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FBI charge British engineer with murdering wife on yacht in Caribbean

Nick Allen

A British engineer has been charged by the FBI with murdering his wife after she disappeared at sea as they cruised around the Caribbean on a belated honeymoon.

Lewis Bennett, 41, who holds dual British and Australian citizenship and is originally from Poole, Dorset, was accused of second-degree murder over the death of Isabella Hellmann, 41, on May 15 last year.

He was charged in a Miami court where, according to local television station WPTV, he was also sentenced to seven months in jail for transporting valuable rare coins.

After his wife's disappearance Bennett told investigators she was lost at sea when their 37ft catamaran, Surf into Summer, was struck by an unknown object near the Bahamas.

According to to the FBI Bennett said he had gone below deck and left Ms Hellmann above to keep watch.

He described being woken up at 1am by a jolt and the vessel was taking on water.

Bennett told investigators he could not find his wife and had to abandon ship on a life raft.

In an affidavit FBI special agent James Kelley said the bureau now believed Bennett "knowingly and unlawfully killed" Ms Hellmann.

The FBI affidavit ​claimed ​Bennett​ ​​had damaged the inside of the boat causing it to flood.

Isabella Hellman and her British husband Lewis Bennett. She went missing during a honeymoon sailing trip.

When Ms Hellmann disappeared the couple, who had a daughter now aged 17 months, were sailing back from Havana, Cuba to their home in Delray Beach, Florida. The daughter was not on the boat.

Bennett made an SOS call in the early hours and was later spotted by a US Coast Guard helicopter. He was rescued alone from the life raft.

The search for Ms Hellmann was called off three days later and her body was never found.

When Bennett was rescued nine plastic tubes of silver coins were found in the life raft.

They included 158 English “Year of the Horse” one-ounce silver coins and 77 Canadian Maple Leaf coins, worth about £3,200.

The coins were among a batch that had been reported stolen from another boat in St Martin the previous year. Bennett had been a crew member on that boat.

According to the owner of the boat the total value of the coins stolen in 2016 was around $100,000.

After he was rescued Bennett said of his wife: "She is my soulmate. I thought we were going to be together forever.

"I understand why they have to investigate and that is fair enough. I have got nothing to hide. They have to do what they have to do.”​