The prime suspect in one of the most high-profile disappearance cases of the past 20 years is finally facing extradition to the US. On Wednesday, Peru announced that it would extradite Joran van der Sloot to the U.S. on extortion and wire fraud charges related to his alleged attempt to extort the family of the teenage girl he has long been suspected of murdering.
In May 2005, 18-year-old Alabama High School student Natalee Holloway disappeared during an unofficial school graduation trip to Aruba after a night out with friends. She was last seen leaving a nightclub with Van der Sloot, a Dutch citizen. who was quickly circled as a top suspect in the potential homicide. Van der Sloot was arrested soon after with two Surinamese brothers, but no charges were filed, the men were released, and Holloway’s body has never been found.
The disappearance of the high school student caused an international media frenzy at the time, and led to years of news coverage, documentaries and podcasts, trying to solve the case.
While other theories emerged over the years, Van der Sloot has long remained the principal suspect. He gave several interviews over the years and even released a book attempting to clear his name in 2007. Later, Van der Sloot gave contrasting interviews in 2008 and 2009 where he first claimed to have sold Holloway into a sexual slavery ring, and another where he claimed that he disposed of her body in a swamp. Authorities discounted both confessions as lies.
Five years to the day of Holloway’s disappearance, Van der Sloot murdered a 21-year-old woman named Stephany Flores in Peru. Prosecutors accused him of beating and strangling her in a hotel room after they met in a casino on May 30, 2010. Van der Sloot pleaded guilty in 2012 and received a 28-year prison sentence in Peru for the crime.
On Wednesday, Peruvian authorities accepted an extradition request from the U.S. so that Van der Sloot could face additional charges in the U.S. The extradition must still be approved by Peru President Dina Boluarte.
While the new charges are not for Holloway’s disappearance or death, they are related to the case. U.S. prosecutors allege that Van der Sloot tried to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Holloway family in early 2010, prior the murder of Flores. Van der Sloot allegedly contacted the Holloway family and told them that he would reveal the location of Natalee’s body for $250,000, according to the indictment. Van der Sloot received a $15,000 wire transfer, then another $10,000 in person, with the other $225,000 to be paid after the body was found. Van der Sloot was then reportedly recorded during a sting operation pointing to a house where he claimed Natalee was buried. Her body was never found and he later admitted to lying about the location.
But the extradition of Van der Sloot to the U.S. may provide some sense of justice for Natalee’s family.
“In May 2005 my 18-year-old daughter Natalee Holloway left Birmingham for Aruba to attend her high school graduation trip and was never seen again,” Beth Holloway, Natalee’s mother, said in a statement released Wednesday.
“I was blessed to have had Natalee in my life for 18 years, and as of this month, I have been without her for exactly 18 years,” she said. “She would be 36 years old now. It has been a very long and painful journey, but the persistence of many is going to pay off. Together, we are finally getting justice for Natalee.”