article

09.06.10

The Strange Cult of Joran van der Sloot

Natalee Holloway’s alleged killer has admitted to extorting her parents in return for revealing her body’s location—but is it just his latest plea for attention?

Can anyone really believe anything Joran van der Sloot says? The 22-year-old Dutchman who is awaiting trial for the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores in Lima, Peru, has given yet another confession about his involvement in the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway. This time, he told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he attempted to extort $250,000 from Holloway’s mother out of revenge for being so tough on him.  “I wanted to get back at Natalee’s family,” he told De Telegraaf’s John van den Heuvel during a televised interview in Van der Sloot’s prison cellblock. “When they offered to pay for the girl’s location, I thought, ‘Why not’?”

This is not, of course, the first confession that van der Sloot has made.

Van der Sloot says he then told Holloway’s mother that her daughter’s body was under the foundation of a house in Oranjestad, Aruba. The house was being built at the time Holloway disappeared in May 2005 and Van der Sloot says his father buried her under the wall forms that had been set in place to pour cement. Van der Sloot’s father died of cardiac arrest in the spring of 2010, and authorities in Aruba say that building records show that there was no such permit or record that anyone was pouring cement at the address when Holloway disappeared.  They dismissed the confession to Holloway’s mother as yet another lie.

This is not, of course, the first confession that van der Sloot has made. He was caught on hidden camera in 2007 by Dutch journalist Peter R. De Vries admitting to dumping Holloway’s body at sea after she died on the beach. He then famously told Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren that he had sold Holloway as a sex slave off the coast of Aruba. And when he was arrested in Peru last June, he told Peruvian officials that he would finally give up the truth about where to find the young American’s remains—but only if they turned him over to authorities in Aruba.

The latest Holloway confession has little bearing on Van der Sloot’s current dilemma, so he had nothing to lose by admitting the obvious, though it was gratuitously cruel to admit he did it for spite. With the exception of a young woman who brings him food and his own mother, who was also interviewed by De Telegraaf for the segment, the Dutchman has few obvious supporters. 

Still, he is wildly popular. In August, a photograph emerged of him and three cellblock mates— Colombian hitman Hugo Trujillo Ospina and American William Trickett Smith II, known as the suitcase killer after murdering and dismembering his wife. The photo of the three notorious inmates, along with an unidentified foreign man, was allegedly sold to local tabloid photographers by prison staff. A formal investigation by Peru’s National Institute of Corrections says they have begun "administrative and disciplinary actions with the goal of establishing responsibility over the acts of official misconduct by employees of the Castro Castro Correctional Institution. They improperly used photographic equipment that was meant for administrative duties."

Van der Sloot is also the subject of an English-language Dutch film set for release in 2011. Me and Mr. Jones is a fictional account of the crime that paints Holloway as a party girl and Van der Sloot as a playboy. The scenes were being filmed in Aruba by director Paul Ruven in May 2010 when Flores was murdered. On his website, Ruven says he incorporated the Flores story into the script, but he has hinted to Dutch media that the film does not end with a resolution of the crime. He told Radio Netherlands that the film casts an honest light on Aruba. “It’s this colonial background of favoritism and conflict of interests that allows a young rich Dutchman to do what he likes without being brought to justice,” he said. “Nobody on Aruba wants the truth to come out. It was also never the intention that Joran should end up in prison. That would damage tourism and the economy.”

The same cannot be said for Peru. When van der Sloot was detained in June, the authorities wasted no time locking him up. He initially confessed to killing Flores in his hotel room after she allegedly found incriminating information on his laptop about the Holloway case. But shortly after, he steadfastly denied his confession, saying it was coerced and that his court-appointed lawyer was really working for the Peruvians and had actually tricked him into confession. Earlier this summer, a Peruvian judge ruled that the confession would be admissible in his murder trial, but his new lawyers are appealing that ruling.

But in his latest confession in the De Telegraaf inteview, Van der Sloot admits that he did murder Flores, even saying that the Peru prosecutor will easily convict him.

Truth may be elusive to the young Dutchman, but it is obvious that—unlike in Aruba—this time he understands his fate.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997. She also writes for CNN Traveller, Budget Travel Magazine and Frommer's.