World News

Suspect in Holloway case arrested in Peru killing

Posted June 3, 2010 2:30 a.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2010 2:28 p.m. EDT

— A man once accused in the disappearance and death of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway was arrested Thursday on murder charges connected to a killing in Peru.

Peruvian officials announced Wednesday that Joran van der Sloot is the prime suspect in the death of 21-year-old Stephany Flores in a Lima hotel, Chilean police confirmed he had entered their country two days earlier.

Van der Sloot, 22, was arrested in Santiago, Chile, authorities said. Further details about the arrest weren't immediately available. Police in Chile had been checking hotels for the young Dutchman, long suspected in Holloway's 2005 disappearance.

In Lima, police Gen. Cesar Guardia said at a news conference that Flores was found Wednesday in a room at a hotel where van der Sloot had been staying and that she had been seen with the suspect early Sunday, when she was killed.

The killing occurred exactly five years after the May 30, 2005, disappearance of Holloway during a high school trip in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean island where van der Sloot's late father was a prominent judge.

Prosecutors said van der Sloot is still their main suspect in the case even though he was never charged.

The Dutch government said Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for van der Sloot in the Peru killing. But Rodriguez, the Chilean police official, said authorities there had received only a request to locate the suspect, not an arrest warrant.

Guardia, the Peruvian police general, said the 22-year-old Dutchman was in Peru for a poker tournament and appears with the dead woman in a video taken at a Lima casino early Sunday. The two were later seen entering the hotel by one of its employees about 5 a.m. and the Dutchman departed alone about four hours later, he said.

"We have an interview with a worker at the hotel who says she saw this foreigner with the victim enter his room," said Guardia.

The woman's body was found face down on the hotel room floor Wednesday, abrasions on her face and body, and signs of trauma, Guardia said. He said she was clothed.

Asked if she had been asphyxiated, Guardia said he was waiting for autopsy results on the cause of death.

The victim's father, Ricardo Flores, 48, is a former president of the Peruvian Automobile Club who won the "Caminos del Inca" rally in 1991 and brings circuses and foreign entertainers to Peru. He ran for vice president in 2001 and for president five years later on fringe tickets.

A lawyer for van der Sloot in New York, Joe Tacopina, said he did not know his client's whereabouts and had not been in touch with him since the Peru allegations emerged.

Tacopina cautioned against a rush to judgment.

"Joran van der Sloot has been falsely accused of murder once before. The fact is he wears a bull's-eye on his back now and he is a quote-unquote usual suspect when it comes to allegations of foul play," Tacopina said.

Van der Sloot was twice arrested but later released for lack of evidence in the 2005 disappearance of Holloway in Aruba.

No trace of her has been found and van der Sloot remains the main suspect in the case, Ann Angela, spokeswoman for the Aruba prosecutor's office, said Wednesday.

"What's happening now is incredible," she said. "At this moment we don't have anything to do with it, but we are following the case with great interest and if Peruvian authorities would need us, we are here."

The mystery of Holloway's disappearance garnered wide attention on television and in newspapers in Europe and the United States.

Two years ago, a Dutch television crime reporter captured hidden-camera footage of van der Sloot saying he was with Holloway when she collapsed on a beach from being drunk. He said he believed she was dead and asked a friend to dump her body in the sea.

Judges subsequently refused to arrest van der Sloot on the basis of the tape.

A spokeswoman for Holloway's mother, Beth Twitty of Mountain Brook, Alabama, told the AP the family was aware of the development in Peru but would have no comment.