American couple whose catamaran was hijacked were likely thrown overboard and died, Grenada police say

3 men arrested Wednesday in St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Posted at 11:12 AM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 23:42:11-05

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Police in Grenada said they believe an elderly U.S. couple aboard their catamaran that was hijacked by three escaped prisoners last week were killed and thrown into the Caribbean Sea. Monday's announcement is a blow to those who were independently helping search for Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel and had hoped they were still alive.

Don McKenzie, police commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force, said the three prisoners escaped on Feb. 18 and hijacked the catamaran "Simplicity" on Monday.

They were arrested Wednesday in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He said information suggests the prisoners disposed of the couple while traveling between Grenada and St. Vincent.

Hendry's sister told WPTV on Friday that the couple would spend every winter on their boat in Fort Pierce, visiting with family and friends. But they skipped the trip this year for the trip of a lifetime to Grenada.

Brandel's son, Nick Buro, previously said he still hoped the couple would be found on a Caribbean island.

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Ralph Hendry and his wife, Kathy Brandel, lived on their boat named "Simplicity."
Ralph Hendry and his wife, Kathy Brandel, lived on their boat named "Simplicity."

"The boat itself was ransacked and everything was strewn about in the entire cabin, so clearly there was an altercation of some type that took place on the boat," Buro told CNN Sunday. "We are concerned for their safety overall because it does appear that they were likely injured."

Wednesday, the day the abandoned boat was discovered, was Kathy’s 71st birthday, Buro said. March 2, will be Ralph's 67th birthday, his son Bryan Hendry told CNN.

Buro said his mother and stepfather were veteran boaters who had been planning the trip – their first cruise of the Caribbean – for years.

"They were super careful to be safe all the time," Buro said. "Everywhere they went everything they did, safety was their top, top concern. So this unfortunate accident, I think, it came out of nowhere for them."

The couple sold their home and bought Simplicity years ago, throwing themselves into an enthralling life on the water, he said.

"It was their home. Everything they had, they owned, was on that boat. It was their life," he said. "Kathy worked her whole life and then retired. Ralph worked in financial services and continued to work from the boat. But really what they did was … choose a lifestyle that most of us would never imagine could be done. And they loved every minute of it and they saw many parts of the world and just lived a life of joy and love."

The suspects in the hijacking – Ron Mitchell, 30; Trevon Robertson, 19; and Abita Stanislaus, 25 – were cooperating with investigators, Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Superintendent Junior O. Simmons said. Prior to the escape, all three had been charged on suspicion of robbery with violence and Mitchell faced other charges, including rape and indecent assault, the Royal Grenada Police Force said.

The U.S. State Department said Friday it is "aware of these reports involving US citizens. We are monitoring the situation and seeking additional information."

The Royal Grenada Police Force said Ron Mitchell, 30, Abita Stanislaus, 25, and Trevon Robertson, 19, escaped their holding cell at the South St. George's Police Station on Feb. 18, 2024, but we recaptured on Feb. 21, 2024.jpg
The Royal Grenada Police Force said Ron Mitchell, 30, Abita Stanislaus, 25, and Trevon Robertson, 19, escaped their holding cell at the South St. George's Police Station on Feb. 18, 2024, but we recaptured on Feb. 21, 2024.

Boat found abandoned by ‘good Samaritan’

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association said it was contacted Wednesday by a boater who spotted the Simplicity anchored and abandoned off the south coast of St. Vincent.

"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 group said. The person also contacted the Coast Guard, who notified St. Vincent police, the association said.

Grenada police said the escapees were recaptured the same day by the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force.

Ben Osborn, the sailing club’s president, offered his support to the families and said the violence was unheard of.

"This is a very upsetting event and details are still unconfirmed by the authorities, but this does appear to be a tragic event – our hopes and prayers are with Ralph and Kathy and the family who love them," Osborn said in a statement. "In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this."

Seasoned boaters receive outpouring of support

News of Brandel and Hendry's disappearance has opened a floodgate of support from loved ones, church friends and boating community members who stepped forward willing to help, their families said.

"We want to reach out to the entire cruiser community to express our gratitude for everyone who worked to gather information from eyewitnesses 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," Buro and Bryan Hendry said in a statement shared by the sailing club.

They also asked that any boaters not affiliated with the official investigation stand down on their search efforts.

"The only way we feel this situation could be worse would be if anyone was hurt or endangered trying to conduct searches," the statement read.

The couple also had close ties to their local Christian community, and a prayer service was held Saturday for them, Buro said.

A GoFundMe campaign has been established on behalf of Nick Buro to help fund the recovery of the yacht and the couple's belongings, funeral costs and support.

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