For almost two weeks, police have been desperately searching for Sarm Heslop, a British flight attendant who vanished from a boat off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
That search, however, has become increasingly harder after her American boyfriend, 44-year-old Ryan Bane, stopped cooperating with police and barred them from searching the vessel. To make matters worse, it appears Bane has a history of domestic violence, his ex-wife said in a new interview.
Now, Heslop’s friends and family are fed up.
“We are shocked and distraught that Sarm is missing. We would like assurance that the authorities in the Virgin Islands are doing everything possible to find her and that the investigation into our beautiful and cherished daughter’s disappearance includes a comprehensive fingertip search of the boat,” her family said in a Saturday statement.
“Our daughter is a UK citizen and we ask for all of the support that the UK authorities have to offer. We will never give up looking for Sarm and we still have hope of finding her safe.”
Virgin Islands Police say Heslop, 41, was last seen on the vessel Siren Song—which is owned by Bane—on March 7 after the pair went out to dinner. Hours later, at around 2:30 a.m., Bane called authorities to report her missing.
When officers arrived at the boat, moored in Frank Bay, St. John, Bane said that the pair had sailed from St. Thomas and had gone to bed around 10 p.m. Bane explained that he was woken about four hours later to the ship’s anchor alarm, and noticed his girlfriend was gone.
But soon after officers performed an initial land search and asked Bane to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, the 44-year-old Michigan native lawyered up and barred police from his boat. The U.S. Coast Guard said it was first alerted to the incident at around 11:46 am on March 8—when Bane called to say his girlfriend may have fallen off the 47-foot catamaran.
“Soon after reporting Ms. Heslop missing, Mr. Bane acquired the services of an attorney,” a police spokesperson said in a statement. "Upon his attorney’s advice, Mr. Bane exercised his constitutional right to remain silent and denied officers’ requests to search the vessel.”
Heslop’s friends and family are outraged by Bane’s decision not to cooperate with authorities.
Andrew Baldwin, who has known Heslop for more than 25 years, said in a statement that the “timeline” of his best friend’s disappearance “does not make sense.”
“We know they had dinner in a local restaurant and left at 10 p.m. What we don’t know is what happened in those intervening hours,” the 41-year-old said in a statement, noting that it took Bane almost 10 hours to call the Coast Guard that night.
Baldwin added that Heslop’s “phone, passport, and all [her] belongings were left on the boat” and insisted that “she would not just disappear, leaving no trace.”
“She is savvy and sensible, it’s not like her at all, it just doesn’t add up,” he said, adding that he found it extremely suspicious that Bane’s lawyer had denied local officers’ requests to search the boat.
“Given that Sarm lived on the boat with Mr. Bane and he claims she has gone missing from that boat it would be natural for this to be the first place for police to search. We struggle to understand why, as we hear, he would not permit this to happen and we continue to ask for a thorough search of Siren Song given that it is almost two weeks since Sarm went missing,” Baldwin added.
“We are asking for an urgent and immediate investigation into this incident as her friends here at home are devastated and just need her disappearance to be made a critical priority as there also seem to be many discrepancies in the timeline of what we have heard.”
But Bane’s lawyer, David Cattie, insisted that Bane’s timeline is not suspicious—and that he after he contacted 911 on March 8 he “traveled to meet members of the [Virgin Islands Police Department] to give a statement regarding Sarm.”
“Later that morning, the US Coast Guard came to Mr. Bane’s vessel (Siren Song) at Mr. Bane’s request,” Cattie said in a statement to Fox News. “Multiple USCG officers boarded the vessel and interviewed Mr. Bane on the vessel. Mr. Bane, at the request of Sarm’s family, then turned over her personal belongings to [the Virgin Islands Police Department], including her cell phone, iPad, passport, etc.”
The lawyer, however, did not appear to comment on why his client is no longer speaking with the police. Cattie did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
For Cori Stevenson, her ex-husband’s decision not to cooperate is suspicious—but not all that surprising given his alleged violent past. In an interview with CrimeOnline, Stevenson said Bane was allegedly abusive during their six-year relationship that ended in 2014.
The alleged abuse prompted at least one police report in 2011, and Bane was charged with simple assault against Stevenson. Stevenson told CrimeOnline she has been communicating with the Virgin Islands police about her ex-husband’s past.