What To Know About Missing US Couple Sailing Caribbean

Catamaran cruisers Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel are presumed dead after their disappearances in the Grenadines.
Turquoise colored sea with ancored yachts and catamarans, Tobago Cays tropical islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean sea
The Royal Grenada Police Force believe three escaped prisoners hijacked a catamaran owned by Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel in the Grenadines. vadim.nefedov/stock.adobe.com

Caribbean authorities on Monday announced that an American couple sailing the Caribbean on their 48-foot St. Francis catamaran, Simplicity, were presumed dead after police say their boat was hijacked by escaped prisoners from Grenada. 

Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force spokesman Junior Simmons said during a news conference that Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel are presumed dead after the couple’s disappearance. Simmons said authorities believe the couple was aboard their boat Simplicity when it was hijacked by three men accused of escaping police custody the day before. Their bodies haven’t been recovered as of Thursday afternoon.

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brendel
Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel are presumed dead after the couple’s disappearance, according to Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force spokesman Junior Simmons. Jessica Mause/GoFundMe

The couple, experienced sailors, were on their final voyage with the Salty Dawg Sailing Association when it “took an unthinkable turn as Simplicity was found abandoned in St. Vincent, bearing chilling evidence of a violent struggle,” said a GoFundMe created for the couple’s family. 

Men accused of hijacking boat after escaping custody 

Grenada’s Police Commissioner Don McKenzie said Monday during a news conference that Trevon Robertson, 19, Abita Stanislaus, 25, and Ron Mitchell, 30, escaped custody at South St. George Police Station on Feb. 18. 

The escapees are accused of hijacking the Simplicity on Feb. 19. The boat was moored at Grand Anse, which is near the police station. While traveling to St. Vincent and the Grenadines from Grenada, “they disposed of the occupants,” police said. The men haven’t been charged in the couple’s disappearance. 

The men were later captured by St. Vincent authorities and were charged with immigration-related charges, to which they pleaded guilty. They are scheduled to appear in court Monday for sentencing. 

Evidence discovered on the Simplicity suggests there were “acts of violence,” Simmons said. Investigators found what is believed to be blood on the boat, and items were strewn around. 

Roberston, Stanislaus and Mitchell were charged last year with one count of robbery with violence. Mitchell also faced rape charges, authorities said. 

Children cling to hope

The couple’s children, Nick Buro and Bryan Hendry, said in a statement Tuesday they remain optimistic in the search for their parents, who “lived a life that most of us can only dream of, sailing the eastern coast of the United States, living on their home Simplicity, making friends with everyone they encountered, singing, dancing and laughing with friends and family.”

Buro and Hendry said they were coordinating with the United States Embassy, American officials and the governments of St. Vincent and Grenada.

A view of the Grand Anse with the city of St Georges in the distance in Grenada.
The three suspects are said to have escaped custody at South St. George Police Station near Grande Anse in Grenada on Feb. 18. World Travel Photos/stock.adobe.com

“While the end of their life may have been dark, they brought light, and that light will never be extinguished from the hearts and minds of the people who knew, loved and cared so deeply about them,” the children said. 

Hendry and Buro said in a Saturday statement they “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.”

Simplicity discovered by ‘good Samaritan’

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association, an educational nonprofit based in Rhode Island, said in a Feb. 22 statement that Executive Director Tatja Hopman learned the Simplicity was found anchored and abandoned on a St. Vincent beach. 

A “good Samaritan” boarded the boat and discovered evidence of violence. Longtime SDSA members Hendry and Brandel had sailed the boat in the 2023 Caribbean Rally from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua. The couple decided to spend the winter cruising the Caribbean, the association said. 

The association has a tracking map where they can follow members’ boats. Simplicity’s tracking information shows that the boat was anchored in Grenada before sailing to its last anchorage in St. Vincent, the association said. 

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

UPDATE: Grenadines Boat Hijacking Suspects Charged with Murder