Virginia couple feared dead as escaped prisoners hijack yacht in Caribbean

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A Virginia couple who were enjoying their retirement cruising the Caribbean on their yacht are feared dead after three escaped prisoners hijacked their vessel.

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel were docked on Sunday in the St. George’s area of Grenada, which they frequent annually in the winter months when authorities say the three fugitives set upon them and stole their yacht called “Simplicity.” The vessel is a catamaran, a type of sailing yacht with two hulls. 

The prisoners, aged 30, 19, and 20, had been locked up on charges of violent robbery, with the eldest also being held on three counts of attempted rape.  

A retired couple smiling, they are feared ddead

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel are feared dead after their yacht was found abandoned and ransacked in the Caribbean. (GoFundMe)

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The Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) says the three prisoners were discovered near another Caribbean Island on Wednesday, but there was no sign of the couple. 

Investigators say the boat was ransacked and that a violent act took place.

“The RGPF is currently working on leads that suggest that the two occupants of the yacht may have been killed in the process,” police said in a Thursday Facebook post. “It is believed that the occupants of the yacht were American citizens.”

A GoFundMe post by Jessica Mause, who says she is a close friend of one of the couple’s sons, wrote that they were dead.

“It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that we share the devastating news of the senseless act of violence that tragically claimed the lives of husband and wife, Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel. Their lives ended in unimaginable tragedy… off the shores of Grand Anse Beach, Grenada.”

However, Hendry’s sister, Suellen Desmarais, told FOX 5 that she is keeping faith they are alive and is still trying to figure out what happened.

“Why would I presume anyone is dead with no body and DNA? I want to remain positive. I want to believe that they are alive,” said Desmarais, who shared some details about the heartbreaking incident.

An image of boats in the harbor of St. George's, Grenada.

The harbor of St. George’s, Grenada, where the couple were visiting. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

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“On Sunday, they went into the town around 3 o’clock because another boater saw them go into town. And then the other boater, when he went to bed, he noticed that they were there because you always look to see who is around you and in the morning, when the boater woke up they were gone,” Desmarais said. 

The RGPF said it had taken the three prisoners into custody; Ron Mitchell, a 30-year-old sailor; Trevon Robertson, a 19-year-old unemployed man and Abita Stanislaus, a 20-year-old farmer. They are all locals from Paradise in Grenada and had been locked up since December, police said. 

Mause wrote that the couple were experienced adventurers who spent their retirement sailing aboard Simplicity in the winters and then traveled to New England in the summer. 

Three suspects arrested in the case of a Virginia couple feared dead.

The suspects arrested in connection with the disappearance of the couple.  (RSVG Police Force via Facebook )

Nicole Parker, a former FBI special agency and Fox News contributor says she fears the worst for the couple. 

“My suspicion is the suspects forced them to sail where they wanted to get to, probably had a violent interaction, killed them, dumped them overboard and went on their way,” Parker told Fox News Digital.

She said that the FBI are often called to other countries to help with their investigations if requested to do so and that the suspects could still be prosecuted even if the couple’s bodies are not recovered. It is unclear whether the FBI have been called upon to investigate this incident. 

“Hopefully they’ve required the assistance of the FBI, such as its evidence response team, to bring justice to these individuals who likely hurt or killed U.S. citizens,” said Parker, who has investigated violent crimes involving U.S. citizens in international waters.

She said that U.S. tourists should remain vigilant at all times when visiting foreign countries. 

“Sometimes we let our guards down when on vacation. We always have to be aware and alert, because unfortunately, there are people out there who have no respect for human life.”

“Never live in fear, but follow your gut, and keep your head on a swivel.”

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Hendry and Brandel were part of a sailing association called the Salty Dog. Its president, Rob Osborn, said that instances like this are uncommon in Grenada. He said he had received a message from a person who had seen the yacht abandoned and then had called local authorities.

“This is a tragedy that has shaken our community,” Osborn told FOX 5. He also lives on the sea.

 “There are literally hundreds of people who do what I do in the winter. I just want everyone to know that this is very rare. When people ask us if we worry about pirates, the answer is ‘No,’ these are friendly islands. “Whether you are in New York City, Chicago or here, sometimes bad things happen, and this is heinous.”

A Google Maps image pinpointing Grenada

A map pinpoints Grenada in the Caribbean where the couple are feared dead. (Google Maps)

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