LIMA, Peru – For all of his garrulous charm, Joran van der Sloot didn’t do himself any favors in his online interactions, where his generation tends to reveal a lot about itself.

“If I would have to describe myself as an animal it would be a snake,” he wrote on his YouTube page. Perhaps wistfully wishing the past undone, he continued: “however, I want to be a lion and one day I will be a lion.”

At age 22, Van der Sloot is now a caged animal. He sits in a bleak Third-World prison, where he fears his fellow inmates.

Van der Sloot’s journey from the quiet comfort of Aruba to being escorted briskly in handcuffs past Peruvian crowds screaming “murderer” is a tale of dissolution, deception and increasing desperation, according to friends and people who have chronicled his life.

Bracketing that journey are the May 30, 2005, disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba and, five years later to the day, the strangling death of Stephany Flores in his hotel room in Lima.

Bred in privilege on a Caribbean tourist island, Van Der Sloot has fallen about as far as a young man can fall. But between the disappearance of Holloway and the death of Flores, where was he?

The five years in between Holloway and Flores were bumpy ones for Van der Sloot:

He is twice arrested in the Holloway disappearance, and twice released. He is harassed by crime-obsessed media and tracked doggedly by investigators hired by the Holloway family.

He relocates to Holland but, perpetually accosted, can’t live a normal university student’s life. He settles in Thailand, where he studies business without earning a degree. He buys a coffee shop.

In February, his prominent lawyer father collapses and dies of a heart attack on an Aruba tennis court at age 57. Van der Sloot flies home, lingering there after the funeral.

Then he moves. Strapped for cash, he obtains $25,000 from Holloway’s mother in exchange for a promise to lead her to her daughter’s body. The FBI secretly records the alleged extortion but Van der Sloot is not arrested.

Instead, he heads off to Lima to play poker. He kills Flores, police say, after a night of poker with her at a casino in which he had about 10 drinks of whiskey and pisco while she drank wine.

But what motivated Van der Sloot, as his signed confession describes, to slam Flores in the face with his right elbow, strangle her for a full minute, then take off his shirt and asphyxiate her?

In the confession, he says Flores threw the first blow.

The two were playing online poker on his laptop, he said, when an insulting message arrived mentioning the Holloway case and saying, “I’m going to kill you, you little Mongoloid.” He said that after he explained the Holloway disappearance and how he’d been accused of it, she punched him on the left side of his head.

Peru’s criminal police chief, Gen. Cesar Guardia, says he’s skeptical about Van der Sloot’s story. The defendant is, after all, a person who described himself as “a pathological liar” in a 2007 book he co-wrote when several of the figures in the Holloway saga cashed in on the case with published accounts.

Asked about his motive for killing Flores, Van der Sloot told his questioners he didn’t really know. “I lost control of my actions,” the confession quotes him as saying. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

CAVALIER ATTITUDE

On his DateInAsia.com profile page, created when he was living in Thailand, Van der Sloot says he is attractive, agnostic, a smoker, regular drinker and a former professional card player.

In the Bangkok suburb of Muang Ake, he attended Rangsit University in 2008 as a business major but dropped out and bought the Sawadee Cup cafe just off campus.

One person who met Van der Sloot there, a 35-year-old schoolteacher from Illinois named Matthew Lufcy, was struck by his cavalier attitude about his notoriety.

“I would describe him as arrogant, like nobody can do anything to me. He wasn’t shy about it,” Lufcy said. He said he met Van der Sloot’s then-girlfriend, a blonde from California. Lufcy was surprised, given all the media attention on him, that she was with him.

Van der Sloot may have been a charmer, but he apparently wasn’t much of a businessman. So says the young Thai woman who, with her American boyfriend, bought the cafe from him early this year.

“I looked at the documents and balance sheets he left. Many items just look wrong,” said the woman, who would identify herself only by her first name, Siripat.

Still, Siripat described him as “a very affable guy. He’d invite us for meals. Sometimes, he’d let us eat for free at his cafe.”

REPORTER ON HIS TRAIL

If Van der Sloot can be said to have a nemesis, it is investigative reporter Peter de Vries, a no-nonsense 53-year-old who has refused to leave him alone.

In 2008, the Dutch crime journalist broadcast video of Van der Sloot confessing in front of hidden cameras in the Netherlands to having a friend dispose of Holloway’s body after, intoxicated, she went into convulsions. In the conversation with businessmen and ex-con Patrick Van Eem, Van der Sloot describes how he wanted her to give him oral sex.

Nine months later, De Vries drops another bombshell. He airs undercover footage of Van der Sloot in Bangkok alleging that he was trying to recruit Thai women to go to the Netherlands to work as prostitutes. No women were actually delivered, and Thai authorities have no record of ever opening an investigation.

Van der Sloot’s next confession comes that same month — November 2008. He tells Fox News’ Greta van Susteren that he sold Natalee into sexual slavery. But before she airs the interview, he calls to say it was all a lie.

In recent months, particularly after the death of his father, it appears Van der Sloot got back into gambling in a big way online. “I do not have a real job but am a professional poker player,” he says on his YouTube page.

Jaap Amesz, a Dutch reality TV star, befriended Van der Sloot and extracted yet another confession from him in the Holloway disappearance. In this one, she falls off a balcony drunk and is disposed of in a swampy lake.

On his blog, Amesz writes about how Van der Sloot was often broke and constantly losing at poker. Van der Sloot, he acknowledges, has swindled him, too.

“He likes to think of himself as a gambler, but he’s a loser,” said Harold Copus, a former FBI agent who worked as a private investigator for Holloway’s family.

The Van der Sloot family’s finances were already depleted hiring lawyers to defend him in the Holloway case. Now his mother Anita, an art teacher at Aruba’s international school, must pay for defense counsel in Peru.

“She is devastated. She just lost her husband a few months ago, and now she’s essentially lost her son,” said Julia Renfro, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Aruba Today.

Neither Van der Sloot’s mother, his two younger brothers or his friends or neighbors would speak about the case. An old girlfriend, Aline Hibbert, replaced her Facebook photo with a picture of words:

“Mind Your Own Business.”