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Crime News Deadly Waters with Captain Lee

Relatives Make a Grisly Find in Bait Freezer Amid Search for Missing Florida Couple

A missing anchor, stolen jewelry, and a neighbor's valuable statements helped authorities piece together what happened to Janette Piro and Chris Benedetto.

By Jax Miller

People say the living is easy on Singer Island, but not even the relaxing Florida beach town was immune from the evil that lurked beneath the surface.

How to Watch

Watch Deadly Waters with Captain Lee on Oxygen Saturdays at 9/8c and next day on Peacock. 

On November 16, 1998, concerned neighbors alerted the Riviera Beach Police Department (R.B.P.D.) to report Christopher “Chris” Benedetto, 45, and Janette Piro, 42, missing from their Florida home. According to now-retired F.B.I. Special Agent John MacVeigh, loved ones said the couple had failed to meet neighbors for a dinner outing five days earlier and hadn't been seen since.

Neighbors called it “uncharacteristic” for Benedetto and Piro, and grew concerned when newspapers piled up at the door, MacVeigh told Deadly Waters with Captain Lee, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen. They let themselves in, already in possession of their neighbors’ house keys, and found no sign of the pair, though suitcases, medications, cell phones, and wallets were left behind.

Benedetto’s Toyota 4Runner was also nowhere to be found, prompting police to call in a Be on the Lookout (B.O.L.O.) alert.

Neighbors called Piro’s sister, Regina, who lived in New Jersey. Regina’s husband, Michael Koblan — Piro’s brother-in-law — said he’d come down to Florida right away to help find the missing couple.

“Michael had gone to a lot of the marinas, and he had spoken to somebody who said that Chris and Janette went on a friend’s boat to the Bahamas, and that they’ll be back,” said MacVeigh.

What happened to Chris Benedetto and Janette Piro?

According to Deadly Waters host Captain Lee, Singer Island provides easy access to the Bahamas. One could easily make the 70-mile trip in about three hours, when weather provides. However, in November, “winds and currents can come up at a moment’s notice, making the crossing unpleasant at best, and deadly, at worst.”

Family friend Ben Demonstranti, who lived a rock’s throw away from the “very friendly” couple, told Deadly Waters they regularly used his waterfront property to dock their 28-foot center console Ocean Runner for deep-sea fishing, which they did “mostly every day because that’s what they loved to do.” 


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“When I heard Chris and Janette were missing, it was just bizarre,” Demonstranti told Deadly Waters. “They wouldn’t leave without telling anybody, they weren’t like that. They weren’t spontaneous people.”

On the night of Nov. 16, 1998, the same day a missing persons report was filed, detectives received a call from the Embassy Suites by Hilton after a staff member — having seen a report on the news — reported a Toyota 4Runner parked in the corner of the hotel’s parking lot.

It belonged to Chris Benedetto, and it was possible that Benedetto or Piro left the vehicle when meeting friends for their purported trip to the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, Benedetto’s two brothers — both in law enforcement — came from New York to assist. They joined Piro’s brother-in-law, Michael Koblan, in the searches and stayed at the missing couple’s house while canvassing the community.

Relatives make a gruesome find in bait freezer

On Nov. 23, 1998, 12 days after acquaintances last saw the couple, Benedetto’s brothers swept the house to unplug appliances before leaving. That was when they made a gruesome discovery inside the bait freezer: a frozen body.

Michael Koblan featured on Deadly Waters With Captain Lee Episode 103

Shocked loved ones were unable to tell whose body was in the freezer since, according to Agent MacVeigh, the victim had been placed inside headfirst and upside down. However, upon closer inspection, Benedetto’s brothers realized it was their sister-in-law, Janette Piro.

“How degrading to a person,” now-retired Investigator Mike Waites of the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office told Deadly Waters. “What could she have done to upset somebody so bad to make them do this?”

Ligature marks matched a 3/8-inch braided rope double tied around Piro’s neck.

“My first gut feeling was, ‘Oh, the husband did it,'” said MacVeigh.

Detectives looked into the couple’s backgrounds, hoping to glean any information to further their investigation. Loved ones said Piro was an interior designer, while the New York-bred Benedetto was a former construction worker who’d sustained a serious injury from a scaffolding fall on the job, resulting in multiple surgeries and rods in his back.

He moved to Florida after receiving a $2 million settlement from the accident.

“Janette, she did have an eye for beautiful things, but Janette’s beauty came from inside her, more than the outside, because of just the person she was,” said Demonstranti. “She was a beautiful, wonderful person.”

Demonstranti also said Chris was a man who “enjoyed life.”

“He loved fishing,” the friend continued. “His love for the ocean, you could see it in his face every day.”

How was Michael Koblan caught?

Investigators, still questioning whether Benedetto had anything to do with his wife’s homicide, examined bank records, though there had been no activity since their last known movements. Their next break came upon interviewing Demonstranti, who was conditioned to have a keen eye for things out of the ordinary based on his experience as an ocean lifeguard.

Demonstranti said he heard Benedetto and an unknown man by Benedetto’s boat at around 8:00 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1998, the same day Benedetto and his wife failed to meet friends for dinner. Demonstranti said he heard Benedetto say “Grab the rods” before leaving in the boat, though Demonstranti didn’t find anything unusual about the situation at the time.

“So, a couple of hours later, Chris’s boat came back. It parked just the way it always parked, but the person in the boat wasn’t Chris,” Demonstranti told Deadly Waters.

The unknown man then went to Benedetto’s Toyota 4Runner and drove away. 

“Two people went out on the boat that morning, I’m sure of that,” said Demonstranti. “But only one came back.”

Detectives searched Benedetto’s boat at the dock when Demonstranti found the second anchor was missing. Missing ropes — or lines — on the boat also matched the ligature used to kill Janette Piro.

Later that day, investigators brought Benedetto’s two brothers and his brother-in-law, Michael Koblan, to see if Demonstranti recognized any of them. He pointed to Koblan as the man who returned with Benedetto’s boat without the missing man.

“It was eerie; it was evil,” said Demonstranti. “It just put shivers down my spine.”

Investigators interviewed Koblan, who said he was in New Jersey when Benedetto and Piro vanished, as seen in recorded video published by Deadly Waters. His alibi was also backed by his wife, Regina, Piro’s sister.

According to MacVeigh, loved ones — including Benedetto’s brothers — wondered if Demonstranti’s claim to have seen Koblan was a case of “mistaken identity” since Benedetto and Koblan were “very close.”

But a review of Koblan’s American Express card showed that a third party, Mike Kerry, booked a flight on November 10, 1998, from Newark, New Jersey, to West Palm Beach, just one day before Benedetto and Piro disappeared. The passenger flew back on Nov. 12.

Months of searches for Mike Kerry led to no answers, but in June 1999 — seven months after Piro’s homicide and Benedetto’s disappearance — phone records proved a Florida number called Regina Koblan’s mobile phone on the day of the disappearance.

“I didn’t know what the other number was, so I called it, and it was a payphone from the Rutledge Inn, a hotel literally within walking distance from Chris Benedetto’s house and walking distance to Chris’s boat at Ben’s house,” MacVeigh told Deadly Waters.

During a thorough search through boxes of records at the Rutledge Inn, MacVeigh found a registration card for Mike Kerry, whose address was the same as Koblan’s Brick Township, New Jersey home. Handwriting experts from the F.B.I.’s labs in Quantico, Virginia, said they were “one hundred percent” certain that Kerry’s handwriting matched Koblan’s, proving they were the same person.

It also proved Koblan was on Singer Island when Benedetto and Piro disappeared.

“Again, we start looking at Chris Benedetto’s financial records,” said MacVeigh. “We determined that Chris lent Michael $160,000.”

A case of the missing jewelry

With the help of Prosecutor John Kasternakes of the U.S. Department of Justice, investigators reviewed phone records from the boat Koblan stayed on while he was still on Singer Island. It showed someone on the boat called DeAngelis Jewelers of New York City during Koblan’s stay, which raised a red flag for authorities.

“Then I realized that Janette’s engagement ring, diamond earrings, and some of the watches that she owned were missing,” said MacVeigh, citing a July 1998 home video Piro recorded, showing her home and its valuables for insurance purposes, as published by Deadly Waters.  

Benedetto’s safe deposit box contained certification from DeAngelis Jewelers, showing the valuables were worth $58,300.

In May 2003, four years and five months into the investigation, authorities visited the New York jeweler. The man confirmed that Michael Koblan had come in to sell a ring believed to have belonged to Janette Piro.

“The problem is there’s no receipts,” according to MacVeigh.

In what was already a significantly circumstantial case — especially since there was no crime scene and Benedetto’s body had not been recovered — investigators knew they needed something more concrete to secure charges against Koblan. The jeweler informed them that Koblan was due for an appointment in a few weeks and agreed to wear a wire, a conversation obtained by Deadly Waters.

“What if [investigators] ask about the pieces?” the jeweler asked Koblan.

“As far as I’m concerned, you never saw them again,” Koblan responded. “Because all that would do is definitely throw me under the bus.”

Authorities arrest Michael Koblan for murder

On June 27, 2003, authorities arrested Koblan in Brick Township, New Jersey.

“After I found out Mr. Koblan was arrested, I was so relieved,” said an emotional Demonstranti. “It was like the sun was shining brighter that day, just to give them justice.”

Despite primarily circumstantial evidence, investigators believed Koblan and Benedetto went out on the boat, where the two quarreled over Koblan paying back the $160,000 loan. MacVeigh said they believed Koblan “incapacitated” his brother-in-law, tied him with the missing anchor and chain, and threw Benedetto overboard.

Currents would have easily carried Benedetto into the Atlantic Ocean.

“The Gulf Stream is like a swift-moving underwater river in the Atlantic that’s always headed north,” host Captain Lee said. “Even a body with an anchor attached can be carried away by this force of nature, and if [the] investigator’s theory is correct, odds are it will never be found.”

State’s Attorney investigator Mike Waites believed Koblan killed Janette Piro later because she could have easily pointed to him as the person last with her husband. They ran on the theory that Koblan used the boat’s missing rope to strangle her to death.

“This is premeditated, this is planned,” Waites told Deadly Waters. “It’s just a cold-blooded murder.”

On March 9, 2005, more than seven years after the disappearances, Koblan was found guilty in federal court and sentenced to serve life behind bars. He died only two years later of a heart attack while serving his term.

Benedetto’s body has never been found.

Watch all-new episodes of Deadly Waters with Captain Lee, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.