At 8 p.m. on Christmas night, a surveillance camera on a Caribbean cruise ship captured the image of a woman in a bathrobe falling over the railing. Two days later, her husband accepted condolences from a fellow passenger and announced his immediate plans — a trip to the ship’s casino.
The husband, identified as Raymond Seitz of central Florida, had reported his wife missing around 4 a.m. Friday, eight hours after the camera recorded the image of the woman identified as his wife, 36-year-old Jennifer Ellis-Seitz. No announcement was ever made to other passengers, and the ship continued on its way as if nothing had happened, according to Jim and Suzanne Nestor, who talked about the incident with TODAY’s Lester Holt Monday in New York.
“He had a plastic bag filled with quarters,” Jim Nestor said, recalling his meeting with Raymond Seitz on Saturday. “He said to me that he was going to the casino to see if he could change his luck.”
In a report filed for NBC News by Kerry Sanders, other passengers reported similar behavior by Seitz in the wake of his wife’s disappearance.
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One passenger, Carter Scurry, described Seitz as “nonchalant.” The man, Scurry said, showed “no remorse.” Scurry said Seitz told him, “Yeah, she might have jumped overboard.”
Raymond Seitz was not detained by police after leaving the ship Sunday in Miami and has not been charged with a crime. The FBI searched the ship for evidence on Sunday before it took on a new load of passengers and embarked on another cruise. Authorities have not said if they suspect an accident, suicide or foul play.
According to media reports cited in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Jennifer Ellis-Seitz is a former Florida newspaper reporter who has also trained poll workers at election time, driven a school bus, and worked as a freelance media professional.
Jim Nestor is a retired state trooper from Connecticut. He and his wife expressed surprise at the way the disappearance of Ellis-Seitz was handled by the crew of the Norwegian Pearl, a cruise ship operated by the Norwegian Cruise Line.
Other passengers learned of the death while watching cable news on the shipboard televisions.
Speaking as a law enforcement professional, Jim Nestor said that what he saw of the crew’s investigation showed “definitely poor protocol. I thought we should at least have been notified that something like this had taken place on the ship.”
The Nestors described Raymond and Jennifer Seitz as a couple determined to enjoy themselves. “They were a couple that was there to have a good time,” Jim Nestor said. “They were definitely different, in my opinion. They were loud; they were what I consider wild ... They stood out a lot more than other people.”
The two couples had met earlier in the cruise when they participated in an on-board game called “The Not Quite Newlywed Game,” modeled on the TV show “The Newlywed Game.” The Nestors, the long-married couple in the group, said their understanding was that the Seitzes had been married one year. A corroborating report said that the couple were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary on the cruise.
A video of the onboard game show is blurry and showed little detail of the Seitzes, who were “Couple No. 1” on the show. When word began to spread around the ship that a woman was missing, Jim Nestor said he told friends in the group he was traveling with, “I bet it was Contestant No. 1.”
‘Kind of tight-lipped’
After Ellis-Seitz went missing, Raymond Seitz continued to move around the ship. One passenger told NBC News he even saw Seitz keeping company with another woman. When Jim Nestor talked to Raymond Seitz, he said he couldn’t say anything.
“He was kind of tight-lipped,” Jim Nestor told Holt. “He was talking through his teeth. He told me that he was being watched. He said he was told by the captain he could get out of being confined to a room if he stayed on his own and didn’t deal with any other passengers on the trip.”
Cruise lines are not required to report deaths, but an investigative report by The Naples News in February 2007 reported that more than 12 million people take cruises every year. From 1999-2007, 97 cruise ship deaths were recorded by the Broward County coroner’s office, the paper reported. From 2004-2007, the Miami Dade County coroner recorded 33 deaths. Most are due to natural causes, and most occur among the large number of retirees who take cruises.
The Coast Guard and Mexican navy searched for the woman over the weekend before calling it off Monday afternoon.
FBI spokesman Mike Leverock says agents met the ship as it arrived in Miami on Sunday, collected materials and “are still trying to determine if a crime occurred.”
A Coast Guard spokesman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that their efforts were hampered because of the 11-hour gap between the fall recorded on the videotape at 8 p.m. Thursday night and the start of the search. It was almost 5 the following morning before Raymond Seitz reported his wife’s disappearance, after which ship personnel did a three-hour search of the Norwegian Pearl before calling the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard spokesman called the three-hour search “standard operating procedure for them, when they aren’t certain that someone has actually gone overboard.” He also said that the videotape, which is being analyzed by the FBI, is “crucial” to search efforts. According to Orlando, Fla., TV station WFTV, there were about 1,000 surveillance cameras aboard the Norwegian Pearl, raising hopes that more images might help authorities figure out what happened to Ellis-Seitz.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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