Everybody else was pale and white after a winter spent under sweaters and heavy coats, but not Amy. After three weeks of indoor tanning, she was a fashionable brown, ready for the Caribbean sun.
On Friday, March 20, 1998, Amy and her mother were having dinner at her Aunt Mary's house. Mary Kristensen and Iva oohed and aahed over Amy's crisp tan lines, as Amy laughed, showing off.
Amy had just darkened her hair from a bleached blond and gotten her fingernails done in anticipation of the Caribbean trip. Her father, an insurance agent, was one of about 35 agents around the nation who won an all-expenses-paid family cruise from Illinois Mutual Life for selling $145,000 in paid premiums.
Most agents just took their spouses, but Ron and Iva wanted to bring Amy and Brad, so they bought plane tickets for them and paid $2,000 for their portion of the cruise.
Amy excitedly told her Aunt Mary about the trip, which would start in San Juan and take them to the islands of Aruba, Curacao, St. Martin and St. Thomas before returning to Puerto Rico. They also talked about Amy's new job.
On the Monday after Amy was to get back from the cruise, she was to start working as a marketing and office assistant for Mary and her husband Mike, who own a software company.
Amy had cut her hours at Ruth's Chris Steak House, where she worked full-time, so she could take the job. Long-term, Amy was thinking about getting a masters in sports psychology or opening a sports bar.
A couple months earlier, Amy had moved into her first new apartment in the Timbers, a complex off Robious Road in Chesterfield. Though she moved out of her parents' home, Amy was never far from them. She and her mother went grocery shopping together every week. They decorated Amy's apartment together. Her father helped her reupholster the chairs in the old dinette set her parents gave her. She and her mother loved to call each other up on the phone when something funny was on television like "Mystery Science Theater 3000" or "Cow and Chicken."
Amy was especially excited about the cruise because her brother Brad was home from George Mason University. Tall and athletic like his sister and just two-and-a-half years younger, Brad was also one of her best buddies. The two would go out with friends or just hang out together hitting Chesterfield bars, singing karaoke, throwing darts, shooting pool or bowling.
About 7 a.m. Saturday March 21, Amy and Brad boarded a plane at Richmond International Airport. Their parents left an hour ahead on another flight. Amy and Brad were both nervous about flying, but did crosswords and listened to Amy's portable CD player to distract themselves.
By around 2 p.m., they reached the rambling ship terminal at San Juan and found their parents. Amy bought postcards at one of the tourist shops and sent them to friends. "Hey Girl!" she wrote. "It's gorgeous here. We leave for Aruba Tomorrow. ... I'll be home Sat. at 10:00." She told another friend she was taking pictures and would show them to her on Easter. She bought 15 rolls of film and was hoping to take some pictures of Brad to enter in a modeling contest.
At 11 stories high, the gleaming white 915-foot-long, 106-foot-wide Rhapsody of the Seas was an impressive sight, docked at San Juan. Less than a year old, the ship weighed 75,000 tons and carried a crew of 765 with room for 2,435 guests.
Amy looked up in amazement and told Brad she was having the best time of her life already. Then she saw the gangplank 3 feet wide and 60 feet off the ground. Afraid of heights, Amy scrambled up quickly, staying as close to the center as she could.
Saturday went by quickly with dinner, drinks and swimming at the pool. Pretty, tanned, muscular, slender, tall 5'7", 115 pounds and tattooed, Amy attracted a lot of attention onboard the ship. She had been collecting tattoos since her senior year in high school when she got a tattoo on her left shoulder of Baby Taz spinning a basketball to commemorate winning her basketball scholarship to Longwood. A primitive sun with the Chinese symbol for heaven on her lower back, a Chinese symbol for faith on her right ankle, and a Gecko lizard wrapped around her navel followed. Brad has a similar Chinese tattoo on one of his arms.
Sunday, March 22, the ship was at sea all day. Amy and Iva attended an art auction and bought a modernist serigraph of a blond woman sitting in a chair to hang on the wall of Amy's apartment. (It's still rolled in its brown cardboard tube at the Bradleys'.)
By Monday, the ship docked at Aruba. Ron, Iva, Amy and Brad disembarked. Amy did a little shopping, buying trinkets for friends back home. She wanted to buy a nice piece of jewelry for her best friend, but her mother told her to wait until they got to St. Thomas where they could get a better buy.
Eschewing the island tour, the family rented a Jeep for the day to explore Aruba on their own. They ended up lost on dirty off- roads, in a windy, hot desert.
Once back in civilization, the Bradleys had lunch at a Taco Bell and then drove to Palm Beach where Iva, Ron and Brad swam in the ocean, calling to Amy, laughing, "Come on in, the water's freezing!" Amy clung to her dad's back in the water for a while, then got out. A certified life guard, she swam in her neighborhood association from the time she was 5 until she was 18. She was an assistant to the swim-team coach at Longwood and coached her aunt's neighborhood association, but she wasn't crazy about swimming in the ocean. Mainly, she was afraid of what else might be swimming in it.
On board the ship, her parents and brother say, she wouldn't get close to the railing. Even though the railings were chest-high for her, it made her knees weak.
Returning to the ship, the family took showers and dressed for a formal dinner. Amy wore a tight open-back black jumpsuit with spaghetti straps. They waited in line to have their picture taken by the ship's photographer and chatted with other passengers.
Meanwhile, Amy was attracting notice from passengers and crew. After dinner, Ron and Iva were having drinks with business associates when a waiter approached them.
They recognized him as a man who had been lavishing an unusual amount of attention on Amy since the ship left dock. The man asked if Amy wanted to come to a bar in Aruba that night with him and some other crew members. Iva later gave Amy the message but she wasn't interested.
Meanwhile, Amy and Brad had changed into casual clothes and gone to the ship's casino. Starting with $10 in quarters each, they played the slot machines and each won about $140.
Ron and Iva found Amy and Brad again on the pool deck, each carting a bucket of quarters. The four of them sat down on the deck laughing and dumping the quarters out of the buckets like children building a sand castle. Amy and Brad, ever competitive, counted to see who had the most quarters.
Late that night, they took in a limbo party, dancing to the steel-drum music of the ship's Calypso band, Blue Orchid. Amy struck up a conversation with the band's bassist, a pudgy, bald Grenadan nicknamed "Yellow," short for "High Yellow," Caribbean slang for light black skin. It was typical Amy.
Brad won the limbo contest that night. When he was crowned, Amy ran up to him, jumped and wrapped her legs around him. He took the crown off and put it on her head and they both laughed.
Amy and Brad still had hours of partying ahead but it had been a long day for their parents. Ron and Iva kissed them both goodnight and headed to the room. "I love you. I'll see you in a little while," Iva told Amy. It was to be the last thing she said to her daughter.
At about 2:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Ron Bradley woke up. Neither Amy nor Brad was in the cabin. Earlier in the evening, Brad had a little run-in with another passenger when the man grabbed Brad and told him to stop dancing with his wife. Brad didn't know the woman was married and apologized.
Wanting to make sure everything was OK, Ron sat up and told Iva he was going to check on Brad. He went to the ship disco, the Viking Lounge, and found Brad dancing with a handful of young women. Amy was on the second floor of the disco talking with band members and the club DJ. Satisfied, Ron went back to bed.
About 3:45 a.m., Brad and Amy returned to the room. They went out onto the balcony to smoke, but Ron woke up because they had left on the bathroom light. He told Amy to turn it off and the last thing he remembered before going to sleep was the glow of her Marlboro Light as she walked past.
Amy and Brad smoked for awhile, watching the waves and laughing about the limbo contest. They also talked about the next day in Curacao and Amy asked Brad if he had ever been on a jet ski.
Finally, Brad opened the patio door and rolled into the sofa bed he was sharing with Amy during the trip. She stayed behind on the balcony.
At about 5:30 a.m., Ron awoke and saw Amy's legs on the lounge chair on the balcony. Thinking she had fallen asleep, he went back to sleep.
At 6 a.m., Ron woke up again. Amy wasn't in the room or on the balcony. Her cigarettes and lighter were gone. She had taken off the yellow polo shirt she had been wearing and picked up a pair of jeans. Ron looked for a note, Amy's habit before leaving anywhere, but there was none. Taking care not to wake Iva or Brad, he put on his shorts and went up to the pool deck, a level above, to look for her.
The ship was docked at Curacao, having sailed into the island's canal less than an hour earlier.
She wasn't on the pool deck. Ron looked other places with no luck. The more he walked and looked, the more uneasy he became.
On the way back to the room, he saw the ship's chief security officer standing at the elevator. Ron asked for help, and the officer nodded noncommittally, staying where he was. Nearly an hour had passed.
Ron woke Iva and Brad. "I've known him since I was 13. I've known him 32 years and I've never seen him look like he looked. I didn't have any idea what was wrong," Iva recalls. "He said, 'I can't find Amy.'"
Ron and Iva immediately went to the purser's desk and told them they couldn't find Amy and suspected foul play. They asked for help finding her. The ship employees told her it was too early, that an announcement would disturb the other guests. They asked to see a supervisor, who eventually agreed to make an announcement over the ship's loudspeaker.
While the Bradleys waited, a ship employee announced that the gangplank would be going down so passengers could disembark to Curacao. Iva begged them to leave it up so that in case someone had kidnapped Amy, they couldn't get her off the ship. The ship staff refused, saying they couldn't hold up other passengers.
At 7:50 a.m., a young woman made a simple, quiet announcement over the ship's intercom: "Will Amy Bradley please come to the purser's desk?"
In the meantime, Brad went up to the pool deck to sit and watch in case Amy walked by. Yellow, the bass player, approached him. "Hey man, I'm sorry about your sister," he said. He asked what happened and then told Brad to wait while he got a friend to listen, too. Brad, who says that Yellow told him he was feeling "guilty," remembers the experience as "just odd." After they got back to Richmond, the Bradleys found a post from another Rhapsody passenger on a cruise-ship computer bulletin board warning female passengers to stay away from Yellow for unspecified reasons.
Furthermore, Iva Bradley says two young female passengers, both college freshmen, claim to have seen Amy and Yellow on the ship's glass elevator, heading up to the disco at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, the time of her disappearance. The teens said they saw Yellow leave the disco without Amy about 15 minutes later.
(Mentioned on "America's Most Wanted," Yellow is the only person to be publicly named a suspect. A Royal Caribbean spokesperson says Yellow voluntarily submitted to a polygraph for the FBI and passed.)
Ship employees told the Bradleys to wait in their rooms for the chief security officer. He asked some questions and asked for a photo of Amy. He told them she was probably visiting in someone's room and would show up.
From 12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m., he told the Bradleys, ship staff had searched "every nook and cranny" of the ship to no avail. (In actuality, the Bradleys would later discover the staff had only searched the common area and crew area, leaving out all passenger sections and other areas of the ship, according to the lawsuit against Royal Caribbean.)
Now frantic, with more than seven hours having passed since Amy's disappearance, Ron and Iva demanded that Captain Kjetil Gjerstad pass out and post Amy's picture and alert other passengers to her disappearance. He refused, saying he didn't want to upset the other passengers.
Then the captain presented them with an option. If Amy wasn't on the ship, she was probably on shore in Curacao or in the water. If they stayed on the ship, they might lose a chance to search the island. Iva asked the captain if he was absolutely sure, if he thought beyond a shadow of a doubt that Amy was not on his ship. She says the captain said he was certain she wasn't aboard and that the best thing to do would be to leave the ship.
"It was like we were in a slow-motion house of terror," Iva recalls. Their world had completely collapsed and they were on the brink of emotional breakdowns while the rest of the passengers continued on smiling and laughing and partying in the Caribbean sun, oblivious to the family's plight.
Royal Caribbean paid for motel rooms for the family, and Illinois Mutual CEO Mike McCord disembarked with his wife, Kay, to provide emotional support for the Bradleys. The multimillionaire fetched coffee and hugged family members.Continue to Part III