Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
Betty and Billy Cabral bought a Highland Beach condo 25 years ago to savor their retirement years in the safe, oceanfront community between Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
But their lives at Penthouse Highlands, mostly enjoyable for the former high school sweethearts from Massachusetts, ended tragically as crime victims in their mid-80s, authorities say.
Today an active murder investigation lingers into only the second murder in the 72-year history of the quiet seaside enclave of 3,500 residents And there is a large-scale financial crimes prosecution getting closer to a trial — a Lee County man is charged with stealing over $3.3 million from the couple.
The detective work began on April 30, 2018, with the police discovery of Elizabeth “Betty” Cabral, 85, with her throat reportedly slashed inside her fifth-floor condominium at 3100 S. Ocean Blvd. Her car was stolen, and later found abandoned with the keys inside, west of Pompano Beach.
This kind of violence is unheard of in a town where the only other murder took place in 1994, involving a man and a woman who knew each other and had a dispute about a pregnancy.
Cabral had lived alone after her husband William died the previous year from struggles with Alzheimer’s disease. She had friends in the building who never imagined the sight of crime scene tape on her door.
“It’s shocking, so unexpected, so horrible,” said Pat Acampora, a neighbor from the third floor, who misses Cabral’s cheerful, outgoing nature.
Acampora says residents continue to talk about the killing and wonder if there will ever be an arrest. No one thinks it was a random attack; there were no signs of forced entry.
Those who knew Betty are left with speculation, mainly because the Cabrals’ self-titled “financial advisor” was arrested about six months after her death.
‘Abuse of this helpless couple’
David Del Rio, 38, faces six dozen fraud and theft charges, based on allegations he “preyed upon the frail and vulnerable elderly couple to whom he endeared himself.”
While Del Rio’s Lehigh Acres home was twice searched as part of the investigation into Betty’s death and finances, authorities will not comment about whether he is or has ever been a suspect in the homicide.
They say an examination of Betty’s assets after the slaying revealed she and her spouse had been ripped off big time.
Prosecutors say Del Rio initially met the couple when he worked at a bank and proceeded to gain their trust before exploiting them and siphoning money they had saved from “frugal living” and shrewd investments. The couple had no children.
Investigators reviewed banking transfers, learned about the woman’s purported concerns about her dwindling cash, and discovered that in 2015, Del Rio became the sole beneficiary on the Cabrals’ wills and began acting on their behalf with powers of attorney.
Del Rio drained Betty and Billy’s bank accounts beginning in 2013, repeatedly using their money for his personal expenses, including home improvements and the purchase of a car and guns, court records show. Del Rio is accused of tapping the Cabrals’ funds to buy $50,000 worth of “firearms and silencers” from a Delray Beach gun shop.
The thefts continued for a year after Billy’s 2017 death at age 87, with Del Rio writing seven checks in Billy’s name, prosecutors say.
In a court pleading, Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts blasted Del Rio as lacking “any morality” and suffering from a “depraved mind” because of his “continuous abuse of this helpless couple.”
“Any ‘person’ who is willing to painstakingly strip these victims of their life savings and their golden years of life presents a clear and present danger to all of those who are unfortunate enough to be in his presence,” the prosecutor wrote while pressing for a $1 million bond after Del Rio’s arrest.
Del Rio got a $471,000 bond in early 2019, and he provided proof that it was not paid with money tied to the alleged swindle.
‘A very close relationship’
A father of four children with no prior criminal history, Del Rio is on house arrest and defended by a highly respected defense attorney, Michael Salnick of West Palm Beach.
He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that Del Rio was not at all involved in Betty Cabral’s death.
“There is natural scrutiny, and some people are rushing to judgment assuming that he did it,” Salnick said. “If [law enforcement] thought he was connected to the homicide I would imagine they would arrest him, and I don’t even worry about that at this point.”
His focus is on preparing to show the jury that the theft accusations are unfair, and how Del Rio was like a son to the Cabrals.
“He took very good care of them, and he made sure they got to the doctors, and he made sure they traveled to Boston to see their family, and he made sure the apartment was clean and that things were done,” Salnick explained.
“And this was over the course of time that they developed a very close relationship,” he said. “Pictures of Mr. Del Rio and his family were in [the Cabrals’] apartment.”
The defense will argue that the Cabrals didn’t have such ties with their relatives in their later years.
What about all the money transferred to Del Rio’s accounts?
Prosecutors are going to “make a big deal about the money trail, and you’re never going to hear me fight the money trail. The money went to David, but there are reasons for it,” Salnick said.
According to updated charges filed in July, Del Rio faces 72 felony counts altogether punishable by over 1,000 years in prison. The charges — exploitation of an elderly person, money laundering and grand theft — carry a minimum sentence of 67 years, according to state guidelines.
Prosecutors insist there is no evidence that Del Rio’s bank withdrawals ever benefitted the Cabrals, while instead he methodically pumped up his “personal wealth.”
The case is set for a Dec. 15 hearing, when Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen could schedule the trial.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
The Cabral family declined to comment while the matter is pending.
Del Rio’s friends and relatives have written letters to the court, calling him a “helpful, trustworthy and humble person.”
Back at the 82-unit Penthouse Highlands, office manager Helen Krantz offered similar accolades about Betty Cabral, who frequently could be found at the pool and playing mahjong.
“Betty was a doll, so thoughtful and considerate,” Krantz recalled. “Such a sweetheart. She’s greatly missed.”