By Rich Pollack
The apartment on the third floor of the Penthouse Highlands condominium where the body of 85-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Cabral was found with her throat cut three years ago this month remains empty.
Some furniture is inside and there are signs that investigators have given the condo a thorough going over, looking for evidence everywhere including in drainpipes under sinks.
The electricity remains on, paid for now by the condominium association, as does the air conditioning in order to keep mold and mildew from forming.
Though detectives from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office are continuing to piece together evidence in the case, Cabral’s death — only the second known homicide in Highland Beach’s 71-year history — remains the town’s only unsolved murder.
“The Sheriff’s Office has kept us updated and the case remains under investigation,” said Highland Beach Police Chief Craig Hartmann, whose department turned the case over to sheriff’s detectives after handling the initial call. The detectives have not commented publicly about the investigation.
Two related cases are wending through the courts, slowed by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and in at least one of the cases by turnover of prosecutors and by the difficulty of contacting witnesses in other parts of the country.
In probate court, attorneys for Cabral’s niece Teresa Regan hope a judge will soon determine who will be awarded legal ownership of the estate, which includes the third-floor apartment and other assets.
In another part of the courthouse, the criminal court case against David Del Rio, the financial adviser for Cabral and her husband, William, who died in 2017, is slowly proceeding.
Del Rio is charged with 72 counts of grand theft and exploitation of the elderly, with prosecutors contending that he siphoned nearly $3 million from the Cabrals over six years.
Arrested in September 2018, Del Rio was released on bail of more than $450,000 in January 2019 with the condition that he remain under house arrest and avoid contact with members of the Cabral family.
Like many of the pending criminal cases in Palm Beach County, Del Rio’s case has been slowed by the pandemic.
But a number of other factors have kept the case from moving forward more rapidly.
So far, no trial date has been set but Del Rio’s attorney Michael Salnick believes the case could go before a jury sometime this fall.
“There have been a lot of things going on that have caused the delay but I think we’re in the homestretch,” he said. “We just have a lot to do and we’re doing it. No one is unnecessarily delaying the case.”
Salnick says it’s not unusual for a case this serious to take years of preparation before it is ready for trial but agrees with Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, that COVID has been a factor.
Edmondson said courts are just beginning to address what amounts to a more than a year’s worth of backlog of cases.
The Del Rio case has also seen a changeover in prosecutors, again not that unusual according to Edmondson, and involves witnesses outside of the state.
“There have just been a lot of depositions to take,” Salnick said.
While prosecutors have contended that Del Rio took advantage of his business relationship with the Cabrals and used their trust to pilfer money from bank accounts, Salnick has argued that all the transactions were above board.
During a bond hearing in 2018, Salnick argued that the Cabrals gave the money to Del Rio willingly and presented witnesses who said Betty Cabral thought of him as a son.
It was while investigating Cabral’s death that detectives uncovered financial information that led to the theft charges against Del Rio.
Cabral’s body was found on April 30, 2018, by a Highland Beach police officer doing a safety check after her car was found abandoned in Pompano Beach.
As transplants from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Betty Cabral and her husband retired to Highland Beach in the mid-1990s and were well liked by their neighbors in the condominium community across from the ocean.
Major crimes are rare in Highland Beach, a town that has a full Police Department with officers routinely on patrol. Highland Beach has repeatedly been rated among the top 10 safest cities in Florida by organizations that conduct ratings.
Highland Beach’s only other confirmed homicide occurred in 1994 when Richard P. Ramaglia, 49, was fatally stabbed in his home in the 4000 block of South Ocean Boulevard.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies later arrested Mary Juhnke, 23. Juhnke told detectives an argument over whether she should have an abortion led to the stabbing.
Juhnke later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 17 years in prison in December 1994.