Table of Contents
Berkley titles by Amanda Lamb
THE UNTOLD STORY OF A HOMICIDE INVESTIGATOR’S
CRUSADE FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE
EVIL NEXT DOOR:
THE UNTOLD STORY OF A KILLER UNDONE BY DNA
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EVIL NEXT DOOR
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Berkley mass-market edition / April 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Amanda Lamb.
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I would first like to thank profusely all of the people who helped facilitate and who did interviews with me for this project. This includes current members of the Raleigh Police Department—Jim Sughrue, Lieutenant Clem Perry, Sergeant Jackie Taylor, and Detective Ken Copeland—as well as retired members—investigator Chris Morgan and psychologist Michael Teague. I’d also like to thank prosecutor Susan Spurlin, SBI Agent Mark Boodee, Lansing Detective Joey Dionise, Joanne Reilly, Dr. Gordon LeGrand, and former WRAL reporters Len Besthoff and Melissa Buscher. A special thanks goes to Glenna Huismann for her candid and touching words about her daughter. Without all of your generous contributions of time, information, and insight, I would not have been able to write such an accurate and comprehensive version of this story.
I thank Chad Flowers for his feedback and excellent photographs and Kelly Gardner for his expertise in helping me create usable photographs from WRAL’s archive. As always, I thank WRAL for giving me their blessing and the resources to pursue my “other” career while also allowing me to stay involved with my first passion, television reporting.
I want to thank my mother, Madeline Lamb, for her stellar editing job, and my real editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, for patiently partnering with me to complete another true crime book we can both be proud of.
As always, I thank my agent, Sharlene Martin, for believing in me and working hard with my best interest at heart and, of course, my family for their continued and unwavering support.
Finally, I want to thank Carmon Bennett and Mollie Hodges for always being so gracious and kind to me over the years as I covered their tragedy and for sharing their memories of their beloved daughter Stephanie with me. I will never forget her.
October 19, 2005
In justice is all virtues found in sum.
“We’ve made an arrest in the Stephanie Bennett murder case,” my confidential source said to me as I stood in my kitchen on a Wednesday evening making dinner. The words rolled off of his tongue slowly, and he spoke with the unnatural cadence of a man who was trying to be painfully thorough in his delivery. Looking back on that moment, I have no doubt that he was trying to make sure he had my full attention. Still, I pressed the receiver closer to my ear to make sure I had heard him correctly. My brain was having trouble focusing on what he was saying because it was so unexpected and remarkable. Despite my excellent sources, I hadn’t had any inkling that an arrest was imminent.
At first, I was so stunned by the news I almost dropped the phone into the boiling pot on the stove in front of me. The steam scalded my face as I leaned in to turn off the burner so I could think about what I had just heard. I had never been good at multitasking when it came to balancing work and even the most minor of domestic tasks. Work always won out. I had burned many a meal while answering an e-mail or a phone call.
These words—that the police had finally made an arrest—were what I had been waiting to hear for more than three years. As a local television reporter for WRAL-TV, I had covered the Stephanie Bennett case from nearly the beginning, but tonight wasn’t just about getting a big scoop. Like so many other murder cases I had immersed myself in, this one had become
My first thoughts went immediately to the victim’s family and friends. My emotions surrounding the arrest had more to do with me wanting to see justice done for a young, innocent murder victim than with wanting to have the lead story on the 11:00 news.
“He’s at the police station now being questioned,” my source said.
“I need to go now, don’t I?” I said to him as I cradled the cordless phone in the crook of my neck against my shoulder. My hands were on autopilot as I poured the pasta into the strainer in the sink; my mind was racing three steps ahead of my body as I plotted all of the people I would need to call to make it on the air by 11:00. In order to do my job, I had to get in the zone—a place where emotions and distractions were prohibited. The news was on at the same time every night whether you were ready to present your story or not.
“Yes, you need to go,” he said with almost boyish enthusiasm. Looking back on the conversation now, I appreciate the delicate way he shared the news. I was in a fog, and I needed someone to lead the way. My source knew the news would overwhelm me on so many levels that he was careful to make sure his message was clear and direct. At the same time, he wanted to make sure I got my butt in gear and made it down to the police station in time to get the whole story.
The Raleigh Police Department had worked for three and a half years to solve this case. Many people thought there would never be an arrest. On darker days, I was one of those people who felt like there would never be a conclusion to one of Raleigh’s most horrific crimes. Now there was an arrest, an ending, an answer to all of the questions the media had relentlessly posed throughout the long investigation. It was surreal and, admittedly, slightly thrilling to see a high-profile cold case cleared after so many doubted it would ever be solved.
I mumbled something to my two young daughters about having to go back to the office. My older daughter groaned, and my little one whined. She repeatedly asked me why, tugging on the edge of my untucked, wrinkled blouse that was about to be retucked for a second round of television that evening. They had seen me come home only to turn around and go out the door again too many nights. Being a television news reporter wasn’t a good gig for a mother. They reminded me of that on a daily basis.
My husband, Grif, knew I had to go. He had seen my wide eyes and overheard bits and pieces of the conversation, enough to know something major was going on. “They arrested someone in the Stephanie Bennett murder,” I told him, still not believing the words even as they tumbled out of my mouth. Grif nodded. He knew enough about me and my passion for the cases I covered to realize that I would go. Instinctively, he had already picked up my car keys from the kitchen counter and grabbed my jacket from the back of a chair and handed them to me.
As it did my daughters, my leaving annoyed him, but he wisely kept quiet. We had been here on more than one occasion in our eleven-year relationship. He understood, as he had so many times before, that news is almost never planned and is rarely convenient. It wasn’t that he liked it, but he had learned to tolerate it for the most part. It was the price he had paid for marrying someone in the news business.
As a veteran crime reporter for the local CBS television station, I had had some exciting moments over the years when big cases finally came to a head. Sometimes these moments were in the form of an arrest; other times they occurred when a jury returned a guilty verdict after many hours of grueling deliberations. Still, there are few things that matched the exhilaration I felt upon hearing that someone had been arrested for the murder of Stephanie Bennett.
Maybe it was because Stephanie was a young girl who had graduated from college and moved away from her home and family to start her life as an independent young woman. I had done the same thing in 1989 when I left my comfortable small town in Pennsylvania and moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in order to take my first job in television news. I remembered what a hopeful time that was, my life full of possibilities stretching out in front of me like an endless highway disappearing into the horizon. I was sure Stephanie had felt the same way.
But through no fault of her own, Stephanie became the victim of one of the most vicious rapes and homicides the city of Raleigh had ever seen. Stephanie was a truly innocent victim who had done nothing to contribute to her own death. She didn’t engage in any risky behavior that would have put her in a dangerous situation; she was just a regular girl minding her own business. Her murder exemplified the kind of random violence we as a society pray doesn’t really exist. It creates a feeling of hopelessness when we realize how little we can do to truly prevent it.