American Couple Presumed Killed in Grenada After Escaped Inmates Hijack Yacht

Caribbean officials are searching for two sailing Americans who are presumed dead after their yacht was found abandoned, bearing signs of a violent struggle.
American Couple Presumed Killed in Grenada After Escaped Inmates Hijack Yacht
Investigators stand aboard the yacht "Simplicity,” which they say was hijacked by three escaped prisoners with two people aboard, now anchored in Calliaqua, St. Vincent, on Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Kenton X. Chance)
Tom Ozimek
2/25/2024
Updated:
2/25/2024
0:00

A couple from Virginia are presumed dead in the Caribbean Sea after their yacht was hijacked by escaped prisoners and later found abandoned and bearing evidence of a violent struggle, according to family members and local investigators.

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, a married couple, had been sailing in the Caribbean on their beloved catamaran Simplicity, when the vessel was found on Feb. 19 off the shores of Grand Anse Beach in Grenada, “bearing chilling evidence of a violent struggle,” their family said in a statement.

The Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) said in a Feb. 22 statement that they’re investigating leads that “suggest” that the couple might have been killed, possibly by three fugitives who escaped from a jail cell and hijacked their boat.

“Preliminary information emanating from investigators in St Vincent suggests that the three men made their way to St Vincent via a yacht which was docked in the St. George area,” police said in the statement. “The RGPF is currently working on leads that suggest that the two occupants of the yacht may have been killed in the process.

“This investigation is in its infancy stage.”

The statement also noted that the three escaped inmates had been caught.

The three inmates are Ron Mitchell, 30; Trevon Robertson, 19; and Abita Stanislaus, 25.

Police stated that the trio had escaped from a holding cell on Feb. 18, a day before the U.S. couple’s yacht was found abandoned. All three faced charges of robbery and violence, while Mr. Mitchell faced additional charges of rape and indecent assault causing harm.

While police haven’t yet officially confirmed the death of the U.S. couple, their family members have announced their passing.

“Their lives ended in unimaginable tragedy,” the family said in a statement, noting that the couple lost their lives in a “senseless act of violence.”

‘Veteran Cruisers’

The nonprofit Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA) said in a statement that Mr. Hendry and Ms. Brandel were “veteran cruisers” and longtime members of the association.

Calling them “warmhearted and capable,” the SDSA stated that a cruising skipper came across the couple’s yacht, anchored and abandoned off a beach on the south coast of St. Vincent, an island in the Caribbean.

“The good Samaritan had boarded the boat and noted that the owners, Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, were not onboard and found evidence of apparent violence,” the SDSA stated.

Police were alerted, with news later emerging that three dangerous inmates had escaped from a Grenada prison and were at large, with the SDSA saying it was speculated that the trio had boarded the couple’s yacht.

“This is a very upsetting event and details are still unconfirmed by the authorities, but this does appear to be a tragic event,” Bob Osborn, SDSA president, said in a statement.

“I have spoken to the families and have offered our deepest condolences and our assistance in any way possible. In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this.”

The yacht "Simplicity," which officials say was hijacked by three escaped prisoners with two people aboard, is docked in Calliaqua, St. Vincent, on Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Kenton X. Chance)
The yacht "Simplicity," which officials say was hijacked by three escaped prisoners with two people aboard, is docked in Calliaqua, St. Vincent, on Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Kenton X. Chance)

The police investigation of the incident continues, with a team of senior investigators and a forensic specialist dispatched to St. Vincent to continue the probe.

In a statement, the couple’s family thanked volunteers who worked to gather information and provide search and rescue support.

“It means so much to us that so many people cared for Ralph and Kathy as friends and fellow cruisers that they are willing to stop and help in whatever way possible,” family members Bryan Hendry and Nick Buro said in a joint statement.

They called on volunteers to “stand down” from their search for the bodies of the deceased couple and let officials continue the investigation.

“We also want to applaud the St. Vincent authorities for their quick actions in securing Simplicity and their brave, swift response that led to the apprehension of three dangerous fugitives,” the family members added.

Local media reported on the arrest of the suspects, with video of an arrest showing one escapee in shorts with blood on his legs as a police officer shoved him into the back of a pickup truck.