Ralph Hendry and Kathy Bandel are presumed dead after their sailboat was found abandoned in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy of Salty Dawg Sailing Association.

Sailing Couple Missing in Caribbean after Escaped Inmates Steal Catamaran

A Virginia couple is feared dead after their sailing catamaran, Simplicity, was apparently hijacked and they were kidnapped in the Caribbean. Their sailboat was later discovered ransacked with a torn sail and signs of violence on board.

The couple from Northern Virginia is identified as Kathleen Brandel and Ralph Hendry. They were longtime members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association and had sailed Simplicity in the 2023 Carribean Rally from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua. They were spending the winter cruising the Eastern Caribbean, according to the sailing association. A Salty Dawg live tracking map showed Simplicity anchored in Grenada, then moved to spot off the beach in St. Vincent.

S/V Simplicity during the rally from Hampton, Va. to Antigua. Photo: Tammy and Pete Sisson/ Salty Dawg Sailing Association

That spot off St. Vincent is where a good Samaritan found the boat anchored and abandoned. According to a statement from Brandel and Hendry’s families, there was “evidence of apparent violence” and Brandel and Hendry were nowhere to be found.

Just before the couple’s disappearance, the Royal Grenada Police Force says three local men escaped from police custody. It’s believed they commandeered the Virginia couple’s boat while the couple was on board. Police said over the weekend that they were “working on leads that suggest that the two occupants of the yacht may have been killed in the process.”

In a press conference streamed live on Facebook Monday, Royal Grenada Police Force Commissioner Don McKenzie said of the alleged hijackers, “Information suggests that while traveling between Grenada and St. Vincent they disposed of the occupants.” However, McKenzie stopped short of saying conclusively that the boat owners are dead.

“We still hold out hope that despite the low probability, that they will turn up alive somewhere. That they are alive,” McKenzie told reporters.

Junior Simmons, spokesman for the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, read a brief statement Monday “on the presumed death” of the Virginia couple. He said that the suspects kidnapped the couple and, while sailing from Grenada, committed “several acts, including bodily harm to the couple”.

On the catamaran, Simmons said, several items were strewn on the deck and in the boat, and “a red substance that resembled blood was seen on board.” No bodies have been found, but Simmons says it is assumed they are dead.

St. Vincent Police were able to recapture the three suspects. They include Ron Mitchell, 30, Trevon Robertson, 25, and Abita Stanislaus, 22, all from Grenada. Simmons says the suspects are cooperating with the investigation. They pleaded guilty to immigration-related charges and will be sentenced on March 4. The investigation into Hendry and Brandel’s alleged kidnapping and presumed death continues.

The three suspects had been originally arrested because of crimes committed in December 2023. The Royal Grenada Police Force says the three men were jointly charged with robbery with violence, and Mitchell was separately charged with rape, attempted rape, indecent assault, and causing harm.

The Coast Guard took possession of Simplicity.

Ralph’s son, Bryan Hendry, and Brandel’s son, Nick Buro, released a statement from the family asking for the cruising community not to try to search for the missing couple. In the statement, they say, “The only way we feel this situation could be worse would be if anyone was hurt or endangered trying to conduct searches.”

A family friend started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Bryan Hendry and Buro, saying the funds will pay for recovery of the vessel and the victims’ belongings, covering funeral costs, and providing support for grieving family members.

Brandel and Hendry were veteran cruisers that the Salty Dawg Sailing Association called “warm hearted and capable.” The association’s president, Bob Osborn, said, “Our hopes and prayers are with Ralph and Kathy and the family who love them… In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this.”

A prayer service was announced to be held at Christ the King church in Alexandria on Saturday night, Feb. 24.