On this day in 2005, more than two weeks after American teen Natalee Holloway vanished while on a high school graduation trip to the Caribbean island of Aruba, police there search the home of 17-year-old Joran Van der Sloot, one of the last known people to see the young woman alive. Although Van der Sloot would emerge as a prime suspect in the case, he was never charged. Holloway’s disappearance generated massive media attention in the United States; however, her body never has been found, and in 2012 she was declared legally dead.
Holloway, an 18-year-old from Mountain Brook, Alabama, was last seen leaving an Aruban bar and restaurant with Van der Sloot and two of his friends, Deepak Kalpoe, 21, and Satish Kalpoe, 18, in the early hours of May 30. The young men initially claimed they dropped the blonde teen at her hotel around 2 a.m.; however, the three, who were arrested on June 9, later changed their stories. Van der Sloot reportedly admitted to being alone with Holloway on the beach on May 30, after being dropped there by the Kalpoe brothers, but said he never harmed her. After a judge deemed there was not enough evidence to hold them, the Kalpoes were released from custody in early July. Van der Sloot, who was born in the Netherlands and raised in Dutch-speaking Aruba, was released in September. A string of additional suspects were detained but no charges were filed. Despite extensive searches of the island and surrounding ocean by investigators and volunteers, the case remained unsolved.
In 2007, police re-arrested Van der Sloot and the Kalpoes in connection with Holloway’s disappearance, but once again soon released them due to insufficient evidence. The following year, a Dutch television program aired a secretly made tape in which Van der Sloot alleged Holloway had collapsed on the beach, and that after failing to revive her he had disposed of her body. He later retracted this statement.
On June 3, 2010, Van der Sloot was arrested in South America in connection with the slaying of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, in Lima, Peru. Flores was murdered on May 30, 2010, exactly five years to the day after Holloway went missing. Van der Sloot met the Peruvian college student at a Lima casino while he was there for a poker tournament. After Flores was found dead in a hotel room, beaten and with a broken neck, hotel surveillance video linked the Dutchman to the crime. After his arrest, he admitted to Peruvian authorities he had killed Flores following an argument. However, he later recanted this confession, saying he was frightened and confused when he made it. On the day Van der Sloot was arrested in South America, U.S. authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with a plot to extort $250,000 from Holloway’s family in exchange for revealing the location of her remains.
On January 11, 2012, Van der Sloot, who has been behind bars in Peru since his June 2010 arrest, pleaded guilty in a Lima courtroom to Flores’ murder. His lawyer contended the Dutchman killed Flores due to “extreme psychological trauma” after being accused in Holloway’s disappearance. Van der Sloot was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
One day before the sentencing in Peru, a judge in Birmingham, Alabama, signed an order declaring Natalee Holloway legally dead. The judge made the ruling at the request of Holloway’s father, so that he could settle his daughter’s estate.