Byline: Christopher Dickey and Andrea Zarate
The Dutch sociopath accused of murder sits in a dirty Peruvian prison awaiting trial. Has he just charmed another victim?
Dr. Mary Hamer, 55, dresses very carefully before she visits the prison. The young man she goes to see in the forbidding complex, where rats crawl out of the drains and the dust of the nearby desert settles on everything, is someone she's come to think of as a possible spiritual leader, maybe a Gandhi, and she wants to make a good impression. If only he could spend a decade or so under her wing, she believes, he could realize his full potential. Already Hamer, a divorced radiologist from Lake City, Fla., is doling out her savings to pay his lawyers. She is buying him clothes. She is sending him care packages. If only he were released into her custody, she would cast out the violence like a gentle exorcist coaxing away the demons. And if he has murdered before, he would murder no more.
Hamer has styled herself the young man's guardian angel, but she could just as easily be his latest victim.
Probably you have heard the young man's name: Joran Van der Sloot. The 24-year-old Dutchman has been linked again and again to the disappearance of Alabama high-school senior Natalee Holloway, a pretty, blonde cheerleader who went missing when she accompanied her class to the Dutch island of Aruba in the Caribbean for a postgraduation blowout in 2005. Her body has never been found. The body of another young woman linked to van der Sloot was discovered, however, decaying beside his bed in the cheap hotel room in Lima he had taken in May 2010. Peruvian Stephany Flores, 21, had been savagely beaten. Van der Sloot was arrested in Chile days later and shipped quickly back to Peru, where his trial is due to begin Jan. 6. If convicted of killing Flores, he could spend 30 years in the harsh Peruvian prison system. But even now, from behind bars, he has proved strangely, frighteningly attractive. One woman in particular has been pulled into his orbit and seems to be suffering the consequences, even if it's not her life that's in danger. Hamer, apparently entranced by the young man suspected of killing two young women, has devoted her money, her adoration, and her time to him.
Van der Sloot was born in the Netherlands but raised in Aruba, growing up in a vacation paradise where easy hedonism was on offer just about everywhere you looked. When Van der Sloot met Natalee Holloway in the Holiday Inn casino in Aruba on the night of May 29, 2005, she was 18 and he was only 17. At the end of the evening, Holloway, a straight-A student with a high-school resume full of charity work and Bible study, wound up at a bar talking to the 6-foot-4 Van der Sloot. She has not been seen since.
In 2008 Van der Sloot was recorded by hidden cameras while riding in a car with a buddy who'd sold him out to Dutch TV, and he half-explained what might have happened. He claimed that Holloway and he had gone to the beach and that she was very drunk and had some kind of seizure. He said he panicked and decided to dump the body at sea.
The tape, watched by millions of people around the world, still didn't send Van der Sloot to jail. Without a body there was no case. But the video made Van der Sloot an international pariah.
Van der Sloot didn't exactly lay low. In 2010 he allegedly tried to squeeze $250,000 out of Beth Holloway, Natalee's mother. In return, he promised to reveal "the location of Natalee Holloway's remains in Aruba and information regarding the circumstances of her death," according to a criminal complaint filed later that year. Beth Holloway tipped off the FBI. She also gave Van der Sloot a down payment of $25,000.
He took the money and ran. From Aruba Van der Sloot headed to Lima, where a big poker tournament was coming up in early June. Playing in games before the tournament, Van der Sloot lost. He …