The disappearance of Natalee Holloway in 2005 brought international attention and years of uncertainty. While several men were detained, Joran van der Sloot remained a prime suspect, as his rapidly changing story made it nearly impossible for authorities to determine fact from fiction. He was a slippery suspect from the start, but an unofficial sting operation years later may have finally uncovered the truth.
In May 2005, Alabama’s Mountain Brook High School discovered one of its own was missing while on a senior graduation trip in Aruba. On the day her class was to return home, they made a grim discovery: Natalee Holloway’s hotel room was empty, save for her suitcase and passport.
From May 30 to June 1, search teams were sent out to locate any sign of Holloway. News that a young, blonde, affluent student had gone missing in Aruba became international news. When no signs of the high school senior were found, the police doubled down on their search for a suspect.
Various men who had encountered Holloway were detained, but with no hard evidence to make them clear suspects, they were soon released — all but one guy, that is. One guy who kept popping up on the investigators’ radar was Joran Van der Sloot, a 17-year old Dutch citizen who’d been with Natalee during her final hours alive.
At first, Van der Sloot’s version of events matched those who had been with Natalee that night: After drinking heavily at a local bar, she’d gotten into a car with Van der Sloot around 1 AM. In the car were two of Van der Sloot’s friends, Deepak and Satish Kalpoe. From there, however, Van der Sloot’s story gets fuzzy.
Initially, Van der Sloot told authorities that he and Holloway had driven to a lighthouse with the Kalpoe brothers before driving back to the Holiday Inn, where Holloway was staying. She stumbled getting out of the car, he said, but when he saw a man who looked like a security guard helping her into the hotel, he and the Kalpoes drove away.
But on June 9, the Kalpoe brothers changed their story completely. Instead of dropping Holloway off at her hotel after a night of partying, they claimed that they’d dropped her and Van der Sloot off at a nearby beach. With the spotlight now back on Van der Sloot, he was detained for sixty days but eventually released for lack of evidence.
By early 2006, Van der Sloot had long since been released yet remained a person of interest. The investigation into the disappearance of Natalee Holloway had gone cold, but a new development gave the media a scoop. Joran Van der Sloot had agreed to an interview with Fox News, and it became a huge TV event.
Spread over three nights, Greta Van Susteren interviewed Van der Sloot about the night Holloway disappeared. It was during this explosive interview that Van der Sloot’s story changed once again: He asserted that he and Holloway had been dropped off at the beach by the Kalpoes, but that he’d eventually gone home, leaving Natalee alone on the sand.
Along with these new details, Van der Sloot also revealed what it was like being a murder suspect in Aruba. “Oh, everyone here has always treated me well,” he said. “I mean, everybody knows what’s going on, probably more than the people in the States do.” While Van der Sloot became a media sensation, Natalee’s family kept searching.
Frustrated over the lack of success, Natalee’s family even criticized how the Aruban officials handled the case. They also attempted to boycott the island, a popular one with American tourists, though this effort wasn’t very successful. Then in 2008, a morbid revelation was revealed.
Dutch reporter Peter R. de Vries believed Van der Sloot was guilty. To prove it, he organized a sting operation that involved a man infiltrating Van der Sloot’s friend group. Hidden camera footage was taken and was broadcast to a massive audience. Among everything else Van der Sloot talked about, he also stated, “She’ll never be found.”
In a Range Rover with three hidden cameras, Van der Sloot, high on marijuana and apparently feeling chatty, once again changed his story. It was his darkest one yet: He claimed that Holloway, drunk and perhaps on drugs, had a seizure while they were on the beach together. In his panic, Van der Sloot made the situation even worse.
“I would never murder a girl,” Van der Sloot added at this point in the story. When he realized that Holloway was unresponsive, he’d called a friend, who helped him pick up Holloway’s body, put it on a boat, and drop it far out into the ocean. The friend promised Van der Sloot the chances of finding her were slim…
This broadcast footage seemed like everything the police needed in order to make Van der Sloot’s arrest, but he was quicker than the justice system: Prior to the footage being shown, Van der Sloot had agreed to an interview in which he recanted everything he was heard saying on the recordings.
Aruban prosecutors attempted to reopen Holloway’s case due to the camera footage, but it didn’t lead to another investigation into Van der Sloot. A judge even denied the merits for an arrest warrant, claiming that the footage was not enough, possibly due to the young man’s recant and the way his story was recorded.
Natalee’s mother, Beth Twitty, was given access to the footage by the reporter, De Vries. “They could have just dumped her alive in the ocean, unconscious,” she had said in horror. Hope for answers was as elusive as ever…until 2010, when Natalee’s family was contacted by none other than Joran Van der Sloot.
But Van der Sloot wasn’t contacting them out of guilt. Instead, he promised he would reveal where Natalee was in exchange for $25,000. With five years of grief, fruitless searches, and false hopes behind them, Natalee’s family held on to the first real hope they’d had in years.
But after Twitty transferred the money to Van der Sloot’s bank account, he admitted he had lied again. In his mind, the Holloway family owed him after five years of abuse from the police and press. Van der Sloot was once again arrested, but not for extortion. In 2010, he was arrested for murder…just not the murder of Natalee Holloway.
In June 2010, Van der Sloot was arrested for the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores Ramirez. In a shocking move, his defense team initially blamed Holloway’s family for Van der Sloot’s actions. Van der Sloot claimed that his past several years in the spotlight had led to a breakdown, resulting in Ramirez’s murder.
While the jury deliberated, Van der Sloot’s suspicious connection to Holloway’s disappearance, though unproven, no doubt ran through their minds. While deliberating the murder of Stephany Ramirez, they had to ask themselves a question — one that was famously proposed at the trial of another high-profile murder case at the time.
“What do guilty people do?” prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick asked in her closing statements to Casey Anthony’s jury in 2011. “They lie, they avoid, they run, they mislead… they divert attention away from themselves and they act like nothing is wrong.” This, she said, was exactly what Anthony was doing — and it’s also what Van der Sloot had been doing for years.
In the end, Van der Sloot’s “breakdown” defense went nowhere, and in 2012, the jury made their decision. Van der Sloot was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the murder of Stephany Ramirez. While the Holloway family hoped he would be given additional years for extortion, the charges went nowhere. The Holloways were left wondering: What happened to Natalee?
Beth Twitty still has hope that her daughter is alive. Though she doesn’t know where Natalee is, she at least knows one thing: Joran Van der Sloot most likely does. Just as Casey Anthony’s prosecutor said at her trial in 2011, guilty people “lie, they avoid, they run, they mislead,” and no one knows that better than Joran Van der Sloot and Casey Anthony.
Though both suspected murderers were never convicted (at least not for Holloway’s disappearance, in Van der Sloot’s case,) that doesn’t make the facts any less suspicious. For Anthony, it was suspicious that she never called the police after her daughter went missing. Now, ten years later, she’s finally revealed what’s fact and what’s fiction about her case.
While the prosecution asserted Anthony tried to free herself from being a parent by killing her child, the defense claimed Caylee Anthony had drowned by accident and George Anthony, the grandfather, hid the body. Casey lied, the defense said, because of abuse in her own childhood. On July 5, 2011, the verdict was in.
Alleged lies, confusion, and gaps in the prosecution’s story led the jury to find Casey Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and aggravated child abuse charges. She did, however, receive a four-year sentence for providing false information to law enforcement. The high-profile trial ended with a whimper…
Because of time served and good behavior, Casey Anthony spent just ten days in jail. Meanwhile, those connected to the trial tried picking up the pieces of their lives. They all had different thoughts on Anthony and whether they thought she was guilty.
Anthony’s relationship with her parents is still very unsettled. During the trial, Casey accused her father of sexual abuse when she was younger. He firmly denied it, saying the accusations were made up to help Casey’s defense.
Casey has been reported to have continued keeping up some contact with her mother, Cindy (below), but not her father. It wasn’t until November 2018, when George survived a bad car accident, that something changed.
From a TV interview, George Anthony confirmed his daughter had reached out to him after the accident. In the same interview, George hoped the two could repair their relationship. But no one was sure if that was possible.
Casey’s parents still lived in the Orlando, Florida, home they had back during the trial. A threat of foreclosure almost succeeded in throwing them out. By September 2019, they had finally resolved it. Other persons of interest had similar bad luck.
Another person of interest involved in the case was Anthony’s nanny. Zenaida “Zanny” Gonzalez was, according to Anthony, watching young Caylee when the child went missing. The defense attorney believed, because of Casey’s repressed trauma, “Zanny” was initially made up by Casey.
After the trial, Gonzalez tried to sue Anthony for defamation. The case didn’t make it far, and in January 2016, Gonzalez was arrested on charges of theft. While working as a cleaner, Gonzalez had stolen and used the credit card of a cancer patient.
Meanwhile, Casey Anthony’s old friend and roommate, Cameron Campana (below), doesn’t believe any of her old friends or roommates keep in contact with her. Neither does he. Now 31-years old, he still can recall when his private life became suddenly very public.
Casey Anthony had been living with Campana and four others before her daughter went missing. Any routine college life was upended with the discovery of Caylee’s body. Campana’s last glimpse of his old friend was at her May 2011 trial. He has distinct memories.
Campana remembers the little girl’s love for dancing whenever he had to babysit her. That no justice was served, he says, haunts him. And while he can’t be certain that Casey Anthony was a killer, he hardly tries to think too much on it nowadays.
Meanwhile, Casey Anthony’s boyfriend back then, Tony Lazzaro, never knew Anthony’s child was missing. Casey and him had met online sometime before he was pulled into the media circus. His life changed in ways he never imagined.
After the trial, Lazzaro slipped back into a more private life. He was briefly involved in the music industry before moving into a different field. To this day, he has never been a part of interviews reflecting back on the trial. This wasn’t the case for everyone.
Years later, Casey Anthony opened up about her horrific ordeal. “I understand the reasons people feel about me, she said. “I understand why people have the opinions that they do.” But she reiterated her innocence.
“People found me guilty long before I had my day in court,”Anthony said. “I don’t give a s*** about what anyone thinks about me, I never will.” She did admit that she lied several times to officers, but she had reasons for that, too.
“Even if I would’ve told them” the truth, Anthony said, “I firmly believe I would have been in the same place. Because cops believe other cops… My dad was a cop, you can read into that what you want to.” She, too, is trying to put her life together.
Her current life has been a quiet one. Now 32, she remains in Florida, sharing the home of an investigator that helped in her defense, Patrick McKenna. She works as a researcher for him. Recently, she spoke about Caylee publicly for the first time.