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Susan Breslow Sardone

The Groom Who Disappeared on His Honeymoon

By April 24, 2006

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Have you been following the story of the missing honeymooner, George Allen Smith IV? It's been ten months since he disappeared on his honeymoon cruise. The April issue of Vanity Fair features an in-depth article on the mystery surrounding his disappearance. I was surprised by the conclusion, and you may be, too....

Find out more about this case: The 1/23/06 edition of Newsweek offers some more details.

The Backstory
Following his June 25 wedding to Jennifer Hagel, the Connecticut couple boarded Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas in Barcelona for a 12-night honeymoon cruise. The new bride, 25, reportedly told officials that Smith was not in their cabin when she awoke the morning of July 5 and he hasn't been seen since.

Later on July 5, while the bride was reportedly working out in the megaship's fitness center, a steward found blood in the couple's cabin; more was detected on a lifeboat awning below the Hagels' balcony. There was also a bloody handprint on the side of the ship.

After the disappearance was reported to the captain and the ship docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, Hagel was questioned and released by Turkish authorities, who then searched for the groom with the Greek Coast Guard and police divers for four days. The bride, who claimed she did not know what happened to her husband, flew home, alone. Turkish authorities said Hagel is not a suspect.

An official from the Kusadasi prosecutor's office in Turkey told the Associated Press that witnesses noticed the couple drinking heavily and gambling at the ship's casino before George Smith's disappearance.

Cruise officials initially stated Smith may have fallen overboard. Later that month, U.S. Attorney in Connecticut Kevin O'Connor told the Associated Press, "I certainly think it's fair to characterize this as suspicious... I believe we are all operating under the assumption that a crime could have been committed here." He added, "The FBI is investigating it aggressively."

Fellow passenger and vacationing law enforcement officer Clete Hyman, who was in a cabin adjoining the Hagels, said on MSNBC he recalled hearing male voices and noise early on July 5: "The impact, it sounded like something really heavy, and my first thought was maybe throwing furniture overboard. All of a sudden, there (was) some very loud arguing out on the balcony." Then, a horrific thud.

In a Greenwich Time interview published on July 27, O'Connor said, "For the family's sake, I think we can find out...what happened to their son. Obviously that is our goal, to be able to tell his parents what happened to their son, and to his wife, what happened to her husband."

March, 2006 Update
At a cruise industry event in early March, Robert Dickinson, president of Carnival Cruises, was reported to have referred to Smith's disappearance as a "non-event" and added, "it's more entertainment than anything else." The Smith family was quick to respond, calling for an apology and Dickinson's resignation over the insensitive remarks.

Dickenson's public relations handlers later issued this statement from him: "My comments were within a larger discussion on cruise industry issues and were not meant to minimize the tragedy of George Smith's disappearance. I regret any pain my comments may have caused his family."

December 7, 2005 Updates

  • Newsday reports the missing honeymooner's family plans to sue the cruise line
  • The Stamford Advocate reports that the family hired a Miami-based lawyer who specializes in maritime cases and a public relations firm. Their efforts have led to a congressional hearing looking into the cruise industry's protection of passengers.

    December 13, 2005 Updates
    Jennifer Hagel Smith, who has announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to arrests in the case, submitted chilling testimony that was read to the United States Congress about the aftermath of the Turkish investigation.

    According to The New York Times, she stated that when she returned to port her belongings and those of her new husband were waiting for her at the dock. "The ship sailed without me that evening. I was left with no money, no plane ticket, no food, nothing. The cruise line did not offer to help with a flight, hotel arrangements or anything. I could not speak the native language and I felt abandoned."

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