LIMA, Peru — Joran van der Sloot, the 27-year-old Dutchman convicted for the 2010 murder of 21-year-old Peruvian Stephany Flores and under suspicion in the 2005 disappearance of American Natalee Holloway, just hates the place he’s doing time.
Challapaca Prison sits high in the Andes near Peru’s border with Bolivia. At 15,000 feet above sea level, the lack of oxygen brings on relentless altitude sickness for many people, and the winter temperatures that reach a high of only 48 degrees Fahrenheit during the day can dip well below zero at night. Even when the heating system works, it shuts off at 9:00 p.m., according to a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that said Challapaca is “unfit” to serve as a prison and should be closed down. The building did get a bit of rehab between 2004 and 2007, but it’s still a hellhole for hard cases.
Last week, van der Sloot’s wife, Leidy Figueroa, a 24-year-old accountant he married when he was in the relatively soft Ancon I prison in Lima in July, made the claim that her husband was stabbed on two separate occasions at Challapaca by an inmate known as “Yus.” The head of the prison says Figueroa fabricated the story as a ploy to get the Dutchman transferred.
Figueroa told The Daily Beast that her husband indeed was stabbed and he is also anemic from malnutrition. She says there are no security cameras in the prison and the electricity is only on sporadically, which means “anything that happens is well hidden.”
Van der Sloot’s wife says the other prisoners want to kill her husband because he’s famous and attacking him might shine a spotlight on the deplorable conditions and eventually help shut down the prison. “He’s another person. He’s anemic because he is not being well fed. He’s got diarrhea,” she told The Daily Beast. “You won’t recognize him when you see the photos.”
José Luis Pérez Guadalupe, the national director of Peru’s Penitentiary Institute, told The Daily Beast that Figueroa is a compulsive liar. He said she first made the claims and then visited her incarcerated husband afterward, when she produced bloodied clothing. The implication is that she might even have assisted her husband inflicting his superficial wounds.
“His wife went for the visit and suddenly started to complain about the cuts,” Guadalupe told The Daily Beast. “It’s a self-fulfilled prophecy. Everything indicates that he has self-inflicted these cuts.”
Van der Sloot’s lawyer, Maximo Altez, who is filing a habeas corpus brief in hopes of getting his client transferred, said he hasn’t seen van der Sloot’s wounds first-hand, but he did believe his client was stabbed.
In any case, the lawyer told The Daily Beast that he would like his client out of Challapaca at all costs. “It would be ideal for him to be returned to Lima because he was doing so well there,” Altez told The Daily Beast. “He was studying international business and he was an English teacher. He was teaching his fellow prisoners and even the guards. He was getting along with everyone.”
That isn’t exactly how they describe van der Sloot in Lima.
The Dutchman was transferred in August when he allegedly threatened to kill the prison warden. Prison guards in Lima found a contraband mobile phone in his prison cell that he claimed was given to him by the warden. They say he used it for gambling. Van der Sloot also reportedly refused to follow his treatment plan for dissocial personality disorder and claustrophobia.
At the time of his transfer, van der Sloot said he had been set up by the prison warden who wanted him transferred after his somewhat bizarre behind-bars wedding and proud announcement that he had fathered Figueroa’s baby while she visited another prisoner she knew at the prison. Van der Sloot said that the “unexpected transfer may affect my mental health,” according to Peruvian press reports. The couple’s daughter was born in September.
While van der Sloot may well have been cut in Challapaca, there is no reliable indication that he got stabbed in a prison scrum. Guadalupe says there’s not much privacy in Challapaca, and no one seems to know anything about the alleged incident. “If there’s a brawl in Challapaca, it is always widely heard and it can’t be kept a secret because they are in a place where every sound is obvious,” Guadalupe told The Daily Beast. “The prison has only 125 inmates and when the other prisoners were questioned they all denied having had any kind of fight.”
According to a November 2 medical report from the prison about van der Sloot’s wounds, exclusively obtained by The Daily Beast, they are real but they are not the result of a clash. “The inmate was brought to the infirmary presenting two cuts in the lumbar area, which were inflicted at 6:00 a.m. according to the inmate’s explanation,” the report states. “The cuts had been by accident by falling on a metal object after which he then washed the wound with the available water.”
A second report submitted by the head of security at Challapaca prison notes the absence of bruising or other signs of a fight: “It is not possible to define the form in which the cuts were produced, but it can be concluded that these were not a product of physical aggression because of the nature of the lesions,” the report states. “The first cut would have caused a reaction that would impede a second parallel cut in the same area, which can be deduced by knowledge and experience in the penitentiary system, for which it can be presumed that the aggression was made with the inmate’s consent.” In other words, in a real fight, the 6’ 5” van der Sloot would have been able to stop or deflect a second stabbing.
Guadalupe says the ploy, if that’s what it is, won’t work. “If it proves to work for him, all the prisoners of Peru might as well cut themselves to get out of prison,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s not the first time that a psychopath, self-confessed killer tries to hurt himself.”