High school graduation is a big deal for any teen. Many feel that it’s when their lives truly begin. Lots of people arrange trips right after graduation to make these first surreal days of freedom as memorable as possible. For many, these trips are opportunities to have fun and explore newfound independence.
But not for everyone.
Bad things happen everywhere, even when you’re supposed to be making memories.
On May 30, 2005, Natalee Holloway was supposed to return from her graduation trip to Aruba. But she never came home. Her disappearance sparked one of the biggest media frenzies in American history and remains unsolved to this day.
Disappearance of Natalee Holloway
Natalee was 18 when she graduated from Mountain Brook High School in Mountain Brook, Alabama. She was an honor student and was on the dance squad, along with several other extracurriculars.
She was scheduled to attend the University of Alabama on a full scholarship in the fall. But that May, she was going to live it up a little. She left for a five-day graduation trip with 124 other students on May 26.
According to several reports, the students were prone to “wild partying, a lot of drinking, and switching rooms every night.” According to a statement given by Aruban police commissioner Gerold Dompig, Natalee “drank all day every day. We have statements saying she started every morning with cocktails – so much drinking that Natalee didn’t show up for breakfast on two mornings.”
On the evening of May 29, Natalee was last seen by classmates leaving a club in Oranjestad called Carlos ‘n’ Charlie’s. She got into a car with local residents, 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot and brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, who were 21 and 18, respectively.
No one saw Natalee after that. She was scheduled to fly home on May 30, but she failed to show up for that flight. Upon checking her hotel room, authorities found her passport and packed luggage, but there was no sign of her.
The Search for Natalee
Search and rescue efforts to find Natalee Holloway began immediately after her disappearance. Hundreds of volunteers from both Aruba and the US searched high and low for her. While there were searches on land, there were also divers searching the ocean floor. Despite this massive effort, there was no trace of Natalee found anywhere.
The moment they heard that Natalee had missed her flight, her mother Beth and stepfather George flew to Aruba by private jet.
Within hours of landing, they brought Joran van der Sloot’s full name to police – they said that they’d gotten it from the night manager at the Holiday Inn, who’d supposedly recognized him from a video.
When they brought him in for questioning, he initially denied knowing her name before telling his first story – this account was corroborated by Deepak Kalpoe. Van der Sloot said that they drove Natalee to Arashi Beach to show her the sharks before dropping her off at the hotel at approximately 2am.
He also said that she fell while exiting the car but refused his help. While he and the Kalpoe brothers drove away, he said he saw her being approached by a dark man dressed similarly to that of a security guard.
According to reports, Natalee did not appear on any surveillance footage in the hotel lobby – however, her mother has made varying statements about whether or not the cameras were even active. She made a statement on April 19, 2006 that the cameras were not working, but other statements, and the account she gives in her book, stated that they were.
On June 5 of that year, Aruban officials detained two men named Nick John and Abraham Jones. They were former security guards from the Allegro Hotel, which was near the Holiday Inn where Natalee was staying.
The reasons that they were arrested were never disclosed by police, but some news accounts posit that statements made by Van der Sloot and the Kalpoes could have been a factor.
The men were known for cruising hotels to pick up women, and at least one had previously run in to law enforcement. Both were released on June 13 without being charged.
On June 9, Van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Natalee Holloway, Aruban law allows for investigators to do this if their suspicions are serious enough. But in order to continue holding a suspect, an increase in supporting evidence must be met at periodic case reviews.
Commissioner Dompig said that the men had been under surveillance three days after Natalee disappeared, including wiretapping their phones and monitoring their emails. He also indicated that pressure from the Holloway family caused them to prematurely detain the suspects.
On June 17, another suspect was arrested, disc jockey Steve Gregory Croes. A press release stated that he was “detained on information from one of the other three detainees.” On June 22, Joran van der Sloot’s father, Paulus, was also detained for questioning and arrested. Both he and Croes were released on June 26.
While they were in custody, all three suspects changed their stories. They all told police that Van der Sloot and Natalee had been dropped off at the Marriott Hotel beach. Van der Sloot stated that he did not harm her while they were there, but he did leave her there. According to Satish Kalpoe’s attorney, Van der Sloot called Deepak to tell him that he was walking home, and sent him a text forty minutes later.
During his interrogation, Van der Sloot gave police yet another account – that he had been dropped off at his home, while Natalee drove off with the Kalpoe brothers. Commissioner Dompig discounted this story completely, thinking that the story arose when Van der Sloot saw that the Kalpoe brothers were pointing fingers at him.
Following a series of hearings before a judge, both Deepak and Satish Kalpoe were released on July 4. Van der Sloot was detained for sixty days after this.
More Investigation and Witnesses
More searches were conducted while these arrests were going on, including the use of aircraft equipped with infrared sensors and comparison of satellite photos to find ground shifts that could be a grave.
An individual known only as “the gardener” came forward and told police that he had seen Joran van der Sloot driving into the Aruba Racquet Club near the Marriott Hotel between 2:30 and 3am on May 30. A small pond on the property was partially drained between July 27 and 30, but nothing was found.
Another witness, identified as “the jogger” said that they saw men burying a blonde woman in a landfill on the afternoon of May 30. Police had already searched it, but they searched three more times, including with cadaver dogs.
Joran Van Der Sloot
Following his release, Van der Sloot gave several interviews, explaining his version of the events on the night that Natalee Holloway disappeared.
The most quoted is the one that he gave to Fox News – it was later broadcast over three nights in March 2006.
He said that Holloway had wanted to have sex with him, but he didn’t, because he didn’t have a condom. He also said that Holloway wanted them to stay on the beach, but he had to go to school in the morning.
He called Satish Kalpoe to pick him up and left Holloway on the beach – he said he was ashamed to have left her there, and said that he hadn’t been initially forthcoming with police because he was convinced that Natalee would turn up. He later wrote a book with reporter Zvezdana Vukojevic and maintained his innocence throughout.
In March 2010, Van der Sloot contacted John Q. Kelly, the attorney who was representing Natalee’s mother.
He offered to give them the location of Holloway’s body and the circumstances around her death if he were paid $250,000, with $25,000 in advance.
Kelly, rightfully, contacted the FBI, and they arranged to proceed. On May 10, he was wired $15,000 to an account in the Netherlands, and he received another $10,000 in cash. This exchange was recorded by undercover investigators in Aruba.
The information he provided to authorities was proven to be false. The house that he said he’d hidden Natalee’s body in had not even been constructed at the time of her disappearance. On June 3, the US District Court of Northern Alabama charged him with extortion and wire fraud.
Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez was a 21-year-old business student who was reported missing in Lima, Peru on May 30, 2010.
Three days later, she was found dead in a hotel room registered to Joran van der Sloot.
On June 3, he was arrested in Chile on the murder charge and extradited to Peru. On June 7, authorities said that he’d confessed to killing Flores – he said he lost his temper after she used his laptop without permission and found information that linked him to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.
Police chief César Guardia told the media that Van der Sloot had told police that he knew where Natalee’s body was and he again offered to help the Aruban authorities find her.
However, the interrogation was properly limited to the case in Peru, and questions about Natalee’s disappearance were avoided. He was charged in Lima Superior Court with first-degree murder and robbery on June 11.
On June 15, authorities from both Aruba and Peru announced a cooperative agreement to allow Aruban investigators to interview Van der Sloot while he was imprisoned in Peru.
However, when they got there, all he admitted to was the extortion of Natalee’s family, saying “I wanted to get back at Natalee’s family – her parents have been making my life tough for five years.”
On January 11, 2012, he pleaded guilty to murdering Stephany Flores and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Where Are We Now?
Six years after Natalee disappeared, her father Dave filed a petition seeking to have her declared legally dead.
Her mother Beth opposed this, but Probate Judge Alan King ruled that Dave Holloway had met requirements for a legal presumption of death.
On January 12, 2012, a second hearing was held, after which King signed the order that declared Natalee Holloway dead.
There have been numerous books and documentaries made about this case, but the conclusions remain the same – no one knows what happened to Natalee Holloway on May 30, 2005.
And perhaps, we never will.