Australian yachtsman Lewis Bennett was taking his new wife Isabella Hellmann on a Caribbean cruise for their belated honeymoon.
Leaving their two-year-old daughter with Isabella’s parents, the pair headed off on their catamaran into the sunset. It sounds perfect... but then, disaster struck.
On May 15, 2017, Lewis, 41, was found floating in a life raft with a stash of gold coins.
Their vessel was about a kilometre away, partially submerged.
Tragically, Isabella, also 41, was nowhere to be found. Initially it seemed like a terrible accident.
Lewis said he’d been woken by a loud noise. The experienced sailor went up on deck to find the sails and rigging were loose, the helm was unmanned – and his wife of three months was not there.
‘There is a possibility that she may have [fallen] in the water due to an accident with the mast hitting her,’ Lewis told investigators. But suspicions were aroused.
Lewis, who had training in procedures such as man-overboard protocols and night-sailing safety, said he didn’t set off flares to illuminate the water and look for his wife.
He couldn’t remember whether he had even called out for her and, instead of raising the alarm on his satellite phone, he abandoned the vessel and boarded the life raft.
From the time he woke up it took him about 45 minutes to call for help. With a further two hours until the coastguard reached him, Isabella, who wasn’t a strong swimmer, was gone. And there was more.
Isabella’s family were surprised at how unemotional Lewis seemed at his wife’s apparent death.
Her sister, Dayana Rodriguez, said, ‘He was calm, he wasn’t crying or anything...I ran to him and I hugged him and I said, “Where is Isabella?” And he said, “I don’t know.”’
When she asked him why he didn’t stop the boat and drop anchor, he told her, ‘he needed to keep the boat on track’.
Of course, there was also the gold coins – worth nearly $100,000 – that Lewis had with him. Admitting they’d been stolen from a former employer in 2016, Lewis was sentenced to seven months for transporting stolen coins. But more investigation was needed to work out what had happened to his wife. Did he just panic and fail to help her – or was it more deliberate?
The cracks in their relationship before the cruise were certainly there to see. Text messages from Isabella revealed she felt Lewis didn’t ‘respect her any more’ and that she ‘found an angry person’ when she came home.
One read, Sometimes I can be a pain in the a** and more but you need to change your attitude... you make me crazy shouting, yelling, swearing... YOU ARE PUSHING ME AWAY.
The FBI also completed a full inspection of the catamaran before it sank, and found portholes below the waterline had been opened and damage to the twin hulls appeared to have been caused from the inside. It meant the boat may have been intentionally sunk.
Lewis continued to deny involvement in Isabella’s death but the case against him mounted, investigators alleging he wanted to inherit Isabella’s estate in order to settle his own debts and then take their baby daughter Emelia to live in Australia.
Federal prosecutors originally charged him with second-degree murder and accused him of staging an unconvincing accident to cover up Isabella’s death.
But sadly the exact details about what happened may never be known.
In November 2018, Lewis pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The charge of murder was downgraded as he admitted his wife’s death was an accident that he did not witness – though he said it was foreseeable and caused by his negligence.
The plea meant he would avoid trial and is instead facing an eight-year prison sentence.
Isabella’s family are devastated and more so because the couple’s toddler daughter is living in the UK with Lewis’s parents.
In a desperate statement after the guilty plea Isabella’s heartbroken family begged for Lewis to show remorse.
‘The pain he has caused them is unbearable and never goes away... There is, however, additional pain that he has caused, and continues to cause, by depriving them contact with his and Isabella’s daughter, Emelia.
As much as she was anyone’s, she was theirs and they love her and miss her…’
They have asked that Lewis share Emelia with them, as well as threatening a law suit to ensure he does not inherit Isabella’s assets.
While there will be some closure for her family, the mystery of where Isabella is still remains.
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