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Police suspect missing American couple whose yacht was hijacked in Caribbean were murdered

Police suspect that an American couple whose yacht was hijacked in the Caribbean last week were murdered. Their catamaran, named ‘Simplicity’ was found abandoned off the shores of Grand Anse Beach in Grenada

American sailors Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel have disappeared in the Caribbean after their catamaran was hijacked
American sailors Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel have disappeared in the Caribbean after their catamaran was hijacked | Salty Dawg Sailing Association

February 28, 2024 9:07am

Updated: February 28, 2024 12:18pm

Police suspect that an American couple whose yacht was hijacked in the Caribbean last week were murdered, but they are holding out hope they may still be an alternative explanation for clues they found at the maritime crime scene.

The couple’s catamaran, which was named ‘Simplicity,’ was found abandoned off the shores of Grand Anse Beach in Grenada.

Kathy Brandel, 71, and Ralph Hendry, 66, and, both pensioners, went missing after their vessel was forcibly taken by three men earlier this month on Feb. 19. 

The three suspect have been identified by police as Trevon Robertson, a 19-year old unemployed individual, Abita Stanislaus, a 25-year old farmer, and Ronald Mitchell, a 30 year-old sailor, all of whom previously escaped from jail on Feb. 18.

Police believe that after their escape, the suspects commandeered the hijacked boat to the Grenadines and St. Vincent, where they were arrested the following day, along the island’s northwest coast.

Royal Grenada Police Force Commissioner Don McKenzie told a cache of journalists during a Monday press conference that authorities were trying to determine if the escape was the result of a “slip up” or “system failure.”

McKenzie added that while there has been no evidence to conclude the couple were killed, they believe it is unlikely they are still alive. Still, they are hoping for a break in the case that may prove the couple somehow survived the ordeal. 

The commissioner added that their “information [so far] suggests that while traveling between Grenada and St. Vincent, they disposed of the occupants,” of their yacht.

“We have nothing conclusive to say that the individuals are dead,” he added. “We still hold out hope that in spite [of] what might be a low probability, that they would turn up alive somewhere.” 

The three escaped prisoners currently remain in police custody and have already pleaded guilty to immigration-related charges.

Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force spokesman Junior Simmons said that “the escapees have been co-operating with the investigation.”

He added that the catamaran was “consistent with signs of violence,” explaining that “several items were strewn on the deck and in the cabin, and a red substance that resembles blood was seen on board.”

One yachting membership organization of which Brandel and Hendry were members, said the two were “veteran cruisers.” The Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA) said the couple sailed from a 2023 Caribbean rally held in Hampton, Virginia last year, and their plans were to spend the winter sailing in the eastern Caribbean.

The SDSA learned of their couple’s disappearance on Feb. 21 after their catamaran was spotted by another vessel near St. Vincent.

That cruise skipper reported the incident, telling authorities that “Simplicity” appeared to be abandoned and that he "found evidence of apparent violence.”

“This is a very upsetting event and details are still unconfirmed by the authorities, but this does appear to be a tragic event,” SDSA president Bob Osborn said in a statement. “In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this.”

Friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page that indicated Brandel had “recently” become a grandmother.

“It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that we share the devastating news of the senseless act of violence that tragically claimed the lives of husband and wife, Ralph Hendry, and Kathy Brandel,” the GoFundMe page reads. “Kathy and Ralph were seasoned sailors who lived on their beloved catamaran, Simplicity. Their lives ended in unimaginable tragedy on Sunday, February 19th, off the shores of Grand Anse Beach, Grenada.

 “Kathy and Ralph, experienced adventurers, spent their retirement sailing aboard Simplicity, spending summers in New England, and embracing the warmth of Caribbean winters. Their final voyage with the Salty Dawg Sailing Association crew took an unthinkable turn as Simplicity was found abandoned in St. Vincent, bearing chilling evidence of a violent struggle.”

The three suspects were originally in custody after being arrested on robbery charges several months ago. They escaped before appearing before a judge in the island judicial system.

Mitchell, the 30-year-old sailor was also charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm, according to the Associated Press. 

According to the GoFundMe page, the couple’s suspected passing has left the sailing community and their families devastated.

 “This heartbreaking tragedy has left not only the sailing community, but also their families, shattered. Kathy, who had recently become a first-time grandmother, found immense joy in the presence of her grandson—joy that has now been abruptly taken away. As their families navigate the overwhelming grief and attempt to make sense of this unthinkable loss, we extend our collective support and sympathy.”

On Feb. 27, the page was updated to report that the family was now coordinating their search efforts with the U.S. Embassy, local governments, and other American government officials.

In a heart breaking twist of irony, one of the couple’s longtime friends, K.C. McAlpin said the trip was supposed to be their last.

“It's just really sad,” said McAlpin in an interview with CBS News, who added the couple were known for their compassion and friendliness. “They were just a delightful couple and a real blessing in my life, and the lives of so many other people,” he said.

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.