How did a young woman disappear on a Caribbean cruise?
On the surface, pleasure cruises look like a perfectly safe way to take a vacation. But according to the New York Times, beneath the carefree party atmosphere lies a little known secret: sexual assaults. Some claim the crime occurs more regularly than cruise lines would care to admit. This was true of the Bradley family when they set sail from Puerto Rico in March 1998.
Amy Bradley was an All-American girl. She was pretty, outgoing and athletic. And even though Amy was a strong swimmer and a trained lifeguard, she was terrified of the open ocean. According to Amy's mother, Iva Bradley, Amy had to be persuaded to join her family on the Caribbean cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas.
"She was reluctant about going up to the railing. But her dad and her brother both said, 'Come up here, we'll hold on to you.'"
Amy managed to put her fears aside and cruise life offered plenty of distractions. On their third night at sea, Amy and her brother, Brad, partied long and hard. Neither returned to the family's cabin until 3:40 A.M. Amy's dad, Ron, said he woke up when she came in and said she was going to sleep on the balcony:
"She said she hadn't been feeling too well because of the motion of the boat since we left Aruba that evening. So she said she was gonna just to stay out there and get some fresh air."
The next time Ron woke up, Brad had gone to bed and Amy was asleep on the balcony:
"I could see Amy's legs from her hips down. She looks like she was resting comfortably. I dozed back off to sleep. The balcony door was closed, because if it hadn't been closed, I would have gotten up and closed it." Just 30 minutes later, according to Ron, their dream vacation turned into a nightmare:
"About 6:00am, something awoke me again. I got up, looked out on the balcony and the balcony door was open about 14-16 inches and Amy wasn't on the deck. And I had a little funny feeling at that time, because it was unlike her to be up that early in the morning."
Amy's family says the ship's crew resisted paging Amy, claiming it was too early to use the loudspeakers. And to make things worse, the ship had just docked in the port of Curaçao. Amy's mother pleaded with the crew:
"I got very, very panicked and frightened and I asked them please don't put the gangplank down. 'You need to lock the ship up. You need to back the ship off of the dock. Don't let anybody off of this boat. Somebody's got my daughter.'"
The Bradleys claim the purser didn't broadcast the first page for Amy until 10 minutes to 8:00. By then, Amy's mother said, most of the passengers had disembarked for the day:
"I became more and more frantic because I knew that if she was in a position to hear the announcement, she would come immediately to us. And then I had thoughts that maybe somebody had her in a room and she heard it and couldn't get to us."
Finally, the captain ordered a search. Officials claimed they combed through all 10 decks, all 999 rooms and found nothing. A three-day search of the ocean also failed to turn up any trace of Amy. The official conclusion: Amy may have fallen overboard, or even jumped.
The Bradleys began to piece together Amy's last hours on board the ship. She left the balcony between 5:30 and 6 a.m. They know she changed her clothes. They know she took her cigarettes. But they don't know where she was going. And then, they found a witness. Crystal Roberts said she saw Amy early that morning with the bass player from the ship's band:
"I saw Amy and the band member walk over and up to the next deck up above us. And about 10 minutes later, he came walking around by himself."
Others claimed that they had seen the bass player flirting with Amy the night before:
"She said that when they were dancing at the disco, he tried to, you know, dance a little too close, and she had to tell him to back off a little bit."
That morning, no one but the Bradley family and ship's security knew Amy was missing. No one, that is, except the bass player. According to Amy's brother Brad, the musician mentioned that he felt bad about what had happened to his sister:
"That was a really odd thing to say that early in the stages of this thing, you know. Nobody knew except for my family and I, and security, that something may be wrong."
Authorities never found any evidence that the bass player was involved with Amy's disappearance. Then, according to Steve Reeves, the editor of a cruise line trade publication, a disturbing new theory emerged:
"There's rumor and legend surrounding slavery in the southern Caribbean. It's not uncommon knowledge in the maritime community that young white women are considered to be very desirable to foreign procurers."
Amy's mother believed her daughter was a perfect target:
"Amy would have been a trophy. Amy would have been someone that, I believe, could have been picked out and fingered to move off of that ship. She could have been held and hidden. She could have been possibly drugged and taken from that ship."
Officials of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines insist that Amy either left the ship on her own or met with an unfortunate accident. Her parents are convinced the opposite is true. They are offering a $250,000 reward for information.