Cruise Ship Killers 2020 series review | Book Addicts

Cruise Ship Killers (2020 series)

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Cruise Ship Killers is a 2020 series about deaths aboard cruise ships on international waters.

2/10 stars.  This series has a great premise, but the episodes are far from factual and interject too much guesswork.  Every single episode had at least some victim blaming by the commentators–former detective Damian Turner and crime writer J. H. Moncrieff–and the narrator, so it was clearly written that way.  By episode 10, in which the victim is completely blamed for her death, I was pretty sick of it. 

A few notes for the legalities of disappearing or being murdered on a cruise ship:

  1. A ticket aboard one of these cruise ships is a legal contract agreeing to abide by maritime law.
  2. Maritime law gives jurisdiction to local authorities when the ship is at port.  While at sea, there is no legal authority.  It’s lawless and the perfect place to murder or kidnap someone.
  3. Guests should never go aboard a cruise ship alone.  Go with several close friends and family.
  4. Guests should never go with a lot of money.  It makes them a target.
  5. Guests should never take expensive jewelry.  It makes them a target.

Episode 1

The first episode centers around Ashley Gerber, a twenty-six year-old massage therapist who is on a cruise from California to Costa Rica with her new husband Charlie.  They are on their honeymoon and draw much attention from the other guests on board because they are always exercising in public.  On their last night of the cruise, February 12, 1988, they take a night run on deck.  Later, at 3 am, Charlie wakes the captain claiming a strong wind has blown Ashley overboard.  Charlie’s face is covered in scratches.

The captain immediately checks the wind tables.  The wind speed was only 5 mph last night, barely a breeze.  The sea was calm.  The crew looks overboard and can’t find Ashley.  Ashley’s earring and hair are found embedded in the running track on the deck where she disappeared.  The medical doctor, Dr. Price, investigates because he is suspicious of Charlie’s story and his injuries.

The Coast Guard finds Ashley’s body.  There is water in her lungs, indicating that she drowned.  She was also beaten severely before she was thrown overboard.  Her clothes have track pieces embedded in them, indicating she was pushed against the track as she was beaten and hit on the head.  The scratches on Charlie’s face match the wedding ring on her hand.

Charlie is arrested and found guilty of 2nd degree murder.  He is sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In various parts of this episode, it’s pointed out that Ashley drew attention from guests by exercising in public.  It is also pointed out that she married Charlie rather quickly having only known him for nine months.  This is victim blaming and it’s wrong.  As the series goes on, the victim blaming gets worse.

Episode 2

Shelly is a 43 year old economics professor from Olympia, Washington taking a cruise with her ex-husband Will from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia.  They divorced in March of 2010, but live together for the sake of their nine year-old son.  Shelly divorced Will for cheating on her multiple times.  So Will booked the cruise with the intent of winning Shelly back.

Their cruise begins with hope, but that soon changes when Shelly prefers gambling in the casino to walking the decks with Will.  She makes a male friend in the casino which further disappoints Will.  On November 21, 2012 near Vancouver, British Columbia, a passenger named Linda Stewart sees Shelly in a scuffle with someone and then thrown overboard; she reports it to the captain.

Here’s where the description of what happened gets confusing.  Will claims when Shelly was having fun gambling, he went to their cabin to sleep.  Later she came in and asked him for a loan.  He refused.  So she left and went back to gambling.  Then she disappears.  After he is questioned a third time, he claims Shelly was suicidal and tried killing herself.  He attempted to stop her and she fell and hit her head, killing her.  He was afraid their son would be left with no parents if he went to prison so he dumped her body overboard.

Will is arrested in their next port, Seattle.  Meanwhile the Coast Guard finds her body.  The autopsy shows she was badly beaten and there is water in her lungs.  She drowned.  So she was alive when Will threw her overboard.  Will is found guilty of 2nd degree murder.

The victim blaming in this episode is pretty bad.  Shelly divorced Will because he was cheating.  The commentators and narrator say she only thought he was cheating and destroyed their marriage because of it which led to her murder.  :0  Really???

No last names were given for Shelly or Will.  And like all of the episodes, no cruise ships are named either.

Episode 3

Sadie is a college student studying in Hong Kong.  She particularly likes her Asian History professor who invites her to come with his family on a cruise from Hong Kong to Baltimore which takes 24 days.  She agrees.  Although he has to fly back to the United States, Sadie accompanies his wife Mila and their daughter Caitlin.  Sadie does the family’s laundry.  She also does other guests’ laundry to make extra money.  This is how she meets people.  One of these guests is Decker, a married man with whom she begins an affair only she doesn’t know he’s married.

One day around the third week of the cruise, Mila sees a man arguing with Sadie outside her cabin.  He leaves and Sadie goes inside crying.  Sadie doesn’t come to dinner and they are dining with the Captain, so the ship’s purser Nathan orders someone to go check her room.  That person hears her crying inside, but she doesn’t come to the door.  Hours later, the purser himself goes to the room and goes inside.  There’s no sign of Sadie but the deck door is open.  The captain orders a search and when she’s not found he begins investigating.  Captain Norris also orders her room sealed.

They are docked in Savannah, Georgia’s harbor when a body washes up on shore.  The girl is badly beaten and drowned.  In fact, she is so badly beaten her entire upper body is covered in bruises.  Meanwhile the ship moves onto Baltimore, its destination.  Two Baltimore detectives come on board to investigate and immediately single out Decker after finding Sadie’s diary in her cabin.  Decker claims they had a short affair but it ended well between them.  Her diary says otherwise.  Decker also mentions she was pregnant.  She was not.  But that’s a big motive to kill her, especially since he’s a newlywed.

Decker is arrested and tried, but found innocent by an all male jury.

Sadie’s last name is never given.

Episode 4

One of the comments made by J. H. Moncrieff during this episode is that 90% of all deaths aboard cruise ships are murders, although cruise lines claim they are suicides.  If they are suicides they don’t have to investigate and they keep their reputations.

The victim in this episode is a middle-aged man, Jacob Enns, who has spent his life getting rich and controlling everything around him.  But he has no friends, only a brother.  He’s essentially a bully.  He sells his armored car business and makes a fortune, so he invites his brother Peter to go on a cruise with him to the Bahamas where he intends on spending money on the Nassau gambling tables.  Jacob is an avid gambler.  Peter can’t go so Jacob resorts to inviting his two best friends from college, Hector and Mason.

Because Jacob pays for their tickets, he expects Hector and Mason to be his companions for the entire cruise and, since they can’t afford the same things Jacob can, this creates friction between the three.  It soon becomes obvious that Jacob expects them to sit and watch him gamble.  They don’t.  They go have fun.

Meanwhile Jacob becomes extremely sea sick and visits the ship’s doctor who prescribes pills and recommends fresh air.  Jacob gives the ship’s purser $10,000 to put in the safe along with some of his gold jewelry and possessions.  He tells the purser to give it all to his brother if something happens to him.  He goes on deck for the fresh air and disappears.

The captain orders a complete search of the ship.  No body is ever recovered.

Jacob’s brother Peter meets the ship at Nassau and comes aboard to find Jacob.  There’s blood on the inside of Jacob’s bag, clear signs of foul play, but the captain won’t call it a murder investigation.  Instead, the investigator rules it a suicide and refuses to let Peter take Jacob’s belongings.  So Peter conducts his own investigation, questioning guests and crew.  When that gets nowhere he calls the Florida police.  They can’t do anything (maritime law gives them no jurisdiction) and suggest he call the FBI.  So he does.

The FBI come aboard and give Peter Jacob’s belongings.  The purser, who Peter suspected of Jacob’s murder, didn’t take anything.  Peter tracks down Mason and questions him.  He had an alibi.  But Hector was alone that night and very nervous.

On August 15, 2013 in Cedarpoint, Ohio, Hector is finally tracked down by the FBI and arrested.  He confesses to killing Jacob.  He gets life in prison.  He killed Jacob for $10,000 that Jacob won in gambling at the casino.  That’s all.

There are several places in this episode where the commentary is infuriating.  Many men, especially white men, hit 45 or 50 and suddenly feel they haven’t accomplished anything in their life.  It’s often referred to as male menopause.  Quite often they murder someone else or themselves out of frustration.  This is a known phenomenon and when they kill their family, they are called family annihilators.  They don’t mention this at all and never point out that Jacob had to buy friends to accompany him because he’s such a bully.

Episode 5

Betsy Mayer is a 55 year old teacher from Scagway, Alaska.  She’s happily married to Bart Mayer, who started out as a teacher, went on to become superintendent, and is now a U.S. marshal.  They have two daughters.  When Betsy’s family in Wisconsin has a family reunion, she decides to take a cruise on the Great Lakes before attending.  She goes alone and takes her expensive vintage jewelry collection including her pearl necklace which she always wears.

Almost immediately she notices some of her jewelry is stolen and she suspects her night maid, Amanda Wilson.  Not wanting to worry her husband, she doesn’t tell him and decides to catch the thief herself.  The next night she disappears.   Meanwhile, a fisherman on the shore of Lake Erie finds Betsy’s washed up body.  On board the ship no one has reported her missing.  And eventually ALL of her jewelry is stolen from her room.

Terrified that something has happened to his wife, Bart begins making phone calls.  At the same time, Betsy’s dinner companions get worried when she doesn’t join them for several days.  They report her missing to the captain who finds her jewelry all gone and a lone pearl on the floor of her cabin.  He questions her night maid, Amanda Wilson.  Amanda has a long list of convictions for theft.  The captain has Amanda’s room searched and finds Betsy’s jewelry in her bag.  At the same time Bart flies to Cleveland to look at the body and discovers it is Betsy.  Her rings are missing and later found in Amanda’s bags.

Amanda confesses to killing Betsy when her theft was interrupted.  No details are given on her trial or sentence.  The idiot cruise ship that didn’t bother checking her for a criminal record is not mentioned either.

Episode 6

This is one of the most disturbing cases.

Anna Doppler is a 20 year old college student from Germany working on an Alaskan cruise for the summer with her two friends, Sophia and Charlotte.  Tracy is another banquet server on the ship who is also Anna’s roommate.  She hates that Anna is always on her phone and too friendly with the guests, so she tries to get her fired.  When that doesn’t work she unplugs her phone so she won’t be able to use it.  The next day Anna leaves her phone charging on the ship and goes shopping in Anchorage with Charlotte and Sophia.  Meanwhile Tracy visits her pervert uncle and tells him all about Anna and her phone.

Unaware that Anna has no phone, and after a long day of shopping, Sophia and Charlotte return to the ship without her because she wants to keep shopping.  She later gets a ride with someone and is never seen again.

When Anna doesn’t show for her shift that night, Sophia and Charlotte report her missing.  The captain calls Anchorage Police Department who begin searching Anchorage for her.  The ship leaves without her and goes onto the next port, Seattle  The FBI board the ship in Seattle.  Rather quickly they hone in on Tracy.

Meanwhile they find June 28, 2016 CCTV footage of Anna in Anchorage with a 45 year old bailiff named Eddie Sambarg.  The police search Samburg’s apartment and discover that he is an avid hunter and he’s also Tracy’s uncle.  When they take his computer they find all kinds of violent pornography on it including rape porn.  When they question him he says he was at his cabin in the state park nearby, so the FBI searches the cabin and finds a fresh grave nearby.  (Note the police searched his home and the FBI searched his cabin.)

Sambarg confesses to murdering Anna, claiming he only intended on raping her but had to kill her in self defense.  He tells them her body is buried near the cabin, the freshly dug grave they found.  When the police searched Eddie’s house they found a wheelbarrow and shovel in Eddie’s pickup, things you normally never see.  This shows premeditation.  Why take the wheelbarrow on his way to pick up Anna unless he intended on killing her?  After killing Anna he left her body in the wheelbarrow for 24 hours before burying her.

Eddie is found guilty of manslaughter (accidental murder) and sentenced to 17 years in prison, not nearly enough for what he did.

This was another episode with a lot of victim blaming.  She’s blamed for not checking that her phone was plugged in, for leaving the ship without a phone, for letting Sophia and Charlotte leave without her, and for taking a ride with a strange man.  But Eddie was Tracy’s uncle and probably showed her a photo of Tracy, proving it.  Then Anna would get in the car with him.  Why do the victims get blamed for the perverse actions of men who are violent toward women?

Episode 7

This one will haunt you and want you to never take a cruise.

On March 21, 1998, the Bradley family of Chesterfield, Virginia takes a cruise from Puerto Rico to the Caribbean.  Ron Bradley’s employer gave it as a gift to their family.  Ron and Iva bring their two kids, 23 year old Amy and their son Brad.  Amy is a multi-sport athlete and quickly draws the attention of many of the ship’s staff.  Of the ship’s male staff who approach Amy (something they are never supposed to do), the waiter and bass player are the most aggressive and are friends with each other.  No one on board the ship warns the Bradleys that the Caribbean traffics in kidnapped white women.   (Think of the movie Taken only on a ship.)

On March 23, their third night, the family goes to the club for Calypso night.  Ron and Iva retire to their room first, leaving Brad and Amy dancing.  Then Brad and Amy go to their room.  At 4:15 am, Brad and Amy are sitting on the balcony talking then he goes to bed.  At 5:15 am he wakes and sees her still sitting there.  Twenty minutes later when he wakes Amy is gone.  Her cigarettes and lighter are the only things missing.  Brad wakes Ron and they search for Amy.  She is nowhere to be found.  So they report her missing to the captain.

On most cruise ships, reports of missing passengers are given little attention because the cruise lines are run by corporations who worry about stock prices.  If passengers discover someone has been kidnapped or murdered on a cruise ship, they tell everyone and the stock price plummets.  So there is almost always an active coverup of kidnapping and murder aboard cruise ships.  That’s what happens here.  The captain tells the parents he’s searched the ship every nook and cranny when he didn’t.  Then he lets the passengers disembark in Curacao, a port with a huge sex trafficking hub.

The parents keep searching the ship and while searching, the bass player approaches Brad and tells him he’s sorry that Amy is missing.  No one on the ship knows yet that Amy is missing.  How did he know?  When they can’t find her, the captain convinces them that he’s thoroughly searched the ship (he hasn’t) and talks them into getting off the ship in Curacao to look for her.  So they do.  The ship leaves without them.

When they receive no cooperation and are told lies by everyone they call the FBI.  Then they discover the captain lied.  The ship wasn’t searched at all.  So they fly to the next port and reboard the ship with the FBI.  Two college girls approach them telling them they saw Amy that morning with the bass player.  Also, the ship’s photographer, who takes photos during the trip and posts them in the ship’s gallery, has noticed all the photos of Amy are missing.  The FBI also learn that the videographer, Chris Fenwick, had video of Amy dancing with the bass player in the club that morning right before she disappeared.  He refused to give this video or any other video to the FBI.  It will be a year and take his brother convincing him before he’ll give it to the FBI.

The bass player is given a polygraph.  We’re not told the results, so why bother telling us?

Ron, Iva, and Brad go home and launch a social media search for Amy.  Several months later, they fly to Curacao to look for her.  A cab driver approaches them and tells them he saw her that day get off the ship with several men.  Then he tells them the three places in Curacao to look for her where they traffic in kidnapped women.  But the family is sidetracked when Brad hears Amy’s voice and chases after a white van.  She’s not in there.  They go home without checking those three places.

A year later, a Canadian businessman is diving on the beach in Curacao when Amy approaches him followed by two large thugs.  They grab her and lead her away before she can speak to him.  When he gets home, he sees her on TV and realizes she’s a kidnap victim.  So he flies to Chesterfield and talks to Ron and Iva.  He identifies Amy’s tattoos.  It was definitely her.  No one else knew about those tattoos.

A private investigator, Frank Jones, scams the Bradleys into giving him $100,000 to bring Amy home.  He shows them photos that are supposed to be Amy and claims to know where she is.  Ron’s old boss, the man who bought them the tickets, feels guilty and pays the $100,000, but he also hires a second private investigator, Tim Buckles, to check on the first (Jones).  They quickly discover Jones is a fraud and is using their money for his vacation.  The photos were models and the tattoos were faked with paint.

In 2002, the FBI call them.  In 1999, a naval officer was in a brothel in Curacao when Amy approached him and begged for help.  He did nothing because being in a brothel would have lost him his stripes.  He waited three years to report it.  By then the brothel had burned down and no one had seen Amy in three years.

In 2005, the Bradleys receive an anonymous email with a link to an adult website.  One of the women featured, “Jaz”, is Amy.  That same year, a woman on vacation in Curacao, hears several men yelling at a woman in the bathroom where she is peeing.  She waits until the men leave before coming out of her stall then asks Amy if she needs help.  Before Amy can answer three large men come in, grab Amy, and leave.  The woman returns to the U.S., calls the FBI, and gives them a description of Amy and the three men.  Amy has unique green eyes which are described in each of these encounters.

Amy has never been found, but imagine being kidnapped at 23 years old and forced into sex work for 21 years.  That will give you nightmares.  Her parents and brother say repeatedly that she had a bad feeling from the moment she stepped onto the cruise ship.  But they didn’t leave.  I’m sure now they wish they had.

Episode 8

Sarah Stevens and James McCloud meet in a bar and strike up a conversation. A few short weeks later they move in together. Then they win a cruise to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  Right away they meet Ted, another passenger, but Sarah doesn’t like the way Ted looks at her or treats her.  He is aggressively flirting and James won’t stop him.  Then her underwear is stolen and she panics.

That night James finds her hanging in his cabin.  He tells investigators to question Ted.  Their cabin neighbor saw Ted hovering outside their room that night followed by a commotion inside the room.

Police come on board and question everyone.  From CCTV footage they find the underwear thief is a married man named Mike who has an alibi.  But they also find Sarah’s laptop missing.  Ted gets the passengers all riled up about the delay and about being questioned, but then the focus moves to James when the autopsy report comes in on Sarah.  She was not hanged.  She was beaten and strangled.  And there is also evidence of previous beatings, revealing the dark side of their relationship.  The key card record shows that James was in the cabin with Sarah when she was killed.  Then they systematically prove the rest of his story is lies.

James is arrested.  A family member posts bail.  He runs and disappears.

Episode 9

This is the case that spawned an international survivors group and a national law to protect cruise ship victims.

On August 27, 2004, 40 year old Marian Carver, a former investment banker from Cambridge, Massachusetts, boards a cruise ship in Seattle.  She never tells her family that she’s going.  On August 29, she disappears.  Marian was taking the cruise as a vacation to relax and write poetry.  Every day she emails her daughter.  She is divorced so she is traveling alone.

From day one, Marian befriends the cabin steward.  He reports her missing immediately but his boss yells at him and tells him to just do his job.  So he asks the other stewards to help him look for her.  His boss has all the stewards come in and sign a non-disclosure agreement about Marian’s disappearance.  In other words, a gag order.

Marian’s daughter becomes distraught when several days go by and she doesn’t receive any emails from her mom.  She calls and her mom doesn’t pick up.  Then Marian’s dad Ken Carver calls and Marian doesn’t pick up.  So Ken calls the police.  The police check her apartment and her laptop.

Meanwhile the cabin steward escalates his concerns to the Claims Manager who actively covers it up.

Weeks go by and no one at the cruise line will talk to Ken, so he hires two lawyers, one in Massachusetts and one in Florida, to force the cruise line to comply with subpoenas to their employees.  They discover that the steward’s boss disposed of Marian’s things and kept her money.  :0  They never reported her missing.

In August 2005 Ken sues the cruise line.  The cruise line then publicly announces several false claims and outright lies.  They claim that Marian killed herself and had tried to commit suicide before.  She hadn’t and she didn’t.  Angered at the disgusting behavior of the cruise line, Ken creates the International Cruise Victims group, http://www.internationalcruisevictims.org.

In 2015, Ken and several other distraught family members who have lost loved ones on cruise ships get the Cruise Passenger Protection Act passed into law.

Repeatedly in this episode, the narrator and commentators (Damian Turner and J H Moncrieff) blame the victim for her death because she traveled alone.  So what is she supposed to do?  Hire a stranger to go with her?  That’s not freedom.  And this is not her fault.  She was on a cruise along the U.S. coast, not in the Caribbean.

Episode 10

This episode made me so angry (so much victim blaming) I stopped watching this series.

The victim in this episode is a cruise line employee who had worked for several years as a cruise chef.

On October 13, 2007, off the coast of California, 31 year old Sarah Roberts disappears.  She is a chef for the elite restaurant on the 4th deck.  There is a new executive chef for the restaurant and he has been sexually harassing Sarah for months.  She’s a lesbian and so he is picking on her in front of all the other staff.  She emails her sister Claudia every day and fills her in on all that’s going on at work.  Unlike all the other staff, she doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs, and doesn’t party all night long.  So the others don’t accept her, even though she has more experience than they do.  In fact, her culinary teachers say she was their best student.  But in the restaurant, her sous chef (who is also sexually harassing her and sabotaging her work) and executive chef openly insult her and make fun of her all night long.

On the night she disappears, the executive chef once again throws her food in the trash and publicly humiliates her in front of the other staff, so she steps out to take a fifteen minute break.  The sous chef and executive chef follow right behind her.  She is never seen again.

When the restaurant manager (a woman) discovers Sarah is missing, she is deeply concerned.  Sarah had previously complained several times about the sous chef harassing her.  The cruise line did nothing about it.  Now she’s disappeared.  Another restaurant employee saw Sarah arguing outside with a male staff member.  When she took her break she went to the storage deck where only staff can go but it’s also where the staff do their drug deals.  The sous chef is questioned about Sarah’s disappearance and taken to that storage deck.  He is so rattled, he is almost speechless then he abruptly goes back to work.

The bartender comes forward and tells them she was Sarah’s lover and old girlfriend.  Then she tells them about all the terrible things the sous chef did to Sarah to sabotage her job.  The executive chef was the same.  When the investigators get the CCTV footage of the kitchen, both the sous chef and executive chef follow Sarah out of the kitchen on her break.  They are right behind her.  But the CCTV footage of the deck has been erased.  :0

No one is ever charged and the captain claims a rogue wave or suicide must be at fault.

When a woman complains of sexual harassment she is not making it up, especially when there are multiple people who have witnessed it.  So when the two commentators and the narrator repeatedly refer to Sarah’s work as “inferior” and that she is “unable to handle the stress” and “unprofessional” I get seriously pissed off.  This was a clear case of a woman who excelled in her profession but had to deal with two men who were bullies and murderers.

They go further and blame her for not drinking, not doing drugs, and not partying all night long, saying that she wasn’t trying to fit in.  :0  Really???

2/10 stars.  This series had a great premise but was poorly executed with a lot of victim blaming, confusing details, few facts, and no mention of the corporations or cruise ship lines responsible.  That should be the main focus of this storyline.

 

 

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