Cruise passengers thought dying woman’s chilling screams were murder-mystery fun

Their week-long cruise along the coast of Alaska should have been the perfect 18th wedding anniversary celebration for Kenneth and Kristy Manzanares.

The couple had been high-school sweethearts and were holidaying with their three daughters, aged 13 to 22, and other relatives, including Kristy’s father and brother.

Kristy, 39, was a hardworking estate agent who had studied interior design and also did voluntary work. However, her greatest love in life was being a mother and she was always encouraging of the daughters she doted on.

Manzanares, also 39, had various jobs over the years, including one as a bail bondsman – providing funds to free an offender from custody before trial. He’d also played a lot of contact sports. The family lived in a quiet, affluent area of Washington County, Utah.

On 23 July 2017, the family boarded the Emerald Princess cruise ship in Seattle. The huge vessel boasted 15 decks, several pools, restaurants and casinos, plus an extensive entertainment programme.

The husband and wife were staying in a balcony room that had a door to an adjoining suite where more relatives were staying. On 25 July the ship was in US waters off the south-east coast of Alaska. While docked at Ketchikan, the family went on a fishing excursion. Their fellow passengers described them as appearing relaxed and having fun.

But back on board, Manzanares started drinking heavily, which led to tension between him and his wife as he got more drunk. And as they headed back to their cabin, Kristy was clearly annoyed.

In the meantime, some of the passengers were taking part in a murder-mystery night when screams suddenly rang out on the couple’s deck.

An emergency tannoy alert called for a security team to attend the Manzanares’ cabin but the people at the murder-mystery event assumed the blood-curdling screams were all part of the act. Some staff also thought the same. But sadly, the drama was all too real.

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When security staff arrived at room D726, they found a bloodbath. Manzanares was covered in blood and Kristy, who was unconscious, had clearly been badly beaten.

The walls and carpets of the cabin were splattered with blood and there were bloodstains on the furniture. The family had restrained Manzanares, but Kristy had been beaten so badly she was unrecognisable. After the security team spent 20 minutes trying to save her, she was eventually declared dead and her husband was taken into custody.

When the ship docked the next day and FBI officers boarded, he told them, “My life is over.” But investigators were intent on finding out how an anniversary trip had descended into such horror.

Manzanares told the police that the previous night, he and his wife had got into an argument about his behaviour. He admitted he’d been drinking heavily and Kristy had been furious.

Tired of his behaviour, she’d said she was “done” with him and wanted him to leave the ship when it next docked, and go back to Utah. He told officers, “She kept saying, ‘I’m done. We need to figure out a way to get you off the boat in Juneau. I knew you’d find a way to ruin this trip.’”

Daughters begged him to stop brutal attack

Whether separation was something Kristy had been considering for a while or was simply a reaction to her husband spoiling the holiday, we’ll never know.

Two of their daughters were present as the couple started to row and when the topic of divorce came up, Manzanares told them to leave. They joined other relatives in the adjoining cabin and he locked the door.

The family listened, horrified, as the argument escalated, until they heard Kristy screaming and begging her husband to stop. The dispute had turned into a brutal attack.

Unable to get back into the room, the daughters begged their father to stop. “Don’t come in here. I mean it,” he yelled at them.

They could see through the balcony that Manzanares was straddling their mother and punching her repeatedly with his clenched fists. Hysterical, they raced to get help.

Kristy’s brother, meanwhile, climbed from the balcony next door to find his sister on the cabin floor, barely alive. “She wouldn’t stop laughing at me,” Manzanares told him. He later repeated his words to the police.

Manzanares then tried to drag his dying wife by her arms to the balcony, in an attempt to throw her – and possibly himself – into the sea. Her brother managed to stop him.

More family members arrived to find Kristy in a desperate state and when security got there at about 9pm they discovered, to their utter disbelief, a crime scene.

Despite everyone’s efforts, the beating had been too severe. Kristy had suffered multiple skull fractures and died from blunt force trauma to her head and face. Her husband had literally punched her to death.

In February 2020, Manzanares pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and on 3 June this year he attended court for sentencing.

His defence lawyers said the couple’s marriage had been “long and happy” and the killing had been a tragedy caused by a combination of unfortunate circumstances. They claimed Manzanares had been left with brain injuries from playing contact sports over the years, including boxing, American football and wrestling.

They also said he had an undiagnosed bipolar disorder and medication that he’d taken, including testosterone and amphetamine-like weight-loss drugs, had been a terrible mixture with the alcohol he’d consumed. The attorneys asked for a reduced sentence.

He used his fist like a hammer

Prosecution lawyers claimed the attack was intentional and had been triggered when Kristy told Manzanares she wanted a divorce and demanded that he leave the ship. In a rage, he’d attacked her.

They argued that he’d had anger issues in the past, had been known to punch walls and would restrain his wife by pushing her shoulders to force her to sit down – something he’d done on the night he killed her.

They described how Manzanares had used his “fist as a hammer” on his wife’s face, saying it was an unforgivable attack that was partly witnessed by two of their children.

Manzanares, now 43, broke down, describing Kristy as his “soulmate”. Jailing him, the judge called the killing “violent and brutal”.

After sentencing, Kristy’s family released a statement saying the ruling “brings us neither joy nor anger, rather simply a sense of resolution”.

They went on, “While this marks the end of another chapter of this unimaginable ordeal, the fact is that Kristy’s three girls are still without both of their parents and our focus is to support them.”

An explosive argument ended in tragedy on a cruise intended to celebrate a marriage – and such a horror was so unexpected in that setting the passengers and crew believed it to be part of the murder-mystery event.

Manzanares was sentenced to 30 years in prison, followed by five years of supervision. But he was destined never to complete his jail term.

Barely five weeks into his sentence, he was found dead in his cell at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Alaska. The cause of death was not revealed but foul play was not suspected.

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