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Cruise into the Unknown – The Disappearance of Amy Lynn Bradley

It was the 21st of March, 1998, and 23-year-old Amy Lynn Bradley, her parents, Iva and Ron, and brother, Brad, left their home in Petersburg, Virginia, for a week-long Caribbean cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas. Ron had won the cruise as a performance reward from a company he represented, Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Amy was a 1996 graduate of Longwood College. She was a star athlete; she ran track and played basketball for Providence Middle School. “She loved the game. She worked real hard. She was very intense. She just seemed to be excited about life,” said her basketball coach, Diane Dockus. Amy graduated with a degree in physical education and aspired to be a teacher. Unfortunately, however, Amy never got the chance to reach her full potential when tragedy struck during their family vacation.1

In the early morning hours of the 24th of March, Amy was partying in the cruise ship’s dance club with the band, Blue Orchid, Brad and new friends she had made on her Caribbean getaway. At around 3AM Ron woke up and realised that Amy and Brad still weren’t back in the shared cabin. He pulled on his clothes and went to the disco and walked them back to the cabin. The trio sat on the balcony for a while before Brad and Ron went to bed. Amy told them she was going to stay up on the balcony for a little while longer as she was feeling somewhat queasy. The fresh air on the balcony would do her some good, she thought. The last time her father saw her was at around 5:15AM; she was asleep on the deck chair on the balcony. There was a pack of cigarettes beside her and the sliding door was closed.

Ron awoke an hour later to find that his daughter was no longer on the balcony. He noticed that the cigarettes were gone and the sliding door was open. None of Amy’s shoes were missing leading Ron to assume that she had just gone out for a soft drink or snack from the vending machine.  When she didn’t return, Ron went on deck to search for Amy. When he couldn’t find her, he became increasingly concerned and alerted the ship’s officers. By the time it was discovered that Amy was missing, the ship had docked in the island of Curacao, just north of Venezuela. The Bradley family beseeched the officers not to open the gangways and let people disembark the ship before the entire ship had been searched. They theorised that if somebody was holding Amy hostage then they could easily smuggle her off the ship undetected. Despite the family’s worries, the ship doors were opened and the officers told the Bradley family that they had searched thoroughly and found no sign of Amy.

Several days later, however, the FBI became involved in Amy’s disappearance, and the officers admitted that they hadn’t searched the entire ship, only parts of it. The FBI ordered both air and water searches but both were unsuccessful in finding any sign of Amy. An investigation uncovered that there was no evidence that anybody had fallen overboard, dispelling rumours that Amy committed suicide. Her father had already pointed out that Amy was terrified of heights and wouldn’t have gone close to the balcony. Moreover, she was a trained lifeguard and knew the dangers of the sea. The suicide theory was strongly rebuffed by Amy’s family. She had been having a great time on her vacation and had recently got an apartment and talked with her boss at a local steakhouse about changing her working hours. There was nothing to indicate that she was suicidal.

As the search was underway, two women who had met Amy on the cruise told investigators that they had seen her on the ship just a few minutes before it docked at 6AM. She was in the glass elevator going up to the top deck. They said she was with a man who they knew as “Yellow,” a musician in a band that played on the ship. A Curacao taxi driver also said he had seen Amy that morning. He said he was parked alongside the ship as passengers disembarked that morning. He said Amy approached his taxi and told him that she urgently needed to use a phone. He pointed her towards a nearby payphone but she walked away in the opposite direction.2

The main theory is that Amy was abducted and sold into sex slavery and several eyewitness reports substantiate this theory.

In 1998, David Carmichael from Alberta, Canada, reported seeing a woman that looked eerily similar to Amy on a beach in Curacao where he was vacationing. He was adamant that this woman had tattoos which matched Amy’s tattoos: a Tasmanian devil on her shoulder, a sun on her lower back, a Chinese symbol on her right ankle and a lizard on her naval. He said that she was walking up the beach, trailing behind “a black guy and a white guy.” When she heard David speaking to his friend in English, she spun around and just stared him blankly in the eyes. “Just as she was about to say something, the black fellow came into my line of vision, and he sort of motioned her away. She sort of looked down and turned around and walked away,” he said. Before Carmichae walked away, he said that the black man turned around and glared at him. It was “one of those ‘leave her alone’ type of looks,” he said.

Carmichael didn’t think anything of it other than it was a strange experience. Months later, however, he saw Amy on “America’s Most Wanted.” He sent an email to the show but never heard back. Then in March of 1999, he saw Amy’s story on “Unsolved Mysteries.” This time, he contacted Ron Bradley directly. While researching the case, he found a photograph of “Yellow,” the man who two guests reportedly saw Amy with on the morning of her disappearance. “If that guy Yellow has a double in the world,” he was the man on the beach that day.

In 1999, William Hefner, a member of the U.S. Navy, said he was with the crew of the destroyer USS Chandler when it visited Curacao in January of 1999. He said one evening he was having a few drinks in the bar of a local brothel. While prostitution is legal in Curacao, this particular brothel was not. Hefner said it was off-limits to Navy personnel and he was curious to have a drink there. Hefner said that while sitting at the bar, he started chatting with two black men who were sitting with two women who he presumed to be sex workers. After chatting for a while, one of the men went upstairs with one of the women. The other man stepped away from the bar for several minutes leaving Hefner alone with the other woman.

“She grabbed my arm. She said she was in trouble. She said ‘They’ve got my papers, and I can’t leave the island,’” he said. She said the woman reportedly grabbed his hand and told him her name and asked him not to forget it. The name he remembers the woman saying is “Amy Bratley” with a T, not a D. “That’s what I thought she said…” He told her that if she was a U.S. citizen then all she had to do was go to ship in the port and ask for help. Before she had a chance to reply, the other man appeared and she fell silent. Hefner forgot about the woman until he saw Amy’s photograph on the cover of People magazine several years later. When he saw the photograph, he was taken right back to that night in the brothel and that mysterious woman.

While Alister “Yellow” Douglas was considered a person of interest, the FBI stayed silent about their interviews with him and he has never been charged in her disappearance. He did admit that he had been dancing with Amy at the disco on the night of her disappearance but that he last saw her at 1AM.

In 2005, the above photograph was sent to Amy’s family by an organisation that tracks down potential sex trafficking victims on adult websites. On an episode the family did with Dr. Phil, they had several forensic artist experts analyse the face of the woman in the photograph, pointing out similarities between her and Amy. Amy’s parents are certain that the woman in the photograph is their daughter. This was the last ever lead in the disappearance of Amy Lynn Bradley.

Despite a $25,000 reward and extensive media attention, she still remains missing. If you have any information, please call: 804-276-2204.

Recommended Reading:

Lost at Sea – The Disappearance of Rebecca Coriam


  1. Richmond Times-Dispatch 28 March, 1998 – “Family on Cruise Suspects Abduction”
  2. Richmond Times-Dispatch, 29 April, 2002 – “Is Amy Still Alive?”

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