November 16, 1998

For Missing Woman's Family, No Answers


Few dream cruises have turned into the nightmare experienced by Iva and Ron Bradley of Richmond, Va., on a cruise last March through the southern Caribbean with their son, Brad, and daughter, Amy. Midway through the cruise, 23-year-old Amy, a recent college graduate about to start her first full-time job, disappeared.

While what happened to Amy is not known, her case illustrates the difficulties that can arise when a possible crime occurs outside the immediate reach of law-enforcement authorities, and how cruise lines struggle to balance investigations with protection of their reputations.

The Bradleys were on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas, a year-old luxury ship. In the early hours of March 24, the parents retired to the family's suite, leaving Brad and Amy dancing in a disco.

The ship's computerized door-lock system recorded Brad's return to the suite at 3:35 a.m. and Amy's arrival five minutes later. Brad said he and his sister sat on the suite's balcony and chatted. He then went to sleep inside while Amy stretched out on a lounge chair on the balcony because she felt slightly seasick. Her parents said her cigarettes and lighter were gone from the room.

Ron Bradley said he awoke about 6 a.m. and saw that Amy was not in the room or on the balcony. He went to search for her, and at about 7 a.m., he said, he ran into the ship's security chief, Lou Costello, and alerted him. He then returned to the cabin and woke his wife.

By that time, the ship was docking in Curacao. The Bradleys said they pleaded with ship's officers not to lower the gangway for disembarkation until their daughter was found, but the gangway was lowered.

At about lunchtime, Mrs. Bradley said, she asked the ship's captain, Kjetil Gjerstad, to distribute a picture of Amy to all passengers. "I cannot do that," she said he replied. "I will not alarm the passengers."

Royal Caribbean's spokeswoman, Lynn Martenstein, would say only that the company had cooperated with investigators and did not believe foul play was involved. But an internal Royal Caribbean report provided to The New York Times by the Bradleys said that Bradley did not notify Costello of the disappearance until 7:35 a.m., by which time the ship had docked and passengers were going off for a day of shore excursions. It also said a cabin-by-cabin search was conducted almost immediately.

Shortly before the Rhapsody departed that evening, the Bradleys left the ship in hopes of finding Amy in Curacao. They said they had also grown frustrated and angry dealing with the ship's officers and with a company lawyer flown in that afternoon from Miami. It took two days before FBI agents boarded the ship to investigate.

A search of the harbor at Curacao and the surrounding water that first day and the next did not turn up a body, leaving the Bradleys convinced that Amy had been abducted by a crew member and was either held aboard the ship or had been smuggled off in Curacao.

Weeks later, the Bradleys hired private detectives to board the ship undercover to search for evidence of their daughter. None was found. They also consulted psychics, posted a $260,000 reward and created a World Wide Web site, all to no avail.

The FBI has not had any success, either. "We've pursued every angle, from whether there was foul play, a suicide or an accident, and we have basically not gotten anywhere," said James Weber, special agent in charge of the FBI office in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Other Places of Interest on The Web
  • Iva and Ron Bradley of Richmond, Va..

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