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Virginia couple missing in Grenada and feared killed after yacht allegedly stolen by escaped criminals

Americans missing after suspected yacht hijacking
Missing Americans suspected dead after alleged yacht hijacking in Grenada 01:39

Two Americans who planned to spend the winter on a yacht in the Caribbean were officially missing Monday, but feared to have been killed after their boat was stolen by prison escapees in Grenada. Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry were last seen a week ago near a beach in the small island nation. Police found their sailboat, and captured three escaped criminals whom they believe stole it.

The couple was likely thrown into the ocean and died, police in Grenada said Monday. "Information suggests that while traveling between Grenada and St Vincent, (the suspects) disposed of the occupants," Don McKenzie, police commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force, said at a news conference.

Grenadan police were still searching for the couple, who are from Northern Virginia, and they told CBS News' Washington, D.C., affiliate WUSA that no bodies had been found.

Family and friends have described the couple as seasoned sailors who just last year sailed their yacht, named Simplicity, from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua. They confirmed that the pair had been vacationing in Grenada, where their boat was docked.

St. Vincent Grenada Hijacked Yacht
The yacht "Simplicity," which officials say was hijacked by three escaped prisoners with two people on board, is seen docked at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Coastguard Service Calliaqua Base, in Calliaqua, St. Vincent, Feb. 23, 2024. Kenton X. Chance/AP

In a statement Tuesday, the couple's family said that Hendry and Brandel sailed the eastern coast of the U.S., living on their yacht, "making friends with everyone they encountered, singing, dancing and laughing with friends and family."

"It's just really sad," said longtime friend K.C. McAlpin, who added that Brandel and Hendry had planned to make this their "last grand trip" on Simplicity.

Instead, things may have taken a very tragic turn. The couple went missing on Feb. 19, one day after police in Grenada say three convicted criminals escaped from custody. 

The three men — identified as Ron Mitchell, 30, Trevon Robertson, 19, and Abita Stanislaus, 25 — were arrested in December over an alleged violent robbery. Mitchell also faced one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm.

All three were recaptured Wednesday, Feb. 21. The yacht was also found that same day, Brandel's 71st birthday, abandoned on a beach on the nearby island of St. Vincent.    

The police believe the men hijacked the couple's yacht in Grenada and then traveled to St. Vincent.

Police said they found evidence suggesting the pair were killed, but the Americans' deaths have not been confirmed and the investigation was still in its early stages, they stressed.

"Several items were strewn on the deck and in the cabin, and a red substance that resembled blood was seen on board," said police spokesman Junior Simmons 

Over the weekend, family members released a statement thanking officials and those who had helped gather information, saying it "means so much to us that so many people care for Ralph and Kathy."

"We live in world that at times can be cruel, but it's also a world of profound beauty, wonder, adventure, love, compassion, caring, and faith," the family said on Tuesday. "Our parents encompassed all those values and so much more. If we have learned anything from this tragic event, it's that we know they left this world in a better place than it was before they were born."

McAlpin said the couple always made friends easily and he hoped they would be remembered for their big hearts.

"They were just a delightful couple and a real blessing in my life, and the lives of so many other people," he said.

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