Crime-scene tape still seals the door to Betty Cabral’s condominium (middle right) at the Penthouse Highlands, 3100 S. Ocean Blvd., where the 85-year-old woman was found slain in April. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
It is a whodunit that could be the plot of an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
An elderly widow is discovered dead inside her fifth-floor condo in a quiet beachside community. Her financial adviser is charged with siphoning away almost $900,000 from her savings.
Yet, as of now, the late April slaying of 85-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Cabral remains unsolved.
“This truly is a bizarre set of circumstances,” says Robert Cabral, nephew of William Cabral, Betty’s husband of more than 50 years who died in April 2017.
Though five months have passed since Betty Cabral’s car was found abandoned in Pompano Beach and Highland Beach police discovered the woman’s body in her Penthouse Highlands condo, crime scene tape still covers part of the front door and fingerprint dust is visible on the windows.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old David Del Rio of Lehigh Acres on the state’s west coast, who until his arrest on fraud charges last month had been working for a car dealer in Naples, remains in jail.
While sheriff’s detectives, who have been meticulously working the homicide case, even scouring Del Rio’s home and his vehicles for evidence, have remained close-mouthed, Del Rio’s attorney has strongly denied any link between his client and Betty Cabral’s knife-related death.
“He’s unequivocally not involved in the homicide,” says Michael Salnick, a well-known Palm Beach County defense attorney.
In court documents, Palm Beach County sheriff’s detectives have laid out what they think is strong evidence that Del Rio, a credentialed investment adviser, took money from the Cabrals’ accounts without their knowledge.
Investigators also claim that Del Rio had a hand in being named the sole beneficiary of the Cabrals’ will, signed in 2015 after William Cabral was diagnosed with dementia. In the months prior to the creation of the will, William Cabral was unable to pick out his own clothes, identify his own address or perform daily tasks, according to statements in court documents from Betty Cabral’s niece Gabrielle Cyrus, who lived with the family for a short time in 2014.
Now back in New England, Cyrus declined to comment for this story, saying she was advised not to discuss the case. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Detective Robert Drake, who has taken the lead on the case, said in an affidavit that investigators checked bank records and found evidence that $893,673 was withdrawn from a SunTrust account belonging to the Cabrals between Sept. 16, 2016, and March 12, 2018. The withdrawals were made via 16 checks that were deposited into a bank account that only Del Rio had access to, the affidavit states.
In one court filing, prosecutors wrote: “The investigation reveals no evidence that these withdrawals benefitted William or Elizabeth Cabral but in fact benefitted Del Rio. Del Rio further utilized the transfer of monies between multiple accounts owned and operated by him in an attempt to conceal the exploitation and theft from the Cabrals.”
Detectives said in court documents they think Del Rio used some of the money from the Cabrals’ accounts to purchase a car as well as firearms, firearms equipment, home improvements and a cruise.
Armed with what they thought was sufficient evidence to charge him on more than two dozen financial fraud counts, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies joined forces with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, arresting Del Rio on Sept. 13 after a traffic stop a short distance from his home. They returned to the home to conduct a search and were joined by the local bomb squad and fire rescue personnel, in part because they suspected the home might have a large number of weapons.
Salnick, Del Rio’s attorney, said the arrest did not surprise him and his client. He said Del Rio retained him more than a month before the traffic stop, and Salnick offered to surrender him to law enforcement officials but they turned down the offer.
During a first appearance court hearing on Sept. 17, Del Rio’s bond was set at $27,000, but he remains in jail after prosecutors contended that any money used to post bail would be from ill-gotten gains. A bond hearing has been set for early November.
Family tried to help
While investigators have charged Del Rio with taking just shy of $900,000 from the Cabrals, Robert Cabral said his aunt may have actually had more money at some point. He also thinks his aunt, who didn’t have any children or relatives living close by, was an easy target for someone wanting to access her money. “She was pretty naïve when it came to financial matters,” he said, adding that his uncle had handled all the finances before becoming ill.
Cabral, who lives on Florida’s west coast, said he came to visit his aunt and uncle several years ago after William’s decline became obvious and Betty was concerned that some of the checks she was writing were bouncing.
As he looked through papers his uncle kept in a desk drawer, he discovered what he says was close to $2 million worth of investments and bank accounts.
He took Betty to a nearby bank, set up an account so that money from savings would automatically go into her checking account if she was overdrawn and gave her the name of his financial planner in the Tampa area.
Instead of reaching out to him, it appears that she put her trust — and finances — in the hands of Del Rio.
While some neighbors said Betty Cabral loved Del Rio like a son, others were worried that he was taking advantage of the elderly widow. Some even confronted him, according to residents, after earlier this year he moved furniture out of her unit while she was visiting a niece in Massachusetts and replaced it with new furniture.
He told neighbors he was going to surprise her, but when she returned, Betty told others in the building that she didn’t really like it.
According to court records, Betty Cabral had also become worried about her dwindling savings and had expressed concerns to her caretaker as well as family members.
A neighbor told CBS 12 news that a few months before the killing, she saw Betty crying and complaining that she had no money left.
While legal proceedings are taking place in criminal courts, lawyers for families of both William Cabral and Betty Cabral are trying to sort out what will become of the remainder of the Cabrals’ estate, including the Highland Beach condo.
Preliminary probate files have been created in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. Robert Cabral says he has hired an attorney on behalf of his two sisters and himself and thinks Betty Cabral’s relatives have also hired an attorney.
“If there’s a legitimate will out there, I would think the Cabrals would be in it and Betty’s family too,” he said.
Researcher Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.