Local Couple Feared Dead in Yacht Hijacking

Local Couple Feared Dead in Yacht Hijacking

Former Del Ray residents Brandel, Hendry missing in Caribbean.

Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry aboard their yacht Simplicity.

Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry aboard their yacht Simplicity.

    Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry were longtime residents of Del Ray prior to selling their possessions to buy a catamaran and sail during their retirement. The couple is now presumed dead after their yacht was discovered abandoned with signs of violence in the Caribbean.

The news has reverberated around the world: An American couple is presumed dead after their catamaran was found adrift in the Caribbean with signs of violence discovered on board. But in Alexandria, the heartbreak is especially profound as the search continues for answers to the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry.

Brandel and Hendry were longtime residents of Del Ray before selling their home and possessions to live their dream of spending their retirement sailing aboard Simplicity, the catamaran they had sailed from Virginia to Antigua at the end of 2023 before spending the winter sailing the Caribbean islands. They were last seen alive Feb. 18 in Grenada with their yacht discovered abandoned and adrift near St. Vincent Feb. 19.

“I have cried so many tears over this,” said Donna Anderson, owner of Sweet Fire Donna’s restaurant in Carlyle. “It is just the most horrendous thing I have ever heard of in my life.”

Brandel and Anderson have been friends for decades; Brandel served as a bridesmaid in Anderson’s 1988 wedding to “Mango” Mike Anderson.

“Kathy and Ralph have been out on the water for several years now,” Anderson said. “They were just now beginning to talk about coming in to land again since Kathy just had a grandson.”

Both Brandel and Hendry were seasoned sailors vacationing in Grenada at the time of their disappearance. They were members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, an informal boaters club, who said that the couple would spend summers in New England and winters in Caribbean waters. Their boat was found abandoned in St. Vincent on Feb. 19.

Brandel’s 71st birthday was Feb. 21 and March 2 would be Hendry’s 67th birthday. Brandel was a retired real estate professional while Hendry, founder of Potomac Wealth Management, continued to work remotely while sailing.

“Ralph and Kathy are two of the most beautiful souls,” said Anderson, who also noted that Brandel is godmother to her daughter Chelsea. “I used to teach aerobics for Ralph and was one of the people that introduced him to Kathy when she came to work out with me.”

Authorities in Grenada say the search is continuing for Hendry and Brandel although at this point they are now presumed dead. Three suspects have been taken into custody related to the couple’s disappearance. Police said the three were previously in custody following charges of robbery with violence but managed to escape and were found in St. Vincent. It is presumed that Brandel and Hendry were hijacked by the escapees after returning from dinner near a beach in Grenada.

Royal Grenada police released a statement saying in part, “Collaboration with our regional counterparts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have led to the recapture of these men by the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force yesterday, Wednesday 21st February 2024.”

Brandel and Hendry have been married for 27 years, sharing sons Christopher Buro, Nick Buro and Bryan Hendry along with daughter Jeannette Buro. Tragedy first struck the family in 2005 when Brandel’s son Christopher was gunned down at a friend’s home in McLean on Christmas Day. Her daughter Jeanette died in 2020 of a fentanyl overdose.

Upon receiving the news of the couple’s disappearance, Bryan Hendry and Nick Buro traveled to St. Vincent where they remain at this time.

“Kathy and Ralph were very faith driven,” Anderson said. “When Christopher was killed Kathy went over to Rwanda and spoke to and helped people who were victims of genocide. She shared her story with them and stayed for about a month and helped them. She was an incredible pillar of strength -- I never met anybody that was as strong as that woman was.”

Anderson remembers Brandel as a friend “that would always tell me the truth.”

“Kathy would tell me like it was,” Anderson said. “When Mike gave me this plaque at Christmas saying they were going to name Sweet Fire Donna’s after me her reaction was, ‘Snap out of it. That man has done nothing but build you a job and you’re going to work your ass off. Don’t thank him for that.”

Anderson added with a laugh, “And she was right.”

Bryan Hendry and Nick Buro released a statement, saying in part, “We live in a world that at times can be cruel, but it’s also a world of profound beauty, wonder, adventure, love, compassion, caring, and faith. 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. Ralph and Kathy lived a life that most of us can only dream of, sailing the eastern coast of the United States, living on their home Simplicity, making friends with everyone they encountered, singing, dancing and laughing with friends and family – that’s who Ralph and Kathy were and that’s how they will be remembered in our hearts. While the end of their life may have been dark, they brought light, and that light will never be extinguished from the hearts and minds of the people who knew, loved and cared so deeply about them.”

A prayer service was held for the couple Feb. 24 at Christ the King Sanctuary on N. Quaker Lane. Any future services are still pending and a GoFundMe has been created to assist the family.

“Kathy was just an incredible human being,” Anderson added. “So was Ralph. They were the kindest people in the world.”