The last time Mary Bernhardt saw her 40-year-old son, he seemed happy. For a Saturday morning competition on the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth 2, crew members had dressed up William Mark Bernhardt and two other men in women's clothing.
Mr. Bernhardt did his best female impersonation. The audience and cruise director loved it. He won first prize -- a white dish with gold trim -- for his theatrics.
"He seemed to be having fun. The audience was applauding and having fun, too," said his 72-year-old mother.
After the contest, Mrs. Bernhardt and her son had lunch. Then he disappeared.
Authorities in New York City conducted a seven-hour "stowaway search" of the QE2 yesterday, using a bloodhound provided by the New York City Police Department. They did not find Mr. Bernhardt, who was last seen Saturday between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. by other passengers.
At 5 p.m. Mr. Bernhardt -- who is mentally disabled, and a resident at a Baltimore area halfway house -- was supposed to meet his mother at Mass on the QE2. He was to have carried the collection plate.
What could have happened to him? Did he somehow fall into the ocean, or might he have jumped?
"I have no idea," Mrs. Bernhardt said. "I don't know what in the world he could have been thinking of. You can't read a person's mind. If something did upset him, it really would have had to be bad. But I can't see him doing anything that drastic."
The Coast Guard searched for Mr. Bernhardt from 11 p.m. Saturday until darkness set in Sunday evening, in an area 206 miles long and 10 miles wide from North Carolina to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
Mrs. Bernhardt said she had taken her son on the Caribbean cruise, with stops in St. Martin, Barbados and Antigua, as a present for his 41st birthday next month. She said she does not believe he got lost aboard the 13-deck vessel.
Mrs. Bernhardt left the QE2 when it docked in Baltimore. The ship continued to New York, where authorities thoroughly inspected it. The QE2 left for Hamburg, Germany, at 6 p.m. yesterday. Coast Guard officials in Baltimore have taken charge of the investigation. A spokeswoman, Lt. Claudia Geltzer, said foul play was not suspected.
Mrs. Bernhardt remembered her son yesterday as she last saw him -- comically dressed like a woman.
"They all looked terrible," Mrs. Bernhardt said of the competitors, laughing. "He didn't do much imitating, but he did better than the other men."