New documents detail man’s alleged motives
Bennett facing seconddegree murder charge in the death of his wife.
Federal prosecutors this week released a trove of documents bolstering their argument that a crumbling marriage and secrecy about finances led Lewis Bennett to murder his wife, Isabella Hellmann, at sea and stage the suburban Delray Beach woman’s death to look like an accident.
At Bennett’s trial this fall on a second-degree murder charge, prosecutors hope to introduce statements from Hellmann that they say will show Bennett wanted out of the marriage so badly that he plotted her death and arranged to move to Australia with their daughter.
Documents also detail the financial distress the suburban Delray Beach couple was facing at the time of their sailing trip to the Caribbean on which Hellmann disappeared in the Bahamas on May 15, 2017.
They show Hellmann telling
Bennett the couple owed $2,412 in property taxes and faced the cutoff of electricity to their condominium. The couple also were paying the minimum on thousands of dollars in renovations Hellmann had to finance with her credit cards. Hellmann also complained Bennett wanted her to end her maternity leave and return to work.
Another document contends Hellmann told a friend she had no idea how much money Bennett had or how he earned it. Yet Bennett – a dual citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom — somehow had $214,186 to transfer between international accounts from 2014 to 2017. And he had about $36,000 in stolen coins on him when he was rescued in the Atlantic on May 15, 2017, hours after Hellmann disappeared off the Bahamas.
Bennett claimed he awoke early on May 15 to find his catamaran had struck something and his wife was gone. A search turned up nothing. The couple’s daughter, now 2, is believed to be with Bennett’s parents in England.
“The stolen silver coins,” prosecutors wrote, “were inside the Defendant’s life raft when he was rescued, while Hellmann was not.”
Bennett’s trial is due to begin Dec. 10 in federal court in Miami. He was arrested in August 2017 on a related charge of knowingly transporting the stolen coins. He later pleaded guilty. In February, he was minutes away from being sentenced to seven months in prison in the coins case when federal prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder.
Another document says Hellman told a relative a friend of Bennett had stolen something worth about $10,000. Prosecutors contend that refers to the stolen coins and they allege Bennett might have feared Hellmann would be furious if she learned he was hiding the coins at a time the couple was in severe financial stress.
In fact, prosecutors said, a discovery by Hellmann of the coins “could have potentially led to an intense argument resulting in Hellmann’s murder.”
Hellmann’s relatives shared her suspicions of Bennett, documents show, and even admitted to authorities that, soon after Hellmann’s disappearance, they secretly placed two listening devices in the couple’s condo. Authorities recovered the bugs when they raided on June 16, 2017, and want to play at trial two audio recordings of Bennett talking to the relatives. Prosecutors say the devices’ contents are fair game because the family, not law enforcement, installed them. A judge has yet to rule on whether they can be played.
Just two weeks after his wife vanished, and without telling her family, Bennett bought one-way tickets to the United Kingdom for himself and the couple’s infant daughter, Emelia.
Within days, he began asking about obtaining citizenship for her. He also began renovating a home in the UK and booked a doctor’s visit in Prague concerning his eyes, prosecutors said.
The documents filed by prosecutors depict a stressed marriage. Hellmann said Bennett often was an absent dad. When he was away, often in St. Maarten and other Caribbean islands, he rarely would call. And at home, he slept in a sep- arate room from his wife and child. Three months after the child was born, and despite the couple’s financial straits, Bennett flew to Thailand to attend a boxing academy.
Hellmann admitted that during one argument she struck Bennett. And in April 2017, just a month before she vanished, she texted him: “Went to St Marteen (sic) and never told me. Not good. I though we are not going to have secrets.”
Earlier, in November 2016, Hellmann had texted Bennett: “My heart is broken. If we don’t change, we have to take separate ways.”
Isabella Hellmann (left) and Louis Bennett. He is accused of killing his wife and staging her death to look like an accident.