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Former Attorney Lures Ex-Wife onto Cruise, Then Throws Her Body Overboard
She thought it was the vacation of a lifetime, but Micki Kanesaki would never survive the Italian cruise with her ex-husband.
When Micki Kanesaki boarded the Island Escape for a breathtaking Italian cruise, she believed she was rekindling her romance with ex-husband Lonnie Kocontes.
But the trip would cost her life.
Micki disappeared from the boat on May 26, 2006, according to Oxygen’s Dateline: Unforgettable. It could have been a tragic accident or a decision by Micki to take her own life, but after her body was discovered the next day floating in the Mediterranean Sea, a medical examiner would reach a chilling conclusion: The 52-year-old had been murdered.
To bring the murderer to justice, however, would take years and involve an investigation that used undercover tactics and relied on help from some unexpected sources.
Who was Micki Kanesaki?
Micki Kanesaki’s trip on another boat decades earlier had completely transformed her life. In 1960, Micki traveled from Japan with her family to their new home in the United States.
“Micki was maybe 5 or 6 and I was 8,” her brother Toshi Kanesaki recalled. “I think when you’re that young, we’re here in this strange country, but it’s kind of fun and exciting.”
As an adult, Micki went on to work as a secretary at a high-powered law firm in Los Angeles.
”Micki was smart, beautiful, had a great sense of humor,” her coworker Susan White recalled.
It was at the law firm that Micki met “fireball” attorney Lonnie Kocontes and a romance blossomed. The couple bought a house together in Orange County, California and got married in 1995.
“He was charming. She definitely thought that,” her niece Julie Saranita told Dateline reporter Josh Mankiewicz. “I think she liked that he had similar interests, that he was a hard worker and she appreciated that.”
But not long after the couple tied the knot, the marriage began to crumble. Micki told coworkers Lonnie was controlling, especially when it came to the couple’s finances. Six years after they said “I do,” the couple got divorced and Lonnie moved to a downtown apartment near his office.
How did Micki Kanesaki die?
But in 2006, the pair were hoping to give their relationship another shot.
“He said he was going to change, he was going to work less, and things were going to be better,” Sanarita said. “She was just so happy.”
Lonnie even purchased tickets for a Mediterranean cruise. They had been planning to make the voyage with another couple, their close friends Bill Price and Susan McQueen, but when Susan’s mom needed a sudden surgery their guests were forced to drop out of the vacation.
Just two days into the cruise, Micki vanished. Lonnie would later tell the FBI that he and Micki had enjoyed some wine back in their room, before she left to go find some herbal tea. He took an Ambien and went to sleep and when he woke up around 4:30 a.m. on May 26, 2006, Micki still hadn’t returned.
“He was alarmed, so he went looking for her,” FBI agent Rick Simpson said.
The crew on the boat were notified and searched the vessel but there was no sign of Micki anywhere. The Italian Coast Guard began to search the open water for any sign of the missing 52-year-old.
“Such a search is very challenging and very difficult because when a person disappears in open waters it’s very difficult to find a body,” Italian journalist Marco Grasso explained.
The cruise ship docked in Naples and was scheduled to head out later that night. Lonnie packed his suitcase and Micki’s belongings and disembarked from the ship. He called his close friends Bill Price and Susan McQueen, who happened to run their own private investigations firm. They said he seemed scared and panicked on the phone.
“He was claiming that he was being treated unjustly, that no one spoke English and that everyone was just being mean to him, treating him as if he had done something wrong,” McQueen remembered. “He was a disheveled mess and he was acting fearful.”
They decided it might be best for Lonnie to leave the country and Price booked him a ticket back to the United States less than 48 hours after his ex-wife disappeared.
By the afternoon of May 27, 2008, Lonnie had already flown home when a scientific research boat discovered Micki’s body floating in the Mediterranean Sea.
The autopsy, conducted on June 16, concluded that Micki had been murdered. Her body was badly bruised, especially at the base of her neck, suggesting she had been strangled. Even more telling, there was no water discovered in her lungs, meaning that Micki was already dead before she entered the water.
Who killed Micki Kanesaki?
From the beginning suspicion fell on Lonnie, who had been the last known person to see his ex-wife alive. Since the crime happened to an American citizen overseas, it automatically came under the jurisdiction of the FBI to investigate.
The FBI asked Micki’s niece to secretly record her phone conversations with Lonnie and she noticed something disturbing. Lonnie repeatedly referred to his ex-wife as “the body” during their talks, rather than use her name or call her his wife.
“He was fixated on the condition of the body, he said multiple times, ‘I need to see the body, I need the condition of the body, I don’t know what’s going on with the body,’” Saranita recalled.
Price, a former police officer from Washington D.C., and McQueen had been staunch supporters of their close friend from the beginning, but there were several details of the case that troubled them.
Price learned that after Micki disappeared, Lonnie flew home to California and immediately went to visit a girlfriend — who had also once been married to him — Amy Nguyen.
When they arranged for him to take a lie detector test to clear his name, Lonnie failed it. But it was a conversation they had with Nguyen in January 2009 that would remove any doubt about their suspicions.
Nguyen, whose relationship with Lonnie had soured, told the couple that Lonnie had planned to kill his ex-wife on the cruise ship.
“Her fear told me she was telling the truth with us,” McQueen told the show.
They recorded the conversation and passed it to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, but Nguyen initially refused to cooperate with authorities. She eventually agreed to cooperate after she was given immunity for previous false testimony she had given at a grand jury.
Was Lonnie Kocontes convicted of murder?
Lonnie was arrested and charged with Micki’s murder.
As for a possible motive? Simpson discovered that Lonnie inherited the couple’s nearly $2 million estate upon Micki’s death.
The largely circumstantial case finally went before a jury in 2020, but was briefly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. After a judge ruled the trial needed to continue, Lonnie took the stand himself in his own defense, describing Micki as having a volatile temper and denying harming his ex-wife.
He also claimed that Nguyen had been lying and denied ever telling her he wanted to harm Micki.
But a jury wouldn’t buy his story. He was convicted of first-degree murder for financial gain and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“I’ve reported on plenty of cold blooded crimes committed by husbands and wives but this murder was especially heinous because Lonnie convinced Micki that their Mediterranean cruise was going to remake their marriage, when in fact, it was going to end her life,” Mankiewicz said of what made the case unforgettable.