Several months after Amy Lynn Bradley’s disappearance while vacationing with her family on Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, Iva and Ron Bradley receive an email from Frank Jones. Jones proclaimed himself to be a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer working with a team of ex-Army Rangers and ex-Navy Seals under his command in special ops missions. Jones assured the Bradleys his team had the experience and credentials to rescue Amy. With information Amy had been kidnapped and held on the Dutch island of Curacao and little progress made in the federal investigation, Jones offered a glimmer of hope to Amy’s parents.
Jones convinced the Bradleys to hire him in what could be defined as a private investigator role to provide surveillance of a location where there had been a potential sighting of Amy and report back to the distressed parents. Once hired, Jones claimed he sent four of his men to Curacao, assigned to develop information and confirm Amy was alive. Once confirmed he would be begin planning a rescue mission. One source of information was Judith Margaritha, a resident of Curacao, introduced to the Bradleys by acquaintances who were also residents of the island. Margaritha claimed she had knowledge Amy was being held in a barbed wire complex protected by heavily armed guards. She accurately described Amy’s tattoos and even referenced a lullaby Iva Bradley sang to Amy when she was a baby. Margaritha also claimed Amy was often seen with a man with long blonde hair and one arm sleeved with tattoos. With knowledge the Netherland Antilles is a major hub for illegal activity and sex-trafficking, the Bradleys felt they had finally received information that would help rescue their daughter. A special ops mission conducted by experienced former military seemed like the only way to infiltrate an organized crime entity in Curacao. Just like in a Hollywood movie, the operation moved forward to rescue Amy.
Jones provided a report indicating two of his Ex-Navy Seals set up surveillance locations on the island and observed Amy in a SUV driven by a man with long blond hair. Jones claimed Amy was under armed guard and in imminent danger. This information only seemed to validate the leads Margaritha had provided. Jones’ report further claimed his men were forced to leave the island after being fired upon by approximately ten armed men. Over the next few months, Jones kept payments coming by reporting to the family he had sent more operatives to the island, followed by reporting the latest sightings of their daughter.
Motivated by the hope Amy had been identified and would soon to be rescued, the cost of bringing Amy home was not to be an obstacle. While exhausting their personal savings, the family also sought help from donors and nonprofit organizations to continue to raise the necessary funds that would be needed bring Amy home alive. When the Bradleys’ received communication from Jones stating he was ready to launch the rescue mission and needed more money, the Bradley’s requested some kind of proof. Jones sent them a picture of a young woman on a beach accompanied by the ‘mysterious’ man with long blond hair and tattoos. The woman was wearing a long-brimmed hat, making it difficult to see her face but the tattoos, one of a baby Tasmanian devil and a symbol on her ankle, jumped out of the picture at Amy’s family. Desperate to know their daughter was alive and not wanting to waste any time, they immediately had the pictures forensically examined. “When I got the pictures, I knew Amy was OK, and it was just a matter of time,” recalls Iva Bradley, who recognized the tattoo on her daughter’s ankle. Upon confirmation the photographs were real and likely their daughter, the Bradleys proceeded to pay Jones.
After receiving payment, Jones directed the Bradleys to travel to Florida to wait his call indicating the mission was a success and immediately depart to Curacao to be reunited with their daughter. Overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing the phone could ring at any moment, during the week that followed, Iva recalls only leaving the room two times to go to the front desk and the parking lot. A Lear jet, provided by Ron Bradley’s employer was on hold awaiting immediate departure upon receiving notification Amy was ready to transport home. Every minute was never-ending while awaiting news of their daughter’s rescue but a week passed without any word from Jones.
Meanwhile, in Curacao, one of Jones team, Timothy Buckholz, a former Army Special Forces sniper, began to wonder if Jones was telling Amy’s parents the truth. Buckholz had been assigned to head up surveillance at the location where Jones had said Amy was under armed guard however, Buckholz had only observed what appeared to be an ordinary family living at the location. While at a bar, Buckholz overheard Jones on the phone telling the Bradleys that the location was under constant surveillance and ‘his men’ were watching the house at that very moment. Buckholz then suspected Jones was conning Amy’s family and immediately contacted the Bradleys to expose Jones.
The Bradleys had expended approximately $24,000 of their personal savings and over $180,000 from the Amy Bradley fund at the Nation’s Missing Children Organization, a nonprofit that provided assistance to the family and held a restricted fund specifically for costs related to search and recovery. Utter devastation followed when the Bradleys were informed by Buckholz, that Jones had never served in the Special Forces and had fabricated the entire story, even the photograph of the woman they thought was their daughter was deceptive. The entire story began to unravel. How could someone con a family into thinking their daughter was alive? How could someone plot and go to the extent of fabricating such an elaborate story? The pain the Bradleys were experiencing was unimaginable.
Later, Jono Senk, who had been working with Jones, told authorities he wore a blond wig, posing as the kidnapper. According to Senk they staged the photograph on a Pensacola beach with a young woman who resembled Amy and was an acquaintance of Jones. They even went to the extent of having two temporary tattoos matching Amy’s painted on the woman’s back and ankle to fool the Bradley’s into thinking it was their missing daughter.
As it turned out, Judith Margaritha’s story that she had seen Amy in a guarded compound in Curacao was also false. Giovanni Margaritha, the son of Judith Margaritha, stated what his mother had done was a lie. He later said in a media interview, “It’s just using Amy’s mother as a way of stealing.” Margaritha maintained she had never lied to Amy’s parents but had been paid approximately $8,000.00 for her information.
In February 2002, federal prosecutors in Richmond charged Jones with defrauding the Bradleys of $24,444 and the Nation’s Missing Children Organization of $186,416.00. In April 2002, Jones pleaded guilty to mail fraud, was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to repay the money. Judge Richard L. Williams imposed an enhanced sentence on Joes, twice the maximum called for by federal guidelines. Jones conviction was an end to an unbelievable journey but not the end of the family’s hope.
The Bradleys are not the first or the last family of a missing person to be preyed upon by those claiming they can help find a victim. When a loved one goes missing and the case is publicized, especially high profile media cases, frantic families become an immediate target of unscrupulous individuals claiming they have information as to the missing person’s whereabouts. Psychics, tipsters, and those claiming to be credentialed and reputable private investigators have invaded family’s lives in order to fraudulently benefit from monetary gain.
When your child is missing, families have no choice but to extend trust to those they feel have credible information. During an interview, Ron Bradley later told Primetime, “If there’s a chance, what else do you do?” Ron Bradley says. “If it was your child, what would you do? I guess we took a chance. And I guess we lost.”
Despite, the few who prey upon other’s misfortune, there are many more good people who are willing to do the right thing and help families in distress. Unless one has experienced the psychological trauma associated with ambiguous loss cause by the ‘not knowing’ if someone you love is safe, one may never understand the sheer determination possessed by families of the missing. Giving up the search for your missing loved one is never an option. The Bradleys epitomize the meaning of courage when faced with unimaginable adversity in their search for their daughter. One thing is certain; the heart never gives up hope!
FBI.GOV – Amy Bradley
Amy Bradley – Official Site
Author – Kym L. Pasqualini
Founder of National Center for Missing Adults
& Social Network Advocate
Missing Persons Network