The Joran van der Sloot affair may prove one of the most sensationalistic crime stories of the 21st century. However, despite the media circus surrounding him, not much has been revealed about van der Sloot's personality or what motivates him to do what he does.
Those who have met van der Sloot on a casual basis at the tennis clubs or casinos that he frequented usually describe him as very calm and surprisingly normal, like a big 6-foot 4-inch college kid with a fondness for marijuana and high-stakes poker. "He just spoke calmly and seemed normal," an Aruban who met van der Sloot at a casino one night shortly before Natalee Holloway's disappearance told truTV. "He wasn't scary."
However, his "normal" demeanor is also one of the typical characteristics of a criminal psychopath who is able to charm and win over people to get what he wants but has little or no remorse for anyone who resists his charm and remains an obstacle to his goals. Indeed, details of his past life suggest that van der Sloot may indeed suffer from an antisocial personality disorder and may have used the likely deaths of others to manipulate the mass media in order to feed both a powerful gambling addiction and an oversized ego.
"Van der Sloot is someone who likes to live on the edge, who likes to believe that he is brighter, smarter, bigger, and better than other people," Clint van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, told truTV. "He thinks he has outfoxed the criminal justice system for five years and has gotten away with murder in Aruba, which has made him believe that he could get away with anything."
However, Van der Sloot himself has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing when speaking to police, although he has confessed to others to knowing where and how Natalee's body was disposed of several times before retracting the statements, claiming he was lying. Van der Sloot's attorneys have never returned truTV's phone calls.
Van der Sloot spent his childhood in Arnhem, the Netherlands, where he and his two brothers were born. Joran's father Paulus, a graduate of Tilburg University law school, had a private legal practice specializing in government law while his mother, Anita van der Sloot-Hugen, who by all accounts is a very shy person who has only rarely spoken to the media, was a school teacher who taught art classes. In the Netherlands, Paul waged a 20-year legal battle against the Dutch government to stop a highway from running through the van der Sloot family estate in Boxtel, a town in the southern Netherlands. Ultimately, Paulus managed to have the highway relocated, but had before the end of the legal struggle decided to relocate the family; they moved to Aruba in 1991, when Joran was four years old.
In Aruba, Joran began to express a violent side; during his early teen years counseling was sought after he pilfered money from his father and allegedly behaved violently towards his brother, Kees van der Spek, a Dutch investigative news reporter, told truTV. While taking a violent child to see a therapist is a rational thing to do, it would later become clear that the parents, especially his father, not only exerted little control over the youth, but even seemed to condone illegal behavior. His father on one occasion gave money to a casino to let Joran gamble, and routinely let him drive, although driving and gambling are illegal activities in Aruba for those under the age of 18, van der Spek related.
In a revealing set of circumstances years during the investigation of Holloway's disappearance, van der Sloot was confronted on a talk show in the Netherlands about his notorious self-implication, caught on a hidden camera, in the hiding of Holloway's body. Backstage, after the show, van der Sloot threw a glass of wine in the face of investigative reporter Peter R. DeVries, according to van der Spek, a colleague of DeVries. Witnesses said that the reaction of the parents, who were on hand, was strange, in that they immediately began consoling their son without any apology to DeVries. This then prompted van der Sloot's younger brother to begin shouting that the parents only paid attention to Joran and his needs while ignoring him, van der Spek told truTV. Anita van der Sloot declined to speak with truTV when contacted by phone.
"What I do know is that Joran was the boss of his father and mother," van der Spek told truTV. "He would tell them what to do and not the other way around."
Running Wild in Aruba
Paulus van der Sloot moved the family to Aruba in 1991 and secured a job as an attorney with the Aruban government with ambitions to eventually become a judge there. The sun-splashed beaches, bars and casinos of the tourist-paradise setting combined with the van der Sloot family's moneyed and politically connected status on the tight-knit island to provide the perfect situation for a teenager hell-bent on gambling and living the high-life to get quickly into trouble.
Little is known about Joran van der Sloots's school life in Aruba, except that he attended classes at the International School of Aruba and played soccer and tennis—neither the school headmaster nor the teacher truTV contacted would disclose further details about van der Sloot's student days. Prior to Natalee's disappearance, he had been planning to attend Saint Leo University in Florida, a tier-three college according to the annual college guide of U.S. News and World Report.
Outside of school, van der Sloot's extracurricular activities soon came to the attention of the police; his father may have used his connections to keep his son out of jail even before Natalee's disappearance. Police officials told van der Spek that it was rumored that that van der Sloot began frequenting Internet forums soon after arriving at Aruba in which he solicited couples visiting the island on cruise ships to have sex for money. Van der Spek also reported that van der Sloot had pushed a classmate through a plate-glass window when he was 16, about a year before Natalee's disappearance, and that, while drunk, van der Sloot had assaulted a homeless man and thrown him in the ocean
On a typical night leading up to Natalee's disappearance, van der Sloot, when not playing poker, frequented late-night bars and was suspected on several occasions of slipping date-rape drugs into unsuspecting women's drinks, although the local police have yet to explain what, if any, investigation these suspicions received. Harold Copus, a former FBI investigator who specializes in missing persons cases, told truTV that at least one young woman was willing to come forward to offer proof about these allegations and rumors before changing her mind and declining to be interviewed.
he Genesis of the Media Frenzy
Thousands of media outlets began following Holloway's disappearance when her mother, Beth Twitty, along with a small army of private detectives and friends, began their hunt for her. As previously reported on truTV, Joran repeatedly changed his story about his activities with Natalee on the evening of May 29, 2005, reshaping his version of the events over and over again, at first seemingly to avoid arrest and prosecution, but later apparently to gain notoriety and money from those who would pay to listen.
While always admitting that he met Natalee at Carlos'n Charlie's bar, he first told Twitty that her daughter had oral sex with him in a car while driving around the island with his friends, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe. He claimed to have seen two hotel security guards speaking with Natalee at the Holiday Inn where they dropped her off, resulting in their arrest, although they were released just a few days later.
Joran, the Kalpoe brothers, and even Joran's father were all arrested during the next few days. After questioning, Joran's father was released a few days later. Joran then changed his story, telling police he had sucked rum from Natalee's navel as she lay on the bar at Carlos'n Charlie's that night before Deepak drove them near the beach. Once on the beach, Joran claimed, he refused to have sex with Natalee because he did not have a condom, and called Deepak with his cell phone to pick him up. He said he left Natalee staring into the sea as he and Deepak drove off in Deepak's Honda.
Why did he lie to Twitty, leading to the arrest of three innocent men who risked charges of murder and kidnapping, before changing his story? "I didn't want anyone to know," he told ABC News. "I didn't want anyone to know I left her at the beach. I lied because, yeah, I was scared. I had a girlfriend at the time. I didn't want my dad to think bad of me. I didn't want my friends to think bad of me."
Despite the different versions of what happened in the early-morning hours of May 30, it was widely reported that a few hours after Joran claims to have left Natalee, he returned home, turned on his computer at 3:25 a.m., browsed soccer scores at ESPN.com, checked his email, and visited porn sites for about an hour. Joran then took the bus to school at 6:40 AM.
Despite Joran's suspicious behavior on the night of Natalee's disappearance, his status as the last known person to see her that night, his allegedly violent past, and Natalee's mother's tireless campaign to prompt Aruban authorities to find her daughter, Aruban authorities released van der Sloot on September 3 and the Kalpoe brothers the following day without a single indictment. Since then, the Kalpoe brothers have denied any involvement in Natalee's disappearance.
"It was the good-ol'-boy system,' E.E. Byars, the co-author of Overboard, in which Patrick van der Eem recounted his drug and gambling experiences with van der Sloot in Holland, told truTV. "They thought they were taking care of one of their own, but it got bigger than they thought it would. They just didn't realize how tenacious Beth Twitty was and how well she would work the media."
For many, it seemed Joran in all likelihood got away with murder, and they felt that he apparently felt little or no shame for any involvement in cutting the young and promising life of Natalee short. Many of his detractors also believe that the incident seemed to have fed his already oversized ego, making him think he was invincible after outmaneuvering authorities.
"Something in him snapped," Byars told truTV. "He probably then felt like nothing could stop him."
ex, Drugs, and a Confession
Van der Sloot began attending Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen in pursuit of a post-secondary degree in business management in September 2005, immediately after his release by Aruban authorities. Despite Joran's reported superior intelligence and good grades in high school, the school is far from Ivy League in reputation, and van der Sloot's course of studies, had he finished, would not have earned him the equivalent of a bachelor of arts degree in the United States, much less an MBA. His life there was hardly that of a serious student either, as he allegedly passed most days waking up in the afternoon to smoke marijuana and to play poker online at the house he shared with his roommates.
According to Patrick van der Eem's account in Overboard, Joran spent most of his waking hours in Arnhem on his computer in his room, which was littered with ashtrays, beer bottles, and miscellaneous trash. Joran played the computer game Titan Quest, an action role-playing title. In what many felt was another chilling manifestation of Joran's psyche, van der Eem reports that van der Sloot's avatar for the game was a young, blonde-haired woman who resembled Holloway.
When not at home, van der Sloot would often go to the local casino to play in poker tournaments. It was during a poker session at a casino in Nijmegen, a town near the German border and not far from Arnhem, that he had met van der Eem, a recovering addict, convicted drug felon turned legitimate entrepreneur who owned a hydraulics business. Patrick's motive from the outset, as he wrote in Overboard, was to entrap Joran in some way to reveal the truth about Natalee's disappearance.
Van der Eem also wrote that he wanted to help restore Aruba's reputation that Joran had tarnished. Van der Eem acknowledges in his memoir that he was no angel, but argues he had paid his debt to society for his previous crimes and was seeking to put things right by exposing van der Sloot.
"This punk seemed to think that all of Aruba was behind him," van der Eem wrote. "I wasn't behind him, and I wanted to heal the black eye my country had suffered from this girl disappearing."
Van der Eem used his heroin-dealing past and the gangster connections he still had to impress van der Sloot and to gain his trust. In many ways, van der Eem began to serve as a mentor to van der Sloot, counseling him about ways to get more cash for his poker addiction. Some of van der Sloot's reported schemes revealed an arrogant personality, and while many observers speak of his extraordinary intelligence, it is apparent that some of the capers he allegedly described to van der Eem were hardly brilliant ideas. For example, van der Eem says van der Sloot spoke to him about smuggling drugs stuffed in suitcases across the border by plane. If he were caught, Joran reasoned, then he would claim the drugs were planted by the authorities as part of a setup since they were unable to convict him for Holloway's disappearance.
Other money-making schemes van der Sloot allegedly discussed with van der Eem included growing and selling marijuana, creating a shell retail company to defraud creditors, among other illegal scams. Over the course of the months that followed, van der Eem said, he and van der Sloot spent a lot of time together smoking marijuana and going to casinos. It was then, van der Eem maintains, that small details revealing more elements of van der Sloot's true personality emerged. For example, van der Sloot was more than willing to implicate his roommates in illegal-money making schemes for which they would be tricked into taking the fall.
One day, van der Eem recounted, he called to offer to buy a sandwich and bring it to van der Sloot at his house, but was surprised to find that van der Sloot had not mentioned that his roommates were also there. Van der Eem claims van der Sloot then selfishly ate in front of his roommates, who, van der Eem said, were obviously hungry.
Despite his marginalized existence as hated figure who was often recognized and harassed on the streets, it seems that van der Sloot was not unsuccessful when it came to meeting the opposite sex. Not only were some young women not repulsed by what van der Sloot had done, they were even perversely attracted to him, van der Eem said. Van der Sloot, while perhaps not the most reliable source, told van der Eem that he was "knee deep in pussy."
All this time, van der Eem was colluding with investigative reporter Peter R. DeVries, who arranged for a hidden camera to record van der Sloot smoking marijuana and speaking with van der Eem about Holloway's disappearance. Van der Sloot then told van der Eem in front of the hidden camera that he had indeed had sex with Holloway on the beach and that she had then suddenly began shaking before laying still. Van der Sloot said he had then called a friend who had a boat and helped him dump the body in the ocean.
Calling her a "bitch" after describing how she lay still after the seizure, van der Sloot described the incident in selfish terms. In the video, he lamented the problems the young woman's plight was causing him. "I was nearly in tears thinking 'Why must this shit happen to me?'" he said.
The broadcast of the video on Dutch TV generated massive attention in Europe and the United Sates. Van der Sloot then claimed that he had been lying in the video just to impress van der Eem, while once again basking in the media spotlight. Aruban prosecutors were unable to enter the video into evidence to be used against him, and van der Sloot once again escaped prosecution and gained even more notoriety that he would use to generate more cash for his poker playing.
Overboard co-author E.E. Byars agrees that van der Sloot was, at the very least, not telling the complete truth in the video. In the European drug-smuggling gangster culture, killing a harmless woman violates an unwritten code of ethics that in prison is often enough to get one attacked or even killed. Knowing this, Byars speculates, van der Sloot was likely shaping his account to suit what he thought van der Eem wanted to hear, and would not have admitted to killing Natalie even if he had.
At the same time, Byars adds, the video seemed to convince van der Sloot that he would never get caught. "At this point, he thinks he is untouchable," Byars told truTV. "He has gotten away with it before, he has gotten away with other defenses before and admitting things in front of the camera, and then going 'Oh, by the way, I lied.' He feels that if he puts out 10 different stories, then he is probably going to get away with it again."
Taking the Money and Running
A few days after the February 2008 broadcast of the hidden-camera video of van der Sloot's latest version of Holloway's disappearance, van der Sloot reportedly checked into a mental health facility in Germany for a few days' evaluation. However, he did not remain long enough for any kind of treatment. His stay there was seen by some as a ruse to make it seem that he was mentally ill when in fact he was perfectly in control of his acts.
DeVries won an Emmy for his February investigative report, and just a few months later, DeVries was tailing van der Sloot again, this time in Thailand. Joran now sought, after DeVries' undercover reporters approached him, to set up a prostitution ring that would recruit women in Thailand and arrange for them to come to the Netherlands. DeVries once again secretly filmed and tracked van der Sloot's attempts to set up the prostitution ring, although no women were ever actually involved or trafficked in the setup that DeVries organized.
"We couldn't go as far to do something illegal," one of DeVries' producers told truTV.
Joran remained in Thailand, where he attended Rangsit University in 2008, but he soon dropped out. He was also able to cobble some money together from friends and relatives to buy a sandwich and pizza cafe in Bangkok near the Rangsit University campus but soon ran into difficulties managing the business and gave the place up, according to the Associated Press
Assured now that taped confessions were inadmissible in court, van der Sloot then began brazenly to offer more wild tales about Natalee's disappearance, often seeking cash for the interviews, but then to quickly reverse himself and claim he had been lying. Among his different versions of events, van der Sloot told Fox News journalist Greta van Susteren in November 2008 that he had kidnapped Natalee and sold her for almost $10,000 to a man on a boat that had connections to a sex-slaving ring, before reversing course once again and saying that he had been lying again.
Now in his early 20s, Joran was seen at poker tournaments in Asia, Europe and South America, and listed himself as a professional player on his YouTube page. But besides any success playing online poker and taking part in high-stakes poker games at casinos in exotic places around the world, a main source of Joran's income following his videotaped confessions in 2008 was hustling money from friends, relatives, or anybody who would pay for an interview.
"Wherever he was and whatever he was doing, [van der Sloot] was asking for money," Kees van der Spek told truTV.
Brazen but Desperate
Van der Sloot's attempts to capitalize on his notoriety in order to sustain his on-the-edge, gambler lifestyle allegedly became increasingly brazen and desperate during the months leading up to his arrest for the murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez. His reported schemes also reflected a remarkable indifference to the feelings of Natalee Holloway's loved ones, as well as to those of his close family members.
Van der Sloot claimed that he killed Natalee and then dumped her body in a nearby lake as part of another scheme to make what he thought might amount to millions of dollars. The "confession" that German broadcaster RTL Television recorded was made public in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. However, within days van der Sloot once again recanted the confession, while searchers in Aruba found no remains of Natalee's body in the marsh where van der Sloot had claimed to have dumped her body.
Van der Sloot returned to Aruba in February 2010 to attend the funeral of his father who had died of a cardiac arrest suffered while playing tennis at a local resort. Anita van der Sloot, Joran's mother, would later break her long public silence following Joran's arrest in Peru, and tell De Telegraaf that her son had been horribly distraught after his father's death and that she had desperately pleaded with him to check into a mental hospital. But despite her pleas, Anita said, Joran left the island after leaving her a note that said "I'm gone, but don't worry."
While van der Sloot's father had been one of the few people close to his son to offer steadfast support and expert legal advice throughout his ordeal, it has been widely reported that Joran, a month after his father's death, was willing to impugn his father's memory, claiming to Beth Twitty that his father had helped him to dispose of Natalee's body, part of Joran's alleged attempt to extort $250,000 from Twitty in exchange for communicating the whereabouts of Natalee's body.
"That's what a real stand-up guy he is," Harold Copus told truTV. "I guess when his mother dies he'll say his mother helped. This guy couldn't tell the truth if he wanted to."
The FBI and Aruban authorities were alerted, and eventually John Q. Kelly, Beth Twitty's attorney, gave $10,000 in cash to van der Sloot in Aruba on May 10 and wired $15,000 to an account in The Netherlands. Kelly wore a hidden recording device and followed through with the payment in such a way as to establish hard evidence to prosecute van der Sloot on extortion charges. Van der Sloot also signed an agreement that Kelly had brought with him.
When it came time for van der Sloot to show Kelly where the body was, though, he pointed to a house and said Natalee's body was buried in the foundation. However, it was soon determined that the house in question had not even been built at the time of Natalee's disappearance; van der Sloot would soon send an email to Kelly saying that he had lied once again.
Despite having gathered legally admissible evidence, neither the FBI nor Aruban authorities were able to arrest van der Sloot before he once again left Aruba. U.S. authorities finally took action on June 3, bringing charges against van der Sloot in Alabama for extortion and wire fraud, but only after van der Sloot had already been arrested in Chile in connection with the murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez.
The Noose Tightens
In keeping with his apparent strategy of making a disposable confession as a confusion-sowing means of gaining publicity without legal consequence, van der Sloot admitted to killing Flores on May 30, 2010, the fifth anniversary of Holloway's disappearance. Peruvian authorities made the signed confession public on June 7 and said van der Sloot had described killing Flores after she had found information relating to his involvement in Natalee's disappearance on his laptop. He told Peruvian police he had then flown into a rage, under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, and had begun beating Flores. Even though her neck had been broken, van der Sloot claimed he had not intended to kill her.
Van der Sloot, true to form, recanted his confession days later, telling De Telegraaf that he had been "tricked." He also claimed that the Peruvian incident was a setup by FBI agents who were in collusion with Peruvian authorities to frame him.
Van der Sloot may still feel he is invincible, even as he sleeps on the cement floor at night in his cell and shares a TV with an alleged Columbian hit man in the cell next to his. As he mulls over this latest poker hand, though, he may find his options are limited. Many people, though, are willing to offer advice to the other players:"The Peruvian justice system should just go and [sentence him] to 25-33 years, and if he wants a reduction of five or six years, he actually needs to lead them to find the body," Harold Copus told truTV. "If they don't find the body, then van der Sloot's lips are moving, which means he's lying."
A Textbook Case
Whatever makes van der Sloot do what he does will undoubtedly remain a source of debate for some time to come, and will involve more discussions of his parents, upbringing, and the genesis of antisocial psychological traits. Meanwhile, according to former FBI profiler Clint van Zandt, van der Sloot's behavior is par for the course for someone afflicted with an uncommon, yet familiar personality disorder. Van der Sloot, van Zandt told truTV, is a specimen of the two to four percent segment of any population who have a sociopathic, psychopathic, or antisocial personalities. "[Joran] is a pathological liar, and I think the only time he will tell the truth about anything is when he believes it is in his best self interest at the exclusion of anyone else on the planet," van Zandt
While Van der Sloot seems to many to suffer from a personality disorder of some sort, it is still impossible to pinpoint what motivates him constantly to lie and capitalize on the pain and misfortunes of others with little or no remorse. He may meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder, although "it is inappropriate to make such a serious and stigmatic diagnosis at a distance, without ever having evaluated the defendant in person," Dr. Stephen Diamond, a psychologist specialized in forensics, told truTV. "Van der Sloot also seems to manifest many of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, or at least exhibits narcissistic traits including grandiosity, arrogance, a sense of entitlement, interpersonal exploitation, lack of empathy, and severe narcissistic rage," Diamond said. "This is why I see defendants such as this as suffering from 'psychopathic narcissism.'"
Rock Star-Like Fame
The van der Sloot case represents more than just a traditional crime story. Van der Sloot's relationship with new types of media outlets, and, in particular, his ability to use publicity to his advantage may have set the stage for a new type of criminal case. In many respects, van der Sloot heralds a new type of criminal suspect who seeks to capitalize on his notoriety, using Facebook pages, blog sites, and new media outlets that can reach millions of readers in just a matter of minutes, Byars told truTV.
"During the entire time, Joran has really had the rock star lifestyle and he hasn't held a real job," Byars said. "Whenever he needed money he came up with a new story and did another interview."
Indeed, van der Sloot was able to manipulate an entire population through the press. "There is no greater control than that when people are hanging on your every word, while he can make those emotions go anyway he wants," Byars said. "I think we will see more of that with the reality television trends and the instant gratification of Twitter and Facebook, when someone who may or may not have done the crime—which is completely immaterial—can really get off on the publicity, the money they can make off of the crime, and the lifestyle that gives them."
Sadly, the significance of the van der Sloot case in the annals of crime history can easily overshadow the plight of the victims. In Natalee Holloway's case, for example, it may never be known whether she died from a bad mix of alcohol and date-rape drugs that van der Sloot slipped in her drink, whether van der Sloot simply murdered her, or some bizarre tragedy unrelated to van der Sloot somehow befell her. The upcoming trial for Flores' murder could shed some light on what happened, although learning the real truth directly from van der Sloot's testimony seems an increasingly remote possibility.