MIAMI - The FBI has filed a second-degree murder charge against Lewis Bennett for his alleged involvement in the murder of his wife, Isabella Hellmann, in 2017.
The federal complaint said that Bennett damaged the boat from the inside, causing flooding to the catamaran.
Through videos and pictures of Bennett's boat, interviews with manufacturers and boating experts, the FBI found the damage to Bennett's boat was not accidental. Both hulls on the boat had holes, experts say could not have been caused by a collision. The escape hatches in the boat were in the open position which manufacturers say would cause the boat to take on water.
The murder charge confirmed Hellmann's family's worst fear, that Lewis Bennett had something to do with his wife's disappearance.
"They were suspicious all along, but they were waiting and wanted to see what if anything was going to come of it. They were waiting for the FBI to make a decision," said Mitchell Kitroser, Hellmann's family's attorney.
The FBI's complaint said, when interviewed, Bennett said he never tried to look for his wife, never lit a flare to search for her, never yelled out her name when he noticed she was not on the boat, but he did pack 14 gallons of water, a suitcase, a backpack, a tea set, and 9 tubes of silver coins in his life raft, among other items.
The FBI also noted Bennett's urgency to declare his wife dead through the court system. Hellmann's family hopes they will be able to work with Bennett's parents in England to see his and Hellmann's 18-month-old daughter who Bennett took out of the country two weeks after his wife's disappearance.
"We're hoping, in fact, that the two families will put Emelia's interests above and apart from the criminal charges and anything else," added Kitroser.
He was also sentenced Tuesday morning in a federal court in Miami to seven months in prison and three years of supervised release, if he's not deported, for transporting stolen coins.
Bennett, 41, of Poole, United Kingdom, will have to report to immigration officials upon his release from jail.
Bennett was taken into federal custody at the federal court house in Miami.
Bennett’s wife, Isabella Hellmann, vanished from Bennett's boat in the Florida Straits last May during a trip from St. Maarten to Key West. Bennett says he felt the boat hit something, and he was jolted out of bed around 1 a.m. When he looked for Isabella she was gone, he said.
The Coast Guard rescued Bennett from a life raft where he had put some of his belongings when he abandoned the boat.
The Coast Guard later located the life raft and took an inventory of its contents. Federal agents said there were tubes of coins in his life raft. The coins were stolen from a boat in St. Martin in 2016 and the FBI said Bennett was a member of the crew and was the one who was reporting the gold and silver coins stolen.
Statement from attorney Mitchell Kitroser representing Isabella Hellmann's family
"This is a very sad day for my clients. With this criminal complaint, the FBI has confirmed their worst fear, that their daughter and sister, Isabella Hellmann, is gone and that their son-in-law, Lewis Bennett, is the accused murderer. The family has also lost all direct contact with Emilia, the young daughter of Isabella and Lewis who Mr. Bennett took from Florida to live in England with his family. This is a tragedy on all levels and the family must now wait for the legal process to move forward.
Despite the charge against Mr. Bennett, my clients want to take a moment to acknowledge their appreciation to Mr. Bennett's parents for continuing to send photos of Emilia to them, so they can, at least, see her and know that she is well. No matter how this criminal charge resolves, Isabella's family wants Mr. Bennett's parents to know that everyone involved has Emilia's interests close to their hearts. There will be stressful times ahead for both families and for Emilia as well."