New doc­u­ments de­tail man’s al­leged mo­tives

Ben­nett fac­ing sec­ond­de­gree mur­der charge in the death of his wife.

The Palm Beach Post - - LOCAL - By Eliot Klein­berg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

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.

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