Many may recall the case of George Smith IV, the honeymooner who “disappeared” from a cruise with his new wife, Jennifer Hagel, aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas on July 5, 2005. Now, almost seven years later, an article by Greenwich Magazine has renewed questions about what really happened to George, and new information coming to light appears to be leading the FBI toward a murder investigation centered around the men that were with George last.
The ill-fated night consisted of the newlyweds heavily drinking with fellow passengers, Josh Askin and three other men referred to as the “Russians”: Gregory Rozenberg, Zachary Rozenberg and Rostislav “Rusty” Kofman. At around 3:30 a.m., some witnesses say that George and Jennifer got into an argument which ended with Jennifer walking away alone. She was so disoriented, however, that she could not find her cabin and ultimately passed out in a hallway. As the Greenwich Magazine author, Thomas Dumas, noted, “If Jennifer had only managed to get back to [their cabin], George would probably be alive today.”
George, however, stayed behind. But by 3:45 a.m., he was allegedly so drunk that he had to be helped back to his cabin by Josh and the Russians. They maintain that they only took George’s shoes off, put him into bed, and left the cabin. Passengers near the Smith’s cabin, however, have painted a different picture. In fact, passengers in at least three cabins recalled hearing a lot of noise and yelling coming from George’s cabin around that time. One passenger said it sounded like furniture was being thrown in the room, either against the wall or against the floor. The noise was so loud that another passenger even called Royal Caribbean’s guest relations desk at 4:05 a.m. (Royal Caribbean did not respond to that call until almost half an hour later, but more on that below.) The last noise those passengers heard was a “horrific thud” believed to be the sound of George’s demise.
At approximately 4:25 a.m., George Smith went over the rail of the couple’s cabin balcony, landed several floors below on the metal awning over the lifeboats, and fell into the ocean. Later that morning, a 16-year-old passenger found a large, red stain on the awning. She explained that she took a photograph of it because she thought it looked like a bloody hand print running off the side of the awning. Expert, Dr. Henry Lee, later confirmed that intuition.
After the incident, most of the investigation seemed to be conducted by the media rather than Royal Caribbean or the FBI. Royal Caribbean’s investigation, in particular, seemed to be finished before it even began. After the passenger called the ship’s guest relations desk, no one at Royal Caribbean even called the Smith’s cabin to determine if everything was ok. By the time security officers visited the cabin at about 4:30 a.m., it was too late. Even then, the security officers merely knocked on the door. When one of the neighboring passengers heard the knocking, they told the officers they should go inside considering all the noise heard earlier. But the officers did not go inside and just walked away after no one answered the door. As for the blood on the awning, Royal Caribbean never told Jennifer about it and quickly cleaned the blood off with high-pressure hoses. The cruise line simply chalked it up to a drunken accident with the ship’s Captain, Michael Lachtaridis, telling MSNBC that George must have lost his balance on the balcony and that the blood on the awning must have been from a nose bleed.
However, the evidence being revealed rebuts Royal Caribbean’s theory. First, it appears that George was already bleeding inside his cabin. Turkish police boarded the ship just after noon on July 5th and discovered two bloodstains on the bed sheets. Michael Jones, attorney for George’s family, confirms that it was George’s blood.
Second is the giant hole in Josh and the Russians’ alibi. According to them, after they left George, they went to their cabin and ordered room service. Although the passkey records show that some of the men may have returned to their cabin, there are absolutely no records of room service orders or deliveries.
Lastly is the video made by the Russians which appears to be getting the most attention. The attorney, Michael Jones, told Greenwich Magazine that the Russians filmed themselves on the afternoon of July 5 – hours after George went overboard. In that video, the men are “mocking and callously joking” about George’s death. One of the men even says, “We gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute.” For obvious reasons, the statement is being considered quite incriminating.
Currently, the FBI is considering transferring the case from Connecticut to New York where some of the Russians live. Although valuable evidence may have been lost by the actions (or inactions) of Royal Caribbean, it is at least encouraging that the FBI’s investigation is stepping up pace.
Photo credits: The Stamford Advocate / Greenwich Citizen, CBS, CBS News