Natalee Holloway's Father Dave Reflects on Her Case 10 Years Later
Although the prime suspect – jailed for the murder of another – was never charged, "I'm satisfied with where he's at," says Natalee's dad
The world held only possibilities for 18-year-old Natalee Holloway, with graduation behind her and a freshman year ahead at the University of Alabama. But that world was cut short when she disappeared ten years ago on a sun-soaked trip to Aruba with her senior classmates to celebrate their achievement before going their separate ways.
For Natalee, 18, of Mountain Brook, Alabama, the path would end there. On the morning of May 30, 2005, as her friends gathered to fly home after a last night of partying on the island, Natalee was a no-show. Countless accusations, theories and false leads – including the later conviction of a prime suspect for another young woman’s murder – have swirled for a decade without Natalee ever being found.
“The police and the prosecutor’s office unfortunately do not have any new tips or leads” about what happened to her, according to a statement the Aruban police shared with PEOPLE.
Leads Go Nowhere
As recently as last month, her father, Dave Holloway, returned to the island with a private investigator and a cadaver dog, revisiting a years-old tip. The investigator told Dave that the source, Jurrien De Jong – who claimed Natalee was buried at a hotel construction site by Joran van der Sloot, now 28, the central figure in her disappearance – had passed a voice test that lent credibility to his claim.
Then, last week, the prosecutor’s office said there was no construction under way at that place and time, and the lead couldn’t be true. The search for answers resumed.
“I’ve been through this stuff with some real crazies before, and it’s just like, you’ve gotta go through that process,” Dave Holloway tells PEOPLE. “What if?”
But he’s not so quick to dismiss the claim himself. Dave was in Aruba within 24 hours after Natalee was last seen leaving a bar with van der Sloot, and he recalls construction near the location that De Jong had identified and originally brought to Dave’s attention in 2008. At that time, “I kind of blew him off,” he says.
Eventually De Jong – who says he kept silent for so long because in 2005 he was involved in illegal activities – took his claim to police. Authorities have since based their dismissal of his story on assurances from the Marriott hotel company that no structure was being built on that site.
Dave Holloway says he took the cadaver dog as close as he could get, but was not permitted to reach the exact location where he’d been told Natalee’s remains may yet lie.
“He may or may not be legit,” he says of De Jong. “It may all be a hoax. But I just can’t say he’s a liar without any proof that he’s not.”
“If it wasn’t under construction like they say it is, then hey, we’ll move on to something else.”
Repeating his mantra for the past decade, Dave says, “You gotta check it out.”
Searching for Answers
For 10 years, both of Natalee’s parents – divorced at the time she vanished – have been chasing elusive truths they hope may lead to their daughter. Although he went to court in 2011 to have Natalee declared dead, thus freeing funds set aside for her education, Dave Holloway has pursued lead after lead, aligning himself through the years with a series of ground and water searches.
Natalee’s mom, Beth Holloway, slowly evolved her grief into a warning for others, speaking out about safe travel while quietly advising families of missing loved ones on how to marshal resources. Yet she also threw herself into the fire: She played cat-and-mouse with van der Sloot by paying $25,000 in 2010 in exchange for proof about Natalee’s fate.
At that time, van der Sloot said Natalee was buried under the foundation of a house – a statement that he later confessed was a lie. Beth never expected an honest answer from the suspect, who has told conflicting stories all along about his last hours with Natalee; from the start, the game, carried out by Beth’s attorney John Q. Kelly, was meant to slap van der Sloot with an extortion charge that is pending in the United States.
Yet both Holloways were sent reeling when van der Sloot, after fleeing Aruba with Beth’s money before he could be arrested, traveled to Peru, where was later convicted of killing Stephany Flores Ramirez, 21, on the exact fifth anniversary of Natalee’s disappearance. Peru’s courts have ruled he must serve his entire 28-year sentence before he can be extradited to the U.S. to face trial for the extortion charge.
“Maybe he’s not serving time for our case, but he’s serving some time,” says Dave Holloway. “He has to sit in a jail cell and think about it. He doesn’t have his freedom.”
“I’m satisfied where he’s at, in one of the worst prison systems in the world.”
Learning to Live
In their personal lives, Natalee’s parents, each of whom wrote a book about Natalee and their experiences in Aruba, have sought to reconcile the past and present.
Dave, an insurance agent in Meridian, Mississippi, in his second marriage, now has daughters ages 12 and 17.
“I’m not going to allow myself to get back in the mental state that I was in the first three years – stressed out, mind roaming, you can’t focus on anything,” he says. “I have other children. You’ve got to strike a balance.”
Last December he became a grandfather when Natalee’s brother, Matt, 26, welcomed a baby girl, Rylee Ann.
And Beth, of Homewood, Alabama, who divorced her second husband after Natalee’s disappearance, is now engaged again, she told B-Metro magazine.
“I’m in a place where I’m moving onward and upward,” she said. “I’m not ‘over’ anything, because you don’t get over the loss of a loved one, but you do begin to move on. There’s never closure, because it’s never over. But you do begin to find joy and peace and happiness.” She also has returned to work with children in speech therapy, a job she held with the Mountain Brook schools in 2005.
With van der Sloot imprisoned in Peru on the Flores murder charge in 2010, Beth Holloway made a bold decision to travel there and encounter him face-to-face one more time.
“Once I visited Joran in prison, and was able to walk away from there, it was almost a freeing experience for me,” she told B-Metro. “It allowed me then to move onward . I hadn’t found peace and joy and happiness yet – but I began to recognize it and learned how to embrace it, and then I think it just led to place where I am now, which is a good place.”
Says Dave Holloway: “I’ve always thought an anniversary was something to celebrate.” Not so this May 30, which to him marks only the passing of time without knowing what happened, or finally having the chance to bring Natalee home.
“To me,” he says, “it just marks 10 years.”
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