Just days after Lewis Bennett was arrested on charges that he stole thousands of dollars worth of gold and silver coins, a newly released Coast Guard report has shed more light on the mysterious disappearance of Bennett’s wife Isabella Hellmann.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Bennett was arrested on Monday on suspicion of stealing the coins from a ship where he was working as a crew member in May 2016. Bennett had left the U.S. for England with the couple’s one-year-old daughter earlier this summer, but returned to Florida, where he and Isabella lived at the time of her disappearance, to meet with an insurance company regarding a claim that is reportedly connected to his wife’s disappearance in the early morning hours of May 15 in the Atlantic Ocean.
Bennett told authorities that he was awoken in the middle of the night with the sense that the catamaran he and his wife were sailing on had hit something. He said that when he went above deck to see what was going on, Isabella was nowhere to be seen and the boat was taking water. Bennett escaped on a life raft with suitcases and backpacks, including one that reportedly carried stolen coins, which authorities did not realize at the time were stolen property.’
The Palm Beach Post has obtained a detailed Coast Guard report about the purported boating accident. The report contains photos, unpublished by the newspaper, that show there was indeed a hole in the vessel. But that hole may not have been the result of a collision, according to one maritime expert.
Tom Danti, dean of the Chapman School of Seamanship told the newspaper that the hole seen in the boat could be the gap where a the boat’s dagger board — an adjustable fin to help stabilize it — could have broken off.
“The hole in that photograph seems to be very clean. There’s no rough edges. It’s got a perfect shape to it and seems to be in the same area that one would expect to find the vessel’s dagger board,” Danti said.
But a notation in the report said that the catamaran was missing other parts, and that “a large chunk of the starboard hull (is) missing from an apparent collision with an object.”
The report shows that Bennett suggested Hellmann may have been hit by the mast, which he said was not tied tightly. It does not mention that fact that the Coast Guard later lost track of the vessel and that it is believed to have sunk in 4,000 foot-deep water, as the Coast Guard told the Palm Beach Post earlier this summer.
The report also does not indicate whether Hellmann is believed to have been wearing a life jacket when she entered the water. The Coast Guard wrote that Hellmann would likely have been able to survive and come to her own aid for 13 hours, and that after five days in the water hypothermia would have been life-threatening.
Bennett has not been charged or named an official suspect in the investigation. The Palm Beach Post reports that neither the FBI or the Coast Guard would provide additional comment.
On Friday, WPTV reported that Bennett was being held in Florida on a $250,000 bond.
Feature photo: Facebook