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Crime News Dateline

Tragedy in Paradise: Former Flight Attendant Disappears After Night Out With Boyfriend

Sarm Hesslop was captured in final surveillance camera images getting into a dinghy with boyfriend Ryan Bane and heading out into the ocean where his boat had been docked just off the shore. 

By Jill Sederstrom
A personal photo of Sarm Joan Lillian Heslop

Sarm Heslop was living out her dream in paradise when she mysteriously vanished in 2021 from her boyfriend’s boat, docked just off St. John Island.

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The former flight attendant was never seen again, despite the ongoing efforts of her friends and family to try to find the bold and beautiful 41-year-old.

“I was blown away by Sarm’s friends and the lengths they went to find her,” Dateline Correspondent Andrea Canning said on Dateline: Unforgettable of what made the case memorable. “When I spoke with them, their pain was palpable, but they were not about to sit idly by.”

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Who was Sarm Heslop? 

Heslop is remembered by her friends for her brave and spontaneous personality and her desire to embrace a more unconventional life. 

Close friend Vicki Mogridge-Percy was struck by her “really deep, beautiful heart” and love for her friends and family. The pair met while working together as flight attendants. 

But it was Heslop’s love of sailing that brought her to the Caribbean island of Grenada, where she met future boyfriend Ryan Bane on Tinder. 

After casually dating for a few months, Bane — then chartering guests staying on St. John on his 47 foot luxury catamaran — asked her to live with him and work as his first mate on the boat. 

The offer was too good for Heslop to pass up. Not only would it allow her to spend more time with her boyfriend, but she could pursue a career on the water and perfect her culinary skills for the boat’s frequent guests. 

A personal photo of Sarm Joan Lillian Heslop

“She looked so happy in all of her photographs and when we spoke she was really, really enjoying herself,” friend Kate Vernalls recalled. “It was everything from previous relationships kind of pieced together to make this — what seems like a great, great life.” 

When did Sarm Heslop disappear?

But her picturesque life took a dark turn in the early morning hours of March 8, 2021. 

Bane called 911 at approximately 2:35 a.m. to report that he woke up to find Sarm missing from the boat, which had been docked just off Frank’s Bay in St. John.

According to then-U.S. Virgin Islands Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor, Bane told police officers who responded that he woke up after hearing an anchor alarm, designed to signal an alert when the boat shifted or moved, going off in the catamaran. Bane couldn't imagine where Heslop went. “He simply said maybe she could have fallen off the boat,” Velinor explained.

Police officers used lights to try to search the water surrounding the boat, but did not find anything. They left without searching the vessel — Velinor now admits that was a mistake — and instructed Bane to contact the U.S. Coast Guard. 

But Heslop’s friends and family questioned the 9-hour delay between when the 911 call was placed and when Bane finally reached out to the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct a search for his missing girlfriend. 

Lt. Commander Jan League, of the United States Coast Guard, told Canning that when officers did arrive they began an expansive arial and water search around 1 p.m.

“With the good weather, we can quickly cover a lot of the area, shoreline, and the open ocean, a lot of the isolated islands,” he explained.

But strangely, Coast Guard officers found no sign of Heslop. If she had fallen overboard in the area where the boat was docked, just off the shore, it’s expected that her body would be found in the water below or would wash up onto the shore.

The last known images of Heslop were captured by a surveillance camera and showed Heslop and Bane leaving St. John after getting dinner together at a local dive bar the night before. The pair are seen getting into a dingy and riding out into the water, where Bane’s boat was docked.

Bane told police that the pair had been drinking that night, but noted there was nothing unusual about their night out together.

Ryan Bane is named a "person of interest"

While Bane was the person who called 911 to report his girlfriend missing, by late that afternoon he had stopped cooperating with authorities and hired an attorney. 

According to League, when the Coast Guard arrived at his boat for a second time that day with police detectives, Bane refused to let police on board. The Coast Guard did board the boat, but according to a report documenting the encounter, a “heavily intoxicated” Bane made it clear he did not want the officers on his vessel.

In a statement to Dateline through his attorney, Bane has denied knowing anything about the disappearance. 

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"Mr. Bane had absolutely nothing to do with Sarm’s disappearance. He spent untold hours searching for her and remains devastated that she is missing,” the statement read. “His thoughts, as always, are with Sarm and her family during this difficult time.”

Velinor, however, has named Bane as a “person of interest” in the disappearance. 

Authorities have not been able to secure a search warrant to search Bane’s boat, known as the Siren Song, and Bane has refused to answer any more questions. 

Bane's Criminal Past

What’s even more unsettling for Heslop’s friends, is that Bane has a violent past. He pleaded guilty in 2011 to assaulting his wife at the time, Cori Stevenson. 

“It’s just a sinking feeling to think that she was with somebody who had that past and she didn’t know,” Vernalls said.

Stevenson told Dateline: Unforgettable her marriage to Bane had been fraught with violence, starting on their honeymoon and culminating in a terrifying incident that led to his arrest. 

According to her account, she and Bane had been driving home from a wedding when she asked him for directions and he got enraged, kicking her, the steering wheel, and gear shift. 

“By the time we got home, he was in such a crazy rage, as soon as I put the truck in park, he literally grabbed me by my hair and dragged me out of the truck,” she recalled. “Boom, tackles me, I’m on the ground, he actually took my head and smashed it into the floor and then, like, turned me over and, like, started choking me out.” 

Stevenson said she thought she was going to die.

“The look on his face, like, it was I can’t even explain it, it was like nobody was home. It was like the devil behind those eyes,” she said. “That’s what scared me the most.”

Stevenson said she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she called 911 and Bane was arrested. The brutal assault was the end of their marriage, but Stevenson couldn’t help but feel a kinship to Heslop, years later, when she heard about the disappearance.

“I instantly feel terrible for that girl’s family because that poor girl had no idea who he really is,” she said.

In the years since her disappearance, Heslop’s friends continue to keep her story alive through social media posts, television interviews, and a website dedicated to the case. 

To date, the case remains unsolved and Heslop’s fate remains a mystery.