Video: Inside Missing Honeymooner's Suite

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updated 1/12/2006 4:59:03 PM ET 2006-01-12T21:59:03

George and Jennifer Smith were enjoying their Royal Caribbean honeymoon cruise last summer when George vanished.  Was it an accident or was it murder?  Speculation, and accusations, have been intense ever since that fateful day.

Rita Cosby has obtained exclusive photos of George and Jennifer Smith's cabin taken after George Smith went missing on July 5 that may indicate possible evidence tampering.  Rita talks with Susan Filan, former prosecutor, and Clint Van Zandt, former FBI Profiler to determine what this new evidence reveals.  Rita was also joined by two new witnesses on the same ship who have given information that goes directly against Royal Caribbean‘s claims of how they handled the investigation.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

RITA COSBY, HOST 'LIVE & DIRECT':  Last night, Lanny Davis, Royal Caribbean attorney, said on our program, "We had photographs taken by ship personnel before the Turkish authorities arrived, after Jennifer left the room.  And what you see as disarray in the room was reported, I think, on your program, you may forget, by Marie, who went into the room to pack up, and she reported that the room was in disarray after Jennifer left."  Susan, what do these photos say to you about the crime scene and how well or well it wasn‘t preserved?

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Well, Rita, I hate to say it, but this does not look like a well-preserved crime scene.  This is troublesome to a prosecutor to see these photographs.  From what I understand from your program last night, it looks like these original photographs were taken by other than law enforcement, which indicates that Royal Caribbean employees, staff, whoever, was in that crime scene before law enforcement could come in and properly preserve it.

This is very disturbing.  And I think, Rita, it does contradict what Royal Caribbean has been saying.  That is also disturbing and troublesome.

COSBY:  You know, Clint, what does it say to you, too, that it was a safety officer, a Royal Caribbean representative, who took the initial crime scene photos before the room was sort of trashed?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI CRIMINAL PROFILER:  Well, you know, Rita, we‘ve been caught up in this “She says, they say.”  And it‘s hard—it‘s getting hard right now to keep your focus because you‘ve got Jennifer Hagel-Smith saying things that the cruise line absolutely dismiss and vice versa.  Neither side has come to an agreement.

As your photograph shows right here, there‘s his jacket hanging.  It seems to be agreed that they came in that night after dinner, he hung up his coat.  Then they went back and gambled again.  The issue is when Royal Caribbean came in that room, finally, after whatever happened in the middle of the night, did they come in and look out the balcony, say, Oh, my God, this is where someone went over the ledge, we better take some photographs and document what the room is and then get back out and preserve the crime scene?  If they did it in that manner, you know, I can live with that.  If they did anything to the room whatsoever to disrupt that crime scene, then I‘ve got a real problem with their being in there.

COSBY:  Let me show, if I could—this is a quote—this is from a press release that Royal Caribbean sent out just a few hours ago sort of explaining --  you know, they said that the first group was taken at 9:00 AM the day that George Smith went missing.  And they say—they admit that, obviously, it was Royal Caribbean who did that.  then the second group, they said all these photos were taken after.  And then again, after the fact that Turkish authorities completed forensic investigation July 5.  Guest relation manager entered Smith‘s cab to pack belongings.  She was also joined by a U.S. consulate official.  July 7, the FBI and U.S.  consulate official boarded the ship and entered the Smith cabin in Greece.

They seem to infer that these things happened after those photos were taken, or actually around the same time.  So we wonder, did they disrupt the room?  We don‘t know who disrupted the room.  Was it Turkish authorities?  And again, all the while, they have maintained that for six days, six straight days, this room was sealed.  Is this the way Turkish authorities go through a room?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, remember, now, Rita, we‘re down to a very critical -

about a 30-minute timeframe between the time that the banging, crashing, smashing was heard inside this room by the deputy police chief next door, and within 40 minutes, we have this passed-out Jennifer Hagel-Smith, who‘s found sleeping on the floor, who‘s brought back in and laid on top of the bed.  So we‘ve got this window of opportunity.

But Rita, I‘ll tell you, as somebody who goes cruise ships quite often, I know that most of the time, the janitorial staff will come in 8:00 o‘clock at night, they‘ll really clean the room.  They‘ll vacuum it.  They‘ll pick it up.  So it look to me perhaps part of that mess is related to this argument, fight, crashing that was heard in that room about 4:00 AM in the morning.  Then the question...

COSBY:  But Clint, quickly—I got to interrupt you because the first...

VAN ZANDT:  Yes?

COSBY:  The first photo they say was taken at 9:00 AM on July 5.  That‘s after the fight took place.

VAN ZANDT:  Sure.

COSBY:  None of these things are on the floor in those photos.

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, but what I‘m saying then, is this the result of the fight that took place in that room the night before?

COSBY:  No, it could not have because they‘re saying it happened on July 5, after George Smith went missing.  They‘re saying the first photo—let‘s go back to the very first photo, Clint, where the coat is hanging over.  There‘s no disruption on the floor.  This photo that you‘re seeing here, Clint, where there‘s nothing on the floor, they said this took place after George Smith went missing.  And then the next photos were taken several days later.

VAN ZANDT:  Well, now the challenge comes, then, did Jennifer do something to the room?  Did the Turkish authorities do something to the room?  When the cruise line came in to pack the clothes and get into the safe, because as your photograph shows, the safe door is open—now we‘ve got anywhere from one, two, up to ten people who may have been in and out of that crime scene, plus the Turkish authorities.  I don‘t know how they‘re going to sort out whose hair, fibers, fingerprints and everything else really belonged in there.

COSBY:  Good point, Clint.   Now, let me bring in for their very first interview are Peggy and Sheldon Sandler.  The Sandlers are two passengers who sailed on that same Royal Caribbean ship at the same time as the Smiths.

How far away were you from the Smiths‘ cabin?

SHELDON SANDLER, CRUISE PASSENGER:  We were four doors down from where the Smiths were.

COSBY:  And the day that George Smith went missing, that he was reported missing on the 5th, you both got off the boat, and then you came back.  What did you see at that point?

SHELDON SANDLER:  The first time we realized something was wrong, we were coming down our hallway.  We were going to put our camera away and go have lunch.  And we saw this gentleman sitting in the middle of the hallway on a card chair with an open suitcase, and he was, like, reading a small book, might even—like a “Reader‘s Digest” book.  And as we came down the hallway, it‘s very unusual to just walk past somebody, so my wife said something to him, Hello, or something, and he kind of ignored us.  So we just went to our cabin, and we put our camera back.  Then we came back and passed him again on the way to lunch.

COSBY:  And Peggy, did you know anything about the blood on the canopy?  And when did you find out what may have happened to George Smith.

PEGGY SANDLER, CRUISE PASSENGER:  Well, the blood on the canopy—we I had my videocamera, but I didn‘t take a picture of it at that point.  And the blood on the canopy, we didn‘t—we—well, we didn‘t know about it until the next day, Rita.

COSBY:  The Greg Purdy, the security officer from Royal Caribbean said to us, "We kept the stateroom sealed for the following six days while we were in communication with the FBI.  So we really felt that we followed this by the book, correctly and responsibly throughout." And I want to get both of you to respond.  They said that that room was sealed off for six days right after July 5.

Now, Sheldon, let me go over to you.  On July 6, the next day, real briefly, what did you see at the cabin?

SHELDON SANDLER:  The very next day, the cabin was closed.  It was the third day that we saw somebody with a canister, with a vacuum cleaner.  The door was open, and he was in there with the vacuum cleaner, cleaning.  He was sweeping the floor and everything like that.

COSBY:  He was sweeping the floor when they said the room was sealed off?

SHELDON SANDLER:  Yes.  It was not sealed off.

COSBY:  What did you see the following day?

SHELDON SANDLER:  The following day, we saw somebody in there, like, dusting or cleaning with cleaning products maybe and, like, wiping down the TV and the—and the bed or whatever, the dresser, the dresser (INAUDIBLE)

PEGGY SANDLER:  I saw them down on their hand and knees, and they were cleaning.  And the door was open, and there were a few people in there cleaning.

COSBY:  Did it look like cleaning folks from the cruise ship, or could it have been investigators?

SHELDON SANDLER:  No, it was...

PEGGY SANDLER:  No.

SHELDON SANDLER:  ... cleaning people.

PEGGY SANDLER:  From the cruise ship.

COSBY:  You‘re sure of that?

SHELDON SANDLER:  Yes.

COSBY:  And you say that they were actually vacuuming and actually washing the floor off?

SHELDON SANDLER:  The third day, they had a canister that was out in the hallway, and I could see them pulling it in and out.  Yes, he was definitely sweeping.  I could hear it going.

COSBY:  What is your reaction when you hear that they say that they were preserving the crime scene for six days and sealing it off?

SHELDON SANDLER:  It was never sealed off.

PEGGY SANDLER:  No.

SHELDON SANDLER:  Like I say, the second day, the door was closed, but I did see somebody go in there from the cruise ship.  Who it was, I don‘t know.  But no, it was never sealed off.  It never had yellow tape on it.  It never had “Do not enter” signs, nothing like that.

COSBY:  And again, both of you are sure?  And how are you sure that these were cruise folks versus investigators on their knees?

SHELDON SANDLER:  Well, they have on the Royal Caribbean shirts.  Or you could just see they were people that worked on the ship.

COSBY:  And again, vacuuming and cleaning the floor?

SHELDON SANDLER:  Yes.

COSBY:  All right, both of you thank you very much.  We appreciate your perspective and love to have you both back on again.

Susan, as you hear this, this is pretty stunning, if, indeed, these people are correct that these were people from Royal Caribbean actually vacuuming, cleaning.  What do you make of that, Susan?

FILAN:  It‘s rotten, Rita!  It‘s rotten to the core.  And I‘m not happy, as a prosecutor, having to say that, basically, what they‘re telling us is a defense lawyer‘s dream.  This makes a tough case even tougher.  Now, I‘m sorry for law enforcement that they have to deal with this potentially deeply contaminated crime scene.  I still think they‘re going to be able do their job.  I know they‘ve got the absolute best people working on this case.

But what it does is it really calls into question the statements that Royal Caribbean is making.  And I think what‘s at issue here now is, as Clint pointed out earlier, we are getting into a “he said, she said,” and that‘s really not where we should be.  Everybody should have put their heads together from the first minute it became clear that he went missing, sealed off that cabin, treated it as a crime scene and preserved it properly, so that law enforcement could get to the bottom of this nightmare for the Smith family.  And it really pains me to hear Royal Caribbean say time after time after time, We did everything right, when what‘s coming out on your show, Rita, is certainly contradictory or certainly calls into question that kind of a statement.

COSBY:  Clint, is there any reason to why, if these people are correct, what they saw—and they seem certain in what they saw—but that there would be vacuuming, cleaning of the floors, those kind of things, two or three days, when the room was supposed to be sealed off?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, my challenge here, Rita, as your show is showing — I mean, this is a hole big enough to drive a truck through right now in the statement that Royal Caribbean has made.  And you know, as an investigator, you can‘t get caught up in the noise from the either family or the cruise line.  You got to stay focused, just like Susan, saying you‘ve got to stay focused on the investigation.  But as an investigator, if somebody‘s telling me now that crime scene has had—you know, has been trampled by everybody and their brother and sister going back and forth through there, then it really makes the FBI rely on cameras, statements, key cards, and the forensic evidence really comes into challenge now.

FILAN:  And we need forensic evidence in this case, Rita, because this is a potential murder case without a body.  That‘s tough to begin with.

COSBY:  Right.  So is it—is the evidence—if there was anything in there, is it—is it potentially damaged?  You still think that there‘s a possibility there might be something there, right?

FILAN:  I do.  Yes, I do.  I really do think law enforcement has worked this case to the best they can.  But look at what they‘re dealing with now.  And I‘m very troubled by what I‘m seeing.  I‘m very disappointed, actually.

COSBY:  Clint, you get the last word.

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, very much so.  There—you know, we‘ve heard there‘s blood in there.  We don‘t know if the blood was from one person, multiple people.  But if you‘re in there scrubbing up everything like that, I mean, you know, even Henry Lee, bless his soul, when he gets in there this week to look around, for all we know—now, in fact, we do know that the carpet‘s been taken out, so whatever happened to that carpet, hopefully, it‘s in the hands of the FBI.  Otherwise, that evidence is history.

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each night at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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