Natalee Holloway

Since 2005, an Alabama family's worst nightmare has left the world wondering, "What happened to Natalee Holloway?"

Natalee was 18 years old when she graduated from Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Alabama. The day after graduation, Natalee joined 124 other students and seven adults for a five-day vacation to the Caribbean island of Aruba to celebrate.

For the first few days of her trip, Natalee spent time with friends at the beach and hotel pool, and—since the legal drinking age in Aruba is 18—hanging out in the casino having drinks. But on Sunday, May 29, 2005 things took a mysterious turn.
Natalee Holloway

That Sunday night, surveillance cameras at the Holiday Inn casino captured Natalee seated at a blackjack table. Two seats away was Joran van der Sloot, a local 17-year-old high school soccer player. Witnesses say Natalee introduced herself to van der Sloot and invited him to meet her and her friends at a bar and restaurant called Carlos 'n Charlie's later that evening.

After leaving the casino to go to dinner, van der Sloot, along with his two friends, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, arrived at the bar at about 12:15 a.m. Friends say that Natalee and van der Sloot danced, talked and did some shots of alcohol together. When the bar closed at 1 a.m, Natalee was seen getting into a Deepak Kalpoe's car, along with van der Sloot and Satish Kalpoe.

She was never seen again. What happened remains a mystery.
Beth Holloway

Police questioned van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers in connection with Natalee's disappearance. They were taken into custody early in the investigation, but authorities had little evidence and eventually released them. In November 2007, the three men were re-arrested in what appeared to be a break in the case. But instead of being charged with a crime, they were released again and the case against them was closed.

For Natalee's mother, Beth Holloway, the time since her daughter's disappearance has been an emotional rollercoaster. The announcement that the case is closed adds even more pain, she says.

"I think we've had so much hurt on this journey that it's almost as if you just have to keep yourself prepared for blows because they seem to come one after the other. And that was the final one, of course, when we're thinking of it—the finality. Of course it's more painful than the others," Beth says. "The journey has been just an endless marathon in that we've just had to really try to put the brakes on and just pace ourselves."

Despite what authorities have said, Beth says the case of her daughter's disappearance remains open for her family. "We've never really relied on an investigative approach to finding an answer," she says. "I think what we've relied on more heavily is at any given moment something unexpected could happen, and we really feel like someone could talk at any moment."
Beth Holloway and Oprah

After two and a half years of investigation and theories about her daughter's disappearance, what does Beth believe happened to Natalee?

Beth: "We've been really careful in trying not to speculate too much. But when I go back to the facts—and the facts are, these are the last three men that were known to be seen with Natalee alive. And we do know the condition that she was in when she got into the … car. And we know the conduct they engaged in with her. After that, we have … different stories of what they gave to interrogators to explain what they did with her that night."

Oprah: "Do you still believe Joran and the Kalpoe brothers had something to do with your daughter's disappearance?"

Beth: " … I mean, when we look back, we've really tried to look outside of the circle of these three suspects. There have been, I think, close to a dozen men that have been arrested and questioned and released. So everything keeps coming back to the original three that she was last seen leaving the establishment with."

Oprah: "Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers have always, as we know, maintained their innocence."
Beth Holloway

At one point, van der Sloot said he welcomed an opportunity to talk to Beth, but that hasn't happened. "I think the only way that could be productive is if he were hooked to a polygraph machine," Beth says. "Because we really want to get the truth."

When van der Sloot and his parents were interviewed on a Dutch talk show in January 2008, crime reporter Peter R. DeVries challenged them with some tough and heated questions about the Holloway case. After the show, van der Sloot was caught on tape throwing a glass of wine across a table into Peter's face.
Matt Holloway

Natalee's younger brother, Matt, was 16 years old when his sister vanished. In his first interview about Natalee's disappearance, Matt describes how difficult it has been for him.

"It was just very devastating for me," Matt says. "But I have an amazing group of friends, and they've been there for me and they've helped me through it, and I just can't be more thankful for that."
Beth Holloway and Oprah

In early 2007, Beth says she developed a special connection to John Ramsey, whose daughter, JonBenet Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant queen, was killed in 1996. "He is a dear friend of mine, he is," Beth says. "We were dating, I would say. But now I think we really just support each other."

Because each of them has lost a daughter, Beth says talking to John has been comforting to her. "I feel as if he has a lot of miles on me, as far as into his journey," she says. "I feel like he was a really good source of support and strength."
Natalee and Beth

While she still doesn't know what happened to Natalee, Beth keeps her memories alive. She filled a hope chest with Natalee's belongings, from a journal to the clothes she took on her senior trip to Aruba. "I have nothing more tangible … [like] having a grave where I could go and visit her, or even having the comfort that her suspects are behind bars," Beth says. "To find her body, well, it would mean putting an end to this current nightmare."

Watch three friends talk about losing Natalee Watch

As for finding Natalee alive, Beth says she tries not to let herself consider that too much. "I don't think that's very healthy for your spirit, but it is something I fantasize about," Beth says.

In the absence of closure, Beth continues to think about her daughter's disappearance every day. "It's as if I have to wake up every morning and make that conscious decision whether I want to be better or positive. I do want to keep being positive and look toward the future and see what we can do for others," Beth says. "But I still feel strongly that something unexpected could happen. We still could find answers at some point."