Woman lured on romantic cruise by ex-husband unaware of his evil ulterior motive
A photo souvenir of the couple from the cruise
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For thrifty lawyer Lonnie Kocontes it was out of character to spend money on a holiday, so when he suggested to his ex-wife Micki Kanesaki that they take a Mediterranean cruise together, it seemed like a turning point in their recently reconciled relationship.
Typically, it turned out that Lonnie hadn’t opted for anything too luxurious. The then-named Island Escape ship was a budget cruise liner that had been converted from a ferry, but Lonnie had arranged it all off his own back so Micki was impressed with the effort he was making.
It hadn’t been plain sailing between Lonnie and Micki, but perhaps the cruise was a sign they were heading towards calmer waters.
Lonnie had tried to suggest that Micki had drunkenly fallen overboard
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The couple had met when Lonnie was a lawyer and Micki was a paralegal. They’d married in 1995, making Micki his second wife, and they settled in Ladera Ranch, California.
By 2002, they had divorced but they continued to live together while they sorted out dividing their assets. Micki suffered from arthritis and couldn’t work as a paralegal any more, so she turned to investing, which was lucrative.
Meanwhile, Lonnie met Amy Nguyen through a dating website and she would become his third wife. They married in 2005 and the couple moved in together.
Lonnie told Micki they should sell their home so they could split the proceeds, but Micki had paid off the mortgage and believed she was entitled to stay in the house. Lonnie filed a court motion to try to
force her to sell.
Then Lonnie seemed to have a change of heart. He dropped the legal motion and made a surprise decision about his love life too.
He left his new wife after just months of marriage and moved back in with Micki to give things another try. Within months, their relationship seemed to be stronger than ever and they were talking about getting remarried.
Lonnie had divorced Amy and showed his commitment to Micki by drawing up new wills that named himself the executor of Micki’s estate in the event of her death.
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Sudden death at sea
It was 2006 when Lonnie arranged the cruise holiday for them both. It was unusual for him to do something so indulgent – he spent time picking out the right cruise and a balcony room, so they could enjoy the ocean views.
Lonnie and Micki, 52, flew to Spain and boarded the cruise ship on 21 May 2006. They set sail for Italy, enjoyed the entertainment on board and had a day excursion in Sicily.
On the evening of 25 May, they had dinner and shared a bottle of wine. They went to the ship’s casino and watched a show before heading back to their cabin.
Early the next morning, Lonnie alerted the crew that Micki was missing. He said Micki had left the room just after midnight to get a cup of tea and he’d taken a sleeping pill.
When he woke up, Micki wasn’t there and hadn’t returned to bed. A full-scale search began but there was no sign of Micki. The only explanation was that, somehow, she had fallen overboard.
Lonnie told authorities that perhaps Micki had been tipsy from the wine they’d had that night and had stumbled overboard. He also suggested she had a history of depression and perhaps she’d taken her own life. It was a suggestion that her family strongly denied.
On 28 May, the crew of a research vessel discovered Micki’s body floating off the Italian coast. She was dressed in a blue T-shirt and green pyjama bottoms. Lonnie returned to the US and news of Micki’s tragic drowning spread, but an autopsy revealed something unusual.
It revealed that Micki’s lungs were “completely free of water” meaning when she hit the water, she wasn’t breathing. She also had severe haemorrhaging around her neck – which was consistent with strangulation – and a skull fracture.
Investigators determined that Micki had been killed and thrown off the ship – and Lonnie was the prime suspect.
On his return to the US, Lonnie sought comfort back in the arms of his third wife Amy. She would later tell authorities that when Lonnie had left her the first time to return to Micki, he’d insisted he still loved Amy and didn’t want to leave her.
So why had he gone back? The FBI believed it was to secure the money he desperately wanted and to put the terrible plan in motion.
Lonnie had picked an unusual cruise for Americans as it involved a flight to Minnesota and on to London before travelling to board the ship to Spain. The travel agent was concerned because it was a lot of effort to holiday on a “no-frills” converted trip, but Lonnie had insisted it was perfect and noted it was important that they had a balcony room.
The ship also had a clear drop down to the sea from every room, which was unusual – the FBI believed that Lonnie had gone out of his way to find a ship like this. Before the trip, Lonnie had even asked a friend and retired cop about the security on cruise ships, such as CCTV cameras.
Now Micki was dead, Lonnie inherited more than $1 million from the combined money in their bank accounts and the sale of the Ladera Ranch house that Micki had been so reluctant to sell.
The FBI did investigate, but they lacked the evidence to charge him. Lonnie went under scrutiny when he tried to move money between accounts.
Rotten to the core
By 2013, Lonnie had left Amy, had married and divorced a fourth wife and was living in Safety Harbor, Florida. It was then that Amy went to the police and said she’d been afraid of Lonnie but she wanted to tell the truth.
She said Lonnie had told her that he’d asked someone to come on the cruise and kill his wife in return for money, but they’d not gone.
Amy also admitted she had got rid of a computer hard drive that had evidence on because Lonnie
had told her to and she was frightened of what might happen if she didn’t. Amy agreed to testify against her former husband.
Finally, seven years after Micki’s death, Lonnie was arrested and charged with murder. While in prison, an inmate claimed Lonnie came to him and attempted to solicit the murder of Amy to stop her from testifying against him.
The trial was delayed due to legal problems with Micki’s death taking place in international waters, although finally it was determined that the planning had been done in California, so the trial could be held there.
Lonnie was finally charged with murder seven years later
(Image: Pasco Sheriff's Office)
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In February, a three-month trial began. The prosecution said Lonnie had strangled Micki on the night of 25 May or in the early hours of the next day.
Then he had reported her missing. They said he had planned everything almost perfectly, in terms of plotting to throw her overboard, but strangling Micki before she hit the water meant she didn’t breathe any in – so it was obvious she’d been killed first. That was his fatal error.
“Had they not found her body, we would never know she was strangled and was dead before she ever hit the water,” the prosecution said.
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The prosecution insisted Lonnie hadn’t loved Micki when he’d rekindled their relationship and had stayed with her for financial reasons. Amy testified against her former husband and told the jury Lonnie had admitted he wanted Micki killed on the ship.
Lonnie pleaded not guilty. He claimed he and Micki were planning to get remarried and the cruise had been the start of their new life together.
His defence said the injuries Micki had sustained around her neck and head were consistent with a fall. They said that due to Micki’s arthritis, Lonnie had been the one who had financially supported her, but it was clear the money was tied up in their mutual assets.
In June, Lonnie, now 62, was convicted of first-degree murder with the added conviction of murder for financial gain. Three months later, he faced sentencing.
Micki’s brother, Toshi Kanesaki, made a statement. “You, Lonnie, executed my younger sister on that Mediterranean cruise ship,” he said.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Susan Price shows the jury a watch and ring that was found on Micki Kanesaki
“You strangled Micki then you threw her body overboard like trash. You are a vicious criminal, evil person, a cold-blooded killer, a sociopath.” Toshi added that Lonnie was “rotten to the core” and deserved to be behind bars for the rest of his life.
Lonnie continued to deny his part in Micki’s death and again tried to suggest she had taken her own life. “I stood by Micki Kanesaki through significant periods of depression,” he said.
“I went to counselling with her. I did everything I could to help Micki Kanesaki to overcome her depression. I did not murder Micki Kanesaki.”
The judge was unmoved. “In this court’s mind, there is no question of the defendant’s guilt,” he said, before sentencing Lonnie to life in prison without the chance of parole.
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Due to the length of the sentence, charges regarding trying to have his third wife Amy killed were dropped.
Afterwards, the district attorney said that intelligent Lonnie “almost got away with the perfect crime”.
He’d painstakingly planned the ideal place to commit the murder, but by strangling Micki he’d allowed her body to be discovered and made a huge mistake.
Micki thought her former husband had been generous with his suggestion of a romantic cruise, but his intentions were far from honourable.