Amy Bradley Vanished From A Cruise Ship 20 Years Ago

April 16, 2018
By: Catherine Townsend
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Photo by: Amy Bradley [Investigation Discovery]

Amy Bradley [Investigation Discovery]

On March 23, 1998, 23-year-old Amy Lynn Bradley was enjoying a week-long dream vacation with her family, sailing around the Caribbean aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship.

The vessel had departed San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 21 and traveled to the island of Aruba.

During the early morning hours of March 24, the ship was en route to its next island port of Curacao — and Amy was having the time of her life with her mother, Iva, father, Ron, and brother, Brad, 21.

According to Amy’s brother Brad, it was an exciting time for her, as Amy had just moved into her own apartment, and she had also just started working at a new job.

Despite the fact that Amy was a talented athlete and an accomplished swimmer, her family said that she was somewhat apprehensive about going on the cruise due to the fact that she had a fear of the open ocean.

On the night that Amy went missing, the Bradleys dressed up and enjoyed a formal dinner. Afterward, they changed into more casual clothing and went to the ship’s disco.Iva and Ron went back to the cabin while Amy and Brad mingled on the dance floor.

A few hours later, Brad said that he returned to the cabin at around 3:45 A.M.

Photo by: Image taken from cruise ship footage of Amy at the disco [Investigation Discovery]

Image taken from cruise ship footage of Amy at the disco [Investigation Discovery]

He said that he was sitting on the balcony when Amy came back around 20 minutes later.

Brad said that they discussed what they planned to do the next day when the ship docked in Curacao. When he went to bed at around 4 A.M., his sister said that she wanted to stay outside.

Her father said that he woke briefly between 5 A.M. and 6 A.M, and saw Amy still outside. But when he woke up again at around 7, she was gone.

Amy’s parents immediately alerted cruise staff that their daughter was missing – but said that they appeared to be more concerned with disturbing the other guests than finding Amy.

The captain gave Ron, Brad, and Iva the option of staying on in Curacao when the ship sailed for St. Martin — and the family made the agonizing decision to remain.

When they put us off on the island, they gave us no instructions,” Ron said. “So it was like, ‘you’re off the ship you had to fend for yourself’.”

Photo by: Amy and her brother Brad on the evening of the cruise ship’s formal dinner [Investigation Discovery]

Amy and her brother Brad on the evening of the cruise ship’s formal dinner [Investigation Discovery]

Amy and her brother Brad on the evening of the cruise ship’s formal dinner [Investigation Discovery]

The navy began a search, and then Amy’s family and the FBI rejoined the ship again in St. Martin and conducted a search there.

Amy’s family members say that the FBI interviewed them all separately and talked to many of the ship’s 2,900 passengers. Several people remembered seeing Amy with Alaistair Douglas, a band member known as “Yellow,” in the ship’s disco and then in the early hours of the morning.

Brad remembered having a disturbing encounter with Douglas. “I’m sitting by the pool at a table and up walks this guy, and the first thing he says is, ‘I’m sorry to hear about your sister‘,” Brad said. In retrospect, he says that he finds the timing of Douglas’ statements suspicious, due to the fact that he says that there had been no announcement about Amy’s disappearance.

Douglas agreed to submit to a polygraph exam. “He came out of the interview smiling, with his thumbs up to his band members, like everything was cool,” Ron said. “It made me feel like I wanted to strangle him, actually. I knew what was going on. I knew that he had been with Amy.”

Douglas has always insisted that he has no idea what had happened to Amy.

Amy’s family flew home and did everything in their power to spread the word about her disappearance — including offering a $260,000 reward for information that would help lead them to Amy.

At the same time, the FBI deepened its investigation into Amy. But after hours of interviews on the ship, the FBI investigation produced no other credible leads. The agency did determine that it was highly unlikely that Amy, an upbeat person who was excited about life, committed suicide.

Photo by: Amy’s brother Brad Bradley [Investigation Discovery]

Amy’s brother Brad Bradley [Investigation Discovery]

One month after she went missing, Ron and Brad returned to Curacao. They passed out flyers and talked to locals, and Amy’s father said that he received a tip from a taxi driver who claimed that Amy was still alive — and on the island.

The taxi driver claimed that he had spoken to Amy when she came up to his cab and asked him where she could find a phone. The driver suggested three specific places on the island where he said that Ron and Brad should search for Amy — but they found nothing.

In May 1999, after Amy’s case was featured on America’s Most Wanted, a Canadian scuba diver named David Carmichael came forward and said that he remembered seeing Amy on a Curacao beach in August of 1998. Carmichael tells the FBI that the woman looked just like Amy, and described a Tasmanian devil tattoo on the mystery woman’s back that made Amy’s family believe it could have been her.

Carmichael said that the woman he saw was accompanied by two “aggressive” men. The FBI believed that the lead was credible, and attempted to vet his story. But since Curacao is not under American jurisdiction, FBI agents found it challenging to operate on the island. In the end, the agency was unable to corroborate Carmichael’s investigation.

In August 1999, the Bradley family began working with private investigator Frank Jones. Jones told the family he was a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer with a team of ex-Army Rangers and ex-Navy Seals who might be able to rescue Amy.

Within a few days, he told the family that Amy was still on the island, and had allegedly been spotted on the beach several times in the company of different men. According to Jones, Amy was being held against her will by local drug lords who were demanding money to release her.

The Bradleys sent Jones a total of $210,000, which included money for Amy’s search donated by the Nation’s Missing Children Organization.

But one of Jones’s men, former Army Special Forces sniper Tim Buckholtz who had been assigned to watch the house where Amy was supposedly being held, began to wonder whether Jones was lying. Buckholtz had figured out that Jones was a con artist, and broke the news to Iva and Ron.

He said, ‘I want you to know that Frank Jones is a fraud and he’s down here sipping Dom Perignon on your nickel’,” Ron said.

Jones was arrested and eventually indicted for mail and wire fraud. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was also ordered to pay back the Bradleys.

But Amy’s family said that Jones had taken more than money from them. “He had taken time away from us being able to really search for Amy because we put all our eggs in that basket,” Iva said.

Another former naval officer later came forward and said that a woman claiming to be Amy Bradley had spoken to him at a brothel. But when FBI agents arrived, they found that the former brothel had burned to the ground.

In 2005, a photo emerged of a scantily clad young woman who was advertising for sexual services on a prostitution website in the Caribbean. Agents pursued the lead that Amy could have been a victim of sex trafficking — but was unable to confirm the identity of the woman in the photo.

Twenty years after Amy’s disappearance, Amy’s family say that they will never give up on finding her.

Authorities have asked anyone with any information concerning the disappearance of Amy to contact their local FBI office or the nearest American consulate.

To learn more about Amy Bradley, watch the “Troubled Waters” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared on ID GO now!

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Read more: FBI, ABC News

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