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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Man who found Hanahan victim 'knew something wasn't right'

7-17-2012 South Carolina:

Hanahan — Roy Ray Bennett had been a victim of crime before.

Last week, a man was arrested on forgery charges after $10,000 worth of checks were cashed in Bennett's name.

And Bennett had been accused of crime, too.

He recently learned that prosecutors were pursuing a trial in his 2009 child pornography arrest.

But Bennett's son doesn't know why anyone would want to hurt the man, known by residents of his Otranto neighborhood as “Mr. Ray.” The retiree and Army veteran was found dead in his bed about 1 p.m. Sunday, his limbs bound with duct tape and a bag over his head, according to the person who discovered his body.

“Who kills a 71-year-old man?” Tim Bennett, a 47-year-old Columbia resident, said outside his father's home Monday. “I was just hoping he died in his sleep.

“I found out he was murdered instead. I thought he had passed peacefully.”

The Hanahan Police Department released few additional details Monday about the city's first homicide this year. Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said an autopsy Monday morning did not immediately indicate how he died and that toxicology tests might shed light on that.

Detectives found no sign of forced entry at Bennett's home at 2 Lombardi Lane and were still looking for his Toyota Tacoma pickup, which was thought to be stolen after the killing.

A neighbor who borrowed Bennett's lawn mower Sunday morning told The Post and Courier that he became suspicious when he spotted two men inside Bennett's Toyota. The neighbor said the men, who had been living with Bennett for a short time, scrambled back inside the house.

When the neighbor returned with the mower and to check on Bennett, he saw several empty bottles of alcohol on a counter. He walked through an unlocked door and found Bennett's body on the bed.

“He was a nice man, but he didn't let people take his truck,” said the neighbor, who cited fear of retribution in asking that his name be withheld. “I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't expect to find him in the state he was.”

Hanahan police Lt. Michael Fowler would not “confirm or deny” the account about how Bennett's body was found and said investigators still were looking for the Toyota. They intended to question several people but had developed no firm suspects, Fowler said.

At the request of the local police force, the State Law Enforcement Division was helping to run down leads and interview Bennett's acquaintances.

Neighbors said they recently saw several people from outside the community visiting the home. Some might have been staying there.

“There was a lot of traffic in and out of that house, but I can't go into details,” Fowler said. “Some of those people, we are desperately interested in talking to.”

Previous cases

Police officers knew of Bennett, though they did not visit the home frequently, according to Fowler.

An officer last spoke with him Friday, when Bennett said prosecutors were continuing to pursue the 2009 charge of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

That case was based on SLED agents' discovery of “visual materials” on his computer that showed children engaged in sex, according to a 2009 news release. He was accused of downloading and distributing the porn.

In letters to neighbors, he defended himself by saying someone else had put the images on his computer and used a peer-to-peer network to share them, according to his son.

On Friday, the Hanahan officer visited his house to follow up on an arrest that the North Charleston Police Department made July 10 in which a man was accused of forging 13 of Bennett's checks and cashing $9,800 worth.

The man, 39-year-old Harry Shane Dupree of Vine Street in Goose Creek, told police that a woman would forge Bennett's signature on the checks, then give them to Dupree to cash.

But Bennett refused to tell authorities about the activity because of his history with that woman, according to Dupree's statements to the police.

“(The woman) had been a neighbor of (Bennett),” Dupree said, according to an incident report. “While she was a child, (Bennett) had supposedly taken advantage of her that was criminal in nature.”

Fowler, the Hanahan lieutenant, would not say whether Bennett's past was connected to his slaying.

“The officer went there because someone was writing bad checks,” Fowler said. “But he ended up not wanting a report.”

'Had no enemies'

Though they were aware of the allegations against him, neighbors knew Bennett as a caring man who often would lend his possessions, such as power tools.

He was a skilled woodworker. He constructed much of his own furniture from cedar.

Children living in houses along his tree-lined, dead-end street often went for a swim in his backyard pool, including 18-year-old Cody Buehrer.

“If anyone here needed anything, he was the one who did it,” said Buehrer, a next-door neighbor of Bennett's for seven years. “This cul-de-sac is losing a good man.”

A native of Raleigh, Bennett graduated from North Carolina State University in the 1960s, his son said. He then spent two years in the Army, a requirement of his involvement with the school's ROTC program.

After serving a tour in Germany during the Vietnam War, he moved to Hanahan with his wife and only child. The couple later divorced.

He worked his entire career as an electrical engineer at the MeadWestvaco paper plant in North Charleston, where he retired during the last decade.

“He kept to himself, but he liked piddling in the yard and the garden. That was his life,” said his son, who last saw Bennett on Christmas, when they ate sugar cookies and exchanged gifts. “He always had his garden of tomatoes and corn.”

Tim Bennett said his father's Sunday newspaper had been retrieved from the yard and was on his living room couch, where he read it religiously each week. Nothing in the house seemed disturbed, though his wallet was missing.

“I'm just in a numb state right now,” Tim Bennett said. “He had no enemies.” ..Source.. by Andrew Knapp


Hanahan homicide victim was charged for child porn in 2009

7-14-2012 South Carolina:

HANAHAN, S.C. (WCIV) -- A person is dead in the Otranto area of Hanahan, and police investigators believe foul play was involved.

The victim has been identified as 71-year-old Roy Bennett. An autopsy will be conducted today to determine the cause of death. Officials say his body was found by a neighbor.

ABC News 4 spoke with Lt. Fowler with Hanahan Police this morning who said Bennett was killed between 6:30 and 10 a.m. Sunday morning.

Fowler says investigators continue to believe that Bennett knew the suspect because there was no sign of struggle. He says there were many people coming and going from the house.

According to SLED records, Bennett was charged with felony first degree sexual exploitation of a minor back in April of 2009. SLED filed those charges when investigators reported they found pornographic images of minors on Bennett's computer.

Fowler does not believe the suspect in Bennett's death was connected to the 2009 incident.

The Berkeley County Coroner's Office released a statement Monday saying an autopsy was conducted and the results are pending.

"We will be awaiting the results of toxicology test before a final cause of death can be determined," said Coroner Bill Salisbury.

Police have asked for the public's help in this investigation by locating a 2009 Toyota Tacoma taken from the home. The truck is Silver and has a license tag number of CBP-692.

Lt. Fowler said the homicide is the first in Hanahan for 2012. ..Source.. by WCIV.TV


Arrests made in Hanahan killing


Roy Bennett may have been killed over money.

Hanahan police arrested three people Thursday night in connection with the 71-year-old's death, saying that's what drove them to go to his home over the weekend.

Brittany Lynn Swagner, 24; Robert Andrew McFadden, 24; and Robert Randolph Clark, 39, are charged with murder, according to Lt. Michael Fowler of the Hanahan Police Department.

Police believe Bennett was killed Sunday, between 6:30 a.m., when he picked up his newspaper from his Lombardi Lane home, and 1 p.m., when a neighbor found him dead in his bedroom.

The three accused in Bennett's slaying were living in area motels and didn't have permanent residences, Fowler said. They're being held in the Berkeley County jail and are scheduled for a bond hearing at 11:30 a.m. today.

Goose Creek police also will charge McFadden with possession of a stolen motor vehicle, Fowler said.

Additional charges may follow, Fowler said, as police continue their investigation.

McFadden was spotted in surveillance footage abandoning Bennett's 2009 Toyota Tacoma in the Goose Creek Walmart parking lot and walking toward a nearby Murphy USA gas station, Fowler said.

The State Law Enforcement Division scoured the truck for clues Wednesday and found fingerprints, and investigators examined surveillance video from Walmart and the gas station.

McFadden ditched the pickup in the far reaches of the Walmart camera's range, Fowler said, but police analyzed the gas station's footage Thursday and were able to capture “a really good view” of him.

A North Charleston police officer recognized McFadden in that image and knew where he hung out, Fowler said. He was arrested and helped lead police to Swagner, then to Clark.

“Everything really got rolling after we found that truck,” Fowler said.

From interviews, police also learned that the three took guns from Bennett's home, and Fowler said Clark and McFadden stole duct tape from Walmart before Bennett's death.

The neighbor found Bennett's body with duct tape around his arms and legs and a bag over his head after he returned a lawn mower he had borrowed.

Fowler said late Thursday that police are confident that they have found the three people who were at Bennett's home in the Otranto neighborhood Sunday. They haven't ruled out the possibility of other related arrests.

“The real work has just begun,” Fowler said. “It's entirely conceivable that once they realize they're charged with murder that they might be forthcoming with even more information.”

Early in their search, investigators said they hadn't found signs of forced entry in Bennett's home, leading them to think he knew his killers.

Fowler said police think Clark and Bennett knew each other “in some form or fashion.”

All three knew that Bennett had money, and police say that was the trio's motive.

Bennett's money had been exploited previously, authorities said.

On July 10, a North Charleston man was charged with forging 13 checks totaling nearly $10,000 in his name. He worked with a woman who was not charged. She was “supposedly blackmailing” Bennett over an incident from her childhood, according to a police report.

Bennett “had supposedly taken advantage of her (in a way) that was criminal in nature,” the report said.

Whether those cases are related is not clear. “We haven't made any connection as of yet to North Charleston's arrest last week,” Fowler said.

Bennett was charged in 2009 with second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. He was accused of downloading and distributing child pornography and had been recently told that prosecutors were pursuing a trial.

An autopsy Monday didn't indicate how Bennett died, and toxicology tests are still pending. Those usually take two to three weeks to complete, said Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury. ..Source.. by Thad Moore

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