U.S. couple likely dead after yacht hijacked by fugitives in Caribbean

Click to play video: 'American couple missing after their yacht was stolen while on Caribbean trip'
American couple missing after their yacht was stolen while on Caribbean trip
EDITOR'S NOTE: The above video mentions the couple's catamaran was found on Feb. 18. The actual date was Feb 21, as reflected in the article below. We apologize for the error in the video.

Authorities in Grenada on Monday said an American couple who vanished last week after their yacht was allegedly hijacked by fugitives in the Caribbean were likely killed and thrown overboard.

During a press conference Monday, the country’s police force said officers are still searching for Kathy Brendle, 71, and Ralph Hendry, 66, though their effort does not seem hopeful.

FILE – Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel may have been killed by three escaped fugitives who allegedly hijacked the couple’s yacht off the coast of Grenada this month, local police said. Salty Dawg Sailing Association

Brendle and Hendry were last seen a week ago near a beach in Grenada. The married couple from North Virginia had planned to spend the winter months living on their catamaran in the Caribbean, according to family members.

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Don McKenzie, the police commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force, said the couple’s yacht, called “Simplicity,” was hijacked by three escaped prisoners from the South Saint George Police Station.

The three men — identified as Ron Mitchell, 30, Trevon Robertson, 19, and Abita Stanislaus, 25 — escaped on Feb. 18, but were arrested again three days later.

McKenzie said information gathered by police suggests that the fugitives “disposed” of the American couple while travelling to nearby St. Vincent from Grenada on the stolen vessel.

Police have not found any bodies. The Simplicity was discovered abandoned on a St. Vincent beach on Wednesday, the same day as the arrests.

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a non-profit of which Brendle and Hendry are members, was among the first to identify the American couple. A good Samaritan reportedly contacted the organization after they found the Simplicity abandoned on the south coast of St. Vincent, with Salty Dawg’s flag still flying onboard.

The good Samaritan, a cruising skipper, “found evidence of apparent violence” onboard the catamaran and called police.

“Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry are veteran cruisers and long-time members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association from its earliest days,” the group wrote.

The non-profit said their “live member’s [sic] tracking map” showed that the couple’s vessel was anchored in Grenada and then moved directly to its last location off St. Vincent.
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“In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this,” said Bob Osborn, Salty Dawg’s president. “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.”

In a press release from Thursday, the Royal Grenada Police Force said two unnamed Americans “may have been killed” during the yacht hijacking.

The investigation is ongoing.

The three fugitives, who escaped a police station holding cell, were jointly charged in December in connection with a violent robbery. One of the men, Mitchell, faced additional charges including rape, attempted rape, indecent assault and causing harm.

Friends and family members of Brendle and Hendry told CBS News that the couple, who have been married for 27 years, set sail on the Simplicity from Hampton, Va., earlier this year.

Since police have not yet confirmed the deaths of Brendle and Hendry, their loved ones are still holding out hope for a safe return.

The couple’s children, Nick Buro (son of Brandel) and Bryan Hendry (son of Hendry), told NBC News Washington they first learned of their parents’ disappearance from U.S. consular officials in Barbados.

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“Shock, despair, fear, sadness, hope, love — all of those emotions are going through our head at the same time,” Buro told the outlet. “You’ll never meet more beautiful people than Kathy and Ralph. They made everybody feel happy and so welcome. They consistently made you feel like you were part of their family.”

In a statement shared by Salty Dawg, the sons thanked the cruiser community and the St. Vincent authorities, as well as others, for their 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,” they wrote. “For the safety of the cruising community we are asking all cruisers, and anyone that is not affiliated with the officials with presiding jurisdiction, to stand down. The only way we feel this situation could be worse would be if anyone was hurt or endangered trying to conduct searches.”

A GoFundMe was launched by a friend of Brendle and Hendry to raise funds “towards recovering the vessel and belongings, covering funeral costs and providing support to the grieving families.”

The page has raised over US$51,000 (about C$68,900).

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