In April 2017, Lewis Bennett and Isabella Hellman, two dual British and Australian citizens, set sail on a yacht from St. Maarten to South Florida. According to federal prosecutors, they made a pit stop in Cuba weeks later, on May 14, 2017. But by the next morning, U.S. Coast Guard agents found Bennett floating in a life raft 26 nautical miles west of Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas, in international waters. Bennett said that his wife had fallen overboard and that he'd subsequently abandoned his 37-foot boat. To date, Hellman's body has never been found.
That's likely because Bennett killed his 41-year-old wife. Today he pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to one count of involuntary manslaughter. Hellman's death has been heavily publicized in South Florida and overseas — it turns out Bennett was likely smuggling coins stolen from his St. Maarten employer when Hellman disappeared. According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Bennett was also in line to receive a huge inheritance if is wife died. Bennett was originally from Dorset, England, but had been living with Hellman in Delray Beach.
It now seems Bennett killed Hellman in some of the shadiest circumstances imaginable. According to federal prosecutors, he claimed that he asked his wife to stand watch over the boat while he slept — and that she was wearing neither a life jacket nor a GPS locator. In the early-morning hours, he says, he heard a loud noise and walked out onto the deck to find the sails and rigging loose and Hellman gone.
Bennett never fired his emergency flare gun, never used his attached dinghy or catamaran to hunt for her, and never used his satellite phone to call for help. Instead, he simply got into a life raft and paddled away while carrying a bunch of bags and supplies, plus $40,000 in coins he had stolen while working on a boat in the Caribbean. (Bennett is serving a sentence in downtown Miami's Federal Detention Center for trafficking in stolen property.)
"It was not until Bennett boarded the life raft that he called for help and reported his wife missing, approximately 45 minutes after he was awakened," prosecutors said today.
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Members of the Coast Guard finally found Bennett floating in international waters near the Bahamas and helicoptered him to a base in Marathon, Florida. Then they began searching for Hellman, but despite hunting 4,980 square miles, they never found her.
They did find the boat, though. Bennett initially claimed he didn't use the dinghy or catamaran because they were broken. But an expert witness for the prosecution testified someone had intentionally damaged each vessel's hull from the inside.
In the months after her death, Hellman's family told reporters she and Bennett had a brief but troubled relationship. They also had a child together in Delray Beach. Hellman's family had reportedly bugged the pair's apartment following her disappearance.
“Although nothing can ever erase the pain and suffering caused by Lewis Bennett’s criminal acts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners hope that the defendant’s admission of guilt is a step toward justice for the victim, Ms. Isabella Hellman, and her family,” U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan, Miami's federal prosecutor, announced today.