In 1998, Ron and Iva Bradley, along with their two children Brad and Amy, departed on the holiday of a lifetime: an all-expenses-paid, week-long cruise around the Caribbean. But what started as a happy family vacation quickly descended into every parent’s worst nightmare. Amy disappeared — vanished without a trace as the boat approached the sun-soaked island of Curacao.
The family’s frantic attempts to find her came up against resistance from a litigious cruise operator, and eventually became drenched in years of mysterious reports and conspiracy theories. Today we’ll be diving into that sea of speculation, to see if we can’t come up with some pearls of truth.
We’ll look at the circumstances around Amy Lynn Bradley’s disappearance, weigh up the leading theories, and hopefully debunk some of the nonsense along the way. In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether this is a tragic death blown up into a wild fantasy, or a horrific kidnapping which might well still be resolved.
Rhapsody of the Seas
The setting for today’s case is the imposing luxury ocean liner, Rhapsody of the Seas. The Royal Caribbean International-owned ship stands an impressive 11 stories tall, and 915 feet long. Back in March 1998, the classy cruise ship was just one year old, scheduled to sail from the Puerto Rican city of San Juan, to the island of Curacao, in the Dutch Antilles.
Among the 2,435 guests on board were the Bradley family, from Virginia. The father Ron won the trip through his insurance sales job, along with around 35 other agents from around the US. The prize only covered the cost of the trip for him and his wife Iva, but the couple decided to treat their kids as well: 23-year old university graduate Amy, and her 21-year-old brother Brad.
The couple forked out an additional $2000 to turn their getaway into a dream family vacation, booking Brad and Amy on a flight down to San Juan that arrived shortly after theirs. After the family arrived in paradise on the 21st of March, Amy bought some postcards to send to her friends back home (this was still the technological dark ages, mind you). She wrote on one:
“Hey Girl!. It’s gorgeous here. We leave for Aruba Tomorrow. […] I’ll be home Sat. at 10:00.”
Amy was ecstatic now, but she had been skeptical about the cruise at first; despite being an accomplished swimmer, the idea of being surrounded by open water terrified her. It took a lot of convincing to get her to come along.
After a day exploring Aruba, the Bradley clan boarded the ship together and set sail once again. Later that day, the family went to dinner together — a black-tie event at one of the ship’s classier restaurants. On the way inside, they queued up to have their pictures taken by a photographer, posted at the doorway.
Little did they know, those would be the last pictures they ever had taken as a family…
Gone Without a Trace
The Calypso Party
The Bradleys continued drinking together late into the night, joining a calypso party at one of the nightclubs on board. Perhaps not impressed with the calibre of cruise ship entertainment, Ron and Iva called it a night and went back to the shared family suite at around 1:30am. Amy and Brad decided to keep partying. They befriended a group of musicians from the ship band, Blue Orchid, and went with them to the Viking Lounge — another of the ship’s nightclubs.
Ron woke up at 2:45am, and struggled to get back to sleep for worrying; Brad had gotten into a bit of trouble for dancing with a married woman earlier, but managed to avoid getting his teeth knocked out. His dad wanted to make sure that was still the case, so he went up to the Viking Lounge to check in on the kids. He found Brad dancing with some women on the first floor. Amy was up on the mezzanine, drinking and chatting with the crew members.
We know exactly what time the two of them eventually returned to the family suite, thanks to the electric door system. It showed that Brad arrived back at the room around 3:35am, and Amy followed around five minutes later. The two siblings then sat on the balcony together, chatting about life, before Brad turned in for the night.
Amy stayed in a lounge chair on the balcony, wanting to sleep off her seasickness in the fresh air.
In the early morning, restless dad Ron woke up once again, noticing that Amy was out sleeping on the balcony. He later told papers:
“I could see Amy’s legs from her hips down. […] 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. 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.”
Ron was right to worry. His daughter’s cigarettes and lighter were missing, and she hadn’t left any note (as was her custom), or taken her ID. It did seem like she had changed her clothes before leaving. Ron decided to go look for Amy by himself, careful not to wake his wife or son as he slipped out the door.
He did a sweep of all the places they had been the night before, along with the top deck, certain that a drunken Amy must have just wandered off somewhere and fallen asleep. When that didn’t work, he searched around the rest of the common areas. But the more places he checked, the more he began to panic. Eventually, he returned to the cabin, and shook Iva and Brad awake.
They could see the panic in his eyes. Amy was gone…
Docking at Curacao
The family quickly set about alerting the ship security chief, Lou Costello, but it quickly became clear that he was more about protecting the general party atmosphere than the lives of his passengers. Convinced that something bad had happened to Amy, they begged for a PA announcement, and a search of the boat.
But Costello and the team at the purser’s office just told them it was too early in the morning for a ship-wide announcement. Besides, their daughter was probably just shacked up in someone else’s cabin — she’d turn up eventually. The Bradleys weren’t convinced, and time was running out: the ship had already pulled into the canal at Curacao, and the staff were scheduled to lower the gangplanks any minute now.
Mrs Bradley begged them to postpone until a proper search could be conducted, but the ship officers refused. They had excursions planned dammit — the show must go on. Instead of locking down the ship, they opened the doors, and over two thousand of the passengers flooded out to explore the port town, with Amy (or her attacker) potentially among them.
After repeated pleading, Costello finally agreed to issue an announcement at 7:50am, but it was too little, too late. The few passengers still left on board — those with deadly hangovers from the night before, who wouldn’t be much help — heard a quiet voice come across the intercom: “Will Amy Bradley please come to the purser’s desk?”.
No “RED ALERT: PASSENGER MISSING”. Just a polite little request for Amy to present herself, in the hope she was among the aforementioned tequila zombies still sleeping off the calypso party. To be fair to them, that’s probably how it goes down 99% of the time, but surely you should err on the side of caution.
Because, of course, Amy never responded to the call, or this would be a pretty pointless episode. Her family were getting desperate at this point, and the crew never offered much respite. Just before noon, Amy’s mother pleaded with captain Kjetil Gjerstad to distribute a picture of the missing girl around the ship, but he turned her down, saying: “I cannot do that. I will not alarm the passengers.” (despite the situation being pretty fucking alarming)
Royal Caribbean’s company policy clearly prioritized good-time calypso vibes over all else. It’s thought that the crew acted so nonchalant at first because Brad had mentioned that Amy talked about going out to buy cigarettes before the two of them went to bed that morning. This passing comment convinced the staff Amy was just out wandering alone, perhaps planning on heading down onto shore by herself to get the smokes.
But the hours ticked on, and she never returned. It was past midday by the time the crew lifted a finger to make some real progress with the hunt. From 12:15 to 1pm, Captain Gjerstad had the staff search through all 999 rooms, restaurants, leisure decks, and storage lockers, to no avail.
The Bradleys went down into town to see if they could find Amy, but were warned by the captain that the ship wouldn’t be waiting around for them. Whether they were on board or not, Rhapsody of the Seas would be setting sail that evening. They had to choose between searching for Amy in town, or continue on with the vacation. It’s quite hard to focus on finding your missing daughter when a bunch of idiots are having a limbo party in the background, so the Bradleys decided to stay.
While the Bradleys descended the gangplank to continue the search on land, Captain Gjerstad made a call to Royal Caribbean HQ. No, he wasn’t asking them to send search choppers, and a crack team of detectives. The only support the captain wanted was a company lawyer, who flew down the very next day. The company then informed the Bradleys that they could have no more contact with captain nor crew, unless the lawyer was present.
Perhaps sensing that they might have royally fucked up, Royal Caribbean just developed a theory, and stuck to it: Amy Lynn Bradley had tragically fallen over the railings of her family suite balcony early in the hours of Tuesday, and died at sea…
SEARCH AT SEA
It was probably the simplest explanation. After all, Amy wouldn’t have been the first person to slip and fall off the side of a ship after a night of drinking. But does that really add up with her fear of the ocean? Her family reported that she was reluctant to even go near the railing without holding onto someone, and at chest height, she’d have to have been standing on some furniture to tumble over.
Regardless, a search of the ocean got underway 24 hours after Amy disappeared. The Dutch Antilles coastguard committed three helicopters to the search, drafting in a radar plane, British Royal Navy ship, and a host of small cargo and fishing boats to help. Five days of searching, with no results.
If Amy really had fallen overboard — or perhaps jumped willingly, as cruise officials suggested at the time — her body would never be found…
The Bradley family refused to buy the suicide angle, and maintained that she was either still on the ship, or had been taken off it against her will. Ron was adamant that the sliding balcony door was closed at 5:30, then open at 6:00, meaning that his daughter had left the cabin some time between.
Unfortunately the electronic lock only logged entries to the room, not exits, so there was no hard evidence to prove this for sure. But what we do have, is a witness statement from just after 5:30am. A college freshman named Crystal Roberts reported:
“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.”
If the statement is accurate, the bassist from the band had apparently gone back up to the Viking Lounge with Amy. Could he or someone else have hurt her, and would the company rather just shut up shot than admit its dubious hiring practices? Amy’s family decided to go to the US embassy with their concerns, where the officials alerted the FBI.
On Wednesday evening, Ron Bradley’s employer — owner of the insurance company who had gifted him the ill-fated trip — flew down to Curacao to offer his help. The millionaire CEO chartered a private plane to take Ron and Iva to the island of St Martin — the next port of call for the Rhapsody.
They once again boarded the ship early on Thursday morning, and demanded a meeting with the captain. They told Gjerstad that the FBI would be coming to investigate, but the company lawyer informed them that the US feds had no jurisdiction on the ship: it was registering in another nation, and currently in foreign waters. No offense to any lawyers out there, but it’s because of guys like this that people hate the profession.
The FBI would need the approval of the company to come aboard, and Royal Caribbean International was in full damage control mode. After exhaustive negotiations, they finally agreed to let two investigators on board, dressed in plain clothes to avoid alerting the other passengers, who were still dancing and sipping margaritas, mostly oblivious to the severity of the situation.
The FBI never managed to make much progress during the search. All they noted was that Amy’s ID was left in the cabin, suggesting she never planned to be away for long. Interestingly, reports vary on whether or not they considered suicide a viable theory.
A spokesman from Royal Caribbean International later came forward to say the FBI had found the balcony furniture arranged near to the barrier, footprints on the table, and signs someone may have sat on the railing. The bureau themselves responded that they never would have disclosed such information to the company, but declined to refute the information outright.
They also eventually discovered that the search which Captain Gjerstad ordered on the day of the disappearance was far less extensive than he claimed. The crew had only searched the common areas and crew quarters, not wanting to disturb any passengers still left on board. Had Amy been concealed in one of those areas, they would have missed her.
In any case, the second search had found any sign of Amy either. Her family were forced to fly back to Curacao, and continue desperately wandering the streets, hoping that they might bump into her — that it all might still be a big misunderstanding, and she would show up with a pack of cigarettes and a wild story.
No such luck. On Saturday the 28th of March, the Bradley clan was forced to fly home, one member short…
Suspicious Sea Dogs
So, we have a cruise company pushing the man-overboard angle — more worried about their reputation than passengers’ wellbeing — while the family is convinced that their daughter was the victim of foul play. The Bradleys grew increasingly convinced that someone employed by the ship may have been to blame, but were frustrated at every turn by the litigious brick wall set up by RCI.
Occam’s razor might side with the company on this one, but there’s plenty of peculiar evidence that suggests there might have been more sinister forces at work than just plain bad luck.
Alister ‘Yellow’ Douglas
Le’s return to the internet sleuths’ favorite suspect in this case: the bassist in the ship’s band, who was reportedly seen with Amy after she left the cabin. This was Alister ‘Yellow’ Douglas. Brad reported that the balding bassist had tried to dance a bit too close to Amy earlier in the night, and she was forced to repeatedly shimmy on away from him.
When questioned by the FBI, Yellow stated that he and Amy had danced until about 1am, when she gave him the cold shoulder and sent him on his way. A polygraph test suggested no reason to doubt him, but if that were the case, then who had Amy been spotted with at 5:30am?
Even stranger was the fact that Yellow seemed to have knowledge of Amy’s disappearance before it was even announced to the ship. At around 9am, Brad Bradley was standing on the top deck, keeping an eye out for his sister in the morning crowds, when the bassist approached him. Yellow told Brad he was ‘sorry about what happened to his sister’.
At the time, he just shrugged it off as a bit of polite support. It wasn’t until Yellow was identified as a person of interest that he looked back on the incident in a new light: how had Yellow known anything was wrong with Amy? Why apologize when she was expected to turn up any moment yet?
Sure, Yellow might have just been referencing the PA announcement an hour earlier, or some rumors floating around the crew, but it was strange nonetheless. It’s important to note that the FBI ruled out Yellow as a suspect, but the suspicious sighting and conversation kept him firmly in the scopes of the internet sleuths for decades after.
In fact, in recent years some dubious reports started emerging that his own daughter claimed he was in possession of pictures of Amy, and was obsessed with her. Buuut until that sort of thing is substantiated outside of the world of random internet rumors, we can’t exactly take it too seriously.
Yellow wasn’t the only staff member on the ship who drew the suspicion of the Bradley clan in those early days. Apparently, several of the waiters had been making Amy feel incredibly uncomfortable during the first few days on board. It went beyond a bit of sleazy flirting too.
On the night before her disappearance, Amy and Brad left the restaurant to head to the ship’s casino. While the two of them were striking it rich on the slot machines, their parents stayed in the restaurant to share some drinks with Ron’s colleagues. As the couple sipped on champagne, they were approached by one of the wait staff.
It was a young man that had been giving Amy “the creeps” since they lifted anchor in San Juan. He asked the Bradleys to pass on a message to their daughter — an invitation to go drinking on shore in Aruba with him and some other crew members that evening. They later told Amy, who obviously declined.
That might seem like a pretty harmless episode: a waiter with a tad too much confidence and no sense of decency shooting his shot with a passenger. But in retrospect, Iva and Ron saw it in a darker light. Could this have been an attempt to bait Amy off the ship, and away from the safety of her family?
It’s a pretty hefty accusation to throw around based on a bit of uncomfortable flirting, but there are certain signs which point to this as a possibility. For example, you’ll remember that the family had their pictures taken on the way into the restaurant that night.
Those pictures were printed out, and set up for sale at a stall alongside images of the other guests. Strangely, Ron discovered later that night that all of the pictures featuring Amy had mysteriously disappeared. The photographer definitely remembered printing them out, which meant that somebody had swiped them when nobody was looking.
To the Bradleys, this was potentially a sign that their daughter had been singled out. They suspected that someone on board the ship — perhaps the bassist, perhaps a waiter, or a conspiracy of them all — was planning to drug and kidnap their daughter, then sell her into sexual slavery.
Now, I know that shit just went from 0 to 100 extremely fast, but unfortunately we haven’t even gotten started yet…
The Caribbean Human Trafficking Ring
Central to the biggest and most troubling theory behind the disappearance of Amy Lynn Bradley is a kind of urban legend, passed around the ports of the Caribbean’s idyllic holiday islands. The story goes that pretty young tourists are the favorite prey of a prolific gang of human traffickers. Steve Reeves, the editor of a cruise line trade magazine, wrote about the case, saying:
“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.”
A report from a witness in Curacao seemed to suggest that Amy might have been their latest prey. Shortly after the family returned from St Martin, a taxi driver in Curacao came forward to report that he was approached by a woman matching Amy’s description, who asked to borrow his phone, then ran away. Later still, a Puerto Rican police cadet claimed he saw her being forced into a taxi by a strange man in a baseball cap.
In the light of those revelations, any unwanted male attention which Amy received on that cruise seems potentially dangerous in retrospect. Amy’s mother Iva certainly thinks so. She told People Magazine:
“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.”
It may sound somewhat farfetched, especially given all the unnecessary risks these hypothetical traffickers would have faced, but the narrative seems to be the one which has caught on the most. So are the Bradleys just grasping at straws, unable to accept the tragedy of their daughter’s untimely death, or is there some substance to the theory?
The First Potential Sightings
Upon returning to Virginia, Amy’s parents turned their home study into a makeshift command center. Iva established a hotline, and sat by the phone for most of the day, while Ron set up maps and charts all the possible sightings of Amy. It wasn’t long before some interesting leads started coming in.
One of the first substantial reports came five months after the ill-fated trip, in August 1998. A Canadian IT worker named David Carmichael and his friends had been vacationing in Curacao, where they had a strange encounter. A woman, flanked by two rough looking blokes, was walking down the beach. When she spotted the Canadians, she made out as if she was about to talk to them, before being shushed by her escorts. One of the men glared at the tourists, and the group continued on out of sight.
It wasn’t until David returned to Canada, and saw a report about Amy Lynn Bradley on TV, that he made full sense of the encounter. He was sure it was her, and his description was spot on — even down to her distinctive tattoos: a Tasmanian devil on her left shoulder, blue gecko on her navel, Chinese character on her ankle, and Japanese sun on her back. By the time the FBI returned to the island to follow up on the claims, the woman was nowhere to be found.
Fast forward to 1999, when an American Navy officer claimed he had contact with Amy in a Curacao brothel. The unnamed sailor was approached by a woman, who noticed he clearly wasn’t a local. She identified herself by name, and begged him for help. All he did was tell the woman where his ship was docked, and continue on with his evening.
What a guy. Add to that the fact that it took three years for the scumbag to report this incident, because he was scared of the repercussions if he admitted where he was spending his R&R time. Priorities, people!
It wasn’t until the sailor retired that he contacted the Bradleys through their website. By that point, the building he directed them towards had burned down long ago…
A Daring Rescue
While the Navy sailor with a penchant for prostitutes was sitting on that potentially case-breaking lead, an even more promising one found its way to the command center’s inbox. The Bradleys received an email from professional mercenary Frank Jones. He was an ex-marine, commanding a squad of experienced military veterans.
This was exactly the kind of person they needed. Frank was flowing up on one of the most recent tips: a cook named Judith Margaritha claimed she knew where Amy was being held. Margaritha said that she regularly saw Amy in her neighborhood, grocery shopping under the watchful eye of her captors. These were a gang of ruthless Colombian traffickers, holed up in a fortified compound nearby.
She gave an accurate description of the missing woman, and even hummed a lullaby down the line, which Iva had sung to Amy when she was a little girl. That was all the proof she needed — Iva knew her daughter was in that housing complex, kept captive behind bars and barbed wire. Unfortunately Ron was no Liam Neeson, so they’d need to bring in some outside help to gun down the kidnappers and save the day.
The FBI was no help: they told Iva that without any hard and fast evidence, there was little they or the local police could do. A tip-off from some random woman was hardly enough for a search warrant — especially when there was no definitive proof she even was kidnapped in the first place.
That’s when gung-ho action man Frank Jones swaggered in. He offered to take on the challenge, sending a reconnaissance mission to the island to follow up on the report. Jones’ A-team staked out the locations identified by the cook, and laid in wait. After a few days, they caught sight of a woman in the passenger seat of a dark green SUV, driven by the same blonde-haired guard described by Margaritha.
One of the operatives tailed the car back to the compound, and observed more armed guards watching the entry points. They continued watching the compound for the next few days, until they were spotted. Around ten of the Colombians opened fire on the recon team, who barely made it out alive.
If that wasn’t proof that they had got the right place, nothing was. The team had to tread more carefully going forward, observing the gang from a distance, and making sure that they never moved Amy to another location. If that happened, they’d lose her forever.
Months of watching and waiting passed by, before Frank Jones told the Bradleys they couldn’t hold off any longer. It was time to strike. Before agreeing to his plan, Iva and Ron asked for one last piece of confirmation that they really had located Amy (something you should probably always do before sending people to attack a Colombian cartel den).
Jones presented the newest reconnaissance picture: a photo from a beach in Curacao, of Amy and her blonde chaperone. Iva Bradley recalled: “When I got the pictures, I knew Amy was OK, and it was just a matter of time.”
Soon Frank and his band of merry men would storm the compound and bring Amy back home. So the family all flew down to Florida in anticipation — Ron’s employer even loaned them a private jet to get them down to Curacao as soon as the good news came in. Days went by waiting for the green light. Then a week — still no news…
It was then that the Bradleys received a call, but not the one they were expecting. Ex Special Forces sniper Tim Buckholtz managed to get through to the couple. It was him that was posted on the property down in Curacao, watching the comings and goings of those evil Colombian kidnappers.
Or rather, watching a perfectly normal couple go about their business day after day. That’s right, Buckholtz revealed to the family that everything Jones had told them was a lie: when he was sent down to check out the housing compound, he found it wasn’t occupied by a Colombian cartel at all. That really should have been the end of the mission.
However, the veteran sniper one day overheard his boss speaking to the Bradleys, and realized that he was selling them a wild fantasy. Operation Stare Into the Windows of Some Random Locals was being spun into a Hollywood thriller, with a bankroll to match.
Over the course of the bogus reconnaissance mission, Jones had collected a grand total of $210,000 of funding! About $24k came out of the couple’s own pocket, with $186,000 provided by the Nation’s Missing Children Organization. The soldier of fortune was just a regular, everyday scammer.
But what about the images of Amy and her captor? As it turned out, the woman in the photograph wasn’t even her. Jones had paid another of his team members, Jono Senk, to wear a blonde wig next to some random woman, who was done up to look like the missing Amy!
This elaborate scam was almost as intricate as the actual rescue operation Jones claimed to be planning. Not least because he wasn’t even ex-military himself, yet managed to sell the lie to the authentic ex-servicemen he hired for the job. In the end, Frank Jones pled guilty to mail fraud charges in April 2002. He was sentenced to five years behind bars, and ordered to pay back the money he swindled from the family and foundation.
If you’ve not already guessed, the report sent in by the cook Margaritha was also a complete fraud. Her own son even told the press as much, revealing that she was paid $8000 for the tip. When the woman herself was pressed for comment, she said “Maybe I’m a bad person, but with all my badness, I want Mrs. Bradley really to find her girl.”
Never mind Margaritha, keep those #thoughtsandprayers coming and we’ll all forgive you…
Let’s conduct a quick poll before we continue: Is it more depressing that…
A: people are willing to kidnap other humans and sell them for profit?
B: people are willing to manipulate the emotions of grieving parents for profit?
It’s a trick question. The answer is both.
Most importantly for the time being, option B proves that we have to take any tips which came through the Bradley family’s website and hotline with a pinch of salt. From the outset, they were offering a massive reward of $250,000 to anyone who could locate their daughter. And as we’ve already seen, the desperate parents were willing to purchase any sliver of hope for thousands of dollars.
Let’s keep that in mind so we maintain a healthy amount of skepticism going forward. Because what came next was some of the most compelling evidence yet…
In 2005, a woman named Judy Maurer filed a report with investigators claiming she had spotted Amy Lynn Bradley. She was in the restroom of a department store in Barbados, when a woman matching the missing person walked in, escorted by three men. Miss Maurer overheard the men threatening the woman, referencing a deal that she was trying to back out of.
On the way out the door, the woman was able to snatch a second alone with Maurer, revealing that her name was Amy, and she came from Virginia. That was all she could get out before the men grabbed her by the arms, and dragged her away. Maurer provided enough details for a group of sketches, but these ended up leading nowhere.
One of the sketches has become a particular favorite among internet sleuths — that of a balding man with shades and a beard. It’s been compared to various people involved in the case, including our old friend Alister ‘Yellow’ Douglas.
But honestly, I think the sketches are so basic and shoddy that you could mistake them for any number of people. I’m pretty sure I’ve met all of them in a pub smoking area at some point, but I’m not about to go call the cops.
If like me, you think that one has the faint whiff of a cynical money grab, then the next piece of evidence might be more up your alley. Again in 2005, the Bradleys received an email from someone who claimed they could break the case wide open. It was a bittersweet promise, because the evidence they provided was a set of pictures from a website which advertised prostitutes in the Caribbean.
The pictures showed a woman named Jas lying on a bed, in various stages of undress, and in sexual poses. Now, I’m not about to tell you to search for the photos, but suffice to say they bear a pretty unbelievable resemblance to the missing woman Amy Lynn Bradley. Take away the long, backcombed hair, and the person pictured is pretty much a dead ringer for her.
This seemed like the ultimate evidence that Amy had in fact been sold into slavery. All of the false reports, shoddy investigating, and wasted time must have let the traffickers slip under the radar for all those years. For the Bradleys, the images were irrefutable. They even had them verified by an ex-FBI expert, who was also certain that Jas and Amy were one and the same.
That means that she’s still out there, trapped in a life of miserable captivity, hoping that one day someone might come save her…
Trouble on the High Seas
If Amy Lynn Bradley really was the victim of a terrifying plot at sea, she wouldn’t be the first; there is a long precedent for all kinds of terrible happenings on luxury cruise liners. The nineties and early 2000s were almost like a Wild West period for the industry, with little international oversight, and ships registered in foreign nations. That’s important because, if a vessel is registered in Liberia, then it’s up to Liberian authorities to investigate (and they tend to not be quite as diligent as the FBI).
One of the most public tragedies that happened out on these luxury party boats included the disappearance of a man named George Smith IV, who took a tumble over the balcony outside his RCI ship suite in 2005. It was until years later that his family discovered that some fellow passengers were seen with him, and reportedly stated “we gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute”. However, no arrests were ever made.
Stories like this are pretty terrifying. Add in a host of un-investigated sexual assaults, and these ships are starting to look more like actual pirate ships (just with marginally less alcohol and scurvy). Things are admittedly a bit better these days, after the US Congress started piling the pressure on cruise companies to get their shit together.
And an organization called International Cruise Victims (ICV) advocates on behalf of those whose lives were damaged by the companies and their diabolical lawyers. Ken Carver founded it after his own daughter, Merrian Webster went missing from a ship in August 2004, after which the operator put a gag order on their employees and withheld vital evidence to protect themselves. Carver believes the same fate befalls a new victim once every two weeks.
Congresswoman Doris Matsui is currently lobbying for even stricter regulations in order to bring those terrifying figures down. Until she succeeds, be sure to pack your musket and cutlass before heading off on that dream cruise vacation.
As Things Stands
But what does all this mean for the main victim in today’s episode? Let’s take stock of exactly where the investigation is at, and the potential scenarios still left open.
First, Amy Lynn Bradley may well have jumped over the railing. The family were quoted as saying “she would never commit suicide”. Not to be callous, but I reckon that the vast majority of parents of suicide victims would say the same, given any chance to explain it away. I admit, this scenario is not particularly likely, given her fear of the open ocean, but it ultimately can’t be disproven.
More interesting is the idea she may have fallen in. The railing was chest-height, but we do know that Amy was feeling a bit sick — it’s why she stayed out on the balcony in the first place. Could she have stood on a piece of furniture to retch over the side, then slipped? Some reports do state the FBI found marks on the railing suggesting someone sat on it. But if so, then how do we explain the potential sightings, and the change of clothes?
Perhaps the most important theory is that she was pushed in. If the person who spotted her going up in the elevator after 5:30am was correct about what she saw, then we have to wonder what might have happened to Amy at that nightclub. It’s not inconceivable that she was the latest victim of the sexual assault epidemic plaguing the cruise ships back then, and her attacker decided to silence her in the worst way possible.
After that, we’re really moving into more fantastical waters. Let’s return to the possibility of a kidnapping. We first have to wonder why the kidnappers would bother taking the risk of drugging and kidnapping an American tourist on board a ship with over 3000 potential witnesses. Especially when there was always a chance the ship would be sealed off at Curacao.
Rather than entertain theories about ship-wide conspiracies, we might assume she was coerced into leaving willingly, and went ashore with her kidnapper when the gangplanks went down. Then that would explain the sightings in the days immediately after. However, we’ve already seen how the vultures started to swarm around this case as soon as a cash reward was announced. That makes it incredibly difficult to 100% trust any sightings.
How about those pictures though? You can’t doubt something as plain and obvious as that, right? Well, some online sleuths doubt the veracity of those images entirely. While some point out the similarities in jaw structure, forearm length, ear shape, eyebrows and more, others claim to have proven that “Jas” is a completely different woman, with a separate life that can be traced back to before Amy’s disappearance.
This would make sense, because if you, a professional human trafficker, had one of the FBI’s most sought after missing people in captivity, why the hell would you post her picture online!? Forget that: why would you parade her around the island in full view of Canadians and other Americans, without even trying to hide her identifying marks!? It’s very possible that all of the human trafficking evidence is just the result of people — some well-meaning, some cynical — exploiting a family’s desperation.
And the media were already well primed to send these more sensational theories into overdrive. They play into longstanding fears over so-called “white slavery” (the old-school name for human trafficking, named so because of hysteria over the idea of white woman being captured and enslaved in exotic destinations). As the cruise magazine editor said before, much of these stories are just ‘rumor and legend’. Human trafficking certainly exists in the Caribbean, but the role of white, foreign victims is likely massively overstated.
So there’s just one theory left which we haven’t touched on yet. What if Amy went willingly? Some have speculated that the fresh grad, faced with the prospect of flying away from paradise to start a desk job at her uncle’s company in Virginia, decided to stay in the sunshine for good. To be honest, I reckon I’d probably take that trade.
Her family have flat out rejected the idea of her leaving without a word, but again: every family would in that situation. I would probably tend to agree, given the pain that the Bradleys went through — you’d think Amy would at least send them a sign — but the possibility remains open nonetheless.
Whatever the case, Amy’s family are dead set on the idea that she is still alive. They have vowed to one day find the people holding her captive, and return their daughter home. She would now be 46 years old.
Amy was declared legally dead in absentia in 2010, and that same year, a new piece of evidence washed ashore. A tourist on the west side of Aruba stumbled across a human jawbone washed up on a beach, left with only one tooth. Analysis revealed that it belonged to a caucasian woman, but it’s never been definitely linked to Amy.
If not her, then perhaps it could have provided some closure for one of the other dozen disappearances of female tourists in the Caribbean over the years leading up to the discovery, but we’ll never know. This was the last potential lead, meaning the case of Amy Lynn Bradley will probably never be solved…
Or maybe I’m dead wrong. Maybe you know exactly what happened to Amy Lynn Bradley all those years ago, and have been sitting on a bombshell all these years. Or maybe you’re currently listening in from Curacao, and just caught sight of the woman herself strolling down the beach.
If so, then you’ll want to contact the FBI right away. They are still actively searching for Amy, and released age-progressed photos within the past few years. They’re offering a $25,000 dollar reward, and the $250,000 one offered by the Bradley family still stands as well.
But please, if you’re just another cash-strapped mercenary wannabe with a talent for BS, stay away from this one. The family had already taken more torment than one should endure in a lifetime.
At the time of her disappearance, Amy was 5’6”, 120 pounds, with short brown hair and green eyes. The tattoos were: a Tasmanian Devil on her left shoulder blade, blue gecko lizard around her navel, Chinese symbol on her right ankle, Japanese sun tattooed on her lower back.
The last thing to consider is that these shady underworlds do exist under the surface of our dream holiday destinations. Each jurisdiction will have is own hotlines for reporting human trafficking, and amazingly you don’t have to wait months or years to sound the alarm (despite what today’s witnesses might tell you).
It’s not all doom and gloom, because the Caribbean authorities are making progress against the real traffickers. Back in 2018, an amazing 350 victims were rescued, mostly hailing from South America and the Caribbean. Of course, Amy Lynn Bradley was not among them.
Here’s hoping that her family one day get the closure they’ve been craving all these years, whatever happened to her.
1. In 2017, the bass player Yellow came under renewed scrutiny for a pretty silly reason. A video surfaced online which showed him dancing with Amy at the calypso party, shot as promotional materials for the cruise. I didn’t exactly prove anything, other than the fact that Yellow was a horrific dancer, but the fine folks of the true crime community decided to start brigading him once again.
2. In 2015, a Florida man named Alfred Cotten was jailed along with his wife for running a Caribbean sex tourism website. The cups went down on trafficking charges, sparking theories that they were on board the Rhapsody of the Seas back in 1998 — one of the police sketches from the department store even looked a bit like him. Probably though, this is just a classic bit of conspiracy theory fodder. If you want to throw yourself down that rabbit hole for a laugh, be my guest.