Joran van der Sloot was so desperate for money that $100 — with only a promise of more to come — was all he needed to further an FBI sting operation and spark a chain of events that ended with him confessing to a Peruvian woman's savage death, according to the lawyer who provided the funds.
In a TODAY exclusive, John Q. Kelly, an attorney for Natalee Holloway's mother, offered new details about the sting operation that likely allowed van der Sloot to flee Aruba for Peru.
Van der Sloot has been suspected almost from the beginning of being responsible for Natalee Holloway’s disappearance in Aruba five years ago, and Thursday, Peruvian police told NBC News that he admitted knowing the location of Holloway’s remains. They added that he was willing to tell authorities in Aruba where to find the Alabama teenager’s remains.
In March, van der Sloot reached out to Kelly, demanding $250,000 from Holloway’s mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, in exchange for leading Kelly to the teenager’s remains, Kelly told TODAY.
Kelly said that when van der Sloot contacted him, he did not think he was going to learn the truth. His feelings, he said, were, “skepticism, caution, assuming everything he was going to tell me was false — but I had to understandably think that it might be true, also; so approach it very carefully and keep communicating.”
Kelly agreed to meet van der Sloot alone and brought no money — angering the suspect. Kelly then called the FBI to set up a sting, telling TODAY it only took $100 to convince van der Sloot to start talking with him again.
'A win-win situation'
Kelly said he ultimately decided he couldn’t lose by playing along with van der Sloot's demands for money in exchange for revealing the location of Holloway's remains.
“It was a win-win situation. He was either going to pay the money, and if the information turned out to be true, Beth would get closure, she’d bring Natalie home. Assuming it was false, it would be extortion and wire fraud once falsehoods are proven. Either way, he’d be boxed in,” Kelly told TODAY. Kelly said van der Sloot wanted $25,000 up front, with the rest to be provided when the remains were recovered and proven to be Holloway’s, Kelly said.
So Kelly went to Aruba in April to meet with van der Sloot without telling anyone but his own wife and Twitty. He met van der Sloot for about two hours in a hotel.
“No money, no recording devices. Nobody knew I was there,” Kelly said Friday. “It was Easter Sunday. It was one-on-one in a hotel room for a couple hours. He thought I was bringing the $25,000. I engaged him in a long series of conversations. I was trying to get as much information as I could.”
Van der Sloot wanted money, and when Kelly said he didn’t have it with him, the man got “very angry, very agitated, very upset.”
Kelly said it was nerve-racking.
“He’s a big guy. He’s 6’4”, 225 [pounds], well built. He’s sort of a threatening individual when he gets angry, no question.”
When Kelly returned to the States, he contacted the FBI and began to set up the elaborate sting with the FBI and Aruban law-enforcement authorities.
He regained van der Sloot’s attention by sending him $100. Then, with a promise that he would bring $25,000, another meeting was set up for May 10 in Aruba.
Van der Sloot and Kelly signed a contract, and van der Sloot took the lawyer on a drive to show where Holloway’s remains were. He pointed out a house and said his father had helped dispose of the body in the foundation. It was later determined that the house was not built when Holloway disappeared on her high school’s senior trip and that the information was false.
Van der Sloot himself told Kelly in an e-mail he apparently sent from Peru a week after the meeting that he had lied.
“He indicated it was all a hoax, which is sort of his M.O. with everybody — get the money, then say it’s a hoax and avoid criminal prosecution,” Kelly said.
'He's cold as ice'
After taking $25,000 in exchange for information that turned out to be false, Kelly said van der Sloot could have been arrested for wire fraud and extortion.
But authorities said that more work needed to be done to build the case and van der Sloot was not only left free, he was allowed to leave Aruba for South America, where he would meet Stephany Flores, the woman he confessed to killing, while participating in a poker tournament.
Holloway's mother is “obviously devastated. It’s the second nightmare for her,” Kelly told Lauer of Twitty’s reaction when she learned of Flores’ death. “Another young girl is dead and another family is living the nightmare she went through. Needless to say, she’s distraught right now.”
Kelly said he does not know why van der Sloot was allowed to remain free. “That wasn’t my call,” he said.
He also added that when he walked away from his meetings with van der Sloot having no doubt that the suspect is a psychopath. “You can look right into his eyes and see he’s cold as ice and pathological.”