ROME—Ardent followers of the 12-year saga that is the disappearance of American teen Natalee Holloway, last seen on a school trip to the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, have been down this road before toward what they thought might be the truth.
The scenario goes something like this: The chief suspect in the disappearance case, Joran van der Sloot (or his friends), hints he knows where Holloway’s body is buried and soon everyone is hot on the trail of another lead. But the graves are empty, or, if bones are found, they aren’t human. Sometimes the leads don’t come from van der Sloot, as in 2010 when a jawbone washed up on a beach. It did belong to a young woman around Holloway’s age, but in the end it did not belong to her.
Through each twist Holloway’s parents agonize more. Twelve years after their daughter was last seen, Holloway’s mother Beth and father David, along with private investigator T.J. Ward, still are determined to find out the truth about their daughter.
They have spent untold amounts of their own money on an investigation for which Dutch authorities have shown little interest. In fact, the Dutch investigators in Aruba closed the case less than two years after the American disappeared and have been reluctant to open it back up no matter how credible the leads have been.
Van der Sloot is serving a 28-year-sentence in a Peruvian prison for murdering another young woman on May 30, 2010—the five-year-anniversary of Holloway’s disappearance. (At one point Beth Holloway even broke in there to confront her daughter’s alleged killer.)
So this time the “lead” comes from one of van der Sloot’s friends, John Ludwick, who was taped secretly by an informant called Gabriel who was interviewed for a new six-part series on Holloway’s disappearance that debuted Aug. 19 on the satellite and cable channel Oxygen, which is owned by NBC Universal.
The informant told producers during initial interviews that Ludwick said he was with van der Sloot and Holloway the night the young American died. He says they had been drinking and Holloway “choked on her own vomit.”
According to the friend’s version of events, the young men apparently didn’t know what to do so reportedly called van der Sloot’s father, who was a judge on the island, but who has since died.
Ludwick told the informant that they buried the American teen behind a house in a park near the hotel where Holloway’s school classmates were staying. The story was close to other versions from van der Sloot himself, although the exact location beyond “behind a house” was never revealed.
The Holloways have been involved in several digs in Aruba including one near a construction site that was active when their daughter disappeared. The location in the park near the hotel was new information.
When David Holloway learned of the informant’s interview for the docu-series, he and Ward started their own 18-month investigation that led them to Aruba to commission diggers to find the bones, which they did this summer.
Holloway made the announcement of the discovery of the human bones on an NBC Today show interview last week, just days before the Oxygen series debuted. Forensic tests to determine the age and details of the bones were carried out, all documented for the series which will now follow the saga in real time.
On Thursday, the Daily Mail reported exclusively that initial results show the bones are indeed those of a young woman, likely of Eastern European descent, which could easily fit the Holloway family genetic profile. Quoting sources “close to the production company,” they say DNA tests based on a saliva sample from Holloway’s mother are now being carried out with results expected within two weeks. The second part of the series will air this weekend, with four more installments after that.
The only glitch in this now made-for-TV story is that the prosecutor in Aruba says it simply isn’t true. A few days after Holloway’s father announced the discovery of human bones on the Today show, Dorean Kardol told a local reporter writing for the HuffPost that “no human remains were found.”
“During an investigation by police in an area indicated by Mr. Holloway, we found remains, but they were found to be from animals,” the prosecutor said.
The Holloway family has butted heads with the local prosecutors before and have indicated in the past that they believe the local authorities might be protecting van der Sloot as the son of a popular local judge.
Kardol said that if Holloway’s team did find bones that were eventually proven to be their daughter’s, they couldn’t be used in court against van der Sloot anyway because they were not forensically sound, since the Aruba officials were not involved in their collection and, as such, couldn’t really prove where they actually came from.
“If we wanted to take the case to court, we would be in trouble because we could not use that evidence,” Kardol told the HuffPost.
Still, the Holloway family is as close as they have ever been to finding their lost daughter. They have never given up hope that she might actually be alive. But if the bones do prove to be hers, they will finally have the closure they deserve.