Foreign National Arrested on Second-Degree Murder Charge
Lewis Bennett, 41, a dual citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom, was arrested by the FBI on a criminal complaint charging him with second-degree murder of his wife, Isabella Hellman, within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney of the Southern District of Florida, Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Thomas E. Robarge, Special Agent in Charge, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), Southeast Region, made the announcement.
The complaint charges Bennett with second-degree murder of Hellman, a naturalized U.S. citizen, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1111(a). Bennett was arrested in Miami on February 20, 2018.
According to the criminal complaint, in the early morning of May 15, 2017, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) received an emergency alert approximately 26 nautical miles from Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas, in international waters. Bennett also reported via phone that he was in distress in the same general location around the same time.
It is alleged that Bennett reported he was on board an approximately 40-foot catamaran with his wife, Hellman, sailing from Cuba to Florida. Bennett stated that he had retired below to sleep, leaving Hellman on watch, and was awoken by a crash. Bennett claimed that he moved topside, and Hellman was not there. Bennett indicated that he eventually realized the catamaran was taking on water, gathered his belongings, and abandoned ship to his life raft.
According to the complaint, an USCG helicopter ultimately rescued Bennett from a life raft in international waters, but Hellman was never located. During the search and rescue operation for Hellman, USCG took video and photographs of Bennett’s capsized catamaran. Video and photographs of the catamaran appear to show that damage to a small portion of each hull was in nearly the exact same location and came from the inside of the catamaran. These videos and photographs also showed that two escape hatches were open, which would cause water to enter the catamaran.
The complaint alleges that an associate professor of naval architecture, who analyzed evidence collected in the investigation, stated in a report detailing his findings that it did not appear the catamaran sinking was caused by accidental damage; rather, that the catamaran was scuttled. The complaint also alleges that Bennett did not activate his satellite phone and register his Personal Locator Beacon, until he was in Cuba in mid-May 2017, after he and Hellman had already traveled from St. Maarten to Puerto Rico, and from Puerto Rico to Cuba. It is alleged that the voyage from St. Maarten would have warranted having an activated satellite phone and registered Personal Locator Beacon as life-saving devices. However, Bennett allegedly waited to activate those devices until the final leg of his voyage to ensure his own rescue and survival after murdering his wife and intentionally scuttling his catamaran.
“The arrest of Mr. Bennett is the result of the vigorous investigation by prosecutors in this office and our federal law enforcement partners. Together, we were able to uncover the truth about what occurred aboard the catamaran, resulting in a tragic death,” stated U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg.
“The FBI has the authority to investigate specific violent crimes committed against Americans and American interests overseas, including crimes on the high seas,” said Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “We take this responsibility seriously. We commend the U.S. Coast Guard for their professionalism and close cooperation with this case.”
“The Coast Guard Investigative Service prides itself in being one of the premiere maritime law enforcement agencies, conducting professional and thorough maritime investigations,” said Thomas E. Robarge, Special Agent in Charge, CGIS Southeast Region. “We are honored to have worked jointly with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in reaching said objective.”
Bennett is scheduled to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres, on February 21, 2018, at 2 p.m. If convicted, Bennet faces a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and CGIS in this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt K. Lunkenheimer and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily A. Rose.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.