Cruises are supposed to be the ultimate vacation. Modern cruise liners are like floating resorts, with clubs, restaurants, pools, and more to keep passengers entertained while they travel from destination to destination.

But being isolated out on the ocean like that can be dangerous. The case of Amy Lynn Bradley is a chilling reminder that cruise ships aren’t necessarily safe havens from crimes that occur on land.


Family Vacation

Amy Lynn Bradley

On March 21, 1998, Amy Lynn Bradley left for a week-long cruise vacation with her parents, Ron and Iva, and her brother Brad. They boarded a Royal Caribbean International cruise liner called Rhapsody of the Seas.

By all accounts, she was excited, despite having expressed discomfort about being on open water previously. The family were on the cruise for three days, having fun and making memories, before disaster struck.

On March 23, she attended a dinner party on the ship with her family before ending up at the on-board club, drinking and hanging out with the ship’s band, which was called Blue Orchid. The bass player, Yellow – who’s real name was Alister Douglas – testified later that he last saw her at around 1am. At some point, her family said that she took her cigarettes and lighter and had gone out onto the deck barefoot to have a smoke.

Between 5:15 and 5:30am, her father saw her sleeping on the balcony of their cabin – presumably, she did this because the interior of the cabin was too warm for her. This was the last time her father ever saw her. At 6am, he went past again, and she was no longer there.

Later, he said, “I left to try and go up and find her. When I couldn’t find her, I didn’t really know what to think, because it was very much unlike Amy to leave and not tell us where she was going.”


Disappearance of Amy Lynn Bradley

Her family went to the cruise officials and asked that they make an announcement over the ship’s paging system to help them search for Amy. Initially, this request was denied on the grounds that it was very early in the morning and they didn’t want to wake up the other passengers.

An announcement was eventually made, but by that time, most of the passengers had disembarked into Curacao, Antilles where the ship had docked.

The narrative after this point begins to change, depending on who you ask. According to Royal Caribbean International, the Rhapsody of the Sea was searched top-to-bottom, and scoured for evidence of Amy or her whereabouts. However, her parents and other witnesses describe a less coordinated effort to find her, as with the initial request for an announcement.

In any case, there was no sign of Amy or where she could have gone. The Netherlands Antilles Coast Guard conducted a four-day search of the surrounding waters and of the island, but their search ended on March 27 with no luck.

Royal Caribbean chartered a boat to continue searching the shorelines for her, but their search ended on March 29 with similar results. There had been no official sign of Amy Lynn Bradley since then.


Sightings and Witnesses

Shortly after she disappeared, there began to be sightings reported of her in Curacao. In August 1998, a pair of Canadian tourists reported seeing a woman that matched Amy’s description on a beach there.

This wouldn’t have been that much of a lead, except for the fact that the tourists said that the woman had tattoos that were identical to the ones that Amy had had when she disappeared, such as a Tasmanian Devil spinning a basketball on her shoulder.

The woman had been guarded on both sides by two strange men, according to the witnesses. Despite the promising lead, this sighting yielded nothing concrete.

A soldier with the United States Navy also reported a sighting of Amy Lynn Bradley – this time, it was at a brothel in Curacao. He said that he had gone to the brothel to look for a woman and had ended up with this girl. He said that she’d told him “her name was Amy Bradley and she begged him for help”, explaining that she was not allowed to leave and was essentially a captive.

Unfortunately, he didn’t want to get into trouble, so he did nothing to help her. This lead also yielded no concrete evidence that it was actually Amy – according to some reports, the brothel had been burned to the ground by the time investigators arrived.

There was another well-known sighting in 2005, this time in Barbados. A woman named Judy Maurer was in a department store restroom when a woman entered with three men. The men were threatening the woman and making references to some sort of deal that she’d apparently made with them.

When the men left the restroom, Judy approached the woman, who told her that her first name was Amy, and that she was from Virginia – Amy Lynn Bradley was from Petersburg, Virginia. After a few minutes, the men came back into the bathroom and escorted the woman out. Judy called authorities and assisted police in creating composite sketches of the three men and the woman.


Theories

There are only three theories that circulate through online communities about what happened to Amy Lynn Bradley. The first is that she was drunk and fell overboard while on the ship, which ultimately lead to her death by drowning. Alternatively, she jumped off the ship to commit suicide.

Both of these scenarios are generally thought to be unlikely – not only was her body never found, but Amy was a proficient swimmer, not shown to be suicidal, and not drunk enough to have simply fallen.

The second is that, for whatever reason, she was kidnapped and held aboard the ship for a time, perhaps in one of the passenger cabins. She would have been drugged to ensure that she kept quiet until her abductor could smuggle her off the ship. 

This theory is related to the most complete theory about what happened – many think that she was taken – though not necessarily in the manner described above, but somehow – and sold into sexual slavery.

The circumstantial evidence surrounding the case seems to support this theory the most. But considering that most of it cannot be entirely verified, there is still no concrete answer as to what really happened to Amy Lynn Bradley on the cruise ship that night.


Aftermath

On November 17, 2005, Amy Lynn Bradley’s parents appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil that also featured the Natalee Holloway case. An image that had been emailed to them was shown on that program – it depicted a young woman on a bed, clearly in a compromising position.

The girl resembled Amy enough that many presume that it is proof that she had been kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. Unfortunately, there is no way to prove or disprove that the photo is of Amy.

Her case has been featured on episodes of America’s Most Wanted and Disappeared, as well as a multitude of podcasts such as Casefile and Generation Why. The case garnered renewed attention after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in 2005 – the similar circumstances of their disappearances leads many to believe that the cases are connected and may be the result of a sex trafficking ring of some kind.

However, considering that neither girl has ever been found, there is no way to confirm these suspicions.

The Bradley family still offers a $250,000 reward for information leading to the return of their daughter, and a $50,000 reward for information that leads to her verifiable location. There is also a $25,000 reward offered by the FBI.

At the time of her disappearance, Amy Lynn Bradley had short brown hair. Her eyes are green, and she is 5’6. At the time, she weighed 120 lbs. If you have any information on her disappearance or current whereabouts, please contact the FBI.