Beth Holloway Shares Last Memory of Natalee, Their Close Bond, and How Her Daughter Lives On (Exclusive)

Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba in May 2005. Shortly after Joran van der Sloot confessed to killing Natalee, her mother explains why she can finally move on

<p></p> Beth Holloway, holding a photograph of her daughter, Natalee Holloway
Beth Holloway, holding a photograph of her daughter, Natalee Holloway

In the dark of early morning, the mother and daughter ran through Natalee Holloway’s packing list for her much-anticipated graduation class trip to Aruba: passport, cash, bathing suit.

“Yes, Mom,” Beth Holloway recalls her daughter telling her in this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday: “I'm good. I’ve got everything I need.”

Beth kissed her daughter goodbye outside a friend’s house, where they were gathering ahead of going to the airport, and Natalee faded into the darkness as she walked from the car to the doorstep. “Then her friend opened the door and I watched Natalee's silhouette disappear in the light, and the door was closed, and then it was dark again,” Beth recalls.

<p>Courtesy Beth Holloway</p> Natalee and Beth Holloway

Courtesy Beth Holloway

Natalee and Beth Holloway

Related: Natalee Holloway's Mom Reveals How Joran van der Sloot Killed Her Daughter in 2005 (Exclusive)

A few days later, when Natalee was expected home, Beth instead got a call that her daughter was missing. She contacted the FBI, chartered a private plane and arrived on the Caribbean island before midnight the same day. Running down leads alongside federal agents, within hours Beth soon had the name of a 17-year-old boy — Joran van der Sloot — who had been seen leaving the local bar, Carlos‘N Charlies, in a car with Natalee around 1:30 a.m. May 30, 2005.

For more on Natalee Holloway's murder and her mother's quest for justice, subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

Five years later, after promising to show Beth to Natalee’s remains, he instead made off to Peru with $25,000 of her money. There, within weeks, he brutally killed another student, Stephany Flores Ramírez, five years to the day of Natalee’s disappearance.

Related: Natalee Holloway's Mother Confronts Joran van der Sloot in Court: 'You Brutally Killed Her'

But on June 9, 2023, van der Sloot, now 36 — who has been serving a 28-year murder sentence in Peru since 2012 — was temporarily extradited to Alabama to face one count each of extortion and wire fraud in connection to his 2010 ploy for Beth’s money in a case that finally gave the grieving mother the answers she had been seeking for so long.

<p>AP Photo/Martin Mejia</p> Joran van der Sloot

AP Photo/Martin Mejia

Joran van der Sloot

Folded into a guilty plea that allows him to serve 20 years concurrently with his Peruvian murder sentence, van der Sloot confessed to Natalee’s killing, detailing, as first reported in PEOPLE, how he had smashed her face in with a cinder block, then dragged her limp body into the surf.

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“Joran van der Sloot is no longer the suspect in Natalee’s murder, Joran van der Sloot is her killer,” Beth says. “That is the answer that I needed. I am now able to begin to move my life forward.”

Related: Killer’s Confession Reveals Horror of Natalee Holloway’s Last Moments

Standing outside the Alabama courthouse on the day of van der Sloot’s first hearing in the U.S., Beth watched her son, Matt Holloway, who grew up in the shadow of his sister’s tragedy and is now in his mid-30s, climbing the courthouse steps with a wave and a thumbs up. “And I said, ‘You know what, I’m done,’” Beth recalls thinking. “I got justice for my son.”

<p>Butch Dill/AP</p> Beth Holloway (center) with son, Matt Holloway (left) and lawyer John Q. Kelly (right)

Butch Dill/AP

Beth Holloway (center) with son, Matt Holloway (left) and lawyer John Q. Kelly (right)

As Beth had searched for her daughter, Matt, 16 at the time of his sister’s disappearance, “had to become a man,” Beth recalls, noting she never did another load of his laundry. “I was gone pretty much for a year, and he grew up pretty fast and in a hurry.”

Related: Natalee Holloway's Mom Beth Shares Her 18-Year Fight for Justice: 'My Never-Ending Nightmare is Over' (Exclusive)

Now, the life she imagines for Natalee — as the doctor she dreamed of becoming — exists in parallel to the one she sees in her son, who is a pilot with children of his own.

The two gathered again Oct. 21 for what would have been Natalee’s 37th birthday, celebrating it together for the first time since Natalee went missing. “My heart was happy,” Beth wrote in a text to PEOPLE afterward. “It was time. A victorious time.”

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