August 3, 2005
Royal Caribbean Calls Off Brilliance Search
Speculation Rampant on Brilliance Mystery
The case of the honeymooner who disappeared off Brilliance of the Seas somewhere between Greece and Turkey last month just won't fade away -- at least if television newsmagazines have a say. Shows ranging from "A Current Affair" to "Larry King Live" have covered the case, still under investigation by the F.B.I., and at this point even their assembled experts don't know too much for sure. Even Cruise Critic's Royal Caribbean boards are rife with rumor -- one thread alone, Update on Missing Honeymooners, has generated some 38,000 page views since July 13!
A quick recap: Sometime in the early morning hours between July 4 and 5, 26-year-old George Allen Smith IV of Greenwich, Connecticut, went missing. A passenger reported something awry after noticing that blood stains appeared on a lifeboat overhang. After searching the ship, it was discovered that one passenger -- Smith -- was not onboard. His wife, 25-year-old Jennifer Hagel, told investigators he wasn't in their balcony cabin when she awoke.
Smith has never been found, and while the F.B.I. and Royal Caribbean have pretty much stayed mum, speculation -- fueled particularly by television programming -- abounds. On Tuesday night's "Larry King Live," for instance, we learned from guest experts that:
While the family of missing teenager Natalie Holloway (who disappeared in Aruba in late May) has been vocal and visible to the point of offering major dollar rewards for information and/or rescue, Vito Colucci, a private investigator (who has not been hired by the family or cruise line), said, "I talked to a contact in Greenwich, Connecticut, today, and they told me that the F.B.I. is working on some leads, and they've told both families not to talk to the press. I'm a little surprised, though, that the widow, or supposed widow at this point, has not gone on and pleaded with the tears to say, please, somebody come forward and help us on this case, anybody else that has seen something."
More on Smith's widow ... Dr. Casey Jordan, a criminologist, noted that "we know that blood was discovered in a cabin by a cleaner, not by the wife. It wasn't the wife who reported him missing. So there's a lot that we don't know that happened in the early morning hours that we're just now piecing together from other passengers who were on that ship."
Will the case ever be solved? Maritime attorney James Walker -- also with no connection to the case -- commented that "this is the typical situation that we see, unfortunately, in passenger injury or death cases. The investigations seem to start slow. The cruise line, of course, has already run this through their risk management department. They've sent ... their defense attorneys, their trial attorneys from Miami to the scene. The passengers have scattered. The crime scene is now floating around in international waters from port to port. It's going to be a very difficult situation."
And here's an interesting aside: Walker said, "This particular cruise line has never had a successful conviction of any crime on their ships, as far as we know, for the past 35 years, and it looks like this may be another statistic."
Host Larry King has an interesting question, reflecting a unique -- and controversial -- conundrum in which most cruise lines register their ships in foreign countries even if headquarters are located in Miami. Says King, "Attorney James Walker, concerning jurisdiction, I want to get this right: George Smith is an American. Whatever happened, apparently happened between Greece and Turkey in international waters. Turkish authorities were called in after the ship docked there. The ship sails under the flag of the Bahamas. Where was this crime, if it was a crime, committed?"
Responds Walker: "There's really no jurisdiction over this particular situation. The International Maritime Association, the IMO, let's shipping companies like Royal Caribbean pretty much create their own play book regarding what they're going to do and who they're going to notify.
"Their play book says that when you have a U.S. citizen who is a victim of a crime either in international waters or in the territory waters of a country, they are to eventually report the crime to the F.B.I. or to the U.S. Consulate.
"It doesn't really matter if the crime occurs in international water or territory waters of a country. Those countries are not going to investigate these types of crimes with U.S. citizens. No one really has jurisdiction. It all falls back into the F.B.I.'s lap. Of course, the F.B.I. is not in the business of searching and solving disappearances at sea.
What kind of progress has been made? Reports "A Current Affair" host Tim Green: "I think he was murdered and put over the side by more than one strong man. I'll tell you one thing about the F.B.I. that disconcerts me is the fact that we -- 'A Current Affair' -- are out there, finding witnesses surrounding this event, who haven't been interviewed yet by the F.B.I.
"We spoke to ... a deputy chief of police in Redwood, California, last week. And this is the guy who was in the cabin directly next door to the Smiths. He hadn't spoken to the F.B.I. He came on 'A Current Affair.' He heard noises. He heard men's voices. He heard a woman's voice. He heard a loud thump. He heard things being moved around in the middle of the night. And then, the next day he gets a call from the F.B.I. which says don't talk to the media anymore and by the way, we'll be there Friday to interview you."
And, finally, Green advances this terrifying theory: "The best theory I've heard so far -- and again, this is a theory -- is that quite possibly, both husband and wife were drugged. Someone put a drug into their drinks. They were both incoherent.
"That would make sense if, in fact, these same people were drugging a woman to have, you know, to sexually assault her. Maybe they did that to the wife. Maybe George Smith came to in the midst of this, found them. They had an altercation. They killed him, sent him over the side.
"The other thing that would make sense about this theory is that if, in fact, a drug was given to Jennifer, she may very well not remember anything about it, because these drugs typically are amnesiacs."
Royal Caribbean, via a statement, will only say that "the disappearance of George Smith is still under active investigation by the F.B.I. and other law enforcement authorities. For that reason, we are unable to comment on any aspect of that investigation. We strongly encourage anyone who has valid information about Mr. Smith's disappearance to contact the F.B.I. directly at 203-777-6311. The line is staffed 24 hours a day."
A call to an F.B.I. spokeswoman for comment was not immediately returned -- but we'll keep you posted.