Video: Search continues for Natalee Holloway

By Chris Hansen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/22/2008 8:20:27 PM ET 2008-02-23T01:20:27
TRANSCRIPT

She was a visitor in an island paradise. A young woman who wanted to be a doctor. Whose life was filled with promise.

Her disappearance has led to a different type of promise -- from her mother, her father, and a man haunted by his own loss.

It is a promise to do everything in their power to find Natalee and bring her home. It's the Natalee Holloway story you haven't heard -- the story of parents who even now will go anywhere -- and endure anything -- to find answers.

Dave Holloway: My goal has always been to find my daughter. That's been my ultimate goal, from day one.

Beth Holloway: Not knowing is-- is-- that's the daily torture.

Tim Miller: How could you imagine a family being put through anything worse? I mean, they've literally been tortured.

The story began early in 2005, in Mountain Brook, Ala., near Birmingham.

The seniors at Mountain Brook high were planning the annual graduation trip to Aruba.

But not everyone thought it was a great idea.

Dave Holloway: And I thought it was, my opinion, too extravagant. And I said, "No, we're-- we're not going to do this." And I told her flat out she was not going to Aruba if I had anything to do with it.

But Natalee didn't give up and eventually Dave Holloway relented.

After all, if anyone deserved a reward it was Natalee.

In school, she'd been a straight A student, a member of student government, even a counselor in a peer group called the Natural Helpers.

That fall, she was planning to attend the University of Alabama on full scholarship.

Her mom, Beth Holloway Twitty, who had been divorced from Dave since 1993, knew it would be a great opportunity for her daughter.

Beth Holloway: I was excited the Mountain Brook students had been there the previous two years. Even my step-son -- the year 2003. And there were going to be over 150 plus classmates. So, we felt like, you know, there's safety in numbers.

She felt good about it except for one troubling piece of information about a nightspot down there, a bar called Carlos ‘n Charlie’s.

Beth Holloway: My step-son had had an encounter at Carlos 'n Charlie’s during 2003.

Chris Hansen: During his senior class trip?

Beth Holloway: Yes-- yeah. Tere were some locals there. And they had coaxed some young females into leaving the establishment with them… and he stepped in at the last minute because just didn't feel good about the situation, you know, with them--

Chris Hansen: He saw--

Beth Holloway: --leaving.

Chris Hansen: --trouble brewing?

Beth Holloway: Yeah, he did.

But class member Laraine Watson, who's never spoken publicly about their trip, or Natalee's last night, until now, says it couldn't have started better.

Laraine Watson (Natalee’s friend): We were so excited. I mean, it was a tropical paradise... without our parents! Together.

Claire Fierman had been friends with Natalee since they met in junior high.

Claire Fierman: We were on the beach. We stayed outside all day. You'd usually take a nap, get dressed, go eat dinner, and then go to one of the bars. Come home whenever you wanted to.

On the last night of the trip, Sunday, May 29, Natalee and her friends headed down to the hotel casino.

They soon struck up a conversation with a young man. He said he was 19 years old, a tourist visiting from Holland. His name was Joran.

Laraine Watson: I met him in the casino and I didn't shake his hand or anything, I just said, "Who's that?" when my friends introduced me.

Chris Hansen: What did you make of him?

Laraine Watson: He just looks like an average, normal high school guy. I mean, I remember he's really tall. I remember looking at him thinking, "Oh, who's that guy?" You know, he's hanging out with my friends.

Chris Hansen: What was the 'buzz' on him with the rest of the gang?

Laraine Watson: You know, I don't know if he initially came up to my girlfriends and said, "Hey." and started talking to them. Or if they approached him. But Natalee was in there when I saw him near the blackjack table. And I don't know if they were even talking. I just remember seeing him and wondering what he was doing hanging out with my friends.

Chris Hansen: Did he create any suspicions?

Laraine Watson: Not really. I just was curious to see who the boy was. I wasn't really suspicious. I mean, he's going to come out with us later.

In fact, Joran did join Natalee and her friends later at that same well-known nightspot that had worried Natalee’s mom.

Laraine Watson: It was fun. I mean, when you go with a big group of your friends out to a bar, it's fun. And we were legal. You know, we were 18 and we could drink. So--

Chris Hansen: No fake IDs required.

Laraine Watson: Exactly. It was a lot of fun.

Joran seemed to fit right in with the hundred-plus kids from Mountain Brook, who essentially took over the bar Sunday night.

Chris Hansen: Did you see him at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s that night?

Laraine Watson: I did see him. I didn't talk to them. I just saw him dancing.

Chris Hansen: Did you see him have any interaction with Natalee at all?

Laraine Watson: No.

Chris Hansen: What time did you wrap it up at the bar that night?

Laraine Watson: I think the bar closed at one. So, we pretty much left when the bar closed. So, you know, the last song came on. And "Sweet Home Alabama" came on. I think they all knew we were from Alabama, so they played it for us.

And we went outside and started trying to get in taxi cabs to get back to our hotel. And it was kind of chaotic.

Chris Hansen: Did you think that's how Natalee got separated from the rest of the crowd?

Laraine Watson: I do. I do. I didn't see her in the car that she was last seen in.

But some other members of the group did see who Natalee had gone off with. They didn't think anything of it at the time but she had gone off with Joran and some of his friends.

The next morning, Monday, the group was scheduled to catch flights taking them all back home. But at the Holiday Inn, no one had seen Natalee.

Claire Fierman: So, I’m boarding my plane. One of our friends, Francis Ellen, comes running through the airport, grabs me as I’m getting on my plane and says, "Natalee is not coming home. We can't find her." And I say, "Beth is going to be so mad." Because my initial reaction is she's overslept. Where is she? You know, it wasn't panic.

But as Natalee’s plane pulled away from the gate panic did begin to set in.

Chris Hansen: What was it like to be on that plane and have it take off from that island without Natalee onboard?

Laraine Watson: It-- it felt like I was leaving something behind. It was just a horrifying feeling knowing that she was supposed to be there and she wasn't.

Video: Mom: Too late for Natalee, but... Back in the United States, Beth Holloway Twitty was in her car when she got a call on her cell phone telling her Natalee had not shown up in the hotel lobby to go to the airport.

Beth Holloway: I knew instantly when I received that call that just from Natalee’s history and character and just her record, I-- I knew instantly that she'd either been kidnapped or murdered. There was no hesitation. Absolutely none-- absolutely none.

She raced towards home and frantically called 911.

Beth Holloway: I’m saying, "My daughter's been kidnapped or murdered in Aruba. Help me. I need some help, you know?" And then the calls turned into I’m calling 911 and I’m telling them I’m driving a 120 miles an hour down the interstate and don't anybody stop me.

She finally did get pulled over -- and a state trooper got her in touch with the FBI.

Back at his home in Mississippi, Dave Holloway also got the frightening news:

Chris Hansen: This is not a young woman who missed airplane flights.

Dave Holloway: Right. It hit me. And grown men don't usually cry. But I knew this is bad. I knew then that I was going to have to go to Aruba to find her.

It was the beginning of a quest that would transform two parents from small town America into international investigators, who even today are trying to answer the question: what happened to Natalee?

Less than 12 hours after her daughter Natalee was reported missing, Beth Holloway Twitty's plane touched down in Aruba.

She was joined by her then-husband Jug and a few friends from home, and the group wasted no time tracking down clues about what had happened to Natalee.

Their first stop: the Holiday Inn -- where Natalee had stayed --- and where they began asking questions about that Dutch tourist named Joran.

He was the same young man who'd been seen with Natalee at the hotel's casino, and later, at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s.

Beth Holloway: So, all I did was give this little bit of information to the nighttime manager and she knew instantly who he was.

Chris Hansen: And who was he?

Beth Holloway: She said, "Oh, that's Joran Van der Sloot and he's -- 17. No, he's a local here. No, he hangs out here.

Now that they knew his full name Beth wanted to put a face on it.

She asked to see the casino security videotape.

And as she watched it play, she was on the phone with her step-nephew, who had been on the trip, and had sat next to Joran in the casino the night before.

Beth Holloway: Then he guided us. He said “Now he's seated to my left."And then we're able to see what he looked like. And then as we were coming from the video surveillance room down the stairs, we almost collided with the-- two of the Aruba handlers because they were coming up at the same time. And they were like, "We've got the car. And we've got the address."

Joran Van der Sloot's address.

Minutes later the group from Alabama was arriving at his family's home.

While Beth sat in the car her friends from home grilled Joran, pressing him for details about what happened after he and Natalee left the bar.

Beth Holloway: The words that he uses are sexually explicit and graphically detailed of what he is engaging in. The conduct he's engaging in with Natalee in the backseat of the car.

Chris Hansen: And if I’m one of these guys--

Beth Holloway: Oh, yeah.

Chris Hansen: --that's going to be enough to make me come unhinged.

Beth Holloway: They were-- yeah, that's when--

Chris Hansen: I mean, like grab him by the--

Beth Holloway: You got it.

Chris Hansen: --throat. And say, "look--"

Beth Holloway: You got it.

Chris Hansen: Where is she?

Beth Holloway: ...it was about to just explode.

Video: ‘Sexually explicit and graphically detailed’ By now police had arrived at the house and Paulus van der Sloot, a politically-connected legal official, hovered as police questioned his son, Joran.

And when it came to the key question -- when did Joran last see Natalee -- he said that he and two friends, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe -- had dropped her off at her hotel around 2 am. End of story.

Beth Holloway: He wanted to go show us where he had dropped her off.

By now at least 20 people had gathered around -- Beth, her husband, their friends, and police -- and they all got in cars and headed back to the Holiday Inn.

At the Holiday Inn, Joran himself showed Beth and the group where he had supposedly left Natalee, right at the hotel's front entrance.

Beth Holloway: So, he spread his arms out. Said, "This is where I dropped her off." and he explained how she got out of the car, and she stumbled. And he said, "She fell and she hit her head."

The group tried to get some rest, and the next morning Beth went to the police station hoping to follow up on what she had learned the night before.

Beth Holloway: And the lead detective, he told me that he would have to have a shave. And he rubbed his cheeks, and his stretched his arms down to his large stomach and said he would have to have his Frosted Flakes first before he could deal with me.

And then, after two hours, he came out and said that he'd changed his mind. That he didn't need to meet with us after all.

The next day -- as Beth continued to follow up leads at bars, the beach, and hotels -- Dave Holloway arrived and says he had his own frustrating encounter with police.

Dave Holloway: He proceeded to tell us that-- and we knew then that the three boys were the last three to be seen with Natalee. And he said, "I’ve taken their statements. And they don't have anything to do with her disappearance."

Chris Hansen: So they had cleared Joran van der Sloot and the other two boys.

Dave Holloway: On June 1.

Chris Hansen: From the get go.

Dave Holloway: He said "A lot of these girls come to the island, they miss their flights. She'll show up in a few days."

Chris Hansen: In a few days.

Dave Holloway: Yeah. Says, "She's probably out just partying. A lot of them will come here and get hooked up with a drug dealer. They'll be under drugs for awhile."

Chris Hansen: How did you respond to that?

Dave Holloway: I said, "that's not my daughter."

Both parents felt nearly paralyzed with fear, but they did keep moving.

The next day Beth was back at the police station and this time the detective had questions for her.

Beth Holloway: He asked me if Natalee ever had a history of seizures or epilepsy? And I said, "No."

Chris Hansen: Did you think that was odd? At the time?

Beth Holloway: No, I just thought, "Why are you asking that?"

Beth Holloway Twitty says she didn't understand the significance of that question at the time and wouldn't for more than two years. But soon after that question was posed to her, there were arrests in the case. Just not who she thought.

A week after Natalee’s disappearance, two Holiday Inn security guards were taken into custody.

Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers reportedly told police the security guards might have known something about what happened after Natalee was dropped off.

Natalee’s mother was horrified. Her own digging at the Holiday Inn left her convinced that Joran's account simply couldn't be true.

Beth Holloway: Well, it made me sick. Made me sick. And the reason why? We knew beyond the shadow of a doubt. At that point, we knew that the boys had totally fabricated this story about what they did with Natalee.

Chris Hansen: Why were you so certain that van der Sloot and the other young men were lying?

Beth Holloway: Because within 72 hours, I viewed the video footage of the interior of the Holiday Inn lobby of how the tourists can enter the lobby. And Natalee never entered the lobby.

The security guards were eventually released.

Video: Why dad can't quit search And Joran van der Sloot’s story had changed over time. He now claimed he'd left Natalee on the beach, not at the Holiday Inn. Later that month police arrested the Kalpoe brothers and Joran van der Sloot. Beth thought the case was closed.

Beth Holloway: There is not a chance in hell that they will see…

Chris Hansen: ...the light of day?

Beth Holloway: No.

Beth was wrong. To her surprise, a judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to hold the suspects and three months after their arrest, all three were back on the streets.

As the days, then weeks, passed, the Holloways had to face a horrible realization.

No matter how many police officers they talked to, or beaches they combed, it looked like Natalee wasn't coming home alive.

Dave Holloway: I had a gut feeling that-- you know, just, I guess, as a parent, you just have that feeling that she's not here anymore.

Still, they were determined to find her body and bring it home:

Chris Hansen: What would represent justice in this case, for you?

Dave Holloway: Well, my goal has always been to find my daughter. That's been my ultimate goal, from day one.

Throughout the summer of 2005, the whole world seemed to be wondering what had become of Natalee Holloway.

While her parents were grateful for the attention -- hoping it might prompt people with information to come forward -- it became increasingly difficult to separate good leads from bad.

Beth Holloway: I mean, I’ve had calls since, you know, I couldn't even-- just-- you know? I'm-- from—“Natalee’s in a freezer at the van der Sloot house” to “Natalee’s in a boat in Venezuela or Colombia.” It was hell at first.

Chris Hansen: How do you cope with that?

Beth Holloway: You just become numb to it.

The search to find Natalee had been massive. Hundreds took part -- volunteers, the Dutch marines, and even government employees who were given time off to take part in the effort.

But even with all of those resources Natalee’s family wanted to do more.

So they brought in a hard-charging, hard-living Texan named Tim Miller. If anyone could find Natalee, they thought that perhaps he could.

Chris Hansen: It would not be unreasonable to say that you are obsessed with this case.

Tim Miller: I’m obsessed with every missing person case. Every one. This one just went a little bit farther.

Tim Miller knew the Holloways' pain all too well.

Two decades earlier, his 16-year-old daughter Laura disappeared. From the start -- Miller suspected that she'd met with foul play and was probably dead. But weeks, then months, passed with no leads or information. All Tim Miller could do was wait.

Tim Miller: Police said that she was a runaway. We couldn't get any help. There weren't any search teams. And I just felt helpless.

Eventually Tim got the worst call a parent can face. His daughter's body had been found in a field just two miles from his home. Her murder remains unsolved.

Tim Miller: I felt then that I had really let Laura down for not doing anything. Wasn't the father I should have been.

He couldn't help his daughter, but he could help others. In 2000,taking time from his construction business, he organized Texas Equusearch as a memorial to Laura.

The goal was to help other families find the loved ones they'd lost.

In the years since, he says, the group has conducted more than 800 searches, found 250 people alive, and located the remains of 80 missing persons.

Experience in so many searches, he says, has given him more insight and more resources than many large police departments.

Now he's frequently called in to aid high profile searches, like the recent one in Illinois for Stacy Peterson.

Tim Miller: I’ve got to say no sometimes. The next time that phone rings, I want you to answer it and listen to the mother on the other end. You tell her no. I can't. You tell her. Law enforcement tells them no. We can't.

And his first conversation with Beth Holloway Twitty was no different .

Tim Miller: When I heard her voice-- you know, it kind of reminded me back when Laura was missing. And I made a promise to God and to Laura that I’d never leave another family alone again ... but I didn't think it would take us to Aruba.

Little did Tim Miller know, but he'd spend nearly a year of his life in Aruba knocking on doors, hunting down leads, sifting the sand -- and the sea.

Along the way he became close friends with Natalee’s father, Dave, who joined him on many searches.

Dave Holloway: Two of those weeks were at least, spent digging' in a garbage dump.

Tim Miller: And I’ll never forget that day when Dave Holloway's in the bottom of that well on Natalee’s birthday, putting trash in a bucket, and I’m pulling it up thinking, "Maybe they put Natalee in a well and threw trash on top of her." And I said, "It's a hell of a way to spend your daughter's birthday." I said, "Dave, get out of that hole." And so, he got out, and I went down. And then he said, "Tim, get out of that hole." He said, "I’m leaving Aruba. I will never come back here again."

But Tim Miller says that very day, in October, 2005, there was a turning point.

The deputy police chief saw Miller and Dave Holloway and shared a hunch.

Tim Miller: And said, "There's no need for you all to be searching the landfill anymore." He said, "I think you all need to be out in the sea, three to five miles."

Video: The unknown Holloway vigil Soon, there was another tip -- one that seemed to add credibility to that theory. On the night Natalee disappeared, Miller learned that there had been a break-in at a fisherman's hut on the beach. Among the missing items --- a metal and wire box --- a fish trap.

Miller wondered if they could have used it to dispose of Natalee's body and weigh her down at sea so her body couldn't be discovered.

Tim Miller: Well, we talked to a lot of people in Aruba. And they say 90 percent of anybody that drowns on that side of the island, their bodies will float up to the banks of Venezuela. I don't think that they was willing to take a risk on Natalee’s body floating.

Miller was determined to launch a search, but one sophisticated enough to find a target so tiny -- a fish trap -- in an area so vast seemed just about impossible.

Until Louis Schaefer entered the picture.

Louis Shaefer: I’ve been following the story ever since it happened. And I felt so sad for Dave and Beth because they just didn't seem like they were getting the cooperation and everything they needed.

Schaefer is a self-made multimillionaire who made his fortune in the underwater exploration business.

Schaefer was one of the few people in the world with the expertise to help find Natalee’s body if Tim Miller's theory was correct. And he was offering his services free of charge.

The plan was to use high-tech equipment to map the ocean floor off Aruba, and then, step-by-step, use state of the art equipment to scan the bottom for anything that looked like it could contain Natalee’s remains.

Just before Thanksgiving, 2007, Dave Holloway came to see the Persistence -- the vessel that he hoped would bring Natalee home.

It was the beginning of another heartbreaking turn -- one that would take them from heights of hope to depths of despair.

Dave Holloway: There's been times, I’ll be honest with you, you look up at the sky at night, or get up and you can't sleep. Look up at the stars. Think, God help us. Answer some prayers for us.

in November 2007, Tim Miller and Dave Holloway went to New Iberia, La., to see off the research vessel named Persistence.

Dave Holloway: Your boat says it all -- persistence. I've been persistent, and Tim’s been persistent and everybody else is going to be persistent.

And just as the persistence was leaving port, there was a bombshell.

The three main suspects, Joran van der Sloot, and brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, were rearrested.

Dave Holloway broke his vow and rushed back to Aruba along with Beth for special meetings with prosecutors. They were asked to bring medical records.

To their horror, though, they say they ended up talking not about new evidence but were asked probing questions about Natalee’s character.

Beth Holloway: They kept saying that Natalee, you know, was a drug user … She's never had a history of drug use. She's never been in drug rehab. Yeah, I thought that -- then, they don't have anything. They don't have anything, you know?

Natalee’s parents were even more infuriated when all three suspects were released -- again. Aruban authorities soon put the case on hold.

Natalee’s father had only one glimmer of hope to cling to.

Dave Holloway: And when this went out, I thought, gosh, the only thing I can hold on to is, is this boat search. I said, that's my last hope. That's my very last hope.

Tim Miller: The sea has always been calling us back.

In December 2007, Miller returned to Aruba, and based on his theory and study of water currents, literally drew a line in the sand.

(footage of Tim drawing in the sand with a stick)
Tim Miller: That's where she's at, right there.

And Dateline was there when the Persistence was ready to sail.

Tim Miller: I stepped on the boat and said “Natalee we're coming to get you.” Now we're finally coming to get you. And I still believe that from the bottom of my heart. She's out here and now we're on our way.

Over the holiday season, the crew of the persistence worked day and night to survey the ocean floor and look for targets that could hold the key to finding Natalee.

On Christmas Eve sonar pictures revealed what looked like a large trap, almost exactly where Tim Miller theorized it would be.

And on Dec. 29 the crew dropped a remote operated vehicle, or ROV, into the water to get a closer look.

Tim Miller: It looked like a skull. Still looks like a skull.

Chris Hansen: So, you're thinking-- you're thinking at this point--

Tim Miller: I’m thinking at this point, "Oh, my God, maybe we've got something. Maybe we've got something."

Could they have found her? Or was hope, perhaps, making them see what they wanted to see?

(on the boat)

Tim Miller: In my years of searching we have seen several bodies, skeletal remains--I have seen my own daughter's skeletal remains. I can’t help but believe at this moment that that is human remains in that crab trap.

Tim Miller couldn't help but think that the date they first saw that trap -- Christmas eve -- Video: Answers for Natalee’s parents? was a sign that just maybe they were on to something.

(on the boat)

Tim Miller: Maybe that was some of God's timing. I hope maybe Beth and Dave can have what they have been looking for two and half years.

Dave Holloway: I got a phone call from Tim.

Chris Hansen: And what'd he say?

Dave Holloway: He told me, he said, "Dave, we found her."

Chris Hansen: "We found her?"

Dave Holloway: Yeah. I said, "Are you sure?" and he said, "I’m 99.9 percent sure." He said, "We hadn't gone down and dove under or anything. But the photographs--" he said, "I tell you, Dave." I-- he said, "That's what we're looking for. And that's gotta-- that-- that's it."

Chris Hansen: Did you think that was it?

Dave Holloway: I did.

And the Holloways weren't alone. The next day Aruban authorities, including chief prosecutor Hans Mos, came on board to see for themselves.

Tim Miller: We showed them what we had. I think they got real interested, too. We all thought we had something.

The Aruban authorities agreed the find looked promising. And finally, divers from the Persistence and the Aruban police set out to get an up-close look.

Tim Miller: Everything was going right. That morning there was actually a double rainbow when we got started.

Chris Hansen: A double rainbow. Not just one rainbow.

Another sign from above?

A school of dolphins followed the Persistence as it sailed out to the target.

Tim Miller: I know I looked at somebody on the boat, and I said, "The-- the dolphins are going with us to go ahead and get Natalee."

(On the boat)

Tim Miller: We are at the spot. Ready to go down . .it is now only a matter of minutes before we know.

On Dec. 30, off the coast of Aruba, divers from the Aruban police force and the research vessel Persistence were about to make a crucial dive on a promising target in the search for Natalee Holloway.

The researchers had discovered a fish trap about 90 feet below the surface in almost the exact spot search expert Tim Miller had theorized Natalee’s body might be.

Team leader Tim Trahan suited up to join the Aruban police divers. As Tim Miller wished him well, the divers hit the water and the ROV was sent down to capture what would happen for everyone watching on board.

(On the boat)

Brandon: We have visual on divers and target.

Slowly the divers worked their way down to the trap.

They had been instructed to give a thumbs up or thumbs down.

The atmosphere in the survey room was tense, and nerves were raw as Miller, the Aruban authorities and the crew of the Persistence waited for word of what exactly was in the trap.

The divers approached the target and signaled above. And then...

(On the boat)

No it's thumbs down.

Negative, not it.

Crushing disppointment.

(On the boat)

Tim Miller: Divers coming up right now. I don't know it looked as promising today as it did last night or before.

Miller: Nothing?

Trahan: No.

Chris Hansen: That had to be a crushing blow.

Tim Miller: It was a crushing blow.

Now Tim Miller had to deliver that same crushing blow to Natalee’s parents.

Chris Hansen: How hard is it for you to dial their numbers and tell them that this in fact is not the break in the case we-- we hoped for?

Tim Miller: Probably one of the hardest calls I ever made. Probably one of the hardest … probably should have never made the first one. But everything looked right at the time.

Natalee’s father was at home in Mississippi when the call came.

Chris Hansen: What was it like for you to, once again, have a setback?

Dave Holloway: That's probably about the time that-- the chest pains intensified to an extreme. I mean, how many times can I take this?

Beth Holloway: You know, it's a disappointment. But, you have to look at the magnitude and the sacrifices being made even to get to that point.

Chris Hansen: You didn't know these folks before this happened. What do they represent to you now?

Dave Holloway: They represent heroes to me.

To be sure there was no relevant evidence, material from the trap was given to the FBI. For the Holloways, though, another wild ride began.

This bizarre story originated in the central American nation of Nicaragua.

It happened last month, when Natalee’s father Dave received a message from a man who called himself Marcos. He said he had important information about where they could find Natalee's body.

Dave Holloway: He said, "I’d done some wrongs in my past," and he said, "This is my way of making all of my wrongs and all of my sins and doing something right."

Dave was skeptical, but the phone and e-mail messages continued.

In them was a wild tale involving drug runners who said that on the night Natalee disappeared someone had paid them to take her body and dump it at sea.

They agreed but instead they took her remains with them to Nicaragua and hid them on a remote strip of the Atlantic coast.

Dave Holloway: It was a little bit far-fetched for me.

Chris Hansen: What did he want in return?

Dave Holloway: He told us he didn't want anything. And that is what part I started believing in this guy. I said we've got a reward out here.

In January, Dave Holloway asked Tim Miller to head to Nicaragua to arrange for a meeting...and to Miller's surprise, Marcos showed up.

Marcos: I didn't live an, um, exemplary life. I did a lot of wrong things and maybe this is just one way of trying to even up the, the score a little bit.

Marcos wouldn't allow his face to appear on camera, but he agreed to talk to Miller and even officials from the US embassy.

Chris Hansen: And what was the person from the embassy's take?

Tim Miller: The person from the embassy said, "You know what? I think we may have something here."

Together, Miller and Marcos came up with a plan: Marcos would take a GPS receiver to the location and leave it there. Miller, accompanied by local officials would follow the signal to th Video: Holloway team searches the deep e location and begin to dig.

The next morning Miller's phone rang. It was Marcos. The search, he said, had been a success. But there had been a change in plans. He had the body and would bring it to them in Managua.

Marcos: Tonight before the sun is up, we will be in Managua.

Tim Miller: He says that she was wrapped in a blanket and her body fell apart. He said, "but we had to put her in two ice chests." And he actually said, "call Mr. Holloway right now and tell him I’ve got Natalee."

Chris Hansen: So what do you do?

Tim Miller: I did not call Dave Holloway to say I have the body.

Chris Hansen: You've been down that road before.

Tim Miller: I’ve been down that road before.

Chris Hansen: Did you believe him?

Tim Miller: This time, I believed him.

But after waiting all night for Marcos to appear at the arranged location -- nothing.

Marcos never appeared again and Tim Miller and Dave Holloway are convinced Marcos pulled off an incredibly cruel hoax.

Dave Holloway: How would somebody stoop so low to do something like this?

Chris Hansen: How hurtful is that, when somebody does that to you?

Dave Holloway: Very hurtful. In fact, that was -- it's a wonders I’ve not had a major heart attack and died, you know.

After two and a half years of excruciating ups and downs and just a week after being victimized by that cruel hoax in Nicaragua, Natalee Holloway's parents were about to be thrown another bombshell -- perhaps the biggest yet.

An elaborate hidden camera sting in the Netherlands, arranged by Dutch reporter Peter de Vries, caught Joran van der Sloot on tape with a man named Patrick who had gained his trust.

Van der Sloot not only said he was with Natalee when she collapsed on a beach, but that he had a friend with a boat get rid of her body.

For Dave Holloway, watching the show was the most painful moment yet.

Dave Holloway: It was a good thing he-- there was an ocean between us and Holland, because I would have come after him.

Though the tape was difficult to watch , for Natalee's parents it seemed to confirm many things they have believed all along.

First and foremost that Joran was with Natalee -- and had something to do with her disappearance.

Beth Holloway: I wanted to come to the TV and kill him. I wanted to peel his skin off his face.

Second, that her body was, indeed, dumped at sea.

Tim Miller: You know, I think there's a lot of truth in it. And I think it validates what we've been wanting to do for the last couple of years, and that's search that water.

Video: When the search is the answer But for Natalee's mother, there was something else about the tape that was particularly revealing.

On the tape, Joran van der Sloot says all of a sudden it was like a scene from a movie, the way Natalee was moving. "Shaking?” his friend asked. "Yes," he answered.

When Beth heard van der Sloot describe what happened, she said it not only made sense, it confirmed to her what she had believed from the start.

Beth Holloway: The facts are within 48 hours of Natalee's disappearance, a lead detective asked me if she had a history of epilepsy or seizures. Two and a half years later, the main suspect himself, admits that Natalee -- he felt as if she suffered an epilepsy or seizure. And he even indicates how she's shaking. So, if we look at just that one-- just that one piece, that's one thread out of a lot. Then, I have to say yes, there definitely was some collusion and corruption going on in the early days of Natalee's disappearance. Absolutely.

However, according to the prosecutor's office it's standard procedure to ask if a missing person might have a seizure disorder.

Police and prosecution officials declined on-camera interviews, but have consistently denied that there was any corruption, collusion or mishandling of the investigation.

The director of Aruba's hotel and tourism association says everyone wishes the Holloway case had been treated more urgently in the first 48 hours, but that police wrongdoing was certainly not an issue.

Rob Smith: In fact, quite the opposite, you know, our island is very focused on tourism, so we've put a tremendous amount of effort into solving this case, millions and millions of dollars from our police budget have been focused on nothing but bringing resolution for the family.

Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers insist they had nothing to do with Natalee's disappearance or death. And when it comes to that videotape, van der Sloot claims he was lying, impaired by marijuana.

After the hidden camera footage aired, prosecutors sought to arrest Joran van der Sloot again but judges denied the request.

Joseph Tacopina (van der Sloot’s lawyer): For two courts to deny his rearrest shows you the value, the evidenciary value of this tape, which is none.

Joseph Tacopina: Joran's story, over 20 hours that he was taped, is disprovable by fact, disprovable in its inconsistencies internally, and incredible because he was under the influence of narcotics when he was making those statements.

Tonight, after the Holloway family has gone through nearly three years of anguish, the Persistence is still off the coast of Aruba -- looking for Natalee. And organizers are now appealing to the public for donations to keep the search going.

And Natalee's father -- who's lived through all the ups and downs, somehow finds a way to remain hopeful.

Dave Holloway: That search will continue. They have the capability to find something as small as a quarter on the ocean floor. I mean, that's how sophisticated this equipment is.

Today Natalee Holloway would be 21 years old, a junior in college, phoning home to chat about friends or boys or maybe a biology test she'd aced that afternoon.

Instead, she is gone. Her final resting place, a mystery.

And so her parents keep searching, hoping that somewhere off the coast of Aruba, a boat called the Persistence, may bring them an answer -- and peace.

Dave Holloway: If she's there, they'll find her. If they don't find her, we did-- we did the very best we could do, no question about it.

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