When 29-year-old Claudia Kirschhoch told her parents a work assignment was taking her to Cuba, they were far from thrilled. Although relations were improving between the communist country and the United States, the red island was not yet rolling out the red carpet for American tourists.
When Claudia called the following day, saying the Cuba trip had been canceled and she was re-routed to Jamaica, her parents were relieved, believing Cuba was dangerous, Jamaica was divine. But for Claudia, paradise was short-lived; for her parents, the purgatory continues.
Although Claudia coveted Cuba, she was cool with a Jamaican jamboree– and jam she did. For two evenings, the bubbly brunette danced at a reggae club, went skinny dipping, and smoked a little weed.
Claudia did not return home when scheduled, and no one has heard from her in twenty years. Her parents believe employees of a Jamaican inn know more than they are saying about her disappearance.
Raised in New Jersey, Claudia was an assistant editor for the New York City-based Frommer’s Travel Guide and was part of a travel junket sent to the new Sandals Resort in Havana, Cuba.
On May 24, 2000, Claudia and three other travel journalists flew to Montego Bay, Jamaica. From there, the group was scheduled to fly to Havana. But they were denied entry into Cuba due to increasing tensions with the United States over the ongoing Elian Gonzalez affair.
To placate the writers, Sandals Resorts offered a complimentary week at several resorts throughout Jamaica. Claudia and fellow travel journalist Tania Grossinger were given one in Negril.
The women eagerly accepted and were re-routed to Negril, where they planned to stay until they could book return flights to New York.
Negril is on the western edge of Jamaica, 135 miles from the capital of Kingston. Its population was between 3,000-4,000, but plenty of tourists were in the town year-round.
Claudia and Tania made the most of their Jamaican layover, as they partied through the evenings of May 25 and 26. Tania could book a flight back to New York on May 27, but issues with Claudia’s visa prevented her from booking a flight home. She planned to continue to stay at the Negril resort until more flights became available.
The two women had breakfast together the morning before Tania returned home. That afternoon, a lifeguard saw Claudia walking along the Negril beach away from the resort. She was wearing a t-shirt over a bikini and carrying a portable radio.
Her visa hang-up was resolved, and Claudia was scheduled to return home five days later, on June 2. When she failed to arrive at work, Frommers contacted her parents, Fred and Mary Ann, in New Jersey. After learning their daughter had not been on any flights entering the United States, they reported her missing.
Sandals Resorts had also reported Claudia missing after the hotel’s maids found she had not slept in her bed for several days. Everything in her room seemed normal when searched by hotel security. Most of her clothes were neatly folded in her suitcase, the only exceptions being a white t-shirt and bikini, the outfit consistent with the clothing she was last seen wearing by the lifeguard.
Claudia’s passport, return plane ticket, credit and ATM cards, cell phone, camera, and $180 in cash were recovered from the hotel safe. All of the items were taken to the Sandals Resort manager’s office.
Claudia’s parents traveled to Jamaica and soon grew suspicious of Sandals Resorts.
As a security precaution, the license plates of all vehicles entering and leaving the resort were recorded; the logbook for May, however, was inexplicably missing. A videotape from a surveillance camera mounted near Claudia’s room had been recorded over before being viewed. Furthermore, Claudia’s room had been cleaned by housekeeping, cleared by security, and rented out to other guests before the potential crime scene could be processed for clues.
Capping off the series of unfortunate events, Claudia’s cell phone was missing when Fred and Mary Ann tried to claim it.
Aided by an American search and rescue team including FBI agents, Jamaican police scoured the island for Claudia. A search dog tracked her scent to the home of Anthony Grant, a bartender at the Sandals Resort. At the house, the dog hit on a pair of boots, gloves, and a knife.
While searching Grant’s Toyota Corolla, the dog also seemed to hit on Claudia’s scent in the back seat and trunk. A strand of hair in the back seat was later identified as Claudia’s. Also, police learned Grant had recently changed his car’s seat covers.
The boots, knife, and mat from Grant’s car were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C. A minute amount of blood on the knife’s blade was recovered, but it was too small to b helpful.
Grant and Claudia had been seen partying together at the clubs in the evenings before her disappearance. He admitted taking her to his home but denied any involvement in her disappearance.
Grant had called in sick for work on May 28, the day after Claudia was last seen, and did not show up for work after being questioned by the police. Shortly after that, he was fired from Sandals Resort.
Jamaican police administered a polygraph test to Grant, but the results were inconclusive. They could find no evidence tying him to Claudia’s disappearance, and he has never been charged with any crime. Claudia’s parents, however, believe he knows what happened to their daughter.
Because Claudia was last seen on the beach and in a bathing suit and t-shirt, police investigated the possibility that she had drowned. The water where she was last seen was not deep, and the current was weak. Authorities believe if Claudia had drowned in that area, her body would have surfaced. They do not dismiss the possibility that she drowned but consider it unlikely.
After Claudia was reported missing and news of her disappearance spread through the area, several Negril residents reported seeing a woman resembling her living in the hills with a Rastafarian man. Jamaican police investigated the reported sightings but said there is no information indicating the woman was Claudia.
Claudia’s parents believe Sandals Resort employees hindered the investigation into their daughter’s disappearance. In 2002, they filed a lawsuit against the resort, charging it with willfully destroying evidence and causing emotional stress. The two sides settled out of court in 2005.
Fred and Mary Ann Kirschhoch also claim the Jamaican police did not cooperate with them and would not let them examine the investigative file.
Claudia’s disappearance is sandwiched between the noted disappearances of two other American women from the Caribbean. Twenty-three-year-old Amy Bradley disappeared in Curacao in 1998, and 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared in from Aruba in 2005.
Investigations into Amy’s disappearance have uncovered evidence suggesting she may have been kidnapped and forced into the Caribbean sex industry; those into Natalie’s disappearance show that she likely met with foul play, and she was declared “dead in absentia” in 2012.
No evidence has been found indicating if Claudia Kirschhoch has met with either scenario.
Claudia Ann Kirschhoch was last seen in Negril, Jamaica, on May 27, 2000. At the time of her disappearance, she was 29-years-old, 5’2″ tall, and weighed 105 lbs. Her hair and eyes were brown, and she had a tattoo of a phoenix on her right hip.
In May of 2002, a judge ruled Claudia legally dead, saying it was unlikely she disappeared of her own accord.
A $50,000 reward is offered for information leading to her whereabouts. If you have any information, please contact any of the phone numbers on the poster.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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