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One of the most high-profile unsolved disappearances in the United States is the case of Natalee Holloway. A beloved high school senior from the small town of Mountain Brook, Alabama, Holloway disappeared on May 30, 2005 while taking a senior trip with her classmates celebrating her recent graduation from high school. What would follow would be a media firestorm that would overtake the world for ten years and with little to show for it.

The prime suspect? Joran Van der Sloot, a 17-year-old local who was last seen with Holloway the night before her disappearance. Van der Sloot would change his testimony over the course of the next decade, stating Natalee’s parents, Jug and Beth Twitty, were targeting him because they need a resolution. However, over the course of multiple investigations and questioning, Van der Sloot would alter his story. In one instance he claimed to have had sex with Holloway and and then disposed of her body. However, he later recanted his testimony and claimed it was coerced, stating he and his two friends spent the evening with Holloway and dropped her off at her hotel that morning.

The Aruban police would also be called into question due to their slow progression on the case and mishandling of testimony and evidence. Friends and family began to take matters into their own hands in an effort to come up with some clues as to what happened the night of Natalee’s disappearance. Unfortunately, this would backfire for her mother Beth who was seen as fabricating claims and misguiding the media throughout the investigation.

In 2010, Joran Van der Sloot was arrested for the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores. He admitted to killing her because she was on his laptop without his permission and he believed she found incriminating evidence linking him to the disappearance of Holloway. Van der Sloot was sentenced to 28 years in prison for Flores’s death.

That same year, Natalee’s father petition the court to have Natalee declared legally dead, despite his ex-wife Beth trying to block the motion. Thankfully, the court sided with father in order to provide him with some closure. However, new evidence that has come to light over a decade later, may shine some light on what actually happened to Natalee Holloway. But first, it’s important to understand what led the investigation to his point, from Holloway’s promising beginnings to her ultimate demise.

 

20. Humble Beginnings

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Natalee Holloway was anything but trouble growing up. What one would consider a picture-perfect student, she graduated with honors from Mountain Brook High School in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Natalee had a younger brother named Matthew, and they both lived with their mother Beth and her new husband Jug Twitty, who was a well-known businessman in the area

19. More than Good Grades

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Besides excelling in her coursework, Natalee was a member of the dance squad, National Honors Society and was expected to attend the University of Alabama on a full scholarship. To say the world was looking bright for this young lady would be an understatement.

18. The Class Trip

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As a way to celebrate graduation, Holloway and her senior class of 124 students decided to jet set to Aruba on May 26, 2005 for an unofficial trip. With seven chaperones along for the adventure, Holloway’s parents had no concerns for their daughter’s safety. Plus, the students had to check in with the chaperones daily to make sure everything was in order.

17. A Little Too Wild

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According to the chaperones and fellow classmates, the trip turned into a partying and drinking fiasco. In fact, the Holiday Inn the students were staying at said they were not welcome back the following year. Apparently, Natalee was the worst culprit, drinking morning, noon and night. Friends admitted there were several mornings she missed breakfast due to intense hangovers.

16. Vanishing into the Night

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Natalee’s classmates last saw her around 1:30 am outside of Carlos ‘n Charlie’s bar. According to those on the scene, Holloway left the bar with 17-year-old  Joran Van der Sloot and his two friends Deepak and Satish. Joran was a Dutch student  who was living in the country attending the International School of Aruba.

15. The Disappearance

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On the morning of May 30, 2005, Natalee Holloway did not show up for her return flight. According to those traveling with her, they found her bags packed and her passport on top of her luggage ready to go. It’s not known if she pre-packed before going out the night before or if she returned to her hotel at some point before her disappearance.

14. Initial Investigation

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Immediately after Holloway’s disappearance, the Aruban police department performed an initial sweep of the island. No evidence or sign of Natalee was to be found. Her parents, along with some family friends, flew to Aruba within hours of her being reported missing. They revealed to the police department that the Holiday Inn confirmed Holloway was last seen with Joran Van der Sloot.

13. Confronting the Joran

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When first questioned by the police and Natalee’s parents at his home, Joran denied knowing Natalee. However, he eventually broke down and revealed that he had taken Natalee with his two friends to Arashi Beach because she wanted to see the sharks the area was so famous for. Afterwards, they drove her back to the hotel at 2:00 am and that was the last time they saw her. However, the problem with Joran’s story is the timeline didn’t match since she left the bar with him at 1:30 A.M. and could not have been to Arashi Beach and then back to the hotel by 2:00 A.M.

12. Extensive Search Begins

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After questioning Van der Sloot, the Aruban authorities as well as hundreds of volunteers both local and from the United States began searching the island. The rescue effort, along with subsequent investigations, was initially unorganized and offered many false leads and findings. In one instance, blood was found in the car of Joran’s friend’s car, however testing proved it was not blood at all. The reliability of the surveillance cameras at the hotel was also called into question. While Natalee’s mother stated they hadn’t been working the night of her daughter’s disappearance, the truth was they were, however; Natalee didn’t appear on any of the tapes that evening.

11. United States Involvement

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From the moment the investigation began, American law enforcement participated in the ongoing investigation, refusing to abandon  a United States citizen and their family. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that the country was in contact with Aruban officials on a regular basis and were offering substantial resources to find Natalee as quickly as possible.

10. The 2005 Arrests

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In 2005, Van der Sloot and his two friends were arrested for suspicion of kidnapping and the murder of Natalee Holloway. Despite the lack of evidence, the laws in Aruba allow for arrests to be made on serious suspicion. While in custody, one of the young men confessed that something “bad” happened to Holloway when they were at the beach. This continued to fuel the media to point the fingers at Van der Sloot.

9. The Blame Game

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While in custody, Van der Sloot and his friends began to change their stories once they realized they were all beginning to point fingers. The two friends confessed that they left Van der Sloot and Holloway alone at a Marriott Resort, however Joran denies these claims. He stated that he left her on the beach, but this story changed yet again when he revealed that Holloway went off alone with the two brothers. Due to conflicting stories and lack of evidence, all three were released after being detained for sixty days.

8. More Misinformation

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According to witnesses, it was later revealed that a jogger saw Van der Sloot burying Holloway in a landfill. However, when searched, no remains were found. Divers also claimed to have seen human bones while swimming off the coast of the island, however this lead revealed no new evidence either. As the media picked up on any claim or testimony, the investigation began to become more convoluted.

7. The 2006 Arrests

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Both of Van der Sloot’s friends were rearrested on August 26, 2006 due to being linked with taking photographs of underage girls. The police hoped this might force the boys to talk and finally reveal the truth about what happened to Holloway. Unfortunately for the local authorities, no confessions were made. At this time Van der Sloot once again changed his story, saying Holloway had drug paraphernalia on her and wanted to be left on the beach alone, so he did. According to Holloway’s parents and classmates, this seemed very out of character for Natalee.

6. The Investigation Takes a Murky Turn

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As the investigation continued with Aruba, the United States and finally the Netherlands (where Joran was originally from) becoming involved,  a new search began. In 2007, Van der Sloot’s family home was searched, however nothing out of the ordinary was found. His two friends and their homes were searched again as well, however no new evidence game to light. Around this time Van der Sloot used the media to stay in the spotlight, releasing a book detailing his side of the events. He continued to claim his innocence.

5. Extortion of the Holloway Family

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Over the course of the next three years, the investigation into Natalee Holloway’s disappearance would take many twists and turns, but would make very little progress. In 2008, Van der Sloot was secretly recorded stating that Holloway had a violent reaction to something she ingested and become unresponsive. Not knowing what to do, he disposed of the body. Later, his story would change when he said he sold Holloway into sexual slavery and she was sent to Venezuela.

In 2010, two major events took place. First, Van der Sloot stated in an interview that he killed Holloway and buried her body in a marsh. However, the story was dismissed due to the inaccurate timeline of events. Second,  Van der Sloot tried to extort money from the family of Natalee Holloway, stated he would reveal the location of her body in exchange for $250,000. The FBI tracked the transaction and he was indicted for extortion and wire fraud.

4. Another Murder & a Conviction

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On May 30, 2010, exactly five years after Natalee Holloway’s disappearance, Stephany Flores disappeared in Lima, Peru. Van der Sloot confessed to killing Flores out of anger because she had been snooping on his laptop and may have found evidence linking him to Holloway’s disappearance. After pleading guilty to the murder, Van der Sloot was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

3. Holloway Declared Legally Dead

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Natalee’s father was desperate for closure, despite his daughter’s body never being found. While his ex-wife wanted to keep the hope that by some miracle, Holloway was still alive, her father wanted peace. After two court hearings, Natalee Holloway was declared legally dead on January 12, 2012.

2. The Tides Turn in 2017

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Twelve years after Holloway’s disappearance, a new twist emerged in the case in the form of a confession from Van der Sloot in an interview on January 4, 2017. However, Holloway’s father declared it a lame publicity stunt. Van der Sloot would confess he felt guilty for what he had done, but that his case had been handled terribly by the police which led him to fabricate most of his stories.

1. A New Confession Could Change Everything

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In the end, Van der Sloot admitted to murdering Holloway in the early morning hours of May 30, 2005 and disposing of her body. He felt the time was right to finally reveal the truth. However, no new evidence has turned up and the authorities believe that time and the ocean have most likely washed away any likelihood of finding Holloway’s remains. However, there will always be the uncertainty of what happened that night. Did Van der Sloot kill Natalee or has this been a 12-year-long publicity stunt? The sad truth is…we may never know.

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