An Alabama judge declared Natalee Holloway as legally dead in 2012, after Natalee’s father made the request. This was opposed by her mother Beth.

Beth criticised the Aruban Police for their lack of progress in the case. Many though were offended by this, with many praising the Aruban Police for their effort.

Beth authored a bestselling book called Loving Natalee: A Mother’s Testament of Hope and Faith. She has frequently spoke about the case. Natalee’s father Dave Holloway has also written a book on the event.

Many films, documentaries, podcasts and other content devoted to this case have been created. Interest in the case will surely remain, with this disappearance having already reached international headlines.

The intense media coverage led to some analysts noting that there was an unfair bias in how the case was given more airtime than other disappearances. Many cite this as an example of how disappearances of white women tend to generate more sympathy and coverage to that of men and ethnic minorities.

Joran Van Der Sloot is pictured (centre) with the Kalpoe brothers

Theories

For many, this will already be a clear-cut case, with it rather obvious what happened. With that said, there are a few different theories that have been put forward.

We take a look at the evidence for these below:

Theory One: Joran van der Sloot murdered Natalee Holloway

Without doubt, the theory that Joran van der Sloot murdered Natalee Holloway seems the most likely. Natalee was last seen with van der Sloot and had seemingly been heavily drinking – putting her in a vulnerable state.

From the way he has behaved, it is clear that van der Sloot is a detestable person. He is a convicted murderer from his time in Peru, extorted money from the family in which he had caused so much pain, and generally seemed to enjoy the attention that he was getting.

Van der Sloot also knew the island well, meaning he would have had strong knowledge on where to dispose of the body. He seemingly had the resources to do so as well.

As there was no sign of Natalee ever again, it does seem likely that van der Sloot was responsible for her death. The Kalpoe brothers may have also been involved, but from the information we have, it seems most likely that van der Sloot was culpable. This would mean the case turned out to be an almighty miscarriage of justice.

Theory Two: Natalee Holloway was left at the beach and was killed by someone else

However, if van der Sloot is to be believed, then Natalee was left at the beach in a vulnerable state. It is possible that someone else with evil intentions attacked or killed Natalee.

There were several other arrests made – could any of those be responsible? Or maybe someone else managed to completely go undetected after seeing and potentially murdering Natalee.

Where her body was disposed of is unknown. If van der Sloot was not responsible, then this theory could be accurate.

Theory Three: Natalee Holloway intentionally disappeared

A rather unlikely theory, but a suggestion nonetheless, is that Natalee Holloway intentionally disappeared.

While she seemingly had her whole life ahead of her, there is always that chance that someone wants a fresh start, away from their usual life. This would explain why her body has never been found.

However, her face became so recognisable that it would be almost impossible for her to go anywhere without being recognised. Moreover, leaving the island would have been difficult given the above. Finally, Natalee appeared to have a lot to live for. This combination makes this unlikely, albeit possible.

Reader Vote

You can vote on which theory that you believe is most accurate on the poll below. After you have voted, the results from other voters will appear.

What Happened to Natalee Holloway?
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Summary

This case is rather unusual, with there being a clear suspect, but no clear evidence. Moreover, the level of effort and resources that went into the investigation of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance are almost unmatched.

But unfortunately, despite all of the effort, the whereabouts of Natalee Holloway remain unknown. Having worked hard in school, Natalee had her whole life ahead of her, tragically, her potential was never realised.

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