LIMA, Peru — He was the last person to see two young women alive — one in Aruba, one in Peru exactly five years later, police say. Joran van der Sloot was caught in a taxi Thursday, several days drive and a country away from the Lima hotel room where the second woman was found face down with a broken neck.
A fixture on TV true-crime shows after Natalee Holloway’s disappearance in Aruba, the 22-year-old Dutchman did not speak or even turn his head when photographers shouted his name as Chilean police escorted him, without handcuffs, into a Santiago office for questioning.
Aruban authorities didn’t prosecute van der Sloot even after he was caught on video saying he had asked a friend to dump Holloway’s body. The Alabama woman’s family was outraged by how Aruban authorities handled the case, and now the family of another young woman wants justice.
“This isn’t a coincidence, this murder,” Stephany Flores’ anguished father, Lima entertainment impresario Ricardo Flores, told reporters after van der Sloot’s arrest.
Van der Sloot was arrested the same day he was charged in Alabama with trying to extort $250,000 in return for giving the location of Holloway’s body and describing the circumstances of Holloway’s death. Federal prosecutors did not say who was allegedly extorted but filed a sworn statement saying that van der Sloot got a partial payment of $15,000 wired to a Netherlands bank.
Stephany Flores’ neck was broken Sunday in a hotel room registered to van der Sloot, who police believe met the 21-year-old University of Lima business student for the first time the previous night at a nearby casino. Her body was found by a maid late Tuesday.
Flores, a 48-year-old former race car driver and sometime politician, buried his daughter on Thursday in the upscale Jardines de la Paz cemetery accompanied by about 100 mourners. His inconsolable wife, Maria Elena Ramirez, held the slain girl’s Minnie Mouse doll to her chest.
The father called on authorities to immediately bring van der Sloot to Peru to face justice.
“It’s not just about my daughter,” he said. “There’s a matter pending in Aruba and we don’t know how many more remain unpunished.”
Late Thursday, a Chilean police spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy, said van der Sloot would be flown to the Peruvian border Friday morning.
Stephany Flores was fully clothed and there were no signs she had been sexually abused, the chief of Peru’s criminal police, Gen. Cesar Guardia, told The Associated Press.
“The room was a complete mess,” he said in an interview. He added that no potential murder weapon was found, indicating the killer may have used his bare hands.
“It’s probable they had drunken alcohol,” said Guardia. No alcohol was found in Flores’ blood, he said, but he added that it could have dissipated in the more than two days it took to find her body.
Guardia added that police are investigating why it took until Tuesday night for hotel staff to discover the body.
Van der Sloot remains the prime suspect in the disappearance of Holloway, an 18-year-old who was celebrating her high school graduation on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba when she disappeared May 30, 2005. He told investigators he left her on a beach, drunk. That’s the last anyone saw of her. Van der Sloot was twice arrested in her disappearance — and twice released for insufficient evidence.
“If they have enough proof that he committed the crime in Peru, maybe, just maybe that might help to get him to confess in Natalee’s case. It just might crack him,” a Holloway family lawyer, Vinda de Souza, told the AP.
A spokeswoman for Holloway’s mother, Beth, issued a statement saying she “extends her deepest sympathy” to the Flores family “and prays for swift and sure justice.” Holloway’s family has blamed Aruban authorities’ inaction on the influence of van der Sloot’s father, a judge there who died in February.
Van der Sloot put up no resistance when he was detained Thursday about halfway to the Pacific coast from Santiago, said deputy Chilean investigative police spokesman Fernando Ovalle. When brought in for questioning in Santiago, he was unshaven with closely cropped hair, khaki pants, and a grey hooded sweat shirt.
Ovalle said it was likely van der Sloot would be expelled to Peru. Peruvian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him through Interpol after learning van der Sloot had crossed into northern Chile on Monday.
Van der Sloot checked into the room where Flores’ body was found May 14 after arriving on a flight from Colombia, Guardia said. He was in Peru for a poker tournament and it appears he and Flores met Saturday evening at Atlantic City, the Lima casino hosting the tourney, Guardia said.
The police chief said Flores was killed between 5 a.m. Sunday, when the victim and suspect were seen entering his room by a hotel employee, and about 8:45 a.m., when he said two people saw van der Sloot leave.
“Various things aren’t very clear,” Guardia said, among them the killer’s motive.
It certainly wasn’t money, he said. Van der Sloot had no problem paying for his escape to Chile.
He gave a truck driver 1,500 Peruvian soles ($525) to take him from Ica, a town south of Lima, to the Chilean border, the driver, Luis Aparcana, said in a TV interview. He said van der Sloot didn’t speak Spanish very well and carried two suitcases.
Aparcana said van der Sloot “was worried because he kept smoking cigarettes. He didn’t have a cellphone but he had a laptop that he would take out, handle and then put back.”
Lawyers for van der Sloot did not immediately comment. On Wednesday, a lawyer in New York who has represented him, Joe Tacopina, cautioned against a rush to judgment.
“Joran van der Sloot has been falsely accused of murder once before. The fact is he wears a bull’s-eye on his back now and he is a quote-unquote usual suspect when it comes to allegations of foul play,” Tacopina said.
A former FBI agent who investigated the Holloway disappearance for the missing girl’s family, Harold Copus, told the AP that while van der Sloot’s behaviour in Peru followed “a pattern of him gambling and hooking up with girls” he was surprised at the violence of Flores’ death.
“Violence was never something that came into his character,” he said.
The Holloway case has followed many twists and turns.
Two years ago, a Dutch television crime reporter captured hidden-camera footage of van der Sloot saying he was with Holloway when she collapsed on a beach from being drunk. He said he believed she was dead and asked a friend to dump her body in the sea. Judges subsequently refused to arrest van der Sloot on the basis of the tape.
The reporter, Peter de Vries, reported later in 2008 that he had documented van der Sloot recruiting Thai women in Bankgok for sex work in the Netherlands.
Aruba’s attorney general, Taco Stein, said Thursday that the island would offer assistance to investigators in Peru when van der Sloot arrives there.
He said van der Sloot remains the only suspect in the Holloway case. “There is always hope,” he said.