Federal authorities have brought charges against Lewis Bennett for the death of his wife in 2017. They believe it was an effort to inherit her estate upon her death. Isabella Hellmann, Bennett’s wife, has been missing since May 2017 after a suspicious boating accident involving Bennett.
The couple had gone on an overdue honeymoon, with the intent to sail from St. Maarten to Cuba and Puerto Rico, before sailing home to Delray Beach, Florida. According to Bennett, the boat was sailing on autopilot. He was below deck asleep, when the vessel hitting something woke him. He claimed that the boat began to sink and he could not find his wife aboard.
The Coast Guard rescued Bennett who was adrift in a life raft. Along with him in the raft was a bag of silver coins. Investigators determined that they were stolen coins and found more at Bennett’s residence. The coins were valued at around $36,000.
Shortly after being rescued and reporting Hellmann missing, Bennett requested a letter of presumed death in order to settle Hellmann’s estate. He also purchased tickets to the UK, two weeks after, for himself and his daughter. Bennett is a dual-citizen, in Australia and the UK. During his time there, he sought citizenship for his daughter. At seven months after Hellmann’s disappearance, Bennet sought to have Hellmann declared dead. Normally this would be determined after five years of having disappeared.
Investigators have reported that Bennett-Hellmann were struggling with finances. The couple was having trouble with property taxes, credit debt, and even their utilities. Their relationship was reported as tense and argumentative. According to a statement from a friend of Hellmann’s, Hellmann was unsure how Bennett generated income. But bank records show over $200,000 in transfers from 2014 to 2017. It alleged that the stolen-coin-smuggling was a hint to how Bennett made his money.
The allegation by investigators is that Bennett planned the trip to transport the coins from St. Maarten. They believe Hellmann discovered the stolen coins and a confrontation with Bennett occurred, possibly due to her concerns about being an accomplice. They believe Bennett struck out at Hellmann, then in order to cover up her death, staged the accident.
The investigation shows that Bennett broke open a hole in the boat. He then sent out an SOS that his wife was gone and the craft was sinking. The prosecution is using this, and other evidence discovered, to make their case against Bennett. Bennett is currently serving a separate sentence involving the stolen coins he had. His conviction was earlier this year.
Prosecutors are hoping to have details from the coin indictment admitted during the murder case. They believe there is sufficient relevance to solidify their current charges. It has also been asked if conversations with family, recorded and texted, be allowed into evidence. Prosecutors believe it would be strong proof in their allegations about the marriage’s volatility.
Bennet is charged with second-degree murder and his trial is expected to start in December.