BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A man charged with extorting the family of a missing 18-year-old student whose disappearance many believe he was involved in is now in Alabama.
Joran van der Sloot, who was serving decades-long sentences for murder and drug trafficking, landed at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport Thursday afternoon. Van der Sloot, who is facing federal wire fraud and extortion charges, had made the trip from a prison in Peru to the United States on Wednesday. He and his legal team had previously fought the extradition but lost their appeal in court.
Despite never being charged, van der Sloot has long been considered the chief suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, who was last seen leaving a bar in Aruba on May 30, 2005, after graduating from Mountain Brook High School. As of Thursday, Holloway has never been found and she was declared legally dead by an Alabama court in 2012.
“As a mother who has tirelessly pursued justice for the abduction and murder of my precious daughter, I stand before you today with a heart both heavy with sorrow and yet lifted by a glimmer of hope,” said Beth Holloway, Natalee’s mother, in a written statement to the Associated Press. “For 18 years, I have lived with the unbearable pain of Natalee’s loss. Each day has been filled with unanswered questions and a longing for justice that has eluded us at every turn. But today … I am hopeful that some small semblance of justice may finally be realized.”
Specifically, van der Sloot is charged with extorting Holloway’s family in exchange for information on where she was buried back in 2010.
In Lisa Pulitzer and Cole Thompson’s “Portrait of a Monster: Joran van der Sloot, a Murder in Peru, and the Natalee Holloway Mystery,” van der Sloot allegedly began corresponding with John Q. Kelly, an attorney that had formerly represented the Holloways. In his emails, which ran from March 29, 2010, to May 27, 2010, van der Sloot offered to share the location of Holloway’s body, as well as who was responsible for her death, in exchange for $250,000.
“In subsequent emails, Joran agreed to an initial payment of $25,000 to show Kelly where Natalee’s body had been buried,” Pulitzer and Thompson wrote. “Upon recovery and confirmation of the remains, Joran would receive the remaining $225,000.”
According to the book, Beth Holloway subsequently wired $10,000 to Kelly to give van der Sloot, with the remaining $15,000 to be wire to his bank account in the Netherlands. Kelly claimed that after the second wire transfer was completed, van der Sloot took him to a nearby house in Aruba, claiming that Holloway’s body had been buried under the house after he had allegedly killed her by accident after throwing her down on the beach and hitting her head. Van der Sloot claimed Holloway was buried by his father, Paul, who died in February 2010 due to a heart attack.
However, Pulitzer and Thompson wrote that van der Sloot’s claims proved to be untrue.
“A review of the permit for the house that Joran had selected in the burial spot revealed there had been no foundation or structure at the location at the time of Natalee’s disappearance,” the book stated. “Although a building permit had been requested for the parcel on May 26, 2005, and an inspection had been conducted on June 15, the permit was not issued until October 18, 2005, more than four months after Natalee vanished.”
Additionally, Pulitzer and Thompson reported that the house was not under construction at the time of Holloway’s disappearance.
In an interview with “Today,” Kelly claimed that after the meeting, van der Sloot emailed him and told him he had lied about the location.
“He indicated it was all a hoax, which is sort of his M.O. with everybody — get the money, then say it’s a hoax and avoid criminal prosecution,” Kelly said.
Despite Kelly telling the FBI about having evidence of wire fraud and extortion, federal agents did not arrest van der Sloot, who said they were hoping he would lead them to the body so they could charge him with murder. Instead, van der Sloot subsequently left Aruba for Peru, telling his mother that he was playing in a poker tournament there.
“In hindsight, Joran’s escape to Peru could have been avoided had an extortion charge been used to detain him,” Pulitzer and Thompson wrote. “Instead, he managed to flee the country with $25,000 of extorted money, having only led his victims to another dead end of lies.”
On June 30, 2010, van der Sloot was indicted on wire fraud and extortion charges in Alabama. Leading up to the indictment, then-U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance sought a warrant for van der Sloot’s arrest, but Aruban authorities did not push to have him extradited back to the country.
A couple of months after fleeing Aruba, van der Sloot was arrested and charged in the murder of Stephany Flores, who was found dead in a hotel room Lima, Peru on May 30, 2010, the fifth anniversary of Holloway’s disappearance. In 2012, van der Sloot pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. In 2021, he was convicted of drug trafficking while in prison and sentenced to an additional 18 years in prison.
While awaiting trial for Flores murder, van der Sloot gave an interview to the Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf in 2010, where he allegedly admitted to extorting the Holloways.
“I wanted to get back at Natalee’s family,” van der Sloot said. “Her parents have been making my life tough for five years. When they offered to pay for the girl’s location, I thought: ‘Why not?'”
However, van der Sloot’s then-attorney Maximo Alteza claimed his client had been misquoted.
“Maybe there were some mistakes in the translation,” Alteza said.
Van der Sloot is scheduled to appear at the Hugo L. Black Courthouse sometime Friday for his arraignment hearing, where he will plead either guilty or not guilty to the extortion charges against him.