Main suspect in Natalee Holloway disappearance arrives in U.S. from Peru to face charges

A man sitting in a vehicle between two law enforcement officers.
Police drive Dutch citizen Joran van der Sloot, center, from a maximum-security prison in Peru on Thursday.
(Martin Mejia / Associated Press)

Joran van der Sloot, the chief suspect in the 2005 disappearance of U.S. student Natalee Holloway, arrived in the United States from Peru on Thursday to face charges that he attempted to extort money from the missing teen’s mother.

An FBI-operated plane transporting Van der Sloot landed at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama around 2:30 p.m. — just hours after Peruvian authorities handed him over temporarily to U.S. custody — and he was escorted down the plane’s steps into a black SUV, which took him to a local jail.

Van der Sloot is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Birmingham at 11 a.m. Friday, according to court records. Kevin Butler, an attorney listed as Van der Sloot’s public defender, did not return an email seeking comment on the case.


Video and photos released by Peruvian authorities Thursday show the suspect wearing jeans and a black puffer jacket, shaking his shoulders and grimacing as officers adjust his handcuffs and remove a vest marked “Interpol.” Video and images also show law enforcement officers from Peru, the FBI and Interpol as well as one healthcare professional in a conference room with Van der Sloot.

The suspect has been serving a 28-year sentence in Peru after confessing to killing a Peruvian woman. He is wanted in the U.S. on one count each of extortion and wire fraud — the only charges related to Holloway’s disappearance on the Caribbean island of Aruba. He was handed over to the U.S. roughly a month after both countries agreed on his extradition.

Holloway’s mother, Beth Holloway, said she was “overcome with mixed emotions.”

“For 18 years, I have lived with the unbearable pain of Natalee’s loss,” she said in a written statement. “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.”

Natalee Holloway, 18, was in Aruba on a high school graduation trip with classmates from Mountain Brook, Ala., when she vanished. She was last seen leaving a bar with Van der Sloot in 2005. He was questioned in her disappearance, but never charged.

U.S. prosecutors say that in 2010, Van der Sloot reached out to Beth Holloway, seeking $250,000 in exchange for disclosing the location of her daughter’s body. A grand jury indicted him that year on one count each of wire fraud and extortion.


A judge has declared Holloway dead, but her body has never been found. Her mysterious disappearance sparked years of news coverage and numerous true-crime podcasts.

Van der Sloot pleaded guilty in Peru in 2012 to murdering 21-year-old Stephany Flores, a business student from a prominent Peruvian family. She was killed in 2010 — five years to the day after Holloway’s disappearance.

In 2014, Van der Sloot married a Peruvian woman in a ceremony at a maximum security prison. He was transferred among Peruvian prisons in response to reports that he enjoyed privileges such as television, internet access and a cellphone, and accusations that he had threatened to kill a warden.

A 2001 treaty between Peru and the U.S. allows a suspect to be temporarily extradited to face trial in the other country. Van der Sloot’s attorney, Máximo Altez, initially indicated his client would not challenge his extradition, but that changed Monday when he filed a writ of habeas corpus. A judge ruled against Van der Sloot the following day.

The time that Van der Sloot ends up spending in the U.S. “will be extended until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings,” including the appeal process, should there be one, according to a resolution published in Peru’s federal register. The resolution also states that U.S. authorities have agreed to return Van der Sloot to the custody of Peru afterward.

Joyce Vance, who was a federal prosecutor in Alabama when Van der Sloot was charged, said his arrival is a long-awaited opportunity for justice.


“We always say that justice delayed is justice denied, and there’s a certain simple truth to that,” said Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama, which includes Birmingham. “But this case makes me think sometimes justice delayed is actually worth it.

“It’s not optimal. It’s not what anybody would have wanted at the outset, but justice delayed is better than justice never delivered.”

Garcia Cano reported from Mexico City. Associated Press journalists Mauricio Muñoz in Lima, Peru, and Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington contributed to this report.