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  • Kym L. Pasqualini

American Woman Vanishes on Cruise - Soldiers of Fortune and Deception

Amy Lynn Bradley has been missing since March 24, 1998 while vacationing with her family on a Carnival cruise ship.

Amy Lynn Bradley, 23, mysteriously vanished while vacationing with her family aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, on March 24, 1998.

Amy was a trained lifeguard and had been awarded a full basketball scholarship, graduating from Longwood University in Virginia with a degree in Physical Education. Amy also had a K-12 teaching certificate. Already quite accomplished, Amy’s future was bright. She had a part-time job scheduled to start the Monday after her return.

Amy had just adopted an English bulldog named Daisey to keep her bulldog Bailey company while she was on her cruise. She had packed a dozen rolls of film to take pictures to decoupage her coffee table with pictures from the trip.

While in Aruba, Amy even bought gifts for her friends back home and she sent postcards to friends from Puerto Rico. The Caribbean family vacation with parents, Ron and Iva Bradley, and Amy’s younger brother, Brad, should have been a trip of a lifetime but quickly became overcast amidst darkness and mystery.

Rhapsody of the Seas had left Aruba and was in docking procedure in the Port of Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, at the time of Amy’s disappearance. In the early morning hours of March 24, Amy left her cabin barefoot, only taking her lighter and cigarettes.

Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship was in the Port of Curacao, Netherland Antilles the day Amy vanished.

Rhapsody of the Seas had left Aruba and was in docking procedure in the Port of Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, at the time of Amy’s disappearance. In the early morning hours of March 24, Amy left her cabin barefoot, only taking her lighter and cigarettes.

Reflecting on the days before Amy’s disappearance, Amy’s mother, Iva Bradley, recalls several members of the ship’s crew paying special attention to Amy from the moment they boarded the ship. The day preceding Amy’s disappearance, Amy’s parents were approached by a waiter who asked for Amy by name. The waiter said ‘they’ wanted to take Amy to Charlie’s Restaurant while docked in Aruba. Her father recalls thinking the waiter’s request was uncomfortably forward. A short time later, Ron and Iva told their daughter what happened. Both parents are now haunted by Amy’s response, “I wouldn’t go and do anything with any of those crew members. They give me the creeps.”

Amy Bradley and her younger brother Brad, on an upper deck of the Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship.

Later that night, the family attended a party on the upper deck where the band was playing. During the party, Amy, accompanied by her mother, went to the 4th deck photo gallery to view pictures of vacationers that had been taken earlier in the evening and found all of the photographs of Amy missing. When they asked the gallery manager where the photos were, he stated he remembered developing them and placing them with the others but was unable to locate them. Iva then asked the photo gallery manager to re-make the photos. Later that evening Amy and Brad went to the ship’s nightclub and where Amy had some interaction with the “Blue Orchid” ship band members. Witnesses claim the bass player was trying to pick up on Amy. Another band member, Alister Douglas, claimed Amy had departed the nightclub and headed to her room at approximately 1:00 a.m. using the crew elevator. However, the ship surveillance video showed Amy and Douglas on the dance floor at approximately 3 a.m.

Amy’s father Ron, was the last to see Amy at approximately 5:30 a.m., sleeping on the balcony of the cabin the family shared. When Ron awoke again close to 6:00 a.m., Amy was nowhere to be found.

While spending the last two decades relentlessly searching for their beloved daughter, Amy’s parents have endured an unimaginable journey into the abyss of international kidnapping and sex trafficking.

FBI Joins the Search

According to the Bradleys, they quickly found cruise ship management less than cooperative in the search for their daughter. Management refused to issue a formal public alert or post pictures of the missing American woman for fear of causing concern to other passengers.

The FBI has conducted an extensive investigation into Amy’s background, her friends, teachers, relatives, co-workers, employees, basketball coaches, even her parents, and brother were even polygraphed.

Unfortunately, because Amy vanished outside of the United States and lack of FBI jurisdiction in the Netherland Antilles, valuable leads have fallen through the cracks and never investigated. Not one search was ever conducted.

The 21 years following Amy’s disappearance, Ron and Iva Bradley’s desperate search for their daughter has included multiple trips to Curacao, appeals on national television, even hiring private investigators.

Since Amy vanished, many tips have been reported that appear credible. One of the tipsters, David Carmichael, called the hotline after watching an Unsolved Mysteries television segment. He confidently identified Amy as a young woman he saw walking along the beach, snug between two men. Describing the encounter, Carmichael, along with his dive buddy, identified two tattoos that matched Amy’s, one of a Gecko, the other a Tasmanian Devil. He said the woman approached within 16” of him and his friend and made eye contact for several seconds but didn’t utter a word, then quickly ushered away by the two unidentified men.

Photo of woman said to look like Amy Lynn Bradley surfaced several years after her disappearance.

Another tip came from a US Navy officer that had visited a brothel in 1999. After seeing Amy in People Magazine, he claims he approached Amy and another woman sitting at a table. He said the woman told him her name was Amy Bradley and began begging him to help her. When he responded there was a Navy ship just down the road, she said, “You don’t understand, I can’t leave. Help me. Please help me.” The Naval officer claims he dismissed her plea because at the time he wasn’t aware Amy was a missing person and he did not want his superiors to know he was there. Thousands of leads later, it’s hard to ignore the circumstances of Amy’s disappearance do not strongly point to sex trafficking. According to a 2010 report conducted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and published by the United States Department of State, the Netherland Antilles is a transit and destination point for women and children who are victims of forced prostitution in a multi-billion dollar industry. It is estimated approximately 80% of all prostitutes are foreigners. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also lists the Netherlands as a top destination for victims of human and sex trafficking. Women who are coerced or kidnapped, face inhumane conditions, extreme violence, and multiple rapes to break their spirit. Victims are often threatened with death along with their family members should they try to escape; forced drug dependence is also common.

Ron and Iva Bradley pleading for the safe return of their daughter Amy Lynn Bradley, missing since 1998.

When we think of the word “unimaginable,” Amy’s parents truly know the meaning. “Our lives have been so drastically changed,” said Iva Bradley. “Every waking moment is, ‘Where is Amy?’ I just want people to know that when girls disappear outside of the country, they’re disappearing for a reason,” Iva added. “White slavery and sex trafficking are so alive and well, it would absolutely blow you away. We believe with every fiber in our being that someone took her, and we want her back. And I have tried to make deals with God. If we find her today, you can take me tomorrow. When they say the worst nightmare, it is.”

Amy Lynn Bradley was 23 years old when she vanished from the Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship in 1998.

Twenty-one years later, Amy remains missing in an ocean of international red-tape and a series of events that have failed to be investigated. Sadly, as the Bradleys found out when you are traveling overseas and someone you love goes missing - you are on your own.

Deceived by Self-Proclaimed Soldier of Fortune

Several months after Amy Lynn Bradley’s disappearance while vacationing with her family on Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, Iva, and Ron Bradley received an email from Frank Jones. Jones told the Bradleys he was a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer working with a team of ex-Army Rangers and ex-Navy Seals under his command in special ops missions.

Jones assured the Bradleys’ his team had the experience and credentials to rescue Amy. Suspecting Amy had been kidnapped and being held on the Dutch island of Curacao, and with little progress made in the federal investigation, Jones offered a glimmer of hope to Amy’s parents.

Jones convinced the Bradleys to hire him in a private investigator role to provide surveillance of a location where there had been a potential sighting of Amy.

Once hired, Jones claimed he immediately sent four of his men to Curacao, assigned to develop information and confirm Amy was alive. Once confirmed, he would begin planning a rescue mission.

Secured location in Curacao, Netherlands, Antilles, where Judith Margaritha told the Bradleys’ their daughter was being held.

One local source of information was Judith Margaritha, a resident of Curacao, introduced to the Bradleys by acquaintances who were also residents of the island. Margaritha claimed she had knowledge Amy was being held in a barbed wire complex protected by heavily armed guards. She accurately described Amy’s tattoos and even referenced a lullaby Iva Bradley sang to Amy when she was a baby. Margaritha also claimed Amy was often seen with a man with long blonde hair whose one arm was sleeved with tattoos.

Amy’s parents were the most hopeful they had been through the ordeal. With knowledge the Netherland Antilles is a major hub for illegal activity and sex-trafficking, the Bradleys’ felt they had finally received information that would help rescue their daughter. A special ops mission conducted by experienced former military seemed like the only way to infiltrate an organized crime entity in Curacao. Like a Hollywood movie, the operation moved forward to rescue Amy.

Jones provided a report indicating two of his Ex-Navy Seals set up surveillance locations on the island and observed Amy in an SUV driven by a man with long blond hair. Jones claimed Amy was under armed guard and in imminent danger. This information only seemed to validate the leads Margaritha had provided. Jones’ report further claimed his men were forced to leave the island after being fired upon by approximately ten armed men. Over the next few months, Jones kept the payments coming by reporting to the family he had sent more operatives to the island, followed by reporting the latest sightings of their daughter. Motivated by the hope Amy had been identified and would soon to be rescued, the cost of bringing Amy home was not to be an obstacle. While exhausting their personal savings, the family also sought help from donors and nonprofit organizations to continue to raise the necessary funds that would be needed to bring Amy home alive.

Neighborhood in Curacao where Amy was believed to be held.

When the Bradleys received communication from Jones stating he was ready to launch the rescue mission and needed more money, the Bradley’s requested proof. Amazingly, Jones sent them a picture of a young woman on a beach accompanied by the ‘mysterious’ man with long blond hair and tattoos. The woman was wearing a long-brimmed hat, making it difficult to see her face but the tattoos jumped out of the picture at Amy’s family.

Desperate to know their daughter was alive and not wanting to waste any time, they immediately had the pictures forensically examined. “When I got the pictures, I knew Amy was OK, and it was just a matter of time,” recalls Iva Bradley, who recognized the tattoo on her daughter’s ankle. Upon confirmation the photographs were real and likely their daughter, the Bradleys proceeded to pay Jones.

After receiving payment, Jones directed the Bradleys to travel to Florida to await his call indicating the mission was a success. Once confirmed, they would immediately depart to Curacao to be reunited with their daughter. During the week that followed, Iva was overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing the phone could ring at any moment. Iva recalls only leaving the room two times to go to the front desk and the parking lot. A Lear jet provided by Ron Bradley’s employer was on hold awaiting immediate departure upon receiving notification Amy was ready to transport home. Every minute seemed never-ending while awaiting news of their daughter’s rescue. However, a week had passed without any word from Jones.

Unraveling the Truth

Meanwhile, in Curacao, one of Jones team, Timothy Buckholz, a former Army Special Forces sniper, began to wonder if Jones was telling Amy’s parents the truth. Jones had assigned Buckholz to head up surveillance at the location where Jones had said Amy was under armed guard. However, Buckholz had only observed what appeared to be an ordinary family living at the location. While at a local island bar, Buckholz overheard Jones on the phone telling the Bradleys that the location was under constant surveillance and ‘his men’ were watching the house at that very moment. Buckholz was convinced Jones was conning Amy’s family and immediately contacted the Bradleys to expose Jones.

The Bradleys had expended approximately $24,000 of their personal savings and over $180,000 from the Amy Bradley fund at the Nation’s Missing Children Organization, a nonprofit aiding the Bradley family.

Utter devastation set in when Buckholz delivered the news that Jones had never served in the Special Forces and had fabricated the entire story, even the photograph of the woman they thought was their daughter was a fake. The entire story began to unravel.

How could someone con a family into thinking their daughter was alive? How could someone plot and go to the extent of fabricating such an elaborate story?

Jono Senk donned a blonde wig and posed as one of Amy Bradley's kidnappers.

Authorities were notified of the heartless scam. Later, Jono Senk, who was also working with Jones, told authorities he wore a blond wig, posing as the kidnapper.

According to Senk, they staged the photograph on a Pensacola beach with an acquaintance of Jones who resembled Amy. They even went to the extent of having two temporary tattoos matching Amy’s painted on the woman’s back and ankle to fool the Bradleys into thinking it was their missing daughter. As it turned out, Judith Margaritha’s story that she had seen Amy in a guarded compound in Curacao was also false. Giovanni Margaritha, the son of Judith Margaritha, told authorities his mother had lied. He later said in a media interview, “It’s just using Amy’s mother as a way of stealing.” Margaritha maintained she had never lied to Amy’s parents but had been paid approximately $8,000.00 for her information.

Frank Jones, the mastermind of deception.

In February 2002, federal prosecutors in Richmond, Virginia charged Jones with defrauding the Bradleys of $24,444 and the National Center for Missing Adults of $186,416.00. In April 2002, Jones plead guilty to mail fraud, was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to repay the money.

Judge Richard L. Williams imposed an enhanced sentence on Jones, twice the maximum called for by federal guidelines. The conviction was an end to an unbelievable journey but not the end of the family’s hope.

Clinging to Hope

The Bradleys are not the first or the last family of a missing person to be preyed upon by those claiming they can help find a victim. When a loved one goes missing and the case is publicized, especially high profile media cases, frantic and desperate families become an immediate target of unscrupulous individuals claiming they have information as to the missing person’s whereabouts. Psychics, tipsters, and those claiming to be credentialed and reputable private investigators have invaded the lives of families of missing persons to fraudulently benefit from monetary gain.

When your child is missing, families have no choice but to extend trust to those they feel have credible information. During an interview with Primetime, “If there’s a chance, what else do you do?” said Ron Bradley. “If it was your child, what would you do? I guess we took a chance. And I guess we lost.” Despite, the few who prey upon other’s misfortune, there are many more good people who are willing to do the right thing and help families in distress. Unless one has experienced the psychological trauma associated with ambiguous loss caused by ‘not knowing’ if someone you love is safe, one may never understand the sheer determination possessed by families of the missing.

Giving up the search for your missing loved one is never an option.

Ron and Iva Bradley epitomize the meaning of courage when faced with unimaginable adversity in their search for their missing daughter. One thing is certain; the heart never gives up hope!

Amy Bradley remains missing.

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