Lewis Bennett, whose wife’s vanishing at sea has sparked two federal investigations, said this week, in his first formal public comment, that he has returned to England with the suburban Delray Beach couple’s daughter and “must take a step back from the world of social media.”
The one thing Bennett doesn’t address in Wednesday’s Facebook posting: the circumstances of Isabella Hellman’s disappearance.
Bennett told the Coast Guard he was awakened early on May 15 after his 37-foot catamaran Surf into Summer struck something about 30 miles west of Cay Sal in the Bahamas. He said he came topside to find the vessel was taking on water and Hellmann, his wife of three months, was gone. He was rescued, but a four-day search failed to find Hellmann, 41.
The Coast Guard and the FBI confirmed May 26, eight days after the search was called off, that each was conducting a “missing person investigation.”
Neither agency has said whether Bennett is a target of their investigation or even if they suspect foul play.
But on June 16, several FBI investigators pushed through yellow evidence tape that the agency had used weeks earlier to seal the front door of the couple’s unit at Pine Ridge at Delray and spent the entire day in the condo, leaving with numerous boxes. At the time, FBI spokesman Michael D. Leverock would say only that the agency “initiated a court-authorized search” as “part of the investigation into the disappearance of Isabella Hellmann.”
On Friday, the FBI did not respond to a request for comment on Bennett’s posting or the status of the investigation. A Coast Guard spokesman said Friday the agency had no updates.
Friends have said in the past the family feared Bennett and the baby left the United States. Family members, friends and neighbors have said Hellmann told them she and her husband argued regularly over Bennett’s desire to return with her and the baby to Australia; Bennett has dual British-Australian citizenship.
Bennett has not made any public comment, except for a brief conversation with a DailyMail.com reporter who encountered him in late May at his condo, and all efforts by The Palm Beach Post to contact him have failed.
The Post also reached out on Facebook to relatives and friends posted on his Facebook page, with no response. And The Post made arrangements through two southwest England newspapers and two freelance news services to contact relatives, in some cases in person, also without success.
In June, sources confirmed to The Australian, that country’s national newspaper — which has been working in partnership with The Palm Beach Post — that Bennett was not in Australia.
The family repeatedly has not responded to inquiries from The Palm Beach Post, except for brief exchanges early in the search and again in early June. On June 15, the family used the one-month anniversary of the disappearance to ramp up activity on the“find Isabella” page it created on Facebook.
In Wednesday evening’s Facebook posting, Lewis Bennett said taking “a time for reflection” might “lessen the negativity that I have encountered in this emotionally charged situation and hope in the future a reconciliation will occur for all parties concerned, if not for my sake but for Emelia’s.”
Emelia is the couple’s daughter, born in July 2016.
In the posting, Bennett thanked people who he said have “supported me through this most testing of times” and criticized what he called “negative and derisory comments that have been said and insinuated by people that, surprisingly, are brought by people that I thought would be there to support myself and Emelia.”
A police report has said that, during a May 28 confrontation with Bennett at the Boca Raton home of Hellmann’s relatives, one of her sisters screamed accusations that Bennett killed Hellmann.
Bennett’s Facebook posting also said he wanted to stress “how much Isabella meant to me and to Emelia and it is now my responsibility to ensure her legacy is never forgotten. Contrary to statements given in the press and social media, Isabella and I loved each other very much, she was the soulmate I had always searched for, she made my life complete. To think I must move forward without her in my life is something I never wanted to contemplate.”
He concluded that, “understandably, I have now returned to the UK with my daughter to seek the comfort of my friends and family …” and “must take a step back from the world of social media.”
The posting is the first on Bennett’s Facebook page since one on April 4 showing him with Isabella and the couple’s daughter.
An April 29 posting on Hellmann’s Facebook page, reading “Caribbean, here I come,” shows a map indicating she was flying the next day from Fort Lauderdale to the island of St. Maarten for a belated honeymoon; the couple were married in February.
Government officials on the island confirmed to The Post that Bennett’s boat had come in on April 8 and left April 30. Calls made by The Post to dozens of marinas on both the French and Dutch sides of the island failed to find anyone familiar with Bennett or the Surf into Summer.
Hellmann’s friend Sarah Cortes has said Hellman’s family told her that Hellmann called them at about 8:30 p.m. May 14, the night she disappeared, at around the time Bennett said he went below deck. Hellmann said she was in Cuba or had left Cuba and was at sea. The family said on its Facebook page that the vessel left from Varadero, a resort town about 75 miles east of Havana.
Cortes said Hellmann told her family the satellite phone had been malfunctioning, but the couple had gotten it working and “we’re heading home.”
The Coast Guard has confirmed it has lost track of the catamaran. And a relative of Hellman’s has said authorities have told the family the boat sank in more than 4,000 feet of water.
On May 24, the Coast Guard said responders inspected the boat “the best they could from the surface” and never saw what it might have struck. But the agency did say at the time that the hulls had neither visible holes nor obvious places where water could have filled them. A Coast Guard photo shows the catamaran upside down with one pontoon below the surface and the other above the water line. Another shows the entire boat floating just below the surface.