Both of her parents, Beth Holloway and Dave Holloway, at least had the small comfort of knowing Joran van der Sloot—the man they blamed for that fact that they never saw their daughter again—was behind bars.
"For five years it basically consumed me, until he was convicted and put in jail," Dave told E! News in 2021. "Then we started moving away from it."
But Joran, now 36, has been in prison in Peru since 2010 for killing Stephany Flores. And he had only dangled the promise of information about Natalee, never coming through.
Beth also said that she just knew Joran could answer the question of what happened to Natalee the second she laid eyes on him in Aruba, having flown there immediately after getting word that her 18-year-old daughter was missing.
"Did I know what was to come? No," she recalled. "But I knew that I was gonna hang onto him 'til my last breath."
Natalee's mother no longer has to contemplate that possibility.
In a shocking—if ultimately suspicion-affirming—turn of events, Joran confessed to killing Natalee while pleading guilty to extortion charges for offering Beth information about her daughter's fate in exchange for $250,000 in 2010. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, to run concurrently with his ongoing prison term in Peru.
Outside the federal courthouse in Birmingham, Ala., where Joran entered his plea and extended an apology to the Holloways, Beth told reporters, "As far as I'm concerned, it's over. Joran van der Sloot is no longer the suspect in my daughter's murder. He is the killer."
Though he was arrested a couple of times in Aruba in connection with the investigation into Natalee's disappearance, Joran was never charged in the case. The statute of limitations to bring murder charges on the Caribbean island is 12 years.
"I don't think any victim's family is going to think ever an amount of time is enough," Beth told NBC News a few hours after leaving court on Oct. 18. "So here's what I have to take comfort in...I needed the answers as to what happened to Natalee."
Dave, who's been divorced from Beth since 1993, called Joran "evil personified" in a statement to the Associated Press.
After listening to the confession, he said he accepted that Joran killed Natalee on his own, though he still harbors suspicion that others may have helped dispose of her body.
"While it may not be in a court of law, I believe their judgment is still to come," Dave said. "We are living every parent's nightmare. Today and every day, please hug your children in honor and loving memory of our daughter, Natalee Ann Holloway."
Now, Beth hopes knowing the truth will help make it easier to honor Natalee's life through time spent with her son and grandchildren. "I've been a little distracted," she told NBC News. "Now I can focus on that."
But it has been nothing if not a hard-fought battle to get to that truth. Read on for all the twists and turns in the Natalee Holloway investigation that finally led to a murder confession after 18 years: