Family has renewed hope in George Smith cruise ship disappearance investigation

The family of George Smith, the Greenwich man who disappeared aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise on his honeymoon, say they have received “an encouraging response” to the posting of a new, $100,000 reward for information,

The reward, which was made public last week, was done in conjunction with a round of appearances by the family on national television, including an hour-long feature about the cast on CBS’s 48 Hours.

In a statement sent to the Post, the Smith family said that the show and the reward have “…successfully generated new interest in solving a cold case, the murder of our son and brother nine years ago this week. As a result of Saturday’s 48 Hours show, we have received numerous calls and e-mails from people with information. We cannot provide any greater detail about those calls or e-mails because we have promised to protect their identities.”

Mr. Smith’s parents, George and Maureen, and his sister, Bree, also reported “a tremendous increase” in new followers and friends on their Facebook page at Facebook.com/JusticeforGeorgeSmith, which was set up to discuss information and follow potential leads in the case.

“We have been truly touched by messages on our Facebook page from all around the world offering our family prayers and support,” the family said.

No one has ever been charged in the disappearance and presumed death of Mr. Smith, who was on his honeymoon at the time of his disappearance from his Royal Caribbean cruise on July 5, 2005. There has yet to be a conslusive finding about what happened, leaving the family to continue to search for answer. But now, as a result of these new developments, the family described themselves as “more hopeful than ever that this year we will finally get justice for George.”

The family said the purpose of the $100,000 reward is to “motivate people to come forward and finally tell our family what they know about George’s disappearance.”

“We are interested in speaking to people that were crew members or passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas during the July 5, 2005 voyage as well as individuals that may have spoken to passengers or crew members after that voyage,” the family told the Post. “It is our belief that there are people out there with information that can help solve the case of George’s murder. If you have information that can help, please call 844-651-1936 or e-mail [email protected] We will protect your identity.”

The New York FBI field office is now offering assistance in the case, and a new team of agents has been assigned to it in Connecticut.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in the new team … and they’re working very hard on this,” Maureen Smith said during the 48 Hours show, which was devoted entirely to the case and featured several interviews with the family as well as those on board the ship with Mr. Smith and his wife Jennifer. “They’re very determined and they don’t like what they see… So we’re very fortunate to have them working for our family now.”

In the broadcast, 48 Hours detailed the events of July 4, 2005 when George and Jennifer became separated after a night of partying and gambling in the ship’s casino. Four men then walked with George back to his cabin in the early morning hours of July 5, and these four have been identified by the FBI as “persons of interest” in the case: Gregory Rozenberg, Zachary Rozenberg, Rusty Kofman and Josh Askin. However, no arrests have ever been made. The four men were the focus of the piece as several people gave accounts of the night.

According to the show, around 4:00 a.m, Clete Hyman, a vacationing deputy police chief from Redlands, Calif., allegedly heard a disturbance in the cabin next to his. “My wife and I were awakened by yelling coming from the Smith cabin. This yelling sounded what I would liken to a drinking game,” he said on the show.

Next, Mr. Hyman described “an argument out on the Smith balcony. This argument appeared to be between three, maybe four individuals … After about two minutes of the argument, we heard one lone male voice repeatedly saying, ‘Goodnight, goodnight,’ like they were ushering someone out of the room. I looked out and saw three male individuals walking away from the room.”

This statement from Mr. Hyman implied that one of the “persons of interest” stayed behind in George’s room, although Albert Dayan, the attorney for Mr. Kofman, told 48 Hours that all four men left together.

“At this point, we heard just one lone voice in the room,” Mr. Hyman said. “We heard what sounded like the cupboard doors being closed loudly. And also sounded like furniture being moved.”

Other people were interviewed and gave similar accounts of what they heard of the alleged commotion inside the Smiths’ room including a “large, horrific thud” at 4:30 a.m., according to Mr. Hyman. That is believed to be Mr. Smith’s body hitting a metal canopy on the ship.

About that same time, crew members found Mr. Smith’s wife, Jennifer, passed out in a hallway, and brought her back to their room. She would later say she had no recollection of the events of that night.

The four men last seen with George claimed they were back in the cabin, ordering a large room service meal at this time. However, Mike Jones, a Greenwich attorney hired by the Smith family said on the show that “the handwritten records [from Royal Caribbean] show that the room service was never delivered,” casting the apparent alibi into doubt.

Keith Greer, an attorney for Mr. Askin, questioned this report in the broadcast, saying, “Was it human error they didn’t write it down?” Mr. Greer added that although the room service party did take place, it was not an alibi in the first place because it would have been delivered after George went missing.

“The food service itself doesn’t prove that they were in a certain place at the time George went over ’cause George goes over about 4:20 in the morning. So at that point in time really the only alibi they have is each other,” he said.

A few hours later, on the early morning of July 5, a 16-year-old passenger named Emilie Rausch stepped onto her balcony to snap some photos with her new digital camera. “It was around 7:30 in the morning … and I noticed something on the overhang of the lifeboats,” she told 48 Hours. Ms. Rausch’s camera caught a huge bloody stain on the lifeboat canopy.

Along with this bloodstain, Bree Smith said on the show that “there was blood in the (George’s) room,” describing it as “compelling evidence” of foul play. Photographs taken by Royal Caribbean inside the Smith cabin, according to 48 Hours, showed two lines of blood on the bed sheets.

However, the ship’s captain, Michael Lachtaridis, described George’s disappearance as a likely accident, which Bree Smith described as “outrageous” and “disgusting” on 48 Hours.

Another piece of evidence is a tape, which in the possession of the FBI, of three of the men last seen with George, without Josh Askin.

“They pass a video camera around filming themselves commenting about George’s death in a very callous way,” Mr. Jones told 48 Hours. “And they’re laughing and joking very callously about him being wealthy … And certainly the way they were talking, they either knew or they had a pretty good sense of what had happened.”

48 Hours cited “a source close to the investigation” who told CBS News “that on the tape, one of the men — Rusty Kofman — refers to George going ‘parachute riding’ off his balcony.”

Mr. Jones added that the “really, sort of incriminating statement is one of them stands up at the end of the tape and sorta hunches his shoulders and flashes gang signs and says, ‘Told ya I was gangsta,’ and that’s in the context of the discussion about George’s death, almost as if he’s bragging about having done something to George.” Mr. Jones identified this man as Gregory Rozenberg.

Mr. Rozenberg was the only one of the four “persons of interest” who was interviewed for the piece on 48 Hours. It took place in Florida State Prison, where he was serving a three-year-sentence for trafficking the narcotic oxycodone.

“George Allen Smith did not disappear, or kill himself or hurt himself, or slip and fall off the boat at 6’4” or however tall he is and just dive off … I know that didn’t happen. So uh … Some, some, something crazy went down that night. And I hope one day that they find out the truth,” Mr. Rozenberg said on the show.

As for the motive in the case the show speculated that people thought the Smiths were wealthy since he came from Greenwich and he allegedly had been spending a lot of money in the casino prior to his disappearance.

Mr. Jones told 48 Hours, “George and Jennifer dressed well. George had a very expensive Breitling watch. They, sort of, flashed the money at the — in the casino.”

Also, witnesses reportedly heard George and Jennifer saying they had thousands of dollars in wedding money in their cabin, according to 48 Hours.

“And this got around because there were other passengers not within the circle of the Russians and Josh who heard the rumors about the money in the cabin. We don’t believe it was true, but perception is everything,” Mr. Jones said.

Interviews with the Smith family were a major part of the show as they spoke about the quest to find answers and how George’s disappearance left a hole in their lives.

“I miss him every day … I miss his voice, I miss his phone calls. He called me all the time. I just miss him as a son,” said Maureen Smith.

“Every night before I go to bed, I see his face,” said George Smith.

Bree Smith described the tragedy as “a complete and awful nightmare for my family,” and questioned why there have been no arrests in the case. “The evidence is huge,” she said.

“We’ll get justice,” said George Smith.

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