When Alabama high school senior Natalee Holloway vanished from an Aruba beach in May 2005, the desperate search for the 18-year-old garnered international attention.
Although investigators failed to find concrete answers regarding the missing teenager, interest in the case remained high over the years. Like the JonBenét Ramsey killing or the O.J. Simpson trial, the lurid loose threads of the incident have kept the 2005 disappearance fresh for many. Last August, when Oxygen Media debuted a six-part documentary series on the case, the first episode pulled in a cumulative 1.1 million viewers, reportedly the highest true crime show premiere in the network’s history.
But that series — “The Disappearance of Natalee Holloway” — is now at the center of a $35 million federal lawsuit filed by Natalee’s mother, Beth Holloway.
According to a legal complaint filed Feb. 2, the show was “not a realtime or legitimate investigation into new leads,” as the program claimed to be, but a “pre-planned farce.” Holloway claims she was duped into providing her DNA to be tested against remains found by producers — without being told that the testing was for a television show. Entertainment and ratings were the priority, not investigation, the lawsuit suggests.
The lawsuit argues that the network and Brian Graden Media, the show’s production company, knew “prior to filming their Series that they would not find Natalee because the Series was pre-conceived and was not a real-time investigation discovering new facts.”
Oxygen, which is owned by NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, addressed Holloway’s legal complaint, in a statement to The Washington Post.
“We were disappointed to learn of the complaint and its inaccurate depiction of how the series was produced, and we want to reiterate our deep compassion and sympathy for all members of the Holloway family,” the statement said.
“The documentary series was developed by a production company in close collaboration with Dave Holloway and his longtime private investigator. The show followed his continued search to find answers about his daughter Natalee from a lead he had received. We had hoped, along with Mr. Holloway, that the information was going to provide closure.”
Brian Graden Media did not immediately return a message for comment.
Investigators have followed solid leads in the case since 2005. Natalee was last seen the night before she was set to leave Aruba with Joran van der Sloot. The Dutch teenager has been arrested twice on suspicion of being involved in the young woman’s disappearance. On both occasions, he was released for lack of evidence. Then, in June 2010, van der Sloot was arrested in the killing of a 21-year-old Peruvian business student found dead in Lima. He is serving a 28-year prison sentence for the murder.
The main suspect’s arrest in the death of another young woman did not help solve Natalee’s case, however. In January 2012, she was legally declared dead. Her remains have never been found.
The six-episode Oxygen series was billed as another attempt to find answers. The series followed Natalee’s father — Beth Holloway’s ex-husband Dave Holloway — and private investigator T.J. Ward as they re-tackled the case.
The key moments involved discussions with informants, including one who claimed “to have known Joran van der Sloot, to have exhumed Natalee’s body at van der Sloot’s bidding, to have ‘crushed’ Natalee’s remains into little pieces, and to have burned her skull before disposing of her remains,” the legal complaint stated.
The show’s participants took possession of the bone fragments identified by the suspects. On Aug. 10 2017, Dave Holloway contacted his ex-wife, explaining they needed her DNA to see if the human female remains were Natalee’s. He did not tell her the testing was part of a television production, the lawsuit said. She provided the DNA sample — but then heard nothing, until she learned about Oxygen series. The legal complaint alleges producers already knew the remains would not match the missing girl before making the request.
“Defendants further preyed and capitalized on Beth’s desperate need and desire to find her daughter by claiming directly to Beth that they may have found Natalee’s gravesite and asking for . . . Beth’s DNA to test against the remains they claimed to have spontaneously discovered there,” the suit says. “To obtain Beth’s DNA, Defendants misrepresented and omitted facts surrounding their ‘discovery’ of remains.”
The lawsuit argues the defendants’ activity constituted fraudulent misrepresentation. Holloway is seeking $25 million in damages and $10 million in compensation.
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