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Crime News Deadly Waters with Captain Lee

What Really Happened to Amy Lynn Bradley, a Woman Who Vanished From Her Cruise Ship?

The 1998 disappearance of 23-year-old Virginia woman Amy Bradley continues to perplex investigators today.

By Jax Miller

The 1998 disappearance of Amy Bradley continues to garner public interest and puzzle even the most seasoned of investigators today.

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Twenty-six years after the American college graduate’s bizarre disappearance from a family cruise ship, there has been no conclusive sign of the missing Virginia woman. Theories and leads, however, remain as active as ever, especially in light of TikTok, social media, and true crime sleuths bringing light to the case.

Who is Amy Lynn Bradley?

Amy Lynn Bradley was a 23-year-old recent college graduate who lived in Petersburg, Virginia, about 25 miles south of Richmond, according to the F.B.I. She held a degree in physical education and loved to play basketball, per NamUs (the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System).

In March 1998, she joined her parents, Ron and Iva Bradley, and her 21-year-old brother, Brad, for a Caribbean family cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas.

Amy’s mother wrote a blog on the International Cruise Victims website, giving a glimpse into her daughter’s life before she disappeared.

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“On the day before we left for vacation, Amy had adopted a female bulldog, and she was to pick up ‘Daisy’ when we returned from our cruise,” Mrs. Bradley stated. “She had just moved into her new apartment and was starting a new job on the following Monday. She had so many plans and was so happy about all of them.”

Amy took 15 rolls of film with her on the trip to create a collage for her coffee table, according to Iva Bradley. She reportedly purchased souvenirs for her friends and wrote postcards from Puerto Rico, explaining she planned to be in Aruba the following day.

On March 21, 1998, Rhapsody of the Seas departed San Juan with the ship’s first port of call in Aruba. It left for the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao two days later, on March 23, 1998. However, Amy would disappear under mysterious circumstances in the early morning of March 24, shortly before arriving at Curacao — just north of Venezuela.

“It is believed that there are certain individuals in the Caribbean, and possibly even in South America, who have knowledge of Amy’s disappearance,” Mrs. Bradley stated in the blog. “All we want is the safe return of our daughter.”

What happened to Amy Bradley?

On the night of March 23, 1998, Amy Bradley and her brother attended an on-board Mardi Gras-themed disco, according to  F.B.I. Special Agent Erin Sheridan. Photos released by the Feds showed Amy smiling, dancing, and surrounded by her fellow passengers.

“By the morning of March 24, 1998, her parents go and try to search for her, and she is nowhere to be found,” said Agent Sheridan.

At the disco, Bradley was spotted with members of the live band Blue Orchid, including a man named Alister “Yellow” Douglas. Douglas later told CNN that he and Bradley parted ways at around 1:00 a.m. and that he went for the staff elevator while Amy headed in the opposite direction. The next thing he knew, he was awakened in his cabin at around 6:00 a.m. when cruise employees inquired about Bradley and searched his room.

The vessel’s digitalized locking system logged Brad Bradley returning to the family suite at 3:35 a.m., and Brad told authorities his sister followed just five minutes later. The siblings spoke for a few moments before Amy went to the balcony and sat in a lounge chair.

Near 5:30 a.m., Ron Bradley went to check on the children, finding his daughter asleep on the balcony, as he expected.

“I could see Amy’s legs from her hips down. She looks like she was resting comfortably,” Mr. Bradley said in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. “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.”

The father woke again at about 6:00 a.m. and reported “a funny feeling” when finding the balcony door 14 to 16 inches open and Amy gone. Relatives believe Amy left the balcony with her cigarettes between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and changed her clothes, though she was never positively seen again.

Investigation into Amy Bradley's Disappearance

Amy Bradley’s family urged cruise employees to announce Amy’s disappearance to other passengers before they docked in Curacao. No such alert went out until later that morning, when most guests had already disembarked.

The Bradley family has been outspoken about how on-board personnel handled the initial searches, questioning how much of the ship was thoroughly searched. The F.B.I. stated the Rhapsody of the Seas carried on with its usual route, which left Curacao for the island of Saint Martin and then to Saint Thomas.

According to Iva Bradley’s blog post on the International Cruise Victims website, the F.B.I. joined searches on March 25, and an attorney representing the cruise ship was also present.

“To this date, the cruise line has failed to cooperate with our family by way of information or assistance,” she alleged.

In response to a 1999 lawsuit filed by the Bradleys against Royal Caribbean, it said it acted “appropriately and responsibly at all times” during the course of the investigation, according to Travel Weekly.

F.B.I. agents reportedly used search dogs on the ship, while the Netherlands Antilles Coast Guard conducted a four-day search of the waters, according to a March 31, 1998 archive by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and reviewed by Oxygen.com. The family has dismissed the notion that Amy could have taken her own life, and they didn’t believe she fell overboard.

The family’s spokeswoman, Marianne Noblin of Prince George County, Virginia, told the Times-Dispatch that relatives believed Amy met foul play.

“Somebody threw her off that ship, or somebody has her,” Noblin claimed.

Shortly after Amy vanished, two women reported possibly seeing her at around 6:00 a.m. taking an elevator to the top deck just before the ship docked in Curacao, according to NBC News. Another person claimed on Unsolved Mysteries that she saw Amy around the same time with a member of the band.

“I saw Amy and the band member walk over and up to the next deck above us,” alleged the witness. “And about 10 minutes later, he came walking around by himself."

A taxi driver in Curacao also later reported seeing a woman matching Amy’s description on the morning of her disappearance, saying she urgently needed to use a phone.

Compounding suspicions, Amy’s brother, Brad, claimed Blue Orchid’s bass player — who was never charged in connection with Amy’s case — danced “a little too close” to Amy earlier that morning and that “she had to tell him to back off a little bit.” Iva Bradley also told former NBC News correspondent Dan Abrams that when they were out the previous evening, a “creepy” waiter asked for Amy by name, expressing his desire to take Amy to a bar on land.

Years later, Iva Bradley told Dr. Phil that she had gone to collect photos for sale on the night before her daughter’s disappearance. While the cruise photographer remembered printing pictures of Amy, they were allegedly gone, as though collected by another person.

Alleged sightings would go on for years, with loved ones worrying Amy was potentially kidnapped and trafficked into sex slavery.

“We also know there’s a tremendous amount of drug trade,” Mrs. Bradley told NBC News. “That’s not a secret from Venezuela through those islands, up through the United States, or wherever they’re going with the drugs.”

Tips and leads abounded over the years, though a few promising ones stood out above the rest.

Two Canadian tourists reported seeing a woman they believed was Amy on a Curacao beach in August 1998, Ivy Bradley told NBC News. What made this report stick out among others was that the pair spotted the woman with tattoos matching the ones Amy had, including one on her shoulder of a Tasmanian Devil spinning a basketball, a sun on her lower back, a Chinese symbol on her right ankle, and a gecko around her pierced naval.

“The two Canadians that saw Amy on the beach in 1998, they described her tattoos, her demeanor, and did not know she was missing,” Mrs. Bradley told Dan Abrams.

One of the tourists, identified as an engineer named David Carmichael, said he was certain the woman was Amy and that she was flanked by two men, according to news.com.au.

 “She looked frightened, like she was about to say something when one of the guys motioned her away,” said Carmichael.

A U.S. Navy officer claimed he saw Amy at a Curacao brothel in 1999 but didn’t say anything at the time because he feared getting in trouble for being in an unauthorized area, Mrs. Bradley told NBC News. According to Amy’s parents, he apologized to them for not doing more.

“She said, ‘My name is Amy Bradley. Please help me,’” Ivy Bradley said. “He didn’t know anybody was missing. He told her there was a naval ship five minutes down the dock, that she could leave. And she said, ‘No, you don’t understand. Please help me. My name is Amy Bradley.’”

According to Mrs. Bradley, two men arrived, “removed her” from the bar, and told her to go upstairs. The naval officer claimed he reported what he saw only after he retired and saw Amy’s photo in a magazine, News.com.au reported.

Another possible sighting came in 2005 when a woman named Judy Maurer came forward with claims that she saw Amy at a department store bathroom in Barbados, according to the Australian outlet. Amy was allegedly with three men, who briefly left the restroom when Amy told Maurer that her name was Amy and she came from Virginia.

Soon, the men allegedly returned and escorted Amy away, per Maurer’s account.  

So far, investigating authorities have neither publicly confirmed nor denied possible sightings, leading to much speculation over the years.

A reward of up to $25,000 is available for information leading to Amy Bradley’s recovery. Tips can be submitted to the F.B.I.’s electronic tip form, or through the F.B.I.’s field office or the nearest American embassy. All tips can remain anonymous.

Of course, there are other mysterious cases that have occurred on the water — and many of these stories will be told on Deadly Waters with Captain Lee, premiering on on Saturday, June 1 at 9/8c on Oxygen True Crime, hosted by Bravo’s original captain from the Below Deck franchise and the host of Deadly Waters, Captain Lee.  

Below Deck’s beloved Capt. Lee Rosbach is an expert on demanding mega-yacht passengers and a rowdy, mischievous crew. But now he’s steering his ship toward a completely different group of people: criminals, who have committed some of the most chilling murders to have ever taken place on the water. From dream vacations gone wrong, to alleged pirates of the Caribbean and everything in between, these true crime stories are unlike any that take place on land," reads a press release.

Check out the series when it premieres on Oxygen.