Lewis Bennett of Delray Beach, Florida got seven months in federal prison for stealing gold and silver coins worth over $38,000. After he was sentenced for the theft, he was taken into custody by the FBI for allegedly killing his wife, Isabella Hellman, who was thought to have disappeared at sea in May 2017.
Bennett, 40, now faces a second-degree murder charge and a much longer prison sentence. The press did not name his attorney.
According to news sources, Bennett and Hellman were sailing a catamaran in the Caribbean last May on a belated honeymoon voyage to St. Maarten, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Hellman was reported missing on May 15, 2017, after the catamaran capsized in an alleged accident near Cay Sal Bank in the Bahamas. The couple were on their way back to Florida when the boat capsized. Bennett is now accused of killing Hellman and intentionally capsizing their catamaran to make it look like there was a boating accident.
Bennett initially told investigators that he was sleeping when he heard “a crash underneath” that woke him up. He said the boat started to take on water and he couldn’t see his wife. Bennett reportedly admitted he not only didn’t try to find the leak or do anything about it, but he also didn’t make any effort to locate his wife. He didn’t light any flares to search the area or yell for his wife while in a life raft, the affidavit says.
“In fact, Bennett, stated that once on board the life raft, he cut the line that tethered the life raft to the vessel,” the complaint says. “Bennett explained that he did this because he was afraid of being pulled under water if the vessel were to sink.”
The FBI believes Bennett falsely claimed his wife disappeared after the alleged accident. Her body was never located despite an intensive search. A Coast Guard expert felt that someone with Bennett’s sailing skill should have been able to save the catamaran despite the damage to the hulls. The expert also noted that the damage appeared to have come from inside the boat in nearly the same place on each hull.
The escape hatches of both hulls were reportedly open, something the boat manufacturer said shouldn’t have happened when the boat is in the water unless someone was trying to escape.
“The opening of both escape hatches is unexplainable as an accident and defies prudent seamanship,” the FBI quoted a Coast Guard expert. “It appears the vessel was intentionally scuttled.”
Bennett filed for a presumptive death certificate in court on September 20. Under Florida law, a missing adult is only presumed dead after five years.
“Since Hellman had been missing approximately [four] months, and a husband would normally want his wife to be found alive, this request is extremely early,” wrote FBI Special Agent James Kelley wrote in an affidavit filed in Miami federal court.
The affidavit suggests financial gain as the likely motive for Bennett’s alleged actions. Hellman’s property and money would be transferred to him under Florida family law, Kelley notes in the affidavit.
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