In 2005, Natalee Holloway suddenly disappeared on an overseas school trip, cutting her life far too short. But her mother, Beth, refused to give up hope. Over a decade later, she traveled back to Aruba - and everything changed.
As for where it all began? Natalee Holloway was the eldest of two children born to Dave and Beth. They all started living off happily in Tennessee, but the parents divorced in 1993, and Beth remarried businessman Georgie 'Jug' Twitty.
As a result, Beth took Natalee and her younger brother, Matthew, with her newlywed and moved to a lush suburb called Mountain Brooke, near Birmingham, AL. The family lived fairly happily while both children went to excellent schools. Natalee, in particular, stood out from her classmates as the new kid in town.
A Promising Future
Natalee made a name for herself after excelling in all of her studies. She achieved the highest honors at Mountain Brook High School, and while she applied long studying hours, she also found time for extracurricular activities such as dancing on the team and joining The National Honor Society.
Her dedication paid off when she received an academic scholarship from the University of Alabama, which would have been her next destination after high school graduation. Natalee had a lot going for her - but unfortunately, no one could have predicted how her stellar journey would take a turn for the worst.
To commemorate the milestone of graduation, 125 soon-to-be college students from Mountain Brook High School organized an unforgettable trip to Aruba in May 2005. Seven chaperones who attended the trip and supervised her group as they embarked on their celebratory vacation adventure.
They were all aged 18 years old at the time, including Natalee. These students were about to enter the greatest years of their lives. While it all started out with a trip of a lifetime, they believed it was one that they would never forget. This did turn out to be true, but for all the wrong reasons...
As any parent would, it is natural to worry about a firstborn on their first school vacation abroad, especially if partying is involved. However, Natalee's mother, Beth, had nothing to worry about. She had an alternative opinion regarding her daughter compared to the general perception, which is she is an honor student.
In 2006, Beth spoke with Vanity Fair about her daughter, describing her as highly motivated and responsible, which is what most parents dream of saying about their teenagers. However, when presented with the idea of letting her go on this seemingly wild trip to Aruba, it caused some understandable hesitancy in Beth.
Despite Natalee's intelligence, her naivety was a cause for concern to Beth. Nonetheless, taking the Aruba trip had become custom amongst graduates of their school, and even she had enjoyed the same sort of expedition years prior. So, Beth put aside her nerves.
As a result, after thoughtful consideration by both parties involved - mother & daughter alike - permission was granted for this passage into adulthood. Besides, Beth knew her daughter would have her head down in the books as soon as the semester started. She just hoped nothing would stop her from getting her motivation back.
Despite her apprehensions about her daughter's party trip to Aruba, they set off to the airport on the morning of May 26, 2005. Natalee, on the other hand, couldn't contain her excitement to spend the next few days with her friends swimming in the bluest oceans, surrounded by bright pink flamingos.
While the trip only fell out over a long weekend, it was something Natalee and her friends would never forget. But, little did they know that it would tragically become their last moments together as she never made it back home. Things were about to take a startling turn.
Her Final Moments
In November 2019, Beth appeared on ABC's 20/20. She spoke about the horrifying event that took place in 2005: that being her daughter going missing on what was meant to be an enjoyable post-graduate journey. It was almost frightening to re-live the moment she said goodbye, sending chills through her whole body.
Beth recalled, "I helped her get her bag out of the car and just kissed her goodbye, said, 'I love you, have a great time.' And then she entered the door, and the door closed. Never could I have imagined that would be the last time." Beth was living every mother's worst nightmare and immediately called for action.
Pushed Too Far
Regarding a mother's intuition, they're rarely ever wrong - and Beth's initial worries over the trip were sought out to be correct. After the incident had been reported, one particular police officer returned with information that subtly elaborated on how and why the situation got out of hand.
Police Commissioner Gerold Dompig reported to Vanity Fair, "I don't want to demonize them. But the group really went far – very far – in terms of having a good time." It was no secret the post-graduate students embraced Aruba the minute they arrived, but it appeared things became too rowdy rather quickly.
Not Welcome Back
Gerald Dompig was the police commissioner in charge of Natalee's disappearance and further investigation up until 2006. He elaborated to Vanity Fair there was "wild partying, a lot of drinking [and] lots of room switching every night." He continued, "We know the Holiday Inn told them they weren’t welcome next year."
Despite her mother's claims of Natalee being the straight-and-narrow type, Dompig shared his own views, explaining, "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."
Facing the Facts
This was the ultimate test of freedom before Beth sent her daughter off to college. While this is a part of life, no parent is ever ready to set their child free, especially when the parents aren't there to set boundaries. However, this justified why chaperones were asked to accompany the students on the trip.
Thankfully, the school board agreed to have the students accompanied in advance, and with the newfound independence of their high school graduation, an Aruba adventure was just what these teenagers needed. Parents were more assured that this trip would be nothing short of memorable for everyone involved.
On Their Own
Bob Plummer, a teacher at Mountain Brook High School, was one of the chosen chaperones to accompany the graduates on the trip to Aruba. It is said the adults made sure to check in with the students every day to make sure they were doing okay. However, they might have taken it too far.
Jodi Bearman was the one who organized the overseas trip and told Fox News in 2005, "The chaperones were not supposed to keep up with their every move." The adults were not expected to watch the teens like hawks and review their every move. As such, youngsters were given some freedom for the safe enjoyment of their getaway experience.
The Scene of the Crime
No one doubted Aruba when it was chosen for the trip abroad. Aruba was known for offering a tropical experience with exotic serenity. It is typically popular with tourists, while the island is not so far away from America. Feeling somewhat close to home was important.
The tranquil atmosphere combined with the familiarity of the island, with well-known food chains such as McDonald’s or Taco Bell, gives everyone that taste of home they crave. Nothing felt foreign to the graduates, which is why it should have been a safe place to travel to. It was a safe space up until the last day of the trip...
Tracing Her Last Steps
The weekend was coming to an end, and it was the last day of the trip. Graduates were packing up to head home back to the United States - except for one student. Considering Aruba was meant to be a family-friendly island, Natalee's disappearance rippled through the students, teachers, and everyone back home.
Holloway vanished in Aruba on the final day of her trip. She was last seen outside the Oranhestead venue, Carlos' N Charlie's, at 1:30 am on May 30th. The rest of the group realized she was missing when she didn't show up for their return flight. This immediately solidified something had happened to her.
What should have been an exciting end to a memorable vacation turned into a summer horror. The morning of May 30th, while all graduates assembled together in the hotel lobby preparing for their return, Natalee was not a part of the crowd. Jodie Bearman immediately notified Beth, which turned into a life-altering conversation.
We can't imagine the thoughts and feelings flooding through Beth's mind as she received this phone call, notifying her that her daughter was essentially missing on an island. Beth recalled the moment to 20/20, "They tell me that my daughter Natalee is missing and that no one has seen her." Of course, she had to take action - fast.
Flying to Aruba
As hours passed, Natalee, unfortunately, was still nowhere to be seen, and as expected, the panic really kicked in. Beth could not sit home any longer, knowing her daughter was out of sight. Thankfully, she was able to board a private jet along with Jug and his two friends without hassle and headed for Aruba.
Beth, Jug, and the rest of the emergency team landed in Aruba at approximately 10:00 p.m. the same evening she received the phone call. There was no time for conversations. Despite the late hours, Beth was backing down, and thankfully, she had a huge team behind her as the search party. They started to look where she was last seen.
Connecting The Dots
They started to trace back Natalee's steps. On their first night, Beth made a startling discovery: Her daughter Natalee was seen getting into a car with Dutch teen Joran van der Sloot and two other boys. Van der Sloot was 17 at the time and was studying at the local International School of Aruba. Who was this mystery man?
Contrarily, when Beth spoke to one of the employees at the Holiday Inn, concerns grew. She explained to Vanity Fair, "[The woman] knew exactly who he was: Joran van der Sloot. And then she said – these were her exact words – 'He tends to prey upon young female tourists.'" Her heart sunk into her stomach.
Caught on CCTV
After careful investigation, a few small pieces started to come together. Natalee's disappearance has long been shrouded in mystery, but thanks to technology and CCTV, points of visual evidence came to light for the search party. It turns out the fateful encounter took place at an Aruban casino that same evening.
The surveillance footage uncovered shows the young woman dining with Joran van der Sloot and two Kalpoe brothers around a blackjack table. Then, the CCTV captured her leaving Carlos 'N Charlie's later that night as she embarked on what would be her final journey. They rode off into the dark night surrounded by three mysterious figures.
Considering Holloway was with these local men, they were the first points to discover clues. Van Der Sloot must have had vital information about the teen, including her whereabouts and how she ended up in the casino in the late hours. So, Beth, along with two local police officers, went to his home for questioning.
The search party arrived at Van Der Sloot's house and immediately got to work. Initially, he denied having any interactions with Natalee before she vanished from Aruba, despite the security footage. He was hiding a huge secret but broke under pressure, later admitting to spending time with her the night of her disappearance.
Later That Night
Van der Sloot's widely publicized statement revealed that the group, including the Kalpoe brothers, had taken Natalee to Arashi Beach, claiming she wanted to observe the sharks. He additionally admitted they'd engaged in promiscuous activity near a lighthouse before dropping her off back at the hotel around 2:00 a.m.
Van der Sloot recalled Natalee stumbling while exiting the car and demanding that Sloot should not help her. As he watched Deepak and Natalie drive away, this was the moment things turned dark. The Dutch student then reportedly witnessed a man in a black shirt approach Holloway after her stumble. Deepak confirmed this witness testimony.
Search Parties & Suspects
Despite speaking to the Dutch teens, there were still no hard-hitting clues. The desperate search for Natalee intensified. An unprecedented number of dedicated volunteers scoured the island while local and international authorities partnered with Dutch Marines to sweep through Aruba's coastline in hopes of uncovering some answers.
In the wake of Natalee’s disappearance, some arrests were made out of suspicions - and to their surprise, the mysterious man in the black t-shirt turned out to be one of the security guards who had been seen speaking with her. This suspicion ultimately led to two Aruban men from hotel security being taken into custody.
Beth's Gut Feeling
Despite the police having to take in every suspect possible, Beth knew from the initial encounter with the Dutch teenager Van Der Sloot he was definitely implicated in Natalee's disappearance. Despite the investigation pointing to other suspects, she stayed firm in her belief and told 20/20, "I thought, 'you're it.'"
Not long after Beth Holloway Twitty's suspicions arose regarding Van Der Sloot, Aruban authorities took action. They released the detained security guards without charge and instead arrested van der Sloot along with the Kalpoes on suspicion of kidnapping and harming Natalee Holloway.
A Different Perspective
To complicate things further, after being detained, the suspects changed their initial story of how Natalee Holloway left them. A different series of events came to light as Van der Sloot allegedly claimed he and the Kalpoes had dropped off Natalee near a beach by Marriott Hotel rather than at Holiday Inn.
While they were aware of Holloway having difficulties staying awake, this increased tensions. The Dutch boys had acknowledged her state and still pursued the idea of leaving her stranded and alone. She was left there while they got a questionable escape from the scene - or so they thought.
Endless Dead Ends
The Kalpoe brothers originally agreed with the first account Van Der Sloot made regarding Holloway's blurry evening. However, the brothers then had an unusual change of heart, and Van Der Sloot became their scapegoat. It went around like a vicious cycle as he started changing his story. The details were becoming muddled.
The Kalpoes practically began to hint that their friend was lying about the entire evening. The story drastically changed, and now, the police, along with Beth's search party, was under the impression that Natalee had been taken away against her will by both siblings. Things were out of control, so the suspects were taken to the stand.
The date was July 4th, 2005. It was Independence Day, and the three men took the stand in the Natalee Holloway case. While the Kalpoe brothers had already been released, due to the conflicting narrative, Van der Sloot was held for two months before release - but no charges were ever filed against any of them despite multiple arrests.
After a tenacious investigation, the Aruban authorities closed the case in 2007 indefinitely. Her family was left without any closure nor evidence of who had caused her disappearance. However, Beth was convinced Joran Van Der Sloot played an integral role. She told 20/20, "He’s a monster…I know he is responsible for what happened."
While the official authorities had given up on Holloway's disappearance, Beth was nowhere close to bringing this investigation to an end. As her mother, no one would ever expect someone to give up on their missing child that easily. While the police felt like they weren't getting anywhere, the case was not closed for Beth.
Beth used the media as her main weapon, telling the news, "I will stay here until I find you, Natalee." She then told ABC's Deborah Roberts, "I know in my heart that we are going to find Natalee." Roberts asked, "will you even let your mind entertain the possibility that you might not find her?" Beth responded, "That's not an option."
A Price To Pay
Van der Sloot's accounts varied dramatically. In 2008, he suggested Holloway had died, and a friend subsequently disposed of the remains. Then, outrageous allegations arose, indicating she was sold into human trafficking. While these stories were eventually retracted by Sloot, the crime remained unsolved for the foreseeable future.
Beth was in no way ready to accept that her daughter had vanished for good and without a trace of evidence. Out of desperation, Beth tried one last effort to find the culprit who was involved in her daughter's disappearance. She offered Van Der Sloot $250,000 on the promise he would provide information about Natalee's disappearance.
Cash & Dash
Unfortunately, Sloot left the country after Beth sent the cash and told her lawyer, John Q. Kelly, "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 what [sic] you think. I think you are a nice man and a man of your word, and I am most definitely not."
While they thought Natalee was the only victim, things took a turn for the worst 5 years later when Stephany Flores Ramírez went missing from Lima. The 2 situations had an eerie connection: CCTV footage revealed that both of them were at the same casino as Van Der Sloot shortly before their fateful disappearances occurred.
A Failed Escape
Lima authorities searched for Stephany Flores once reported missing. They raided a hotel room booked under Van Der Sloot's name, and unfortunately, Flores's body was found. Before they could arrest him, Sloot fled to Chile and later returned to Peru. On June 7th, he admitted to the 2012 crime and was sentenced to prison for 28 years.
Van Der Sloot left a haunting mark in his name. Specifically, Beth believed Van Der Sloot might have run off to Peru with her cash incentive, but she was not to blame; "Whoever was responsible for letting Joran leave that island, Aruba – they are the ones that have to [lose] sleep at night over Stephany Flores' death. Not me."
Van Der Sloot's release was scheduled for 2038, but there is potential he could face extradition for extortion charges brought forth by the US. Beth and her family continue their painful journey, rebuilding after Natalee's disappearance. In 2019, Beth returned to Aruba to make peace with its people and culture, which had been so impacted.
Beth emotionally expressed to 20/20, "14 years later, Aruba has become a lot less significant to me. 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. This whole area is gone. This place doesn't control me anymore."
The Search Continues
The mysterious and disheartening disappearance of Natalee Holloway has been the cause of much speculation over the years. After numerous unsolved theories and unanswered questions unanswered, some suggest she may still be alive. Despite being one of the most confusing murder mysteries, more shocking details didn't end with Natalee.
After Natalee vanished, Beth started a relationship with John Ramsey, who lost his 6-year-old JonBenet, as part of one of America's most high-profile unsolved cases. Beth also returned to her daughter's school nearly 15 years after the incident, pleading for any answers that may come her way... This story is far from over.