The FBI says Lewis Bennett’s story does not hold water. The 40-year-old newlywed said he was on a Mother’s Day honeymoon trip with his new wife, Isabella Hellman, 41, when the couple’s catamaran boat suddenly sank and the Delray Beach woman went missing.
The couple’s 10-month-old daughter, Emilia, was not on the trip with her parents.
Investigators were wary when Bennett claimed he was sleeping in the hull, leaving his wife at the helm. He said the vessel was on auto-pilot heading back toward Delray Beach, Florida when he heard a thud and found the catamaran taking on water.
Bennett originally testified that he did not call out for his new bride, nor did he make attempts to locate her. He made no efforts to stop the flooding; he did not send up the on-board flares before he climbed into the boat’s safety raft and cut ties to their catamaran.
He claims Hellman disappeared somewhere out at sea.
Authorities have a much different scenario about how that Mother’s Day night went. The FBI took Bennett into custody in Miami on Tuesday where the he was charged with second-degree murder in death of Isabella Hellman.
Bennett is believed to have killed Hellman with “malice aforethought” and deliberately orchestrated the sinking of their boat to make it appear as if there had been an accident.
An expert for the Coast Guard found that the couple’s boat appeared to have suffered intentional damage on both sides of its hull that could not have been the result of a collision. The report noted that the damage to the catamaran came “from inside the vessel,” according to FBI records.
Two escape hatches located below the waterline were also found open. Investigators say this is what caused the cabin to flood. They further noted that the boat was “intentionally scuttled.”
The manufacturer of the vessel also examined the catamaran and came to the same conclusions.
“The opening of both escape hatches is unexplainable as an accident…,”
-a U.S. Coast Guard Academy associate professor of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering wrote in a report detailing his findings to investigators.
The damage alone wouldn’t have sunk the vessel had measures been taken to close the hatches, according to an expert and the vessel manufacturer.
Less than two weeks after his wife’s disappearance, Bennett flew to his home in England on a one-way ticket with daughter, Emelia, then 18 months old. He later returned to South Florida without his child on August 28 in order to attend a meeting for the insurance claim he submitted regarding the loss of his catamaran.
He also asked for documents that would allow him to oversee the Delray Beach condo owned by his missing wife.
While back in Florida, Bennett was arrested in connection with another case pertaining to some rare coins that were stolen from another boat in 2016 where Bennett was a crew member.
On Tuesday, Bennett pleaded guilty to possessing coins that were stolen from the St. Maarten vessel.
Authorities recovered many of the stolen coins in Bennett’s life raft when he was rescued by the Coast Guard in May 2017. According to a federal prosecutor, the stolen coins were valued at $38,480.
Bennett received a sentenced of seven months in prison in the stolen coins case.
He is expected to make his first court appearance on the murder charge Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres in Miami federal court.
Bennett could face up to life in prison, if convicted.
The family of Isabella Hellman are facing a battle of their own – gaining access to their granddaughter. Emilia has been with Bennett’s family since he flew to England two weeks after Hellman’s disappearance.
We will continue to update this story.