The Bubali Bird Sanctuary is a tranquil oasis on the northwestern edge of the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba. Throughout the year thousands of migratory birds nest in the overgrown swamplands that are fed with purified water from the island’s sewage treatment plant nearby. The large area is freely accessible by public roads that wind around the two manmade lakes. Local teens often use the secluded inlets to throw parties or make love in their cars.
In a now-famous encounter, Natalee’s parents and friends stood outside the Van der Sloot home shouting “Where’s Natalee?”
Natalee Holloway’s father Dave believes that his daughter’s remains are somewhere in these thick wetlands. Joran van der Sloot, the primary suspect in Holloway’s disappearance, now in jail in Lima, Peru after confessing to the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, drew a map last February, showing exactly where he and the Kalpoe brothers left her body in the early morning hours of May 30, 2005. Van der Sloot drew the map for Jaap Amersz, Holland’s most famous reality television star, who spent months cultivating a close friendship with Van der Sloot, who loved the idea of befriending someone so famous and readily fell for the trap. Amersz then sold the story and the map to the Dutch tabloid Der Telegraaf which refused to run the piece and instead turned the damning information over to Aruban authorities, who chose to ignore it as “fantasy.”
Now Holloway’s father has the map. He is in Aruba with Tim Miller, the head of Equusearch, a private firm based in Texas that specializes in finding missing persons—dead or alive. But the Aruban authorities are prohibiting Holloway from conducting his own private search. Aruban prosecutor Peter Blanken said that the police are worried that Holloway will “jeopardize” their continuing investigation or that evidence might be “contaminated” if it is not collected by the authorities.
Miller is the de facto spokesman for Holloway and he told reporters that the death of Stephany Flores could have been prevented had the Arubans followed several leads after Holloway’s disappearance. But he also worries that the Arubans are trying to keep what happened to Natalee a secret. Whether out of fear that it will taint the island’s reputation as a safe tourist haven, or whether they are covering up for corruption within their ranks, the Aruban authorities have clearly done very little to help the Holloway family find their daughter. “[Dave Holloway] feels that if the Arubans had done their job, Joran would be in jail and Stephany would be alive.”
Prior to his arrest in Santiago, Chile earlier this month, Van der Sloot had confessed multiple times to his involvement in Holloway’s presumed death. But in Aruba, where his father was a prominent member of the local judiciary, the cops acted as if they were under pressure not to follow up on the most obvious leads, including the disappearance of a large crab cage that had gone missing from the local fishing grounds around the time of Holloway’s disappearance. Van der Sloot’s friends Deepak and Satish Kalpoe were the last three people to be seen with Holloway alive when she got into their car outside the Carlos ’n Charlie’s Casino on May 30, 2005. In the days after her disappearance, they gave ample clues to the cops and to Holloway’s parents and friends, who had descended on the island like a SWAT team upon hearing of Natalee’s disappearance. In a now-famous encounter, Natalee’s parents and friends stood outside the Van der Sloot home shouting “Where’s Natalee?”
With the cops largely uncooperative, Beth Holloway and her supporters confronted Joran and Paulus van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers on numerous occasions, according to Holloway’s heart wrenching book Loving Natalee. In it, she describes a vivid scene where she is sitting in a rental car while Joran describes making out with Natalee, giving vivid details of her “underwear with the dark blue embroidery and the flowers.” Holloway wonders why, if he was with her intimately the night she disappeared, he was ever allowed to go free. She describes a scene in which she holds up a picture of Natalee to Joran. “I want my daughter back,” she yells at Joran. “Give her back.”
She then describes how, even though Van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers admit to being the last to see her, she cannot secure a search warrant for either the boys’ houses or the car Natalee was seen getting into. “It’s apparent right off the bat that privilege and political standing will present a much greater obstacle than the language barrier ever would,” writes Beth Holloway. “What happened surrounding Natalee’s disappearance is bizarre enough without having to be contrived or embellished.”
These are the scenes that haunt Natalee’s parents, who feel that now that Joran is in custody, they may finally get their answers—if they are allowed to proceed.
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.