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.
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.
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.
- 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 sail 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.
On the face of it, suicide does seem to be a likely option, but with the lack of evidence we will probably never know.
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.
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
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.
Oh, that was kind of a joke, but from the show, that’s when people tended to disappear. They either gambled and won quite a bit of money, or they said they were going to the bathroom, and WERE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. 😀 Seriously!
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.
You’re not the only one who has that theory, Alex–good call. His reaction does seem strange.
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.
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.
I believe the key to this story is her lack of luggage, clothes etc Suicide is pretty likely.
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?
Yep. My theory: sailing was a last-minute decision to meet up with the crew member with whom she was having a relationship. She threw a few things into a bag, intending to buy new things in port. The guy she was in a relationship with panicked at her appearance (could have had another woman on board, could have thought the relationship had been a fling and freaked out when she showed up on his ship, who knows?). He killed her and tossed her overboard. The steward’s supervisor might have suspected and covered up the killing for that reason, or the cruise line could have instructed employees to cover up evidence of crimes to protect their reputation.
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.
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.
Given the last minute cruise reservation, one outfit, the divorce and losing custody of her daughter, I believe Merriam committed suicide. She spent time by herself and didn’t want to go to the dinner. I believe she left the large amount of tip for the gentleman who was concerned most about her disappearance. There was also an envelope which may have included a suicide note. Maybe the supervisor steward thought he may get into trouble having to report a suicide. Maybe he was worried about losing his job so he covered up the suicide and took the suicide letter and money. This was a strange cruise case. People who are determined and serious about committing suicide are good at hiding sadness. To me, suicide is a silent because we don’t always recognize the signs until they’ve passed.
That’s terrible that the cruise line basically covered it up.
The lengths they’ll go to are really shocking, even when it’s one of their own staff members who vanishes.
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!
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).
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. 🙂
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?
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
Thanks, Sherry. Not to mention the tax breaks they get!
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.
I agree, JD. It’s so sad, and I also don’t think she would have left her daughter.
I disagree. Suicidal people are not thinking clearly. They are not thinking of the the pain and devastation they are going to leave behind. Happens every single day.
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.
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.
Hi J.H., did you see the post by a Law firm that bones were found on a Canadian island and they think they are Merrians?
The “cover up” may not be as mysterious as it seems. Many corporations in the vacation industry hide things from their patrons that aren’t even their fault in a misguided attempt to keep precious normalcy. Hundreds of books have been written about Disney and the odd practices at their theme parks where they go to great lengths cover up medical episodes that are not their fault because they don’t want to alarm people. I’m not saying there wasn’t a crime here, but it could just be money hungry corporate goons trying to eliminate hysteria to preserve the almighty bottom line.
I can’t say I ever seriously considered going on a cruise: trapped on a boat with strangers isn’t my idea of fun. But now I am that much less likely to ever subject myself to that “pleasure.” Though, I now think it’s a great setting for a thriller novel.
Definitely something fishy here, and I don’t mean Alaskan salmon. Don’t think I’ll be going on any cruises.
Frightening. It’s horrible that cruise lines have so much power to do whatever they please and cover up anything that is questionable. The supervisor probably knows what happened. They might have erased the surveillance tapes when they saw the crime. Her poor dad.
Just saw the episode and it was a real eye-opener. Do you know anything about the claims by Canadian authorities that they thought the found Merrian’s bones?
Yes, it’s safe to assume those were not her remains, as it’s never been confirmed. Neither her family or International Cruise Victims, the organization her father founded, were notified.
I’m always skeptical of pulling the “suicide card” but it seems quite obvious here. She didn’t tell anyone she was going (even if that was uncommon, she had recently gone through a divorce and custody battle), she took next to nothing with her as if she doesn’t need much. If she jumped off her balcony, it’s not that far fetched that she would not wear shoes or even many clothes (after all, she’s committing suicide). I think it had some “cover up” because no cruise wants to be the latest in a lost guest. It’s not good publicity and results in very costly lawsuits. Sometimes the obvious is the answer. It’s not uncommon for people to commit suicide on a cruise 🚢
That doesn’t explain why the steward who was concerned for her was told to keep his mouth shut, or why her belongings were disposed of and her family was not notified. There is absolutely no strong indication or proof that she committed suicide, especially since there was no record of her leaving her room. It was not unusual for Merrian to go off on spur-of-the-moment trips without telling anyone, and since her daughter was staying with her ex-husband for the summer, it might have seemed like a good opportunity.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I ask all commenters to keep in mind that Merrian’s daughter and other family members are still alive and may see this post and the comments.
Just wanted to comment, I see so many people disparaging cruise lines here, but really how many crimes happen every day to people on land- based vacations? There’s just not one industry to “blame” in that case. That said, this case really disturbed me, due to the cover up by the cruise line (one I happen to sail on).
I also thought it odd that she brought so few things or that the cabin steward knew what she brought, it’s kind of creepy that he looked in her closet long enough to take inventory. Maybe his concern wasn’t that genuine and he knew something.
Sorry for the late response. The amount of people who go missing or who are murdered on cruise lines is disproportionate. Also, it’s the way these incidents tend to be handled that is of even greater concern.
The cabin steward only looked in her closet once she’d been missing and when he was trying to figure out what had happened to her. He was the only one on that ship that genuinely cared, who raised an alarm, and who tried to find her.
Well seems to me she was having an affair with an unnamed cruise member. I would bet he was married and wanted to keep it hush. That’s why she never said a word to anyone about he going in a cruise. My guess is she was pregnant and he didn’t want any part of that. So he killed her. If this happened as a cruise meme wr he probably knew every nook and cranny of the ship. Everyone would assume she went overboard. No body was ever found. I think he lured her to a trap pretending like he was happy about the pregnancy. When she showed up he told her where to meet her or he had done something to keep her quiet. So she didn’t raise her voice or yell/scream. He took her body to a place he could hide it to dispose of it later. This is my theory. She supposedly was having a relationship with an unidentified cruise member. She didn’t have enough close for a full trip. She never got off the boat via record. She ordered 2 sandwiches and to me it’s kinda strange. I haven’t read any comments so maybe others already brought up this theory. But when a cruise line is at fault or a cruise line member is involved I’m sure you get the brick wall. This person jumped. Ok so where the video. Because you don’t have that. That’s why you can’t show it. Again. It’s just my theory. I’m sure Someone else theorized this
Was the lawsuit successful against Royal Caribbean? How much? Are you all going to cruise with this company after hearing this story?