breaking news

Man killed in early morning shooting in Delray Beach

BREAKING: Court refuses to declare missing Delray woman dead

A judge Thursday refused to declare Isabella Hellmann dead, saying she needs a declaration that authorities have completed their investigations into Hellman’s mysterious disappearance.

It’s been five months since the 41-year-old suburban Delray Beach real estate broker’s husband, Lewis Bennett, reported she’d vanished at sea. On Thursday, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Kathleen J. Kroll said she wouldn’t approve a request from Bennett for a “presumptive death certificate.”

That’s because although the U.S. Coast Guard called off its ocean search in the Bahamas after four days, both it and the FBI say they continue to conduct missing-person investigations. Neither has said whether it suspects foul play in Hellmann’s disappearance.

Read The Post’s complete coverage of the disappearance of Isabella Hellmann

Bennett’s attorney, Lee McElroy IV of Palm Beach Gardens, had submitted the thick Coast Guard package of documents related specifically to the now-ended active search — documents The Palm Beach Post obtained this summer. Kroll noted she herself had seen news reports of the two as-yet incomplete investigations and so the package wasn’t enough.

“ ‘Not searching’ is not ‘no longer having an investigation of her death,’ ” Kroll told McElroy.

“That’s what I’m after, is closure,” Kroll said.

Kroll set a new hearing for the afternoon of Nov. 3.

The judge also would not close out Bennett’s probate filing. McElroy had argued Hellmann’s modest estate didn’t require a full proceeding.

In the early hours of May 15, Bennett has said, 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 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 Thursday’s official declaration.

Not mentioned at Thursday’s hearing: Bennett, 40, wasn’t there because remains in the Broward County Jail, under a U.S. Marshals Service hold on a federal indictment charging that he transported as much as $100,000 in stolen coins.

Federal prosecutors say that, after the Coast Guard rescued Bennett and flew him to Marathon in the Keys, authorities found coins on him that were stolen while he worked in May 2016 as a mate aboard a yacht.

This summer, Bennett, a dual citizen of England and Australia, said in a social-media posting that he took the couple’s daughter to his native England, where his parents live. Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office will say how Bennett returned to Florida and was arrested in West Palm Beach on Aug. 28.

Bennett has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for Dec. 11 in Key West. Federal prosecutors have detailed in court papers that they have a large volume of evidence in the case, including interviews, photographs, and items confiscated during a June 16 search of the Bennett-Hellmann condominium in suburban Delray Beach. The actual evidence is not public.

Court documents for Thursday’s hearing in Palm Beach Gardens show few assets for Hellmann: the condominium, which she shared with Bennett, valued in county property records at $125,000; a 2006 Mercedes-Benz car valued in court papers at $1,000; bank accounts valued at about $5,000 and about $725, respectively; unidentified contents of a safe deposit box; and various personal items.

See a gallery of Coast Guard photos from the search for Isabella Hellmann

McElroy said in court papers that the total assets don’t meet the $75,000 threshold for a full probate process. He had wanted Kroll to issue a “summary administration,” which closes the case. But that is on hold until the death status is resolved.

“This is really quick. Normally, it’s after a year or two. What’s the rush?” Kroll asked McElroy.

He answered that all of Hellmann’s assets were either in her name or in that of a corporation that she and Bennett had created, and that the assets, especially the condo, are sitting stagnant until Hellmann is declared dead and the estate is settled.

He also said parents of the two Tequesta teens lost off Jupiter Inlet in July 2015 were able to obtain death declarations promptly.

None of Hellmann’s relatives were at the hearing. In June, his sister asked a judge to take control of the estate from Bennett. The sister later withdrew the effort. Her attorney has not returned recent calls for comment, and the family has not responded to The Post’s attempts to contact them since Hellmann disappeared.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

BREAKING: Man killed in early morning shooting in Delray Beach
BREAKING: Man killed in early morning shooting in Delray Beach

A man is dead after a shooting early Thursday south of West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, city police said. Officers heard gunshots shortly before 1 a.m. and found an unresponsive man near Southwest 12th Avenue and Southwest First Street. Police tried to revive him with CPR, but the man was pronounced dead at the scene. He is the 10th person reported...
UPDATE: Man, 51, riding bike killed by Brightline train in Boynton
UPDATE: Man, 51, riding bike killed by Brightline train in Boynton

UPDATE, 9:53 p.m.: Boynton Beach police say Jeffrey King was headed westbound on Ocean Avenue when he pedaled the bicycle around the gates near the Florida East Coast Railway crossing at Ocean Avenue about 4:30 p.m. He was struck and killed by a northbound Brightline train. City officials told Casello the man “wasn’t even looking just...
Boynton Police investigating string of shootings that may be connected
Boynton Police investigating string of shootings that may be connected

Simon Pierre’s three daughters thought the noises were fireworks. But then a bullet hit one of the front windows. “Get down!” Pierre’s wife, Marlene Guerrier, screamed Tuesday night. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter was doing back flips on the black L-shaped couch beside the window and if she hadn’t moved, she would...
UPDATE: Police say man pedaled around closed train gates before death
UPDATE: Police say man pedaled around closed train gates before death

A Brightline train struck and killed a bicyclist on Wednesday afternoon, marking the second fatal accident involving the highly-anticipated passenger service in less than a week — both in Boynton Beach. In the hours after Wednesday’s accident, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, called on federal transportation officials to investigate the deaths...
PBC school board reassigns students of soon-to-close Odyssey Middle

The Palm Beach County School Board gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to reassign 1,900 Odyssey Middle students to new schools when the school closes this summer. The reassignment plan for the closing Boynton Beach school was approved unanimously without debate, the final procedural step in what will be the first closure of a traditional county...
More Stories