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A Virginia couple missing in the Caribbean for more than a week were probably killed by three escaped prisoners who hijacked their catamaran in Grenada and threw the pair overboard as they sailed to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, authorities said Monday.

Junior Simmons, superintendent of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, said at a news conference that Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, a retired couple, are presumed dead, but that the search for them continues by air and sea in the roughly 100-mile stretch of the Caribbean between the islands of Grenada and St. Vincent. Public records show that two people by their names shared several addresses in Alexandria and Fairfax County over the past two decades.

Simmons said the joint investigation by his force and the Royal Grenada Police Force, aided by U.S. Embassy personnel, indicates that three men being held at a Grenadian jail on charges that include rape and robbery escaped Feb. 18 and kidnapped Hendry and Brandel, who were on board their 48-foot sailboat Simplicity, moored at a beach on the small island.

Family members of the missing Virginia couple surveyed their boat, “Simplicity,” on Feb. 24 after it was found off the coast of St. Vincent. (Video: The Washington Post)

“While sailing from Grenada the suspects committed several criminal acts including bodily harm to the couple,” Simmons said. Don McKenzie, commissioner of the Grenada force, said at a separate news conference Monday that it is believed the suspects “disposed of the occupants” on their way to St. Vincent.

The couple had sailed from Hampton, Va., to Antigua for a boat rally in November and were spending the winter cruising the eastern part of the Caribbean, according to their boating group, the Salty Dawg Sailing Association. The two lived on the boat and were seasoned sailors, and Brandel had recently become a grandmother, according to a GoFundMe page.

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association said in a statement that a cruising skipper contacted the group on Feb. 21 to report that the Simplicity was moored and abandoned off the south coast of St. Vincent. The skipper also alerted the St. Vincent coast guard, and police were notified in turn.

“The good Samaritan had boarded the boat and noted that the owners … were not onboard and found evidence of apparent violence,” the statement said.

Simmons said that when investigators boarded the vessel, they found items strewn on the deck and in the cabin, and a red substance that appeared to be blood was found on the catamaran. The GoFundMe campaign organizer wrote that the catamaran had “chilling evidence of a violent struggle.”

Police launched a manhunt for the escaped prisoners and said the men were recaptured the same day the skipper found the boat.

Simmons said the three prisoners, all Grenadian residents, have been cooperating with the investigation and pleaded guilty to immigration violations in court. They are being held pending sentencing March 4. They have not yet been charged with crimes against Hendry and Brandel but are considered suspects, authorities said.

A spokesman for the Royal Grenada Police Force said an internal investigation has been launched into how the three prisoners escaped from the St. George Police Station. McKenzie said a supervisor at the jail has since been transferred.

The GoFundMe organizer wrote on the fundraising page that Hendry and Brandel were spending their retirement sailing on Simplicity. The Salty Dawg Sailing Association said in its statement that both were longtime members and that Brandel had served on the group’s board. The group described the couple as “warm hearted and capable.”

“Kathy and Ralph, experienced adventurers, spent their retirement sailing aboard Simplicity, spending summers in New England and embracing the warmth of Caribbean winters,” the GoFundMe page reads.

Nick Buro, a son of Brandel’s, and Bryan Hendry, a son of Hendry’s, said in a joint statement Tuesday that the couple “lived a life that most of us can only dream of.” Buro said in a text message that Brandel’s birthday was on Feb. 21, the day the Simplicity was found. She would have turned 71. Hendry was 66.

“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 statement said. “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.”

The statement said the couple made friends with “everyone they encountered, singing, dancing and laughing with friends and family.”

“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,” the statement said.

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