"We received at the FBI a telephone call from Carnival Cruise Lines that there was a death on this ship the Elation that evening that was potentially a murder situation," said Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter. "And as the lead investigative agency in a case like this, the FBI is notified."
By Thursday afternoon, agents had arrested Robert McGill of Winnetka, California, and said Slotter, charged him with murder on the high seas. McGill is accused of killing his wife Shirley McGill on Tuesday evening, after the ship left Cabo San Lucas. Because the Elation was still on its way back to its home port of San Diego, agents were taken by boat to meet it, so they could begin their investigation. Slotter said they wanted to interview passengers before the ship docked the following morning.
"With the help and courtesy of the United States Coast Guard, one of their cutters sent approximately 20 of our agents out to the ship while it was still at sea," he said.
Slotter would not say how Shirley McGill died, but said the investigation was centered on the couple's room, on the Riviera deck. Another team from the FBI arrived just after the ship docked early Thursday morning to gather evidence.
"Our evidence response team was let on board so that they could collect all necessary forensic evidence to this event," Slotter said. "Primarily involving the cabin room, where the alleged murder took place."
Speculation as to what was going on ran high on the ship, from rumors about a kidnapping to a man trying to dump a body overboard.
"There was a rumor that they had seen someone try to wrap the body in a bed comforter or something and that is how they got caught," said passenger Susan Lind.
Several passengers describe what they heard when the ships crew was called to the couple's cabin.
"When we heard bright star, bright star," said passenger Linda Rickabaugh. "We talking amongst ourselves and we thought, oh, that must be code for a medical emergency."
"My brother is a cop, so he has a natural curiosity about him," said Christie Coombs, another passenger. "He googled it and found out that it means in need of a doctor or medical care."
Robert McGill was thrown into the ship's brig shortly after his wife's body was found. He is expected to be arraigned Friday.