Graduation Trip Gone Wrong: Natalee Holloway’s Disappearance in Aruba

Natalee Holloway was eighteen years old and in the prime of her life! She had just graduated from high school, and on May 24th, 2005, she went on a graduation trip to Aruba with her classmates. The kids were celebrating the end of high school and getting ready for the next stage of their lives. Unfortunately, one student didn’t make it to that next stage. Natalee was supposed to come home on May 30th, 2005, but she never showed up to her flight.

Natalee Holloway in a cheerleader uniform smiling / Natalee Holloway with her mother in a graduate custom / Natalee Holloway and her friends in a party / Joran Van der Sloot hugging a friend
Source: Instagram / Pinterest / Instagram / Facebook

Natalee Holloway’s parents have been desperate to find their daughter for the past 15 years! As you would expect, they took a lot of trips back and forth from Aruba looking for leads and trying to figure out exactly what happened to her. The media made it looks like Natalee was a young American party girl causing trouble in Aruba. Sadly, this made the public believe she may have drunk too much and died of alcohol poisoning. In a strange twist of events, the prime suspect made the case become clearer exactly five years later.

This is everything we know about Natalee Holloway’s tragic disappearance.

All American Girl

Natalee was born to Dave and Beth Holloway on October 21st, 1986. She grew up with her brother, mother, and stepfather in Mountain Brook, an affluent community in Birmingham, Alabama. Natalee was a well-liked honors student and participated in many extracurricular activities, including the dance squad and the Bible club.

Natalee Holloway in a cheerleader uniform lying on the grass
Source: Pinterest

Natalee earned a full scholarship to the University of Alabama and was planning to study pre-med. The trip to Aruba was meant to be a final blowout before she embarked on a new chapter in her life. On May 26th, together with the other 124 graduates and seven chaperones, she headed towards Aruba.

A Wild Vacation

The group was staying right on the beach at the Holiday Inn at the top end of Aruba. Since the drinking age is 18 over there, the classmates were finally able to legally enjoy their first alcoholic beverages together. Police Commissioner Gerold Dompig later described the trip to Vanity Fair:

Gerold Dompig in a news report
Police Commissioner Gerold Dompig. Source: Flickr

“Wild partying, a lot of drinking, lots of room switching every night. We know the Holiday Inn told them they weren’t welcome the next year. Natalee, we know, she drank all day, every day. We have statements she started every morning with cocktails – so much drinking that Natalee didn’t show up for breakfast two mornings.”

Just a Normal Teen

Paul Reynolds, Natalee’s uncle, said: “Natalee’s naïve. She hasn’t dated a lot. She doesn’t party a lot.” However, the beginning of the trip was alcohol-fueled. The classmates headed over to the beach and took over the tiki bars. Of course, drinking can lead to dangerous situations. But it doesn’t mean their cases should be taken less seriously.

A portrait of Natalee Holloway wearing a black dress
Source: Pinterest

At the end of the day, their behavior was pretty normal for 18-year-olds trying to make lasting memories. Unfortunately, the media spun the story making Natalee look like she was a party girl asking for trouble. There are even detectives who think she died of alcohol poisoning, but we’ll get into all that later.

A Vacation to Remember

Natalee and her classmates took a tour to the Antilla shipwreck, a German ship that sank back in the 1940s. They snorkeled around before heading back to their rooms and getting ready for the night ahead. Just like the previous nights, the students and chaperones had dinner together before going clubbing around the island.

People snorkeling next to a boat
Snorkeling in the Atilla Wreck, Aruba. Source:

Most of their favorite spots were located around the capital, Oranjestad, where they hit up bars like Carlos n Charlie’s and Choose a Name, which attracted tourists and served American food. It was a long night, and many of the students drank large amounts of alcohol before stumbling home in the early hours of the morning. Natalee partook in the heavy drinking and missed breakfast more than once during the trip.

Last Night on the Island

Their last full day on the island was Monday, May 9th. Natalee started off her day with a cocktail and hung out with her friends at the beach before heading back to the hotel room to get ready at about 6 p.m. After eating dinner with the group, Natalee and her friends went to the Holiday Inn casino on the second floor of the hotel and played at the blackjack table.

Natalie Holloway and her friends smiling
Source: Pinterest

That evening, Natalee’s friend started talking to a guy who was hanging out around the table. He was a 17-year-old Dutch student named Joran Van der Sloot, who was attending the International School of Aruba.

Making Friends at the Casino

Natalee’s friend was losing at blackjack, so Van der Sloot came to the rescue and gave her some tips until she was $100 up. They left the table and went for drinks at about 9:45 p.m. Van der Sloot had to leave, but the girls convinced him to meet up with them in Oranjestad later. Natalee and her friend tried to get on a bus at around 10 p.m., but the driver wouldn’t let them on with their drinks.

Joran Van der Sloot walking down the street
Joran Van der Sloot. Source: Flickr

Instead, the girls took a taxi, which only took 10 minutes. They met up with their friends at Carlos n Charlie’s nightclub and continued to enjoy their last night in Aruba, dancing and drinking with their classmates. Mountain Brook students basically took over the club, making it a seemingly safe place for the young girls on the trip.

Dancing All Night

When midnight rolled around, Van der Sloot showed up at the night club with two friends. He drank with Natalee, and the two danced until the club closed. At 1 a.m., the students headed out and moved the party to the streets as they were waiting for their friends. However, Natalee wasn’t part of the group.

Carlos n Charlie’s nightclub in Aruba
Source: Pinterest

Her friends assumed she went to Choose a Name, another club that was open later. But when they checked, she wasn’t there either. Eventually, Natalee’s friend went back to the hotel and waited for Natalee in the lobby until the early morning hours. But when she didn’t return, the friend went to bed.

May 30th, 2005

It was the last day of the vacation, and Natalee still didn’t get back to the hotel. At that point, people started to get concerned, but the classmates had been swapping rooms the whole trip, so they hoped she was bunking with someone else. Some kids said they saw Natalie leaving in a silver Honda Civic with three men.

Joran Van der Sloot hugging with two other friends
Source: Flickr

Her suitcase, passport, and cellphone were all still in her room. She purposely left her phone behind because she wasn’t getting reception on the island. It was time for the group to go to the airport, and Natalee was still missing. Now, the slight worrying turned into full-blown panic. One of the chaperones stayed behind in case Natalee came back. Another chaperone had to call her parents and break the news.

Number One Suspect

As soon as they heard the news, Natalee’s mother and her husband, Jug, flew to Aruba on a private jet. Within just a few hours on the island, the authorities had Van der Sloot’s full name and address from an employee at the Holiday Inn. They took the information to the police, and together they went to Van der Sloot’s home.

Beth Holloway and her husband George “Jug” Twitty during a prayer holding candles
Beth Holloway and her husband George “Jug” Twitty. Source: Twitter

Initially, Van der Sloot denied even knowing Natalee, but eventually, he admitted to dropping her off at the hotel after they hung out that night. Apparently, Natalee wanted to see the sharks, so they took her to Arashi Beach, just about 10 minutes from her hotel.

Let the Search Begin

Van der Sloot claimed that he wanted to help Natalee, who was falling over drunk, but she wouldn’t take it. He said that when he dropped her off, a man in a black shirt resembling a security guard approached her. However, security cameras revealed that Natalee didn’t return to the hotel that night. What happened next was the biggest search and rescue effort in the history of Aruba.

Beth Holloway looking at a folder and Aruba map
Source: ABC

The search for Natalee began immediately. Dutch marines searched the shoreline and raised $20,000 to help the search teams. Hundreds of volunteers from Aruba and the U.S. helped look for her. In an effort to aid the search, the Aruban government gave thousands of workers the day off so they could help in the search.

Where Is My Baby?!?!

As you can imagine, Natalee’s family was a wreck! It breaks my heart just to think about how worried they must have been. During her time on the island, Natalee’s mother was given a place to stay, but she insisted on staying in the hotel room Natalee had had before switching over to the Wyndham hotel.

Beth and Natalee Holloway smiling
Source: Twitter

Two security guards were arrested on June 5th. The two men worked at a hotel nearby that had been closed for renovations at the time. People believe that they were arrested because of Van der Sloot’s original statements to police. They were released without charge, and police turned their suspicions back to Van der Sloot.

Changing Stories…

A week into the investigation, Van der Sloot and his buddies, Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murder on June 9th. They changed their stories again, claiming that they left Natalee on the beach passed out. Van der Sloot then switched his story once again and told police that the brothers dropped him off before taking Natalee back to her hotel at around 2 a.m.

Joran Van der Sloot and Deepak and Satish Kalpoe hugging
Joran Van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers Deepak and Satish. Source: Flickr

The main concern investigators had was that the three men started blaming each other. As soon as finger-pointing started, it got more and more difficult to understand what really happened. On July 4th, Deepak and Satish Kalpoe were released without charge, but Van der Sloot was held for another two months.

Searching for Remains

The Holloway family offered a $1 million reward for Natalie’s safe return and $250 for information on her remains. The Royal Netherlands Air Force even let them use three F-16 aircraft to search the area with their infrared sensors and take pictures of the island for comparison against older images, hoping to find a burial site.

Natalee Holloway hugging a friend
Source: Facebook

A number of witnesses came forward with information on suspicious activity. One guy told detectives that early in the morning, he saw a silver Honda parked near the Aruba Racquet Club; Van der Sloot and the brothers were inside, trying to hide their faces. This sighting of three men at 2:30 a.m. contradicted the statements they had given police. The Racquet Club was near a pond. It took an entire day to drain the pond, but, unfortunately, there was no sign of Natalee.

Not a DNA Match

Another witness known as “the jogger” came forward and claimed he saw men burying a blonde girl in a landfill on June 1st. The landfill was searched a few different times, but a body was never found. On July 17th, a park ranger found a piece of duct tape that had blonde hair stuck in it. The tape was sent to Quantico, Virginia, but after being tested twice, the results confirmed that it wasn’t Natalee’s hair.

News report of the three suspects Deepak Kalpoe, Satish Kalpoe, and Joran Van der Sloot
Source: Pinterest

Deepak and Satish Kalpoe were arrested again on July 17th, along with Freddy Arambatzis. This new suspect was seen taking pictures of underaged girls, and police believe that Van der Sloot and the brothers were somehow involved. Freddy Arambatzis, Deepak Kalpoe, Satish Kalpoe, and Joran Van der Sloot were freed without charge just over one week later.

Help from Friends

They were released under the condition that they would be available to speak to police if needed. In January 2006, local investigators and the FBI started to interview Natalee’s classmates again. Natalee’s stepfather, Jug Tweety, appeared on Fox News later that month, telling Greta Van Susteren that Natalee’s friends were happy to help:

Natalee’s friends sitting and talking
Natalee’s friends talking about her. Source: Oprah

“I’ve talked to a lot of students, and I’ve talked to a lot of Natalee’s friends. They came over to Beth and I and talked to us and told us about it. And they’re very open. I mean, they’re not trying to hide anything. They want to try to help find Natalee. They will do anything. Anything the FBI asks them. They will answer the questions.”

His Side of the Story

Van der Sloot was interviewed on Fox News over three nights in March, giving his side of the story. During his one-on-one interview with Greta, he described his whereabouts on the night that Natalee vanished and the conversations they had. He revealed that he took Natalee back to his house in the silver Honda Civic, but as they pulled up, Natalee decided she wanted to see the sharks. He said he left her at the beach and felt bad for leaving her alone.

Joran van der Sloot interviewing
Joran van der Sloot interviewing to Fox News. Source: Pinterest

The Police Commissioner who led the investigation, Gerold Dompig, was interviewed on CBS. He explained what he thinks happened. He actually believes that Natalee was not murdered and that she most likely died from drug or alcohol poisoning.

Murder or Alcohol?

Dompig said: “We feel strongly that she probably went into shock or something happened to her system with all the alcohol – maybe on top of that, other drugs, which either she took or they gave her – and that she… just collapsed.” When April 26th rolled around, Geoffrey Van Cromvoirt was detained by Aruban investigators under suspicions of drug dealing that prosecutors believe may have led to Natalee’s disappearance.

Natalee Holloway hugging with her friend holding a cup of drink
Source: Pinterest

By September, Guido Wever was apprehended on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Natalee, but he was released without charge. After these arrests, Dutch police took over the case, and their investigation pointed back to Aruba.

Arrested and Released

The Dutch police inspected the laptops that they confiscated from Van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers and discovered conversations between the three. Investigators believe that Natalee was never taken to the beach. They think she went back to Van der Sloot’s apartment, located at the back of his parent’s house.

Natalee Holloway smiling
Source: Facebook

On November 21st, 2007, the Kalpoe brothers and Van der Sloot were arrested yet again. This time, police cited manslaughter and causing serious bodily harm that led to the death of Natalee Holloway. However, all three men were released and not charged by December, despite strong opposition from prosecutors.

Getting Back at the Family

In 2010, Van der Sloot told Natalee’s parents that he would tell them where her body is, as long as he was paid for the information. He demanded $250,000 and was initially wired $25,000. The FBI set up an undercover sting operation, and the initial payment passed to Van der Sloot was filmed by an agent. He showed investigators where Natalee was and that his father buried her under the house’s foundation.

Joran van der Sloot with a friend smiling and doing an OK sign
Source: Instagram/@joranvds

However, the house he named as her burial spot was a dusty, vacant plot at the time of her disappearance. Van der Sloot admitted in De Telegraph that “I wanted to get back at Natalee’s family. Her parents have been making my life tough for five years.”

His Next Victim

While the FBI was collecting evidence for extortion and wire fraud against Van der Sloot, he took the money that was still in his account and flew off to Peru. He left his mom a note explaining that he was invited to take part in a poker tournament. But things were about to take a turn for the worst. This is when everything became evident and scarier.

Joran van der Sloot sitting next to a pool with a laptop in his lap
Source: Instagram/@joranvanderslootofficial

On May 30th, 2010, Joran Van der Sloot murdered Stephany Flores Ramírez. Initially, police thought that she was kidnapped since Peruvian investigators weren’t aware of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance and had no clue who Joran Van der Sloot… yet.

Arrested and Sentenced

Tragically, the remains of 21-year-old Stephany were found three days later in a hotel room registered to none other than Van der Sloot. He was arrested in Chile that day and sent back to Peru. Van der Sloot had no choice but to come clean about the murder.

Stephany Flores Ramírez smiling and holding a big teddy bear
Stephany Flores Ramírez. Source: Facebook

He confessed to killing Stephany because she apparently accessed his laptop and found information linking him to Natalee’s disappearance. On January 11th, 2012, Van der Sloot was charged with robbery and first-degree murder in Lima Superior Court in Peru. What’s eerie is that Stephany’s murder took place exactly 5 years to the day since Natalee’s disappearance.

Criticizing the Investigation

Natalee’s family criticized Aruban police for their handling of the investigation into Natalee’s disappearance. The locals and police on the island who helped search for the American teen were quick to respond. Police Commissioner Gerold Dompig said the family was interrupting the investigation, causing officers to make early arrests without building a case first.

Natalee’s mother Beth walking on the beach in Aruba
Beth Holloway in Aruba. Source: Pinterest

“Basically, Jug wanted us to come over and beat a confession out of these boys. We couldn’t do that. These guys are hardheaded, especially Joran. We couldn’t get a confession.” Jug Twitty denied these allegations, but it raises the question of why no one was charged with Natalee Holloway’s disappearance.

A Mother’s Intuition

Because of Dutch jurisprudence, the amount of time prosecutors have to arrest and interrogate suspects with no evidence has come and gone, and there are no leads or clues to follow. Bones have been found in Aruba throughout the years, and all of them have been tested. Unfortunately, none of them match Natalee’s DNA.

A missing add of Natalee Holloway
Source: Instagram/@natalee_holloway

Many people wonder why Beth Twitty immediately believed that Natalee was kidnapped and didn’t run off on her own. Perhaps that’s just a mother’s intuition. Ultimately, Natalee’s dad filed to declare his daughter legally dead. The declaration was signed by Judge Alan King in January 2012.

Karma is a B****!

After his conviction, Joran’s mom, Anita, stated that she believed her son could have killed Stephany, and she will not be visiting him in prison. She told Dutch TV: “I believe in karma, I believe that very strongly. I believe that if you do things that you shouldn’t do, that a lot of shit happens to you…”

Joran Van der Sloot hugging his parents
Joran Van der Sloot with his parents. Source: ABC News

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the year Natalee went missing, Aruban tourism declined. The amount of American’s vacationing there fell 7% in 2005, which resulted in a financial effect. It also had an emotional impact on locals. A taxi driver defended his island: “The truth is, Aruba is safe. We don’t have people begging. There’s no bad neighborhood where a tourist feels he could be in trouble. We are all shocked when whatever happened to this girl happened.”

Remembering Natalie Holloway

The FBI is still seeking information on Natalee and hoping to close the 15-year-old case. Both of Natalie’s parents wrote books about their experience dealing with a missing daughter. Beth Twitty wrote Loving Natalee: The True Story of the Aruba Kidnapping and Its Aftermath. Dave Holloway wrote Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and Corruption in Paradise.

The cover of Dave Holloway’s book
Source: Instagram/@504.books

There are various other books written about Natalee’s disappearance. If Natalee were still alive today, she would be 34 years old and most probably focusing on a career in the field of medicine. Her mother, Beth, set up the Natalee Holloway Resource Center, which helps the families of missing people. Joran is currently serving a 28-year sentence for Stephany’s murder.

If you thought this case was interesting, wait until you read the story of Bobby Love, the fugitive who was caught living a double life for 40 years.