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Book review: 'Natalee' heartbreaking story

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2007 12:35 a.m. MDT

LOVING NATALEE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE ARUBA KIDNAPPING AND ITS AFTERMATH, by Beth Holloway with Sunny Tillman, HarperOne, 234 pages (with photo section), $24.95

After the young Natalee Holloway vanished on the last night of her senior-class trip in Aruba in May 2005, her name and picture were constantly on television. Natalee's mother, Beth Holloway, a schoolteacher for special-needs children, quickly flew to Aruba to urge investigators to find her. In frustration, she even conducted a search of her own, risking her life in the process.

But Natalee has never been found, and no one has been charged with kidnapping or murder.

For a period of almost two years, Beth Holloway made a name for herself in interviews as a cultured and attractive Southern woman, one so determined and angry she was not to be denied. But she ran into one brick wall after another, and the laws and practices of Aruba were virtually impossible for her to master.

Natalee was such a good student that her mother expected her to become either a doctor or a lawyer; either way, she knew there would be graduate school in her future. According to Beth,

Natalee never had any of the usual arguments teenagers have with their parents; they were very close.

"Loving Natalee," written by Beth, with Sunny Tillman, tells a heartbreaking story.

From the time she heard of Natalee's disappearance, Beth went into overdrive, existing on what she calls "controlled terror."

She hastily traveled to Aruba, where she found officials to be uncooperative, and they were worried about how the disappearance might affect tourism. This made her furious.

Quickly, she found a young man who is described as having taken her daughter for a ride around the island after imbibing a prodigious amount of strong liquor. He described his conversation with Natalee, and he described particulars about her body, convincing Beth that he had actually been with her daughter. But he denied doing any harm to her.

Beth's attempt to get a search warrant for his family home failed, and just about everything else she attempted also failed. She felt sure that this young man, Joran van der Sloot, was responsible for Natalee's death, but he wouldn't admit it. And she was unable to get the police to investigate further.

Too much time passed before a serious investigation was launched, and then only at Beth's urging. Eventually, more than a dozen young men were arrested, questioned and released — but Beth remained convinced it was the first young man, van der Sloot.

The book is not very well-written (probably because it is ghost-written), but it allows a compelling glimpse of this mother's electric personality and her willingness to play detective and to challenge authority constantly — to no avail. With help from friends in the United States, Beth offered a large reward and publicized information about her daughter worldwide.

If hard work and ingenuity could do it, this 18-year-old young girl would be found. Beth allows the reader to feel the terrible loss she experienced, and to be amazed at her energy and insight. The experience also ruined her second marriage to Natalee's stepfather.

Now Beth is lecturing around the country and running the International Safe Travels Foundation, an organization she created. She has not given up hope that the crime will be solved, but in the meantime, she is pouring her creative powers into her foundation.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com

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