The man long suspected in the case is serving time in prison for killing another young woman in Peru five years to the day that Natalee vanished. That he committed the murder while on a trip traveling with money he allegedly extorted from Natalee’s mom only compounds the twin tragedies.
But Beth Holloway has begun shed her burdens. “I have come to the terms that this island doesn’t hold anything over me anymore,” she tells ABC’s 20/20 on her first extended visit to Aruba in nearly a decade for a broadcast airing Friday. (An exclusive clip is above.)
Natalee, an 18-year-old from Mountain Brook, Alabama, spent some of her final documented hours with friends at a bar and restaurant called Carlos ‘N Charlie’s on the night of May 30, 2005. There she reconnected with a young local man, Joran van der Sloot, she’d earlier met in a hotel casino.
She was last seen in a car with van der Sloot and two of his friends speeding away from the nightspot.
Immediately upon learning her daughter had failed to show for the return trip home the next morning, Beth Holloway raced to Aruba, and within 24 hours she found and confronted van der Sloot. Aruban authorities initially acted sluggishly, and despite eventual detentions of van der Sloot and his friends, never brought charges against them.
Beth Holloway spent the next several years chasing van del Sloot’s shifting explanations and deceptions and trying, unsuccessfully, to prove his involvement while searching for Natalee or her remains.
In a final hail-Mary attempt, Beth Holloway put up $25,000 in 2010, after van der Sloot requested the money as downpayment for information. Then he slipped off the island, writing in an email to Beth’s attorney, John Q. Kelly, who had negotiated the payment: “I did not tell you the truth so the information you have is worthless … I’m sorry for making a fool out of you if that is why [sic] you think. I think you are a nice man and a man of your word and I am most definitely not.”
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All along, Kelly, who was working with law enforcement, had intended the negotiation to serve as the basis for a criminal extortion charge that later was filed in the U.S. But before van der Sloot could be arrested, news broke that he had traveled to Peru and killed Stephany Flores in his hotel room after meeting her in a casino.
He was convicted of murder and sentenced to serve 28 years in prison. Peruvian authorities later ruled he could be extradited to the U.S. to face the extortion charges, but not until 2038, when his sentence is up.
Visiting Aruba with 20/20, Beth Holloway is shown arriving at the airport and then passing through the streets of Oranjestad, the small capital city of the Dutch island where so much of her search took place.
“So, 14 years later, Aruba has become a lot less significant to me,” says Holloway, who has become a public speaker advocating for travel safety and awareness. “It’s interesting how all these landmarks that were such a driving force in our search for Natalee are just — I mean, they’re gone.”
“Carlos ‘N Charlie’s is gone,” she observes. “This whole area is gone.”
“This place doesn’t control me anymore.”
20/20 airs Friday (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.