After nearly three years, thousands of man-hours of official and unofficial investigations and virtually unprecedented international media attention, it took a pot-smoking poker player to wring damning admissions from Joran van der Sloot about the disappearance of Natalee Holloway from an Aruban beach in the spring of 2005.
ABC News has obtained exclusive U.S. rights to this stunning new information caught on tape and will air a 90-minute special edition of "20/20: The Final Hours of Natalee Holloway" Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Patrick van der Eem, 34, described in detail how he painstakingly gained the young Dutch suspect's trust, took his suspicions to Holland's leading investigative reporter and began a sting operation that led to van der Sloot's caught-on-camera admissions that he panicked when Holloway had what he describes as a seizure during a sexual encounter and called a friend who came and took the body out to sea.
After he said he spent two months almost constantly with van der Sloot -- building the younger man's trust one joint at a time -- van der Eem said he went to Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries and offered his services. De Vries, who is known in Holland for tackling complex cold cases by sometimes unorthodox means, hired van der Eem and set him up with a brand new Range Rover equipped with three hidden cameras, audio recording devices and a GPS-like tracking system, and the sting began in earnest.
If the taped conversations are accurate, it appears that Natalee Holloway could have been alive when her body was apparently dumped about two kilometers off the coast of Aruba by a "good friend'' of van der Sloot.
Still, it remains unclear whether the new evidence will be sufficient to bring any charges against van der Sloot, Aruban attorneys told ABC News, and the case could remain technically unsolved indefinitely. Aruban prosecutors have said they will wait to gather all the information before deciding on whether to bring new charges.
Van der Sloot on Friday insisted insisted in a phone call to a Dutch television show that he was lying when he described the night Holloway disappeared to van der Eem; that he was telling him "what he wanted to hear.''
"It's easy to prove that what I said is not true, and that actually this is much ado about nothing," he said on the Dutch current affairs program.
Van der Sloot attorney Joe Tacopina told ABC News that his client's statements "are not a confession."
"As a matter of fact Joran denies any role in Natalee's death,'' Tacopina said. "It is important to point out that the prosecutor has viewed this tape over one week ago and Joran is at liberty. I think it speaks volumes about the evidentiary value of this tape considering he has been arrested previously in this case with little evidence against him."
But the sheer detail that Van der Sloot goes into on the recorded tapes and the seeming camaraderie between the pair over hours and hours of tapes raises questions about why someone who has steadfastly and for so long denied any involvement in the Alabama teen's disappearance would suddenly change course and make up such a detailed version of the events of that fateful night.