Missing American couple presumed dead and bodies thrown overboard after bloody Grenada yacht hijacking

Missing American couple presumed dead and bodies thrown overboard after bloody Grenada yacht hijacking

Two American citizens are presumed by police to be dead and disposed of after their boat was allegedly hijacked by three prison escapees in the Caribbean, with a “red substance that resembled blood” seen onboard.

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, identified by the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, left Virginia in 2023 to embark on a sailing journey on their vessel Simplicity to spend the winter cruising the eastern Caribbean.

Superintendent Junior Simmons, the head of the public relations department at the RSVG Police Force, who is working with the Royal Grenada Police Force in this ongoing investigation, said during a press conference that three escaped prisoners hijacked a yacht named Simplicity in Grenada.

The three men, who are also suspects, Ron Mitchell, Trevon Robertson, and Atiba Stanislaus, were arrested and charged jointly with one count of robbery with violence in December. Mitchell was also charged separately with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm, the Royal Grenada Police Force also said in a press release.

The three men were kept in a holding cell at the South St George Police Station in Grenada, but on 18 February, they escaped custody.

The RSVG Police Force said that they believe the three suspects “kidnapped the couple” and that “while sailing from Grenada, the suspects committed several criminal acts, including bodily harm to the couple.”

Mr Simmons said that on 19 February, the suspects illegally entered St Vincent and the Grenadines, and by 21 February, police received information about the escaped prisoners and the discovery of a yacht.

A manhunt was immediately launched and the SVD Coast Guard and the crime scene unit went to the location where the yacht was found.

“A red substance that resembled blood was seen on board,” Mr Simmons said, along with several items strewn on the deck and in the cabin.

The three men were recaptured after allegedly taking a yacht to St Vincent and the Grenadines (RSVG Police Force)
The three men were recaptured after allegedly taking a yacht to St Vincent and the Grenadines (RSVG Police Force)

After the scene was processed, they found it to be consistent with signs of violence, although no bodies were found onboard the yacht.

The Regional Security System and the Grenadian and Vincentian Coast Guards are both conducting air and maritime patrols and surveillance across both island borders, but no bodies have been found. They have been “presumed deceased” by police.

Royal Grenada Police Force Commissioner Don McKenzie also said during a news conference on Monday that the information suggests the suspects likely “disposed of the occupants” while travelling.

On 22 February, the suspects were apprehended by the police and appeared at a magistrate court on Monday on four counts each on immigration-related charges.

They pleaded guilty and are remanded in custody for sentencing on 4 March. Mr Simmons also added that they were cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

Suellen Desmarais, the sister of missing Mr Hendry, told WPTV that the couple’s “whole life” was on their boat Simplicity; they didn’t own a home or cars and they usually spent their winters on their boat in Fort Pierce visiting family and friends.

However, this year, they skipped this trip to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the Caribbean, leaving with a boating group from Virginia back in November 2023.

The couple are members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a nonprofit educational organisation for sailors. It was the Salty Dawg executive director Tatja Hopman who was notified by a cruising skipper on Wednesday that a member’s yacht, Simplicity, was anchored and abandoned off a beach on the south coast of St Vincent in the Caribbean.

The good Samaritan boarded the abandoned boat and did not find the owners, Mr Hendry and Ms Brandel, onboard, but did find “evidence of apparent violence,” they said in a statement.

In a statement from the missing couple’s family on Saturday, they expressed their gratitude to the cruise community for gathering information and providing search and rescue support but have asked them to stand down, letting authorities handle the case.

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

US State Department told CNN that it is “aware of these reports involving US citizens. We are monitoring the situation and seeking additional information.”