Natalee Holloway: Serial Killer Victim?

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Dutchman Joran van der Sloot, the main suspect in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, was arrested in Chile last week after fleeing Peru, where he allegedly murdered a young woman named Stephany Flores Ramirez in a casino hotel room in the capital city of Lima. Peruvian authorities announced that van der Sloot admitted to killing Ramirez, though he claims the confession was false and coerced.

Natalee Holloway disappeared May 30, 2005, while on vacation in Aruba. Despite the efforts of countless searchers and psychics, police closed the case after two and a half years without finding Holloway or charging anyone in her disappearance.

(High–profile psychic Carla Baron of the television show Haunting Evidence claimed she solved the Holloway case several years ago, yet Holloway’s family and the Aruban police are apparently unaware that the case has been solved.)

Though Van der Sloot has not been charged with murdering Natalee Holloway, his arrest puts Holloway’s disappearance in a new light, and brings up a troubling question: Was Natalee Holloway the victim of a serial killer?

Possibly; it depends on definitions. Serial killings are distinct from mass murders (in which many people are killed at one place and time) and spree killings (in which multiple people are killed during one episode at more than one location).

A 1988 report from the National Institute of Justice defined serial murder as “a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone. The crimes may occur over a period of time ranging from hours to years.” Often the motive is psychological (sadistic or sexual, for example, not profit-driven).

Under this definition Van der Sloot would indeed qualify as a serial killer if he murdered Holloway—that is, if he is eventually convicted of her homicide (as opposed to manslaughter, negligent homicide, or another lesser charge that did not require intent). There is no universally-agreed upon definition of “serial killer,” and some criminologists suggest that a murderer must have at least three victims to be considered a serial killer.

Though the circumstances look damning, investigations are not complete and Joran van der Sloot has not been convicted of any crime, and is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Until the facts are known and a verdict has been reached there’s no way to know if he is an evil serial killer or merely the victim of unseemly circumstances, but Holloway may be only one of many victims.

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