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Unsolved Mysteries: Whatever happened to Merrian Carver?

As some of you know, I was fortunate enough to be the writer-expert for a true crime documentary show called Cruise Ship Killers, which tells the stories of twenty-six people who vanished, died mysteriously, or were the victims of other crimes while on board a cruise. (Names and other identifying details were changed on the show for legal reasons.)

This was the story that haunted me most.

In August 2004, a 40-year-old red-haired poet and investment banker named Merrian Carver boarded the Mercury, one of Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity cruise ships. She embarked upon a seven-day cruise from Seattle, Washington to Alaska.

Her steward, Domingo Monteiro, found her to be personable, relaxed, and looking forward to the cruise. She told him she planned to go upstairs later, but did not want to visit the dining room. When she mentioned the same wish the following night, he suggested ordering room service, and then brought her two sandwiches at her request.

That was the last known sighting of Merrian alive.

The Vanishing

When Monteiro checked on Merrian’s cabin the following morning, her bed had not been slept in. A generous tip and a manilla envelope with unknown contents had been left behind, along with all of her belongings, including her only shoes. He reported her missing right away and continued to report her missing for the remaining five days of the cruise, until his supervisor ordered him to “do his job and forget it.”

Once the cruise ended with no sign of Merrian, Monteiro again raised his concerns with his supervisor, who told him to box up Merrian’s personal belongings and bring them to his office. No one secured her cabin. No one collected evidence. The supervisor put her belongings in his own locker, except for her clothing, which was promptly donated to charity. No one filed a police report; no one contacted the family. The Royal Caribbean did contact the FBI, but not until Merrian had been missing for five weeks.

Meanwhile, Merrian’s 13-year-old daughter, who lived with her dad, grew concerned when she couldn’t reach her mother on the telephone. Frantic, she contacted Kendall Carver, Merrian’s dad, who reported his daughter missing to the Cambridge, Massachusetts police when he also couldn’t reach her. Through investigating her financial records, the police discovered credit-card charges for the round trip to Seattle and the Alaskan cruise.

None of Merrian’s family members or friends had any idea she’d gone on a cruise, but this wasn’t out of character. Merrian was single, independent, and she had been known to take other trips when she needed to “clear her head,” without necessarily letting anyone know. When Carver contacted Royal Caribbean to confirm his daughter had been on the ship, it took them three days to get back to him. By this point, she had been missing for twenty-six days. A risk-management manager for the cruise line told him that no alarm had been raised after his daughter’s disappearance, since it was “normal” for people to leave their belongings behind, and “normal” for them to suddenly change their rooms without notice.

A Living Hell

Carver’s living hell was about to begin. According to his own words in assorted testimonies and media reports, the grieving father met with roadblocks whenever he tried to get answers about what had happened to his daughter. He was told the ship’s surveillance cameras automatically erase any footage after only three days. The cruise line maintained they’d had no reports about his daughter during the cruise, and refused to reveal the name of Merrian’s steward.

Frustrated, Carver hired one of the largest private investigation firms in the country, but this resulted in more questions than answers. The investigator was allowed onto the ship, but wasn’t permitted to speak to anyone, including the ship’s security officer. He did report that it was a short walk from Merrian’s room to an observation deck 100 feet above the waterline. She easily could have been pushed–or have jumped–from this deck. Carver hired Massachusetts and Florida lawyers to dig in the case, which resulted in two cruise-line employees giving telephone depositions in January 2005.

This was when Carver learned that someone had cared about his daughter, and he was even more distressed when he discovered that a cruise-line supervisor had brushed off her steward’s fears. The supervisor who’d dismissed the steward’s concerns was fired and ushered off the ship before the FBI could speak to him. He has never been named or located, though many believe he found work on a different ship. The manilla envelope and the money Merrian had left in her room disappeared with him, along with other personal belongings.

Merrian and Kendall Carver

Merrian and Kendall Carver

Suing the Cruise Line

Finally, feeling out of options, Carver filed a lawsuit against the Royal Caribbean. The case went to trial in August 2005, which was when he at last saw a copy of the security report, which he felt clearly indicated a cover up. He also learned he’d been lied to about the surveillance footage, which had been kept for one month, not three days. There should have still been footage from the time his daughter disappeared when he first contacted them.

During the trial, the cruise line released an official statement to the media, claiming that Merrian had “severe emotional problems, had attempted suicide before, and appears to have committed suicide on our ship.” (Suicide is often the excuse when passengers go missing.)

Carver went on to win his lawsuit, but it was a hollow victory. All told, he’d spent $75,000 on investigators and lawyers and still had no idea what had happened to his daughter, though he believed her to be deceased. Sadly, he passed away in December 2019 without ever finding out what became of Merrian. To help others avoid the pain and suffering he’d gone through, Carver founded International Cruise Victims, an advocacy and support group, in 2006.

More weirdness

  • Merrian booked passage on the cruise only two days before it sailed, and brought two handbags, but no suitcases, on board. She had one pair of shoes and one dress, both of which were left in her room when she vanished. If she walked to the observation deck to commit suicide, she did it in her underwear.
  • Merrian didn’t use the cruise ship’s “currency card” during the two days she was on board.
  • There was no record of her leaving the ship.
  • A former crew member contacted Carver and told him that Merrian had been having a relationship with another, unidentified crew member.

Unfortunately, when Merrian’s marriage ended in divorce in 2000 and she lost custody of her daughter, she sank into a deep depression and threatened suicide. Though there is no evidence she even attempted suicide in the past, this history gave the Royal Caribbean the ammunition it needed. However, her steward insisted that she did not seem upset, out of sorts, sad or angry. And if she planned on committing suicide, why the round-trip ticket? If the manilla envelope contained a suicide note, why didn’t the cruise line release it, since it would have proven their theory?

One thing many tourists don’t realize is that “American” cruise ships fly under foreign flags, which allows them to circumvent US laws and taxes. When a crime is committed on a cruise ship, it rarely is investigated properly or promptly reported. An average of ten Americans disappear from cruise ships every year.

What do you think happened to Merrian? Her father was a hero. I wish I could have spoken to him before he passed away. RIP, Kendall Carver.

Thank you to Jamie Barnett, President of the ICV, for his assistance and support with this post.

Are you a fan of unsolved mysteries? Perhaps you can help us figure out what happened to Julie Weflen.

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24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    On the face of it, suicide does seem to be a likely option, but with the lack of evidence we will probably never know.

    Reply
    • JH

      I honestly think someone killed her; I don’t believe it was suicide. Everyone has dark moments in their lives, and it’s a shame they can be used against us if we go missing. The same thing happened with Elisa Lam.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      This is a very intriguing story but I can’t help but think she committed suicide because of what she brought on the cruise with her. She had made her decision and once they make that decision they do seem happy. It’s a shame and I am shocked by how many disappearances occur on cruise ships

      Reply
      • JH

        Me too, Birgit. It’s really scary. One thing I learned from Cruise Ship Killers: never use the casino, or tell people you’re going to the washroom.

        Reply
  2. Avatar

    I wonder if she was in a relationship with the steward’s supervisor and that’s why he covered it up. What a frustrating story.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re not the only one who has that theory, Alex–good call. His reaction does seem strange.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Wow, this is incredibly crazy on a number of levels — not the least of which is the way that cruise ships operate with impunity and no sense for the safety of their passengers. They truly are the wild west.

    I’m wondering, though: How does anyone know how many clothes Merrian brought on board? How did they come to the conclusion that if she jumped, it would have been done in her underwear?

    Great, terrifying story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hey Randee…I believe that information came from the steward, who spent a fair amount of time speaking to her and preparing her room for bedtime, etc. He noticed she only had two handbags (purses), one dress, and one pair of sandals. During at least one of his visits, she was wearing a nightshirt and underwear. So she didn’t bring a lot of clothes with her. I wonder if she’d planned to buy some in one of the ports.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        I believe the key to this story is her lack of luggage, clothes etc Suicide is pretty likely.

        Reply
        • JH

          There are other explanations for that, though. And if she committed suicide, why did the cruise ship staff act so suspiciously and try their best to cover it up?

          Reply
  4. Avatar

    Such a tragedy that these crimes (I believe it WAS a crime) can be covered up so easily, leaving no closure or justice for the families.

    Reply
    • JH

      I feel the same way, Kimberly–that it was a crime. It’s so easy to claim every disappearance on a cruise ship is suicide–too easy.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    That’s terrible that the cruise line basically covered it up.

    Reply
    • JH

      The lengths they’ll go to are really shocking, even when it’s one of their own staff members who vanishes.

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    What a fascinating, yet scary, and helpless story! Poor dad. I can’t believe cruise ship employees would cover stories like these up. Why? Wouldn’t they want to find out the truth if someone disappears? The entire set-up was a bit weird (why did she not have a suitcase?). Obviously, it was a last-minute decision to go on this cruise (with her lover, a crew member?), but why would someone kill her? More questions than answers from my end as well!

    Reply
    • JH

      Good questions. Sadly, we’ll probably never know the answers.

      Why wouldn’t the cruise-ship employees want to find out the truth? Liability. Cruise lines are notorious for covering up crimes and cases of negligence to avoid getting sued (or having their ship docked for weeks due to a crime-scene investigation).

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    Fascinating story. My overall impression is that more than one person is covering up, for reasons of their own. The cruise liner company most definitely withheld vital information – if you were being charitable you could say through total incompetence on their part. Or was it something more sinister? But somebody outside that company knows something. So, we have a number of people each with their own agenda, and this poor woman is caught in the middle of it. Will we ever know the truth? I tend to doubt it. There are simply too many cooks stirring this particular pot of murky broth.
    On a whole other topic – I really enjoyed Mask of Ghosts, J.H. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Cat. I so appreciate your support and the lovely review!

      It would be “nice” to think it was mere incompetence on the part of the cruise line, but it does seem like they were deliberately covering something up. Why wouldn’t the steward’s supervisor have sounded an alarm when informed she was missing…if he had nothing to hide? Why wasn’t the FBI or other authorities given the opportunity to speak to him?

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    ever wonder why cruise ships are not registered in the united states? i believe this is one of the reasons why. they would have too many lawsuits because they take responsibility for NOTHING. i have been on numerous cruises, but will probably never step on board one again. i too believe she was murdered. i read a lot of true crime, watch documentaries, id tv, forensic files….the criminal mind fascinates me. congratulations on the documentary

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Sherry. Not to mention the tax breaks they get!

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I can’t believe she left because she had a daughter, and unless she was drastically suicidal, no mom would do that. What a tragic story.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, JD. It’s so sad, and I also don’t think she would have left her daughter.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    My parents went on a cruise from Seattle to Alaska. They really enjoyed it. After finding out more about these cruise ships, I don’t think I’ll follow their example.
    The cruise lines are currently losing a massive amount of money daily, with their ships just sitting around.

    Reply
    • JH

      Couldn’t happen to nicer companies, Mark. They’re floating petri dishes at the best of times.

      I feel the same. Spending my holiday on a floating hotel never appealed, but even less so now.

      Reply

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