For Amy Bradley and her family, it was meant to be the trip of a lifetime. The 23-year-old, along with her parents and brother, were enjoying a luxury Caribbean cruise in 1998. With two grown children, her parents wanted the family to enjoy some quality time together. Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined the vacation would turn into one of the world’s strangest unsolved disappearances.
The morning of March 24th, 1998, would change the Bradley families lives forever. It all happened on a ship called The Blue Rhapsody, and 22 years later, there are still more questions than answers. This is the story of Amy Bradley.
Amy was a carefree young woman, looking forward to beginning her career and hopefully meeting someone special. Until 1:00 am on March 24th, Bradley spent her evening dancing away with members of the Blue Orchid band on the cruise ship. After parting ways, she returned to her families cabin.
At 5:30 am, Amy’s father awoke and found her sound asleep on the balcony. He returned at 6 am, expecting to see his daughter, but she had vanished. According to Amy’s brother, he’d seen her just after, and she’d told him that she was going to buy cigarettes.
In most cases, if a person goes missing, the ship launches a full search. Not only were the crew members slow to react to the fact that Amy was missing, but they also let people leave the ship when it docked in Curacao, Antilles.
Some people blame the slow response on her brother’s statement that his sister had gone to buy cigarettes, but the crew should have made sure nobody left the ship until every room was searched.
Finally, the crew began a complete search of the ship and authorities were notified to search the sea. The cruise liner Royal Caribbean also commissioned an extra boat to do further investigations of the ocean for four days – but they found no trace of Amy.
By March 29th, the authorities decided to stop searching for Amy in the sea, and the family chose to fly to Curacao in a desperate attempt to find their daughter.
Their search offered no results, and it seemed Amy Bradley had vanished without a trace. Eventually, the FBI would get involved, but to this day, there have been no solid leads in the disappearance of Amy.
With such a high-profile case, you can expect a lot of theories. While some are ridiculous, a few have been considered credible by the FBI.
Surely She Drowned
OK, so Bradley was on a cruise ship, and she’d partied until the early hours. The simplest explanation is that the 23-year-old went to buy cigarettes, was still a bit drunk and accidentally fell into the ocean and drowned.
However, there were numerous searches of the ocean, and they never found any trace of Amy. As a fully-trained lifeguard, she was a strong swimmer, and while it’s the simplest explanation, the fact that the searches yielded no results calls its validity into question.
It Was Suicide
Did Amy Bradley decide early that morning she’d had enough and throw herself overboard? If she did, it would explain why such a strong swimmer could drown. But surely the searches would have still found some evidence?
Amy’s family also dispute this theory, and by all accounts, she was a happy young woman, genuinely enjoying her life and looking forward to the future. It’s unlikely she was having such a great time just hours before and then woke up and decided to commit suicide.
Alistar “Yello” Douglas
Alistar Douglas was a member of The Blue Orchid band, and he and Bradley had danced together on the night of her disappearance. Douglas claimed he’d last seen Amy at 1:00 am, but they’d then parted ways.
While the FBI focused their interests on him initially, videos later corroborated his story, and there’s no evidence to suggest he had any part in her disappearance.
Was it Pirates?
Just a few days after Amy’s disappearance, there were reports of pirates near Curacao. Perhaps they’d seen Amy alone and managed to snatch her off the ship. However, there are two issues with this:
- If pirates had been able to get Bradley off the ship, they’d have needed help from the ship’s staff.
- It’s unlikely she was kidnapped by pirates because there was no ransom. Pirates steal items and hold people to ransom for money, not because they just decide to kidnap someone.
It is, however, essential to note here that Amy’s parents had said she was uncomfortable from the attention she received from the waiters. Maybe they saw her going to get cigarettes and took advantage of the situation.
The staff has also taken photos of Amy, which were removed by the rest of the crew. Perhaps they’d singled her out to be trafficked. Bradley was an attractive, friendly woman, and it’s very possible those attributes that caused her to become a victim of a sex trafficking ring.
Three possible sightings of Amy give weight to the trafficking theory:
Two Canadian tourists were confident they’d seen Amy Bradley on a Curacao beach. The young woman was being led along by two men, and one of the tourists claimed the woman had tattoos identical to Amy’s.
The police investigated the report, but there was no other evidence to suggest Amy was the women they had seen.
In 1999, a Naval Officer on active duty claimed he met Bradley at a brothel. He reported that she’d told him her name and he’d given her information about where his ship was docked. The problem was, he was so scared of getting into trouble for visiting a brothel, he didn’t tell anyone until it was too late.
By the time authorities could investigate his report, the brothel had burned down. It’s unknown if his eyewitness testimony is real or if the man was lying.
Six years after the brothel sighting, another witness came forward to tell authorities that she’d seen Bradley in a public restroom in Barbados. Amy was led by a man and seemed very scared. The woman even provided the police with a detailed sketch, but the lead didn’t go any further.
In 2005, Amy’s parents had renewed hopes for the safe return of their daughter. They received an email of a photo that looked like Amy. The police tried to find where the source of the image came from but had no luck.
Even though the lead didn’t pan out, police officers gave further weight to the theory that Bradley had been the victim of sex trafficking.
However, while authorities ruled out Alistar Douglas, two women stated they saw the two of them leaving the club together at 05:30 am. He did pass a polygraph test, and if this was the case, then Bradley’s father couldn’t have seen her sleeping on her balcony.
The fact is, most theories haven’t panned out but there could be numerous reasons for this:
- If Amy were indeed a victim of sex trafficking, then she’d have been taken by an experienced group. Perhaps they kept moving around with her to protect themselves. It would, therefore, be challenging for authorities to follow up on leads effectively.
- Amy’s brother stated that Alistar Douglas had come up to him and told him he was sorry about his sister’s disappearance before it was even made public. But as a crew member, perhaps she’d overheard others talking about her disappearance.
- It’s not known how much Amy drank that night and if she’d consumed any drugs. While she was a strong swimmer, could alcohol or drugs have affected her performance? If so, then it’s possible she could have fallen overboard and drowned.
Will it Ever be Solved?
It’s been 22 years, and police are no closer to finding Amy Bradley. She would be 45 now, and it’s unlikely she’d still be used for sex trafficking. While there have been many sightings of her, lots of people get carried away with missing person investigations, and the number of false leads is astonishing.
Did the man on the beach see her exact tattoos, or did he see what we wanted to see? How about the woman in the bathroom? She claimed the woman she thought was Bradley scared her while she was in the restroom, so can her account be taken seriously?
It seems the only worthwhile lead is the polaroid of the woman in the brothel. There’s no doubt that there’s a resemblance between the two and it does seem likely that Amy could have been a victim of sex trafficking.
Whether or not she’ll ever be found is a different question. After 22 years, even if the now 45-year-old was alive, she probably isn’t now.
In my opinion, I can’t help but feel that a tragic accident occurred and there are lots of incidents where people fell overboard on a cruise ship. With how long it took for the crew to search the boat, could they have pinpointed an exact location where the 23-year-old might have fallen?
The sex trafficking theory also interests me, but the fact that she just disappeared off the ship would mean that the people involved had to find a way to remove her without others noticing.
Sadly, we’ll probably never know what happened to Amy Bradley, but her haunting disappearance shows us how quickly life can change.
You can read more about the case here. If you want more interesting unsolved disappearances, check out an even more mysterious case: The Springfield Three.