A judge on Friday again refused to declare dead Isabella Hellmann, who went missing at sea nearly six months ago, expressing alarm at how quickly the woman’s husband wants to obtain her death certificate.
“People generally hope the other person is alive, and they wait as long as possible,” Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll told lawyers for the woman’s husband, 41-year-old Lewis Bennett. “The immediacy of this is concerning.”
Bennett’s wife, Isabella Hellman, vanished 30 miles off the coast of the Bahamas on May 15 aboard her husband’s catamaran. Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI have launched missing persons investigations, and Bennett, 41, remains jailed after being indicted on charges that he transported as much as $100,000 in stolen coins.
One of Bennett’s lawyers, Edward Downey, said after Friday’s hearing that Bennett did wish Hellmann was alive.
But he said that Hellmann’s Delray Beach condo, which is rightfully Bennett’s, is racking up unpaid homeowners’ association fees and could be lost.
“If you don’t pay those, the association can foreclose on your house,” Downey said. “Unless we can have that house marshalled and liquidated, it will be lost.”
But first, Downey believes Hellmann must be declared presumed dead.
To do that, Kroll said she needed testimony that Hellmann was on the boat, that the boat suffered some peril at sea, and that she did not suffer from any mental or financial crises by the time she left on the trip.
She told Downey that she has seen none of that.
“I don’t have any testimony that she was on the boat,” Kroll said. “I don’t have any testimony that there was any peril at sea. I have no testimony about the condition of the woman when she left.”
Bennett has said that he and Hellmann were in the Bahamas, on a delayed honeymoon sailing trip, when he awoke to find that his catamaran had struck something in the Atlantic near Cay Sol and was sinking, and that his wife was gone.
Bennett wrote to the U.S. Coast Guard within a day after it called off its search and requested, without success, a “letter of presumed death” for his wife of three months and the mother of their now nearly 15-month-old daughter. He later asked the local courts for the official declaration.
The Coast Guard called off its ocean search for Hellmann after four days. Neither the FBI nor the Coast Guard has said whether it suspects foul play in Hellmann’s disappearance.