Karen Roston, 26 – Murder, Stardancer Passenger, February 13, 1988, Time of Death 3:00.
On February 6, 1988, Karen Waltz ,26, married Chiropractor Dr. Scott Robin Roston, 36, and was on the last day of their seven day honeymoon cruise to Mexico, the day before Valentines Day aboard Sundance Cruises’ (Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) Stardancer.
They had met in Florida when she was working as a physical therapist. He had fallen down stairs, and she had treated his injury with massage.
Scott Roston told the authorities that high winds blew his wife Karen, 26, off the deck, where she and he had been jogging on the track. Both Karen and Scott were fitness buffs, so on the surface, it seemed like a good story.
He reported his wife overboard about 3:00am, Saturday February 13, 1988.
The U.S. Coast Guard began a sea search for Karen.
Police initially said they were suspicous of the husband’s story, because it was not that windy at the time she went overboard. The wind velocity was no more than five miles per hour, and the seas were quite calm at the time as well.
When they didn’t buy the first version of the story, Scott revised his story, to say he had just remembered she had fallen overboard, and he had tried to save her by grabbing her, without success.
Again, police were suspicous because Karen was only 5’3″ tall and the railing was 3’6″ high.
Richard Waltz, her father, said that Karen’s years of devotion to ballet, modern dance and tai chi, and a daily regimen of ten-mile walks had made her strong and agile.
Karen’s mother, Mrs. Waltz had suspicions about her future son-in-law’s finances, when she first met him, as he seemed to well rehearsed, and it troubled her so much that she had the “pretty little” pear shaped diamond engagement ring appraised, wondering if he had given her daughter a cubic zirconia.
When police interviewed him, his face showed triangular gouges, such as a pear shaped ring might make, and a four inch scratch. They suspected Karen had fought for her life, as her husband tried to kill her onboard. He told the crew that he had hit his head on a gangway control box, but no blood, hair or marks were found on the box. Photographs showed that the box had no sharp protrusions that could have caused the facial injuries.
A fellow passenger who shared a table with the couple stated that Dr. Roston was angry with Karen because she ate sweets and did not know which eating utensils to use at the meal.
The chiropractor was also seen quarreling with a woman on deck about forty-five minutes to one hour before he reported his wife overboard.
Another passenger on the ship, an assistant chief deputy in the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff’s Department, said later that morning, when he went for a stroll around the same area where Karen Roston went overboard, he noticed part of an earring and some hair and reported it to ship officials.
The defense made no effort to overcome the prosecution’s medical evidence or the testimony of fellow passengers about the newlyweds’ shipboard squabbles. The only evidence introduced by defense counsel Kenner were records showing that there were two Israeli nationals on the ship when Karen Roston went overboard.
The Coast Guard found Karen Roston’s body in Pacific waters thirty miles southwest of San Diego on Saturday afternoon around 1230 hours after a ten hour search on February 13, after noticing the tips of the white sneakers she was wearing. The body was kept afloat by air trapped in her clothing. Experts testified that Karen been alive when she went overboard, and fought to stay alive in the water, there would have been no air in clothing.
In addition, the medical examiner testified that there were signs of hemorrhage in her neck and eyes and the warping of her neckbones were evidence of manual strangulation. Two days later, police arrested her husband when the Stardancer sailed back to the Port Of Long Beach. He was held without bail at the Federal prison on Terminal Island, as the investigation continued.
Once in custody, Dr. Roston produced a third, most bizarre, explanation of Karen’s death, saying that Israeli agents had killed his wife because he had published a book of government crime in Israel, the year before, titled, Nightmare In Israel, which he paid Vantage Press to publish in early 1987.
In 1978, Scott and his parents had emigrated to Israel where he opened an unlicensed chiropractic clinic. In late 1979, he spent more than two months in jail and in a mental hospital where he claimed to have been drugged and brutalized. He says the Mafia in Israel targeted him, because he refused to marry a neighbor’s neice while in Israel, according to him, turning down bribes to do so.
Right after the book was published, Sheriffs of Palm Beach County, Florida received a report from Roston’s parents about an attempt to kidnap their son outside a shopping mall. According to Scott, two Israelis in a white van grabbed him and proclaimed in Hebrew, “Israel wants you.” Scott said he broke free and shot one of his would-be captors before speeding away in his vehicle.
Medical examiners noted that had she attempted to swim after entering the water, the air would have been forced out of her clothes and that therefore she must have been unconscious when she went overboard; she had subsequently died from drowning. The signs of hemorrhage in her neck and eyes and the warping of her neckbones were evidence of manual strangulation.
Material from the rubberized jogging track imbedded in her clothing suggested that she had been pressed to the deck with considerable force. Parts of her earrings were found on the deck eleven and a half feet from the railing, together with strands of her strawberry blond hair that appeared to have been wrenched from her head.
The trial began in late February 1989. The defense was based on Karen being murdered by Israeli men, with Scott being framed.
In its rebuttal case, the prosecution surprised Kenner by bringing to the stand Maurice Haziza, one of the two Israeli passengers. He testified that he was not a secret agent for the Israeli government, but a wedding photographer on vacation; he and his traveling companion, Emil Yaron, had visited Disneyland and Universal Studios before embarking on the Mexico cruise to complete their vacation after photographing the wedding of a friend.
The jury, unimpressed with the espionage defense, found Roston guilty of second degree murder on the high seas. United States District Judge James Ideman sentenced Roston to life in prison without parole, observing: “This is one of the cruelest crimes this court has ever seen. It is this court’s hope that this defendant never be released.”
At the sentencing hearing, the court observed that the forensic evidence collected from the ship’s upper deck, as well as the condition of Mrs. Roston’s body, showed that Mrs. Roston was severely beaten and strangled before her body was thrown overboard. The judge observed that he had never seen a case in which a honeymoon ended in such a chilling and heartless manner.
November 1994 Scott Roston appealed his sentence. Although sustaining the conviction, the Court of Appeals remanded for resentencing. The appellate opinion noted that by imposing a life sentence, the trial court had applied the penalty required under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for first-degree murder even though the defendant was only convicted of murder in the second degree. In November 1994 Scott Roston was resentenced to a term of thirty-three years, nine months. Roston appealed his conviction for the third time in 1999. The appeal argued that the 405-month sentence imposed by the district court during the first appeal, based on a seven-level upward departure from the Sen- tencing Guidelines, is unwarranted. The court disagreed.
The Stardancer was Sundance Cruises only ship. Sundance merged with Eastern Cruise Line to form Admiral Cruises. She then became the Royal Caribbean Viking Serenade when Admiral was merged with them. In 2002 she was renamed Island Escape and operate 7-Day Mediterranean cruises. Stardancer was 40132 gross tons, 635 feet long, with a maximum passenger capacity of 2560.
Scott Roston’s is due to be released from the federal prison at Fort Dix on July 8, 2017.