As Joran van der Sloot waits in a Peruvian jail to be tried for the murder of Stephany Flores, it increasingly appears that a highly disturbed young man was allowed to rampage freely for years.
New revelations indicate that the list of missing women linked to the 22-year-old Dutchman may grow even longer, all because Aruban police failed to imprison him five years ago. Not long after Van der Sloot narrowly escaped prosecution for the disappearance of American teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba on May 30, 2005, he headed home to Holland to finish his studies. He had served three months in Aruban jail after Holloway disappeared, but was released that September due to lack of evidence. Back in Holland, he took a few classes, but spent most of his time gambling in the casinos and smoking pot in coffee bars.
He bragged to friends by email that he had recruited a dozen young Thai women who were on their way to Holland—each for a finder’s fee of $13,000.
• Barbie Latza Nadeau: Will Natalee’s Father Find Her? In Holland, he met up with an old friend who had just returned from Thailand with a string of exotic dancers. The friend was netting $13,000 in cash for each woman he brought into a Dutch prostitution ring. Van der Sloot, a born risk-taker, wanted in on the action, and his friend quickly set him up with the Dutch pimp.
Van der Sloot told his parents that he wanted to go to Thailand to study and make a fresh start in a country where no one would have ever heard of him or Natalee Holloway. But what he really wanted to do was cash in on the country’s lucrative sex trade. He enrolled in Rangsit University as a cover, got a student visa, and took on an assumed name. By day, he would play the role of a student. By night, he would be Murphy Jenkins, owner of DD Consulting, which he would describe as a modeling agency specializing in placing strippers in Holland’s better clubs. He even had business cards with a Dutch telephone number printed up.
But just before he was to leave for Thailand in November 2007, he was arrested again on suspicion of Holloway’s murder. This time Holloway’s father and his team of private investigators had come close to proving Van der Sloot’s involvement in her disappearance. Aruban authorities were sure that under the right circumstances, Van der Sloot would eventually confess. But just three weeks later, on December 7, 2007, they were foiled again. Under Aruban law, there just wasn’t enough evidence to keep the young man locked up. Van der Sloot was released again, and immediately took off for Bangkok.
Once in Thailand, he quickly entered the sex trade as a recruiter of young exotic dancers who would, unbeknownst to them, be sold as prostitutes instead. In just a few weeks, he bragged to friends by email that he had recruited a dozen young Thai women who were on their way to Holland—each for a finder’s fee of $13,000. Van der Sloot may be despicable, but he was shrewd with the money. He invested his earnings in the Sawadee Cup coffee bar, a popular haunt for the student crowds and an easy place to find new recruits for his growing sex-trafficking gig. He even posted a tour of the café on his YouTube page.
The scheme was going swimmingly until Van der Sloot’s chief nemesis, Dutch investigative journalist Peter R. De Vries, caught him on hidden camera with a hotel room full of underage women. Van der Sloot can be heard offering them “$15,000 to shake your ass.” The women, of course, would never see that money. A few months after De Vries’ exposé, Dutch authorities started investigating Van der Sloot for human trafficking but never charged him. Now, revelations that two young Thai sex workers who appear on that video are missing have prompted Thai police to open an investigation. They have officially requested access to Van der Sloot in Peru.
Throughout 2009, Van der Sloot was spotted across the globe at various poker tournaments. He won $12,000 at the Asia Pacific Poker Tournament in Macau, where he reportedly assaulted a young woman after inviting her to his room following a night at a local casino. That young woman is filing an official complaint and cooperating with the Peruvian and Dutch authorities, a source tells The Daily Beast. Van der Sloot lived in Bangkok until his father died in February 2010 when he sold the Sawadee Cup café and returned to Aruba to be with his mother. Two months after his father’s death, Van der Sloot attempted to extort $250,000 from Natalee Holloway’s mother. He was formally indicted on that charge by a U.S. federal grand jury in late June.
Authorities in Aruba will be questioning Van der Sloot in his Peruvian jail cell in August regarding new information they have received from Holloway’s father, who is again in Aruba with private investigators trying desperately to find his daughter. But even if the Arubans finally have enough evidence to pin Holloway’s murder to his growing rap sheet, they will have to get in line. They missed their chance to stop him not once, but twice. For the family of Stephany Flores—and, perhaps, the missing Thai women—that is an unforgivable mistake.
Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek magazine since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.