Lewis Bennett was an Englishman living in Florida. Though he was far from his birthplace, he had begun to settle into his new home. He and his wife Isabella had been seeing each other for some time. They’d even had a daughter together and had finally decided to tie the knot.
Three months into their new marriage, Lewis and Isabella would find themselves in a perilous situation. One that had begun as the most romantic of getaways for the happy newlyweds. The fallout from this disaster would reveal much about the couple’s relationship and about the kind of person Lewis Bennett truly was.
Bennett’s day job was that of a successful mining engineer. It was hardly glamorous work, but it paid the bills rather handily. His new wife, Isabella Hellmann, was a south Florida real estate agent who also made a decent amount. Between the two of them, they lived comfortably and even had enough to purchase a rather decent-sized boat.
After the baby and the marriage, Bennett and Isabella decided that they needed a break. So they took their 37-foot catamaran, Surf Into Summer, for an impromptu Caribbean cruise. They left daughter Emelia with Isabella’s family in Florida and sailed off into the sunset. Beyond that sunset though, darkness awaited them both.
After an enjoyable period in the Caribbean, the happy couple decided to return home. As Surf Into Summer made its way past the Bahamas and back to Florida, disaster struck. Just past the Bahamas, Bennett sent out an emergency radio signal. The US Coast Guard was dispatched out to sea.
When the Coast Guard arrived at the location of the emergency signal three hours later, they discovered no sign of the ship. Instead, they spotted a lone life raft floating aimlessly in the open water. Bennett was the only person on board the small safety vessel. So what had happened to Isabella?
Bennett told the rescuers that he had gone to bed early that night and that he’d left Isabella on deck. As they were alone at sea, he assumed she’d be in shortly. However, when he was jolted awake later that night by the lurching motion of the ship, he knew something had gone terribly wrong. It felt as though the catamaran had hit something.
When Bennett went outside to see what was happening, Isabella was nowhere to be found. While looking around for his new bride, he noticed that the ship was sinking, so he did the only sensible thing he could; he jumped in a life raft and rowed away from the boat. Isabella was never found. At first, rescuers believed this, but something about Bennett’s story didn’t gel.
What He Recalled
They asked whether or not he tried calling out for Isabella, but apparently, in his hasty departure from the boat, he could not remember if he’d actually done even that. Nor did he deploy any flares or search the nearby waters for any sign of his wife’s body. There were other strange bits of his story as well.
45 Minutes Later
Even after he noticed the ship was sinking, Bennett didn’t immediately call for help on the satellite phone. Nor did he use the emergency beacon. He didn’t call for help or report his wife missing until about 45 minutes after he says he awakened. So what exactly was Bennett doing all that time?
Isabella wasn’t an experienced sailor but Bennett himself was no amateur. He was an accomplished sailor certified as a coastal skipper by the Royal Yachting Association in the United Kingdom. Training for this certification involved instructions on emergency procedures. These included man-overboard protocols and safety procedures for sailing at night.
Eventually, the Coast Guard was able to find the sunken remains of the boat. Suspecting foul play, the FBI was brought in to investigate the catamaran. What they found was that it seemed the portholes beneath the waterline had leaked, allowing water to flow in and slowly sink the vessel. Upon closer inspection though, they found much more.
It appeared as though those same portholes below the waterline had been opened purposefully, not damaged. This meant that someone, either Bennett or Isabella had intentionally scuttled the ship. Considering that she made more money than him and that he survived the sinking, all signs pointed to Bennett.
There were other signs pointing directly to Bennett as well. Like the fact that FBI investigators searched Bennett’s life raft to find $100,000 worth of coins stolen from another yacht he had worked onboard in 2016. It seemed that the mining engineer had enough foresight in his panic to reclaim his stolen coins, if not his wife.
Faced with the mounting suspicion and the obvious evidence of his thievery, Bennett pleaded guilty to the coin theft charge. He received a seven-month prison sentence for the admission. While he was serving his time, investigators looked deeper into his and Isabella’s relationship. They still believed that he’d sunken the ship and left his wife to drown on purpose.
It made perfect sense. Ever the pragmatist, Bennett waited a mere 24 hours of his wife’s disappearance to ask officials for a ‘letter of presumed death’ regarding Isabella. He said that this was so he could settle her estate, but it only served to make him look even more guilty in the eyes of officials and her family.
Bennett, of course, denied killing his late wife. He maintained that everything that happened was the direct result of an accident and nothing more. However, his wife’s text messages up until the time of her death told a very different story. The tone of Isabella’s text messages to her husband revealed that she felt a sort of disrespect for her growing in him.
Under growing pressure from the authorities, his newlywed’s grieving family, and his own guilt, Bennett finally came clean. When the feds finally brought the case to court, he decided to simply plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He said he sabotaged the boat, but did not admit to purposefully killing Isabella. Her family was shocked by the revelation.
Bitter and Unbearable
The Hellmann family was bitter about Bennett’s admission. Simply because they feel as though it is a cop-out for what was essentially murder. Their lawyer issued a statement following the plea that told the press their “hearts are broken … The pain he has caused them is unbearable and never goes away.”
Unfortunately, the toll that this has had on Isabella’s family has been even more complicated than one would previously guess. Bennett had made it clear that he doesn’t want them in touch with Isabella’s daughter Emelia and has deprived them of contact with her through unfortunately legal avenues.
Justice for the Victim
Federal prosecutor Ariana Fajardo Orshan also released a statement following the plea. “Although nothing can ever erase the pain and suffering caused by Lewis Bennett’s criminal acts, the US attorney’s office and our law enforcement partners hope that the defendant’s admission of guilt is a step toward justice for the victim.”
How Much Time
If there is one silver lining in all this, Bennet’s plea sees him facing a maximum sentence of eight years in prison in addition to what he’s already serving for the coin theft. His sentencing is scheduled for January of 2019.