Last seen with Joran van der Sloot, Natalee Holloway vanished in Aruba during a trip with her Alabama high school class in May 2005.
At the end of May 2005, dozens of exhausted American teenagers and their chaperones prepared to leave Aruba after celebrating their high school graduation. But one teenager was unaccounted for: 18-year-old Natalee Holloway. Tragically, she’d never be seen alive again.
News of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance spread across the world and launched a frantic search of the Caribbean island. But even though a 17-year-old Dutch national named Joran van der Sloot was quickly identified as one of the last people to see Holloway alive, the prime suspect would walk free for five years until he murdered a different woman in Peru.
Holloway was declared legally dead in 2012. But many questions about her disappearance remain, especially since van der Sloot has changed his story about Holloway’s final hours so many times throughout the years. So, what really happened to Holloway on the night that she vanished?
A High School Graduation Trip Turns Tragic
Born on October 21, 1986, Natalee Ann Holloway had a fairly normal upbringing. She attended Mountain Brook High School in Mountain Brook, Alabama, where she got good grades, joined the dance team, and participated in student government. According to her mother, Beth Twitty, she was focused on her studies, and she avoided alcohol, dating, and sex.
“Natalee was very smart,” Twitty told Vanity Fair, “but very naïve.”
Upon graduation, Holloway planned to attend the University of Alabama on a full scholarship. But first, she and 124 fellow students (and seven adult chaperones) would celebrate their high school graduation with a trip to Aruba. Mountain Brook High School seniors had taken the trip before, and Twitty initially had no reservations about Holloway joining her classmates.
“The Mountain Brook students had been there the previous two years,” Twitty explained to Dateline. “[W]e felt like, you know, there’s safety in numbers.”
On May 26, 2005, Holloway and her classmates arrived in Aruba. Her classmates later told Dateline that the first couple of days were relaxing and fun. They spent long, lazy afternoons lying on the beach, indulged in pre-dinner naps, and explored the island’s bars (the drinking age in Aruba is 18).
On the last night of the trip, May 29th, Holloway and her friends went to the hotel casino, where they met a 17-year-old Dutch national named Joran van der Sloot. Though van der Sloot had lived in Aruba for years, he claimed to be a tourist. He also claimed to be 19. Van der Sloot later joined Holloway and others at a nearby nightclub called Carlos ‘n Charlie’s in Oranjestad.
As the night came to an end, most of the high school seniors headed back to the hotel. After all, their flight home was the next day. But Natalee Holloway was seen getting into a car with van der Sloot and two of his friends, the brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe (who were 21 and 18 years old, respectively), around 1:30 a.m. on May 30, 2005.
Hours later, 18-year-old Natalee Holloway was nowhere to be found.
The Disappearance Of Natalee Holloway
As the Mountain Brook High School seniors gathered at their hotel, a Holiday Inn, in preparation for their flight back to Alabama, the adult chaperones realized that one student was missing — Natalee Holloway. One of the adults called Holloway’s mother, who instantly feared the worst.
“I knew immediately that my daughter had been kidnapped in Aruba,” Twitty told Vanity Fair. “Natalee has never been late in her life.”
Convinced that something was horribly wrong, Twitty and her husband — Holloway’s stepfather — landed in Aruba within 12 hours after they learned that Natalee Holloway had gone missing. Speaking to staff at the Holiday Inn, they slowly pieced together what happened the night before. Twitty and her husband learned that Holloway had last been seen with a Dutchman.
“[A hotel employee] knew exactly who he was: Joran van der Sloot,” Twitty recounted to Vanity Fair. “And then she said — these were her exact words — ‘He tends to prey upon young female tourists.'”
Before long, van der Sloot started telling his side of the story. But then, his story kept changing. He admitted that he’d left Carlos ‘n Charlie’s with Holloway and two of his friends, Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, but he initially claimed that he’d dropped her off at the Holiday Inn. Then, van der Sloot allegedly admitted that the original story wasn’t the truth.
He then said that Holloway had wanted to drive around and go to the beach to see sharks. Van der Sloot claimed that they drove past the hotel, and that Holloway had performed oral sex on him in the back of the car.
By 2006, van der Sloot was claiming that he’d left Holloway at the beach instead of the hotel. “The last time I saw her, she was sitting on the sand by the ocean,” he insisted in an interview with ABC News.
Over the course of the investigation, Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers were both arrested and released, then arrested and released again due to lack of hard evidence that they had harmed or killed Holloway. (Despite the fact that the Kalpoe brothers changed their stories numerous times, they were never charged with anything and reportedly still live in Aruba today.) And as time went on, the investigation into Natalee Holloway’s disappearance would take several more twists and turns.
What Happened To Natalee Holloway?
As the years passed, some of Natalee Holloway’s loved ones started to feel more certain than ever that she was dead. “I had a gut feeling that — you know, just, I guess, as a parent, you just have that feeling that she’s not here anymore,” her father, Dave Holloway, explained to Dateline.
But what exactly had happened to her?
Joran van der Sloot had initially denied hurting or killing Holloway after spending the night with her in 2005. But his story continued to change, and became more disturbing as time went on. In 2008, van der Sloot told a convicted Dutch drug dealer who’d been paid to covertly record him that he and Holloway had just had sex when she suddenly had a seizure and died.
“All of a sudden, what she did was like in a movie,” he said, according to E! Online. “She was shaking, it was awful… I prodded her, there was nothing.”
Van der Sloot then claimed to the dealer that he asked a friend to dispose of her body. “He went out to sea and then he threw her out, like an old rag.”
At other points in time, van der Sloot told a variety of different stories about Holloway’s fate, sometimes claiming that he’d killed her, that she had died by accident, and even that he’d sold her into sexual slavery, according to ABC News. In 2010, he allegedly tried to extort $250,000 from Holloway’s mother after claiming that he would reveal the location of her body.
Then, Joran van der Sloot absconded to Peru.
He didn’t stay out of trouble, however. Exactly five years after Natalee Holloway’s disappearance, van der Sloot murdered a 21-year-old Peruvian woman named Stephany Flores by beating her to death in his hotel room in Lima on May 30, 2010. Soon after Flores’ body was found, van der Sloot was arrested. He was officially found guilty of murdering Flores in 2012 and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the crime.
In 2023, van der Sloot was temporarily extradited to the United States to face charges stemming from his 2010 extortion of Natalee Holloway’s family. “It has been a very long and painful journey, but the persistence of many is going to pay off. Together, we are finally getting justice for Natalee,” Beth Twitty told NBC News of van der Sloot’s extradition. If found guilty of the extortion-related charges, van der Sloot will first complete his prison sentence in Peru before coming back to the U.S. for more prison time.
Still, true justice has eluded Natalee Holloway, who was legally declared dead in 2012. What truly happened to the 18-year-old in Aruba in 2005? Perhaps there’s a grain of truth in the various stories offered by Joran van der Sloot, but, for now, the full story of her disappearance remains a mystery.
After reading about Natalee Holloway, discover the eerie story of Amy Lynn Bradley, the 23-year-old who vanished from a cruise ship in the Caribbean and may have been sold into sexual slavery. Or, learn about the puzzling case of Brian Shaffer, the Ohio medical student who disappeared from a bar.