Many people dream of being paid to travel for a living, and for Claudia Ann Kirschhoch that dream was a reality. But when she was tasked with visiting Cuba’s new Sandals resort in May of 2000, this bright New Yorker had no idea the trip would be her last.
Born on February 9, 1971, Claudia grew up in a quiet suburb of New Jersey with her sister Deborah and parents Frederick and Mary Ann. Claudia was a girl of many talents, a skilled violinist with a love of books and poetry. Adventurous by nature, she was a seasoned traveller and had even lived in France for a year. After completing a degree in journalism, Claudia worked at a small publishers before landing a job as the assistant editor of Frommer’s Travel Guides in New York.
Frommer's offered Claudia an trip to a Sandals resort in Cuba when a couple of their writers dropped out at the last minute, an offer which she gladly accepted. She and three other travel journalists were scheduled to fly to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where they would catch another flight to Havana before heading to the resort on May 23. However, once they reached Jamaica they encountered visa issues and discovered they would not be granted entry into Cuba. With flights back to New York fully booked for a week, Claudia was sent on to the Sandals resort at Negril along with fellow travel writer Tania Grossinger.
A small town on the Western coast of Jamaica, Negril is known for its beautiful, turquoise water and expanses of sandy beaches, including the so-called 'Seven Mile Beach', where the Sandals resort is located. The pair spent 3 days relaxing at the hotel before Tania Grossinger secured a last-minute flight out of Jamaica. Claudia decided to stay on a little longer to explore the island, and shared one last breakfast with Tania on the morning of her departure. That afternoon, Claudia was spotted walking along the beach, and has tragically never been heard from since.
When Claudia's parents were unable to get hold of her, they called into Frommer's on June 2, only to discover that their daughter had never returned to work. A search of Claudia's hotel room revealed that the only items missing were her bikini, portable radio and t-shirt - the same possessions she had been spotted with on the beach. All of her valuables, including her passport, cash, mobile phone and return ticket, were found in her hotel room. Despite the fact her room was a potential crime scene, management removed her belongings and rented it out to other guests. At some point during this process, her mobile phone disappeared, as did the log book recording all license plate numbers entering in and out of the resort. CCTV footage would also provide no leads, as it was accidentally recorded over after Kirschhoch’s disappearance.
During her stay at the Negril resort, Claudia had spent some time with a bartender named Anthony Grant. The day after Claudia went missing, Anthony called in sick and did not return to work for 4 days. When questioned by police he initially denied socialising with Claudia, though he eventually admitted that they had gone out for drinks on the night of the 26th. The FBI stepped in to help search for the missing woman, and sniffer dogs traced Claudia's scent to a pair of his boots and the back seat and trunk of Grant's car. However, both DNA and lie detector tests came back as inconclusive and he has never been officially named as a suspect.
Kirschhoch’s parents believe that Grant, and potentially other members of staff, know what happened to their daughter, and that Sandal's greatly impeded the investigation into her disappearance. The company's PR director, Leo Lambert, painted Claudia as a promiscuous and reckless traveller who had spent her time skinny-dipping, smoking marijuana and in the company of numerous men. At odds with everything the Kirschhochs knew about Claudia, these sentiments were then repeated in the local media despite the fact that Lambert later admitted to lying.
Both Frederick and Mary Ann quit their jobs to search for their daughter, hiring a private investigator and making numerous trips to Negril to hand out flyers and question the locals in person. But after an intense search there was still no sign of Claudia, and the young woman was officially declared dead in 2002.
Do you think Sandals employees know what happened to Claudia? Discuss your thoughts in the comments below.