In documents filed last week, federal prosecutors laid out their case against Lewis Bennett, alleging he killed his wife at sea in 2017 before deliberately scuttling his own boat — all in an effort to inherit the home she owned in Delray Beach, Florida.
The documents, obtained by PEOPLE, allege Bennett wanted out of his marriage, and that he and his wife, Florida mother Isabella Hellmann, were struggling financially, which led to constant arguments.
Hellmann, a 41-year-old real estate broker, vanished in May 2017 while on a belated honeymoon with Bennett, 42, and hasn’t been seen since. The couple departed from St. Maarten in the Caribbean and traveled to Puerto Rico and Cuba before heading back to Florida.
The criminal complaint against Bennett, who was rescued from a life raft by the Coast Guard, alleges he told investigators he was asleep below the deck of their boat when he heard the vessel hit something soon before his wife’s disappearance.
The vessel was on auto-pilot at the time, Bennett, a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Australia, allegedly told the FBI.
After emerging topside, he said, there was no trace of Hellmann. He said she was wearing a life vest when he last saw her, the complaint alleges.
Investigators allege that Bennett staged the accident, damaging the boat from the inside, causing it to take on water. Bennett is in custody after pleading guilty earlier this year to transporting $36,000 in stolen coins, which police recovered both from the life raft and Hellmann’s residence.
According to the new filings, the couple owed nearly $2,500 in property taxes and had considerable credit card debt. At one point, the documents state, they were warned their electricity would be cut because of their delinquent account.
One document states Hellmann once told a friend Bennett would not discuss his finances and she had no idea how he earned money. The document notes that between 2014 and 2017, he made $214,186 in transfers between his international bank accounts.
Prosecutors are asking that evidence about the stolen coins be allowed into evidence. The documents present the possibility that Hellmann found the stolen coins, which “could have potentially led to an intense argument resulting in Hellmann’s murder.”
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SOURCE: PEOPLE, Chris Harris