February 18, 2013
According to the Associated Press, Lonnie Kocontes was arrested in Pinellas County, Florida, on Friday (Feb. 15), and charged with one count of "special circumstances murder for financial gain."
Kocontes' ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, was last seen alive at 11 p.m. on May 25, 2006, onboard Island Escape. Kocontes reported her missing to ship staff the following morning and eventually flew back to California, where the divorced couple had shared a home.
Kanesaki's body was recovered from the Mediterranean the day after her disappearance (May 27) near Messina, Italy. An Italian autopsy concluded Kanesaki had likely been strangled to death.
Although Kocontes denied any involvement in Kanesaki's disappearance and death, according to Southern California's City News Service, a criminal probe into Kocontes' finances began in 2008. The investigation was reportedly begun after Kocontes attempted to transfer more than $1 million from Kanesaki's bank accounts into joint accounts in Florida that he held with his new wife. Subsequently, both federal and state prosecutors began reviewing the circumstances surrounding Kanesaki's death in 2010. Ultimately, the murder charge against Kocontes was filed February 13, 2013, in Orange County, California.
Kocontes is being held without bail in Florida, where he currently resides. He is likely to be extradited and tried in southern California, where he would face a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole and would be eligible for the death penalty if convicted, according to the AP.
At the time of Kanesaki's death, Island Cruises, a British cruise line partly owned by Royal Caribbean, owned Island Escape. In 2008, Royal Caribbean sold its share of the line to TUI Travel, PLC -- the parent company of Thomson Cruises, who now manage the ship. Cruise Critic has contacted Thomson Cruises for a statement.
--by Jamey Bergman, U.K. Production Editor