Missing Virginia couple were likely thrown overboard in the Caribbean, police say

An older U.S. couple whose catamaran was hijacked last week in the Caribbean by three escaped prisoners were likely thrown into the ocean and died, police in Grenada said Monday.

The 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 at a news conference that the three prisoners escaped on Feb. 18 from the South Saint George Police Station. They hijacked the catamaran "Simplicity" on Feb. 19 and headed to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where they were arrested last Wednesday, he said.

"Information suggests that while traveling between Grenada and St Vincent, they disposed of the occupants," McKenzie said.

When pressed for details, he said, "We have nothing conclusive to say that the individuals are dead. We still hold out hope that in spite (of) what might be a low probability, that they would turn up alive somewhere."

He noted that he was "quite limited" with what he could share with the public regarding the case because the investigation is ongoing, and because Grenadian authorities still don’t have much information.

"The information I possess is limited and can be considered second-hand as I have had very limited discussions regarding the details of the investigation with my Vincentian counterpart," McKenzie said.

St. Vincent police could not be immediately reached for comment.

Hendry and Brandel have been known to take trips to go cruising around Grenada. Their family told FOX 5 this is something they always do – live on their boat during the winter months. It's an escape from their home in Falls Church, Virginia. 

According to reports from investigators in the Caribbean, their boat was found abandoned in Saint Vincent.

The reports claim it was "ransacked" and it was apparent that a violent act took place.

There are three men in custody in connection to the Virginia couple's disappearance. Detectives in Grenada say the men are prisoners who were already facing robbery and rape charges.

Ralph Hendry’s sister, Suellen Desmarais, is still trying to figure out what happened, but told FOX 5, she’s keeping faith alive.

"On Sunday, they went into the town around three 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 cause you always look to see who is around you and in the morning, when the boater woke up they were gone," Desmarais said. "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."

Ralph and Kathy were part of a sailing association called the Salty Dog.


Ralph Hendry and Kathy BrandelThe three escaped prisoners were recaptured on Feb. 21. Photo via Royal Grenada Police Force

The president of the group, Rob Osborn — who also lives on the sea — received a message from a good Samaritan who saw the abandoned yacht. He called local authorities before informing the couple's family.

"This is a tragedy that has shaken our community," Osborn said. "There are literally 100s 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," he continued. "Whether you are in NYC, Chicago or here, sometimes bad things happen. And this is heinous."

FOX 5 has learned that Kathy and Ralph's children are in the Caribbean at the moment working with local authorities on this investigation.

In a statement sent to FOX 5, a spokesperson for the State Department said, "We are aware of these reports involving U.S. citizens missing in the vicinity of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can. We are monitoring the situation and seeking additional information. The Department of State has no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad.  We stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to U.S. citizens in need and to their families."