TODAY   |  June 03, 2010

Peru slay suspect linked to Holloway case

Joran van der Sloot, grilled over the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, is now the prime suspect in the murder of a woman in Peru. NBC’s Michelle Kosinski reports and Rafael Vertiz, a cousin of the victim, speaks out.

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>>> going to begin with an international manhunt under way for joran van der sloot , the man twice arrested and released in connection with the disappearance of alabama teen natalee holloway , now the prime suspect of a murder of a woman in peru . we'll talk in a moment to that woman's cousin. but michelle kosinski is in lima, peru .

>> reporter: good morning, meredith. you see this developing and you just say how could this be possible? police now think joran van der sloot is in chile where they are looking for him as their chief suspect in the murder of a young woman here in lima. a murder they believe happened five years to the day after he was last person to be seen with natalee holloway . wednesday night in lima, the somber wake for stephanie flores. her prominent father greeted well wishers, one saying she was an excellent person. very loved. i think all of peru is in pain. stephanie was 21 years old. brutally murdered, police say, in this hotel. beaten and stabbed, according to local reports. and stephanie shares one thing in common with a cold case from precisely five years ago. may 30, 2005 , alabama teenager natalee holloway disapurd peared in aruba, last seen with joran van der sloot . sunday, stephanie flores was last seen alive in peru with joran van der sloot . police say the two met at a casino and went to his hotel room around 5:00 a.m . four hours later he left. her body was found wednesday. police in peru now have issued a warrant for van der sloot 's arrest. the prime suspect in stephanie 's murder. they say he left the country monday. stephanie 's faelkther, a successful businessman and race car driver in peru , wants him found.

>> translator: this is the murder of my daughter. we have information this is not the first crime this man has committed. now with the evidence of what happened to my daughter, we can prevent this murderer from killing more people.

>> reporter: at 22 years old, joran van der sloot has been around the world from holland to thailand since natalie disappeared. for which he was arrested twice but freed. her body never found. no one ever brought to trial. he's told several different stories about what happened to natalie , most recently that she'd fallen off a balcony. in 2006 he told nbc news he left her sleeping on the beach after a romantic encount zblerp it was definitely the wrong thing to do. it is not something a real man would do. it is not normal, it is not right at all.

>> reporter: natalie was on the last night of her high school senior class trip to aruba, last seen leaving a bar with van der sloot . her family's waged a bitter battle for justice for their daughter and just this past weekend on the five-year anniversary of her disappearance, her mother spoke out on "today."

>> we just go back to the known facts, and what has been so interesting is over this five-year period, joran van der sloot has always placed himself as the last person seen with natalie alive.

>> reporter: but van der sloot 's one-time lawyer warns not to jump to any conclusions about what's happened now.

>> anything that has to do with joran in the media takes on a different level of hysteria that i think sometimes lets the facts take a back seat and i think we should just see what happens, see what the investigation reveals and see if there is really any evidence.

>> reporter: stephanie flores also has family in miami. last night they were about to make the sad journey to peru , hoping for the arrest of one young man, just as the holloway family did five years ago -- to the day. police say van der sloot came to this country from colombia the middle of last month to take part in a poker tournament . we know they have some surveillance video and some witness statements from the hotel, and they also say they have some kind of incriminating evidence from vander slowed's room where that young woman was found that led them to believe he is their suspect. the father of the victim also says police told him his daughter may have been drugged. meredith?

>> what they don't know is where van der sloot is. michelle kosinski , thank you very much. rafael vortiz is stephanie flores's cousin. please accept our condolences. i know your mom and some of your siblings have headed to peru to be with stephanie 's mother. how is your family coping with this terrible tragedy?

>> we're destroyed by it. she was a little cousin. she was full of life. hard to believe.

>> when you heard monday that she was missing before her body was discovered in that hotel on wednesday, what was the first thought that went through your head, rafael ?

>> first thing was that she was kidnapped. it happens in our country. but the problem was that nobody had contacted our family so that was our concern.

>> that nobody had contacted the family.

>> yes. usually they do right away when you're kidnapped. so that was bad, you know. we didn't hear from her for two days.

>> and then you found out that her body had been discovered in that hotel room that was registered under van der sloot 's name. then there is this surveillance video of your cousin leaving the casino with joran van der sloot early sunday morning, may 30th . but he apparently had been in peru since may 14th attending a poker tournament . did she ever mention his name to your family? i'm trying to figure out whether she had met him that saturday night, sunday morning, or perhaps days earlier.

>> we don't think she met him before that day. she never mentioned.

>> so that's why you don't believe she probably had met him, that she would have said something had she met him, do you think?

>> it could have been. i mean but we don't think so. we don't know.

>> what is eerie to me is that you had actually had a conversation with your friend about joran van der sloot , about a month ago, earlier last month. how did his name come up?

>> well, she had seen a special about the crime that he committed -- or allegedly committed five years ago and she was shocked by it and she commented this to me about a month ago and i was like, i remember it and that was it. that was the end of it. when this happened yesterday, i called her and i told her, you know, it was just -- i was just shocked. it was unbelievable that this was happening to our family with the same person. you know?

>> i just want to make sure people understand that although he was a suspect in the disappearance of natalee holloway , he was never charged with a crime but police do believe that he is a suspect in your cousin's murder. can you think of anyone else who might have wanted to harm her?

>> no. she was -- no. she was a 21 -- sweet 21-year-old girl full of life. we don't think anybody else could have done this.

>> i know there's been an outpouring of love for you, your family, and support from people who are heartbroken about this. how do you want your cousin to be remembered?

>> we will always remember her as 21-year-old girl that was full of life and always friendly. she loved her family. we loved her. friends. many friends. i guess that will be how we remember her.

>> we hope they catch the person who did this very soon. rafael vertiz, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

>> thank you.

>> now let's get a check