Crime

Friends sailed with couple from US before tragic hijacking in Grenada

The Sissons, who said they had known the Virginia couple for about eight years, had joined them for atrip from Hampton, Virginia to Antigua.

Friends sailed with couple from US before tragic hijacking in Grenada
Provided to Scripps News Norfolk
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Pete and Tammy Sisson are left wondering what would have happened if they had still been with their friends Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry when the couple’s catamaran was hijacked in the Caribbean by three escaped prisoners last week. 

“I also thought perhaps if there were four people instead of two, maybe these perpetrators would have done something different,” Pete told Scripps News Norfolk

The Sissons, who said they had known the Hendrys for about eight years, had joined them on their trip aboard their 48-foot yacht “Simplicity” when they sailed from Hampton, Virginia to Antigua in the fall. 

“[Kathy] hadn’t done a long passage like that yet, and it’s always good, obviously, to have more people on the boat. So, we said ‘Yes’ right away, because they’re just great people,” explained Tammy. 

The trip was part of a boating rally organized by the nonprofit Salty Dawg Sailing Association, which said Hendry and Brandel were "veteran cruisers" and longtime members of the association and described them as "warm-hearted and capable."

But the Sissons left a few days after they all arrived in Antigua, not knowing the tragedy that would strike a few months later. 

Hendry, 66, and Kathy Brandel, 71, were still living on their catamaran in the Caribbean on Feb. 19, when police said it was hijacked by three prisoners who had escaped from the South Saint George Police Station the day prior. 

The suspects were arrested last Wednesday on the nearby island of St. Vincent and police said it appears to hijackers “disposed of the occupants” at some point while traveling from Grenada. 

US couple whose boat was hijacked in Grenada likely thrown overboard
US couple whose boat was hijacked in Grenada likely thrown overboard

US couple whose boat was hijacked in Grenada likely thrown overboard

The Royal Grenada Police Force said three escaped prisoners hijacked the boat and likely "disposed of the occupants" on the way to St. Vincent.

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When pressed for details, Police Commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force Don McKenzie 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."

On Sunday, Brandel’s son, Nick Buro, told CNN that they were holding out hope the couple might be found safe; however, evidence on “Simplicity” suggested violence.

“The boat itself was ransacked and everything was strewn about in the entire cabin, so clearly there was an altercation of some type that took place on the boat which does indicate that we are concerned for their safety overall because it does appear that they were likely injured,” Buro said.

Hendry’s sister, Suellen Desmarais of Fort Pierce in Florida, said the couple would spend every winter on their boat in Fort Pierce, visiting family. But they skipped their regular trip last year for the trip of a lifetime to Grenada. 

"This was their whole life; they didn't own another home; they didn't own cars; they owned Simplicity," Desmarais told Scripps News West Palm Beach. "And when you were invited onto Simplicity, you were made to feel as magical as they were and as magical as that boat was."

Pete said, “They had a warm heart and befriended people very easily.”

He described how their trip from Hampton to Antigua took about 11 days and each night, Brandel would cook a nice dinner that they would all sit around the table on the boat and enjoy. 

“We would all hold hands and Ralph would always say a little prayer of thanks for everything we had and the fact that he felt so lucky to be able to do the things that he and Kathy did and to pray for people who aren’t as lucky,” recalled Pete. “Not a night went by that we didn’t sit down and hold hands and do that.”

Now, the Sissons are worried and heartbroken for their friends. Before departing, the Sissons shared stories with the couple of their past trips to Grenada and were sure their friends would also enjoy it when they went. 

“The people there were super nice. You know, everybody was friendly,” said Tammy. “It’s just beautiful there, and we always felt safe and comfortable.”

Pete said he can’t help but wonder if things would have been different had they still been onboard.

This story was originally published by Angela Bohon at Scripps News Norfolk