These guys are talking about control.

(two interestin


 

 

 
48 Hours Love Lost 04.08.06 Run Dates
  04.08.06 48 Hours Love Lost
48 Hours Mystery
CBS Apr 08 10:00pm
Series/Talk, 60 Mins.


"Love Lost"
George Smith disappears from a cruise ship on his honeymoon.


Original Airdate: April 8, 2006.

 
 
 

Notes

Jennifer

Bree Smith

Cleat Hyman room 9062 police officer

rooms 9062 9064

07.05.06

Absinth - alcohol

Lloyd

 

 

 

Links

 

07.05.05 George Allen Smith Murdered on Cruise Ship

 

 

 

 

   
   
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(CBS) George Smith and his bride, Jennifer Hagel Smith, were married last summer in a picture-perfect wedding and soon thereafter embarked on what was supposed to be a dreamy honeymoon cruise on the Mediterranean.

But after a night of heavy drinking, George disappeared, presumably having gone overboard in the darkness of the night. Was his disappearance a crime or just an unfortunate mishap?

Correspondent Hannah Storm reports on the investigation.


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For George and Maureen Smith, life changed forever with a single phone call last July 5.

"6:30 in the morning the phone rang, and I heard this crying on the phone and it was Jennifer's father," recalls Maureen. "He was sobbing uncontrollably and he said, 'Something terrible has happened to George on the cruise ship. He's missing.'"

It was the last thing they would have expected to hear. After all, their son, George, age 26, was happily on his honeymoon cruise with the love of his life, Jennifer Hagel. And now they were being told he had vanished somewhere in the deep waters of the Aegean Sea.

Just 10 days earlier, life seemed so full of promise for the newlyweds. They were married in a picture-perfect wedding on a hilltop overlooking the bay in Newport, R.I.

Asked to describe his son, George Smith says he was very devoted and a family person. Speaking about his daughter-in-law, George says Jennifer was very outgoing, was very pretty and had a great personality.

Maureen says her son's dreams for the future included children. "And he would've been a great father, and he would've had a lot of fun with his children."

George's love of children was something he shared with Jennifer. She had just accepted a job as an elementary school teacher. And George was about to take over the family business, a successful liquor store in Greenwich, Conn.

Now, George's parents and his sister Bree found themselves overwhelmed with grief and frantic for answers, half a world away from that cruise ship. All that Royal Caribbean would tell them was that George was "missing."

Bree remembers asking the cruise line whether they had searched the ship, the Brilliance of the Seas. "And they said, 'Yes we searched the boat.' I said, 'Well continue to search the boat, my brother has to be there.' They knew otherwise. Because they knew about the blood on the overhang. But they never told us about the blood on the overhang," she says.

Bree was referring to a huge blood stain on a metal canopy some 20 feet below George and Jennifer's balcony. A photo of the stain was captured on the morning George disappeared by 16-year-old passenger Emilie Rausch.

"When I took the picture, one of the things that made me think that this could have been blood ó I saw a handprint running off the side of it," Emilie recalls.
 


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Dr. Jerry Askin, a podiatrist from California, was also on the cruise, and says he realized something was wrong on the ship around 8:15 in the morning when he heard pages for the Smiths over the ship's intercom system.

His oldest son Josh, now 21, had befriended George and Jennifer and had spent much of the night drinking and gambling with them.

"And our son came in and heard the page. And mentioned to the steward in the room, 'You should call 'em and tell them to stop paging George because he really had a lot to drink last night and he's probably sleeping,'" Dr. Askin recalls.

He says it never occurred to his son that anything was wrong.

Dr. Askin then learned about that blood on the canopy and that George was missing. "I was absolutely shocked. Because here was somebody who was alive on a honeymoon and then, Oh my God. He may be gone," he says.

By now, the entire Askin family had been summoned to guest relations and were told Turkish police wanted to talk to Josh. Jennifer Hagel Smith was there, too.

"Apparently the staff captain came in and told them that her husband was missing and presumed overboard. My son was sitting right next to her," explains Dr. Askin. "And she was shaking, and she was crying and she was absolutely hysterical. ... And she just said, 'This is like a bad dream.'"

Jennifer was at a loss to explain what happened. "She says 'I just can't remember.' It was almost like her mind went blank," Dr. Askin says.

Dr. Askin was just beginning to realize how serious the situation was. After all, his son was one of the last people to see George alive. So when Turkish police came on board the ship, Dr. Askin quietly brought out his camera.

"We're in a foreign country. I donít know what theyíre asking," Askin explains. "And I don't want to have somebody say something that could possibly be misconstrued later. So I decided to record it just in case."

The tape, which 48 Hours obtained exclusively, shows Josh at a table with Turkish police and a group of young men who had also been with George the night before, Russian-Americans who later became known in the press as "the Russians."

"They're in the main lobby of the ship. And the basic spirit was this: If they wanna ask the questions, we have nothing to hide," Dr. Askin explains.

The young men explained that they were drinking in the ship's bar with George and Jennifer, that she left before he did, and that they walked a drunken George back to his cabin.

After questioning, the Askins thought they were free to go ashore, but the minute they stepped off the ship, they were escorted to the Turkish police station.

Dr. Askin again taped the interrogation and released portions of that tape to 48 Hours. The tape captured a chaotic scene, including a crying baby on the translator's lap.

Josh was asked to sign a statement, written in Turkish.

"When we got the gist of what was going on, we were really frightened," recalls Dr. Askin. "You think about Midnight Express and you're just sort of sitting, wondering, now what?"

Dr. Askin says authorities wanted Josh to sign a statement but Josh was concerned that it wasn't accurate.

"Theyíre missing a whole huge part, though," Josh said.
 


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So much of this story seems to be missing that 48 Hours set out to fill in some blanks and reconstruct the timeline of the night George vanished.

The story began in the casino, where George and Jennifer met up with Josh.

"That night, George was playing craps. And Josh came up to the table and George actually taught Josh how to play craps," says attorney Keith Greer, who represents Josh Askin.

Also in the casino that night were the so-called "Russian boys," three Russian-American college students traveling with family and friends. They are Greg and Zach Rozenberg, who are cousins, and a friend, Rusty Kofman.

"These boys were not irregular or unusual compared to any other teenager on that ship having a good time," says attorney Albert Dayan, who represents Rusty Kofman.

Greer says the casino closed down around 2:30 a.m. and that the staff shuffled everybody to the elevator and up to the disco. And it's on the elevator ride up to the disco, says Greer, that Josh first noticed something unusual.

"Josh notices that Lloyd is getting a little cozy with Jennifer," says Greer, referring to Lloyd Botha, an assistant manager at the casino who tagged along to the disco.

Asked how Botha allegedly got "cozy," Greer said, "Arm around her, close to her, just a little closer than seemed appropriate Ö Josh looked over to the other boy in the elevator to see, you know, 'Are you seeing what's going on over there.'"

At the disco, the party continued. Greer said an "incredible" amount of drinking was going on. At some point, Dayan says the guys started drinking a bottle of absinthe, reportedly smuggled into the bar. Reputed to have hallucinogenic effects, absinthe can be two or even three times stronger than regular alcohol.

"Rusty recalls getting up from the table, going, mingling, dancing with other guests on the ship. And from time to time he's able to glance over and observe Jennifer draping herself over other men," says Dayan. "He saw her openly flirting."

But two passengers 48 Hours spoke to say Jennifer was not flirting, although it might have looked that way. They say she appeared to be drunk and unsteady and was simply leaning on people for support. Whatever the truth is, George apparently took notice.

"Rusty actually observes George get up from his seat, approach Jennifer and there is this exchange of words between them," says Dayan. "Rusty does not hear what is being said but he does observe Jennifer kick George in his groin. George bends over with pain, and Jennifer storms out of the club, and as she storms out of the club, the casino manager rushes right after her."


 


 

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Attorney Keith Greer says Josh didn't see the kick but did see Jennifer and Botha leave. "He recalls that they left the disco at the same time. And he thought it was together," says Greer.

"George returns back to his seat at the table. As he attempts to sit down, he actually falls off his chair because, at this point, he's completely intoxicated," says Dayan.

It was now around 3:30 a.m. and the disco started to close.

Greer says George was unable to walk back to his cabin on his own. That's why, says Greer, Josh and the Russian boys helped George back to his cabin.

"When they're walking to his cabin, they are literally carrying George. Taking turns carrying George," explains Dayan. "George is a very big guy."

When they get to the room, Jennifer was not there.

Dayan says George suddenly expressed a wish to go search for his wife, and says that this time the boys had a loud debate about whether they should assist George.

"But they all agreed and they took George down to the solarium to look for Jennifer," says Greer.

But Jennifer wasn't there either. So the boys helped George back to his cabin. They re-entered at 4:02 a.m., according to the ships key entry log, which records each time a key is inserted into the lock.

"They actually lay George on his bed. Take off his shoes and he displays a tremendous gratitude towards these young men. In fact, he hugs and kisses one or two of these young men," says Dayan.

"Josh at that point in time had to use the bathroom," says Keith Greer. "Josh was not a part of putting George to bed."

Greg and Pat Lawyer were in the cabin next to the Smiths. What they heard seems to match the boys account, at first.

"I was lying in bed and I heard somebody say in a very gentle voice, 'Settle down George, settle down,' " recalls Pat Lawyer.

"It was a very friendly voice," Greg Lawyer adds.

But shortly after 4 a.m., Clete Hyman, on the other side of the Smith cabin, heard a commotion.

"My wife and I were awakened by yelling coming from the Smith cabin," says Hyman. "This yelling sounded what I would liken to a drinking game where individuals are encouraging somebody to take shots or chug beer or something of this nature."

A few minutes later, says Hyman, there was an argument on the Smith balcony. "This argument appeared to be between three, maybe four individuals," he recalls.

But Rusty insists there were no drinking games and that no one went out on that balcony.

"After two minutes of the argument, we heard one lone male voice repeatedly saying good night, good night, like they were ushering someone out of the room," says Hyman.

It's here, once again, that the two stories differ.

Asked if all four men left together, Dayan says they did.

But Hyman says he looked out and saw three male individuals walking away from the room.

"If you believe that four young men went in there with George, then you might be suspicious that only three leave," says Bryan Burrough, who investigated the story for Vanity Fair. He says, like so many other clues in this case, this one could suggest foul play or may have a much simpler explanation.

"Those corridors are narrow. If you had three strapping young men standing in the corridor, it's at least conceivable that someone was standing behind them."

"At this point, we heard just a lone male voice in the room," says Clete Hyman. "We heard what sounded like the cupboard doors being closed ó loudly. And also what sounded like furniture being moved."

"There was what I call trashing-of-the-room sounds. It sounded to me like furniture or something being thrown around the room," says Greg Lawyer.

"This went on for eight minutes and then it was totally quiet. After about two minutes of total silence, however, there was a large, what I would call a horrific thud," says Hyman.
 


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This thud, believed to be the sound of George Smith hitting the canopy, occurred at approximately 4:30 a.m., according to Hyman.

Albert Dayan says that by that time, the boys were "definitely" in their own cabin.

If this is true, did someone else somehow slip into the cabin? Did George let someone in? And where was Jennifer during all this?

"Who is the only person who cannot account for her whereabouts during his disappearance?" asks Dayan. "Iím not suggesting any foul play. What I'm suggesting is that she's not as candid as she should be."

After spending almost an hour at the Turkish police station, Dr. Askin and his family thought their frightening ordeal was just about over, as Josh was handed a copy of his statement.

Dr. Askin says he turned off the camera and matter-of-factly asked the translator what would happen next, as they were preparing to leave.

"And she says 'We're gonna arrest the wife for murder. There was blood in the cabin.' And we were like 'Oh my God,' " recalls Dr. Askin.

At this point, Askin turned his camera back on and Josh appeared to be visibly upset.

"She has no idea what happened. She was with another man. The casino manager Lloyd," Josh told authorities. "You need to get him in here. Iím not letting her go to jail. Iím not letting her go to jail."

"You could see my son's reaction. We had not heard about the blood in the cabin until right then and there," says Askin.

Dr. Askin says the news stunned them. "And you can probably hear me say, 'She's a little girl. She's not very big.' And he was very big. How could she do anything like that to him, even if she wanted to? And it, just, it was just impossible."

George Smith is presumed to have gone overboard at approximately 4:30 a.m., when neighbors heard that terrible thud. So where was Jennifer when her husband lost his life?

At almost that exact moment, a crew member found her on the other side of the ship, slumped over, on the floor against a door marked "Crew Only."

Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler who is overseeing Royal Caribbeanís internal investigation, says Jennifer had never returned to the cabin. "Really sort of MIA until she was found at 4:30 that morning," he says.

McCrary says Jennifer appeared to be inebriated and smelled of alcohol

The cruise line says that after Jennifer left the disco, following that angry exchange with George at the bar, she took the elevator to the ninth deck. However, instead of going to the left towards her cabin, she went the opposite way.

McCrary acknowledges it would be easy to get confused if one was inebriated or disoriented, because the hallways look exactly alike.

"She got off the elevator, we know where she was subsequently found. In between that it's not clear where she was," says McCrary.

And Jennifer says she remembers nothing.
 


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"One has to accept Jennifer's explanation of a blackout because, frankly, there's no alternative," says writer Bryan Burrough. "Is it remotely possible or conceivable that someone drugged her? Well, yes."

Jennifer Smith and her family have hired renowned forensic scientist Henry Lee to search for further evidence.

"So the FBI collected a hair sample for Jennifer Hagel Smith and there would still be evidence if she was drugged that night?" Storm asks.

"Maybe," Lee replies. "Depends on what type of drug. Certain date rape drugs will show up."

The FBI has not released those test results yet.

"Is there anything significant in terms of who was staying in that hallway, besides there was a crew room. Anything else significant?" Storm asks Gregg McCrary.

"One of the boys' cabins was just several doors down from where she was located," he replies. "Josh Askin's is just, I think, about five doors down ó very close to where she was found. Whether thatís coincidence, whether thereís something more to it, is just unclear."

Dr. Askin thinks the notion that there might be a connection between Josh's cabin and Jennifer's location is "absolute rubbish." "Josh was with George Smith. He didnít know where the wife was. Nor did anybody else."

Except perhaps Lloyd Botha, according to Joshís attorney, Keith Greer. He says Lloyd left the disco with Jennifer and entered his room, according to the ship.

"And we don't know if he entered that room alone or with anyone else. Impossible to tell?" Storm asks.

"For you and me," Greer replies.

Like everyone else in this case, Botha hired a lawyer, Andrew Rier.

"The first rule when the finger is pointing at you is, can you create a scenario where it can point at somebody else? And that's exactly what's happening," says Rier. "Any stories that are being told about Lloyd Botha doing anything inappropriate are stories of fiction."

Rier claims there are ship records to prove that Lloyd did not leave the disco with Jennifer. "The timeline at 3:20 puts Botha in his room and the Smiths are still upstairs in the disco along with these Russian gentlemen," he explains.

Royal Caribbean confirms this but has refused to make those records public.

"Theyíve only done things to try and point fingers at everybody else and protect their crew and their boat. And being very public with anything that they felt might help them in any way," says Keith Greer.

But Rier disagrees. "It's my understanding that attorneys for some of these other gentlemen seem to imply something untoward about my client. And Lloyd said 'No problem. Anybody wants to speak to me, they can come speak to me.' So we went to the FBI. He took a polygraph examination. And by the time we left the FBI, if Lloyd ever, for a moment, was a person of interest, I can categorically state that he no longer was when he left."
 


 

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Although the four young men recall it was Lloyd who followed Jennifer out, Royal Caribbean says it was actually someone from the bar staff who escorted her out.

"He helped her to the elevator, got her to the ninth deck. She said she was OK," says McCrary. "Then this crewmember went back about their duties."

But an hour later, when the other crew member found Jennifer slumped over, she was not OK. "They got a wheelchair for Jennifer because she really had trouble walking. So they wheeled her back to the cabin," McCrary explains.

By now, it was 4:57 a.m.

Asked what the crew members saw when they returned Jennifer to her cabin, McCrary says all they saw was an empty cabin. "No one is there. Nothing is amiss. It looks like a normal cabin, nothing out of the ordinary. They left her in the clothes that she was in, laid her on the bed. She said she was OK and they departed."

What may be of some significance though is what crew members observed about the balcony doors. McCrary says the crew noticed that the balcony doors were closed and the curtains drawn.

It was just a half-hour earlier that neighbors had heard that thud, so if George had gone out on the balcony on his own, would he have taken the time to close the door and curtains behind him or did someone else bring him out there and then shut everything on the way out?

At 8:30 a.m., Jennifer headed to the spa for a massage appointment. "She told the masseuse she was hung over. She gave no indication to anyone that anything was wrong or out of the ordinary," says McCrary.

She was an hour and half early and still wearing her clothes from the night before. There was no sign of George.

"She did not act like a person who had woken up in the middle of a death fight crime scene," says Bryan Burrough. "The last thing, frankly, if you wake up in bed in the morning, after a bad night, and your spouse or significant other is not next to you, the last thing you think is foul play."

But had Jennifer looked out her balcony that morning she might have seen the blood stain.

"When she's going to the spa is about exactly the same time that the crew is being notified that there's a potential blood stain on a canopy," says McCrary.

The crew looked for - but couldn't find - George; Jennifer was finally located in the spa and, according to Royal Caribbean, had an explanation for where George might be.

"She had told them he had spent the night elsewhere before in the cruise as well. So she wasn't especially concerned that he wasn't in the cabin," says McCrary.

Asked if anyone found this unusual, McCrary said, "Well itís a judgment call but it's certainly, I think, seems unusual."

Jennifer adamantly denies saying any such thing to Royal Caribbean but the public scrutiny was tough.

It's been difficult for Jennifer Hagel Smith to defend herself. She says she cannot remember much from that evening and what she can recall, the FBI has asked her not to discuss. Either way, her attorney says she has nothing to hide.

"She has been given a polygraph test and she passed that test without any hint of deception. She passed it with flying colors," the attorney told reporters.

Jennifer declined 48 Hours' requests for an interview. The FBI has not named her, or anyone else, as a suspect.

And she's not the only one in the media spotlight ó several TV programs also talked about the "Russians."
 

 


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Royal Caribbean says it warned the Russian-Americans about their inappropriate conduct, such as using profanity and attempting to sneak their own alcohol into the disco, all minor infractions.

But just three days after George disappeared, a young woman came forward to allege she had been sexually assaulted and videotaped by some of these same men.

Albert Dayan acknowledges there was a tape made of a sexual escapade. "That whole escapade was non-criminal in nature. The tape itself revealed that."

Asked if it was assault, Dayan says, "Absolutely not. It is a sexual encounter."

Dayan also says Rusty and his friends do not regret making that tape. "But for that tape they could've been charged for something they did not commit," he says.

The attorneys for the young men say that none of them have been charged in the incident and, so far, no one has been charged in connection George's disappearance.

But all the young men last seen with George continue to live under a cloud of suspicion

"They were trying to help someone. They were trying to help a fellow passenger. And I don't really think that that's been portrayed at all," says Dr. Askin.

"No good deed goes unpunished," says Kofman's attorney, Dayan. "He assisted Mr. Smith to his cabin and look what he found himself involved in."

Although Josh Askin continues to cooperate with the FBI, Rusty Kofman, on the advice of his attorney, has stopped.

"The more he wanted to speak with them, the more he wanted to tell them what happened, the more they accused him of foul play," says Dayan.

The Rozenberg cousins aren't talking to the FBI either but all four young men did provide DNA samples.

The most compelling argument the boys did nothing wrong, says Dr. Askin, is that from day one their story has never changed.

"It was really very simple because that's what happened. There was no reason to change a story. There was nothing to alter. This was basically what happened," he says.

Dr. Askin's tapes seem to support that. In fact, Rusty looked shocked on tape when he heard that blood had been discovered on the canopy.

In one unexplained twist, Royal Caribbean insists to this day that this interrogation never took place.

"According to Royal Caribbean's official statement: Turkish authorities refused the shipís explicit request that the interviews take place on the ship," Storm tells Askin.

But Dr. Askin, who shot the video, asks, "Who are you gonna believe?"

Just 15 hours after George fell, or was pushed overboard, the ship was ready to move on.

Captain Michael Lackdaridis made an announcement to assure passengers it was business as usual.

"The crew and I have been working with the local authorities to investigate whether a person may have gone overboard last night," the captain said over the ship's intercom system. "We hope to have the issue resolved shortly."

"And it was really very casual and my wife and I sat there and looking at each other and we couldn't believe it," Dr. Askin recalls.


 


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Nine months have passed since George Smith vanished into the sea. Still the FBI investigation continues, with no clear answer whether it was an accident or murder.

"I just feel that somebody committed this crime and I want them brought to justice. I donít think they should be walking around out there while my son is dead at the bottom of the sea," says George Smith.

The Smiths are unshakable in their belief. How else to explain the reports of arguing, furniture moving, the blood in the room.

"It was murder. It's clear in my mind that it was murder," says Bree.

48 Hours has confirmed that a small amount of blood was found on a towel, the bedding and possibly on the rug. The FBI has not said whose blood it is.

"It isn't like there was blood all over the room," says Gregg McCrary.

McCrary says blood doesn't necessarily equal murder. "In a crime scene where someone is beaten, you look for cast-off blood and spatter blood, and blood in motion, and all. There was none of that ó at the scene."

But Dr. Henry Lee, the forensic scientist hired by Jenniferís family, says he has found evidence out on the balcony that other investigators may have missed.

Dr. Lee says he found biological evidence.

Asked what falls into that category, Dr. Lee says, "Biological evidence basically involve blood, serum and bodily fluid. But those evidence I cannot discuss right now because this is an active investigation."

Despite a provocative case for foul play, Bryan Burrough thinks Georgeís death was more likely an accident.

"George Smith, like a lot of young American men, enjoyed a cigar. In fact, the smell of cigar smoke had been smelled wafting from his balcony before," says Burrough. "One possible scenario is that George was left alone in his room, wasnít ready to go to bed until his wife came home. Went looking for that last cigar. Went outside. Moving a piece of furniture, a chair up to the railing, and sat on the railing, while he smoked a cigar. He was very, very drunk. It's at least conceivable that he fell overboard while smoking a cigar."
 


 

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Yet nine months later, it's still an open case. All four boys and their families are still living under the scrutiny of the FBI.

"There is no reality of any of this. Itís just a bad dream," says Dr. Askin.

"Have you thought at all about the other family, about the Smiths and what they must be going through?" Storm asks Dr. Askin.

"I canít imagine," he replies. "And I know they have said some things about our son. And one thing they need to understand. He tried to help their son. He liked their son."

The blood on the canopy was washed off within hours of Georgeís disappearance. But that image will haunt the Smiths forever. Now advocates for maritime safety, they're fighting so others won't experience their pain.

"The cruise industry doesn't respect life," says George Smith. "One body to them means nothing."

"If anything comes out of my sonís murder on his cruise ship, it will be that somebody will be saved," Maureen adds.

"As time goes by, it doesnít get better, it getís worse," says Maureen. "Because you donít have that person in your life."

Not only is George gone from their lives. So is Jennifer.

"We welcomed Jennifer back in our home after George disappeared. She was actually the closest thing we had to George. She actually slept in George's bedroom," explains Bree.

But that closeness turned to mistrust as the Smiths came to believe that Jennifer knew more than she was telling them.

"We put some space there. We were frustrated by the lack of information coming from Jennifer and it was difficult for us," Bree recalls.

On June 25th, George Smith and his family should be celebrating his first wedding anniversary. Instead, just ten days later, they will be mourning the first anniversary of his death.

"We just want his murder solved so we can lay him to rest," says Maureen. "And we will not rest until we find out."