"Not only to lose your memory but to have nobody believe you. I don't know what happened."
-Jennifer Hagel Smith told Oprah Winfrey
It was the 4th of July 2005. A Monday. Twenty six year old George Smith had more than one reason to celebrate that day. He was on his honeymoon. George married his girlfriend of three years, Jennifer Hagel, at the Castle Hill Inn & Resort in Newport, Rhode Island, United States on the 25th of June 2005. They met in 2002 in Newport when he spent the Summer there.
George worked in his father's very successful liquor store, Cos Cob Liquor, in Greenwich, Connecticut. As a child he lived with his parents, George and Maureen, and his sister Bree in neighboring Glenville. He was well known at school. He was tall, 6 ft 3inches, and handsome and loved sport especially basketball. He was on the football team at Greenwich High before being sidelined by a bout of mononucleosis. But there was a lot more to George than his looks and sport. He was a deep thinker and he cared a lot about things.
Jennifer Hagel and George Smith
George went to Babson College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he studied computer science and received a business degree. After college, he worked at a computer firm in Stamford, Connecticut but he couldn't stay away from home for long though and he told his father in 2003 that he wanted to work in the liquor store and his father was more than happy for him to join the family business.
When George moved back, he found an apartment close to the store and began making changes. He built a website for the store and updated the computer system. He wanted to expand the business into internet sales. When he met Jennifer, she moved in with him. She wanted to be a school teacher and after her honeymoon, she was to begin a new job teaching third-graders. When they married, they seemed like a great match. They had their future planned and things looked bright.
For their honeymoon, they booked a 12 day cruise of the Mediterranean on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Brilliance of the Seas. They bought a package valued at $10,000 and that included a mid-ship stateroom, portside on the 9th deck and a cabin with a balcony overlooking the ocean. The trip included stops at ports including Barcelona, the French Riviera, Rome, and the Greek Islands.
A couple of days after their Wedding, George and Jennifer flew to Barcelona in Spain and two days later, they boarded the multi tiered cruise ship in Barcelona to begin the twelve day cruise.
Brilliance of the Seas is one of the largest of Royal Caribbean's 19 ships. There are 12 passenger decks and it normally sails 52 weeks a year, the summers are spent off the coast of Europe and the winters in the Caribbean. There are usually some 850 employees and can accommodate 2500 guests. When Jennifer and George were on the ship, there were around 2,300 guests on it, most of them Americans.
Their room was Stateroom 9062. It was a narrow room, not much space but it had a balcony and that was the main attraction. There was a couch on one side, cabinets on the other, and a double bed next to the balcony's sliding door.
On the 4th of July, the ship stopped at the port at Mykonos and Jennifer and George spent the day looking around the Island. They met the actress Tara Reid, who was filming there and thought it would be one of many fun stories they could share when they got home. When they got back on the ship that evening, they had dinner in one of the restaurants on the ship. That night, the 4th of July, the Brilliance of the Seas, left the Greek island of Mykonos, in the Aegean Sea and was scheduled to reach the Turkish port of Kusadasi around dawn.
The next morning, the 5th of July, the cruise security and some of the crew found Jennifer at the Spa on the ship just after 10am. She was booked in to have a treatment. It was supposed to be a couple’s treatment but George wasn’t with her. She was asked if she knew where George was and when she said that she didn't, she was informed that there had been an incident. At 8.30am that morning, a blood stain was found. The stain, which was several feet long was found on the almost 12-foot wide metal overhang protecting the life boats and was located below their cabin's balcony. The crew focused on a number of rooms above the overhang and everyone was accounted for except George and Jennifer. When Jennifer was found at the Spa, that meant that the only person missing was George. And it was presumed he went overboard and that the blood was George's blood. But what happened to George?
Blood on the overhang
As the ship was now docked at the Turkish port of Kusadasi, the Turkish authorities took over the investigation and they had to confirm whether George got back on the ship after spending the day in Mykonos and if so what happened to George in the few hours between the evening of 4th of July and 8.30am on the morning of the 5th of July, when the blood was discovered on the overhang.
The investigation revealed that George and Jennifer did in fact get back on the ship after spending the day in Mykonos and when they were back on the ship, they had dinner. By all accounts, they had a great time at dinner. After dinner, they went to the casino on the ship. It was around midnight. And that was when things seemed to take a somewhat darker turn for George and Jennifer.
Jennifer told authorities that she could not remember what happened. She said that she had no recollection of the night. They drank heavily that night in the casino. But Jennifer insisted that she had never been so drunk before that she could not remember anything so she did not know what made that night so different. Due to Jennifer claiming she had no recollection, authorities had to rely on the multiple security cameras on the ship. They obtained a copy of the casino security cameras and on the footage Jennifer can be seen at the blackjack table. George was seen at the craps table. And he was sitting beside a man called Josh Askin.
A CCTV Still of George Smith at the casino
Josh spoke to the authorities. He was on the cruise with his parents and was from California and met George and Jennifer on the ship. It emerged that throughout the course of that night, Jennifer, George and Josh were also in the company of three other men they met on the ship, Russian-American students, cousins Zachary and Greg Rozenberg, and their friend, Rusty Kofman.
Due to Josh's account, the cameras on the ship, some witness accounts and the electronic room keys every guest has and needs which documents everything down to the second when and where a cabin door is opened, a timeline of the group's activity emerged when the ship was in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, between the evening of the 4th of July and the early hours of the 5th of July.
After the ship left Greece, it was established that Jennifer and George went to the casino after dinner. The casino was on deck six. According to Josh, there was a lot of heavy drinking that night at the casino. He told authorities that George and Jennifer gambled at separate tables and he noticed that Jennifer was getting close to the casino manager, a South African man called Lloyd Botha.
According to Josh, when the casino closed at 2.30am on the 5th of July, he headed to the disco bar with George, Jennifer, Zachary, Greg and Rusty. Josh told authorities that they weren't alone in the elevator. Lloyd and one of his dealers were there too. He believed that Lloyd made a move on Jennifer in front of George in the elevator but according to Josh, George was too heavily intoxicated to notice. Josh believed he saw Jennifer and Lloyd together again when they got to the disco bar on deck thirteen. Other witnesses recalled Jennifer and George arguing at one point during the night and Jennifer storming off.
George Smith and Jennifer Hagel
Inside the disco bar, George, Josh, Zachary, Greg and Rusty sat around a table. One of them produced a bottle of alcohol, Absinthe. It was a drink that was not sold on the ship and in fact has a reputation for being a kind of hallucinogenic.
They sat around doing shooters of absinthe until the barman told them the bar was closing at 3.30am.
At that stage, just after 3.30am, the four men walked George back to his room. His room was on deck nine. They do not know where Jennifer was. When they reached the room, Jennifer wasn't inside and George wanted to look for her so the five of them left and at 3.45am, they went to the Jacuzzi in the solarium area as it was known that that was the spot on the ship where people would hook up after hours. But she wasn't there so they went back to George's room at 4am.
It was at that point when the events of the night get more difficult to follow.
According to Josh, the five of them were inside George's room. Josh used the bathroom and the three other men tucked George in. They put him on his bed, removed his shoes and left the room saying:
"Goodbye goodbye, let’s go we’re outta here."
According to Josh, he left at the same time as the three Russian-American men did. He went to their room and they ordered a huge amount of room service at 4.30am and it arrived at their room at 4.45am. Josh claimed that he was back in his own bed in his own room by 5.15am.
But, the man in the room beside George's room gave a different account. Clete Hyman, a California police officer was in the cabin next door with his wife and he woke at 4am on the morning of the 5th of July. He woke due to loud noises:
“A little after 4 o’clock in the morning, we were awakened by what I’d call loud cheering, something like a college drinking game. This happened two distinct times.”
Clete heard loud voices,he thought there were at least six voices, for more than fifteen minutes coming from George's room. He then heard male voices in normal conversation for a few minutes and then what sounded like an argument on the balcony. He heard a voice repeatedly saying goodnight at 4.15am and the sound of a door opening and voices in the hallway.
Clete looked out of his own door into the hallway and saw three men walking down the hallway. Clete went back inside his room and heard a single male voice moving about speaking in a conversational tone and loud noises, like the sound of cupboard doors being closed loudly or slammed shut, and the sound of furniture being moved and the sound of someone moving on to the balcony. He heard what he believed was the sound of the metal chairs being moved on the balcony and then the noise stopped. It was quiet. But the silence only lasted around three minutes. At 4.20am, he heard what he described as a "horrific thud.”
Authorities believed that the horrific thud that Clete heard at 4.20am was the sound of George going overboard. But they had to establish how that happened. Did George fall overboard or was he pushed?
Clete's version of events and Josh's account did not match. According to Josh, all four men left George's room at the same time but Clete only saw three men walking down the hallway and he heard a male voice and noise in George's room after that. Did one of the men stay behind?
Pat and Greg Lawyer also spoke to the authorities. They were in the cabin on the other side of the Smiths, and they too were woken by noise but only heard three male voices in the hallway before the noise began. They heard the cabin door open and what they believed was the sound of furniture being moved. Greg said that there was a lot of noise, it sounded like things were being thrown against the wall and sounds like shuffles and bangs against the wall. The banging ended with one loud thud, like the couch or the sofa thrown against the wall, at around 4.20am.
Around ten minutes later, at 4.30am, they heard knocks on George's door and saw two uniformed ship personnel standing outside the Smith cabin.The cruise line confirmed they were ship’s security officers. They were there responding to a noise complaint Clete made to security just after 4 am that morning. They did not observe anything unusual and there was no noise so they left. They did not enter the cabin.
Authorities also retraced Jennifer’s steps. Her whereabouts were unknown from 3.20am until 4.30am that morning. Rusty's lawyer claimed that Rusty said there was tension between George and Jennifer at the disco and he observed Jennifer kicking George in his groin and storming out of the disco. According to Zach, Rusty and Josh,Lloyd followed after her. But the investigation revealed that Lloyd went back to his cabin that he shared with his girlfriend at 3.15am that morning. According to some accounts, it is believed Jennifer left the disco bar at 3.20am that morning alone and a custodian on deck thirteen thought she needed assistance and helped her get back to deck nine, the deck where her room was.
Jennifer was found at 4.30am by a ship security guard. She was on the floor of the corridor on deck nine, the same deck that her room was on. Just before 5 am, they took Jennifer back to her cabin. They needed a wheelchair to help to bring her back as she appeared to be intoxicated. They did not notice anything unusual inside the room and George was not there.
Jennifer Hagel and George Smith
Between 5am and 8am, Jennifer slept and at 8am, she went to her Spa appointment.
Even with all the cameras and witness accounts, the question as to what happened to George remains unanswered. There are many theories as to what happened based on the various accounts of the night. One theory is that there was a robbery. Some people on the ship believed George had a lot of money, he didn't, but some were aware he went back to the room at one point during the night to get more cash for the casino. There was talk of a win at the casino and George wore an expensive Breitling watch. Did the four men who were with George in his room leave at the same time? They all insisted that they did but Clete only saw three men leaving and he heard a single male voice inside the room after that and the sounds of cupboards being opened and slammed shut. Did one man stay behind to find the money and take George's watch?
Photographs taken by Royal Caribbean inside the Smith cabin revealed two small lines of blood on the bed sheets.
Rusty Kofman's lawyer, when asked by 48 Hours why three men were only seen by Clete walking down the hallway, claimed that Clete made a mistake and said:
"Rusty is a pretty wide type of a young man. I believe that the witness just failed to observe the fourth one."
Did three men leave and one stay behind? Was the voice Clete heard actually just George talking loudly to himself? Royal Caribbean documents show complaints were made against some of the Russian-American men for smoking, sneaking liquor and verbally abusing ship employees. Just two days after George went overboard, a sexual assault allegation was made.
An eighteen year old passenger on the ship claimed that she was in the Russian-Americans room and she was intoxicated. She claimed she blacked out but between blackouts recalled having non consensual sex with Greg, Rusty and Jeffrey -Zach's younger brother. They videotaped it. Rusty's lawyer said that the sex was consensual.
Josh did not have sex with the woman but he was present at the time.
No one has ever been charged in the sexual incident and lawyers for the men believe the tape saved them.
The FBI obtained the tape and the tape revealed a further incident. The Russian-Americans filmed themselves having lunch just hours after George went overboard. Josh was not present. In the video, they commented on George's death in a callous manner. They laughed and joked and referred to him as being wealthy.
CBS News reported that on the tape, Rusty refers to George going "parachute riding" off his balcony. One of the men stands up at the end of the tape and flashes gang signs and states:
"Told ya I was gangsta."
The possibility that George’s death was the result of an accident was also looked at. Both witnesses either side of the Smith cabin noticed one of the metal balcony chairs had been turned around. The back of the chair was near the railing. The railing was four foot in height. Did George sit up on the railing to have a cigarette and fall?
The FBI officially closed George’s case as they believed they did not have enough evidence to prove it was a homicide and not an accident.
George’s parents and sister believe that the blood found inside George's room and the noises heard by witnesses on either side of his cabin are indications that there was foul play and a struggle inside George’s room before his death.
Jennifer Hagel on Oprah
Jennifer spoke about that night on Oprah:
"I remember being at the casino, I remember being around George. I remember very vaguely leaving the casino area to go to this revolving bar and then I remember nothing. We must have been drinking heavily. I don't remember anything."
Jennifer married again in 2009.
In 2010, Greg Rozenberg was serving a three year sentence in prison in Florida for trafficking oxycodone. He claimed he did it to fund his expensive lifestyle and taste as he was fanatic about clothes, jewelry and watches. A few years after he was released Greg was murdered in front of his Davie home and police believe whoever murdered him had targeted him.
The mystery and questions surrounding George’s death may never be answered.
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