The Bennett Family Murders ~ Aurora, Colorado ~ January 16, 1984

 The Bennett family was your average middle class family living the American dream.


Bruce Bennett ~ 27 ~ Found Murdered January 16, 1984

Debra Bennett ~ 26 ~ Found Murdered, Sexually Assaulted January 16, 1984

Melissa Bennett ~7 ~ Found Murdered, Sexually Assaulted January 16, 1984

Vanessa Bennett ~ 3 ~ Found Alive, Jaw Crushed, Severly Beaten About the Face

Bruce worked at the family-owned furniture store and was also taking classes to become an air traffic controller. The family overall lead a very quiet and peaceful life. Just your average everyday normal family. Not one part of this family’s life would indicate such a violent predator was going to kill them. Seemingly, nothing they did showed investigators any reason someone would want to kill them.

The night of the crime:

Bruce Bennett tried to climb the staircase several times in an attempt to ward off the perpetrator and save his young family. The killer pummeled and sexually assaulted his 26-year-old wife, Debra, and 7-year-old daughter, Melissa. He also shattered the face of Bruce Bennett’s 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa.

Even though Vanessa’s jaw was crushed, sending jagged bones into her windpipe, she survived after her grandmother, Constance Bennett, checked on the family later that morning when they didn’t show up to work at a family-owned furniture store.

Bruce had been attacked with a knife and hit in the head several times with a hammer or blunt object.

The family was discovered by Constance Bennett who has since raised little Vanessa.

The Attack happened between midnight and 6 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1984. The police after searching the home believe that the intruder brought his own weapon, a hammer or some other type of blunt object yet, he took a knife from the kitchen which is what he used to slash and cut Bruce with. The perpetrator left with both weapons.

“It was a blitz attack for no reason,” said Marvin Brandt, who investigated the case as a homicide detective between 1984 and when he retired from the Aurora Police Department in 2002.

Investigators have been quoted as saying this was a random crime, vicious and random. No other motive like robbery could be found as the only items missing were the knife used to cut Bruce and Debra’s purse, yet the contents of the purse were strewn in the front yard.

There was no sign of forced entry into the home, some articles you come across say that the killer entered through an unlocked garage door.  

After investigating, the police found similarities between the attack at the Bennett home and nearby random attacks that happened days earlier along the Highline Canal and Alameda Avenue corridor.

~ Jan. 4, 1984, a man snuck into an Aurora home and used a hammer to beat James and Kimberly Haubenschild. James Haubenschild suffered a fractured skull, and his wife had a concussion. Both survived.

~The very same day, a man using a hammer attacked flight attendant Donna Dixon in the garage of her Aurora home, leaving her in a coma. Dixon survived.

~Then on Jan. 10, 1984, someone used a hammer to strike 50-year-old Patricia Louise Smith several times in the head in her Lakewood home thus killing her sometime between 3pm and 5pm. She was also sexually assaulted and the intruder left a small hammer near her body.

In June 2002, former Arapahoe County Colorado, District Attorney Jim Peters obtained a John Doe arrest warrant in the Bennett killings based on the DNA. He then proceeded to charge John Doe with 18 counts, including three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of sexual assault, first-degree assault and two counts of sexual assault on a child and burglary.

DNA at both the Bennett crime Scene and the Smith crime scene were matched to the same killer in 2010. The prints taken from the Bennett crime scene were fuzzy and not usable, the concrete floor they took that had a footprint would be unusable at this point.

The investigators looked at everything from construction workers to drug addicts in the area’s around the attacks because at the time a lot of construction was happening, they looked at the fact that the attacks happened around the holiday’s so maybe that was a trigger for this killer, even looked at the possibility that the killer was in some sort of drug fueled rage. They also looked across state lines looking for similar or like crimes and to date, they have not one suspect.

Here’s what we see:

This killer is indiscriminate in terms of who he kills, attacks or rapes. The rapes are secondary crimes.  This man’s only motive was to inflict as much pain as possible and kill his victims. The rapes were opportunities and only that. He either got turned on by the prospect of killing or used the rapes as a way to cover up the true motive which was to murder.

This killer strikes with such violence that it is difficult to understand, see or know of a possible motive. While everyone is looking for a motive it was always looking right back at investigators. This killers only motive was to kill. It’s nothing more or less than that. He didn’t hate his victims and quite frankly he didn’t know any of them personally, he just wanted to kill. That is what drove him into such an uncontrollable frenzy so fast and that is precisely what stopped the attacks so fast. He fed the need.

We often times want answers that fit into a box and I am sorry to say in this case we will not get them.

He picked all of his victims for a reason, something about them attracted him to them, they all had one common denominator that drew him to those specific individuals. It could be the store they all shopped in, the road that they all traveled daily to and from work, school, library they attended etc. The victims may not have ever known one another but the killer found them somehow, it was not random although it appears that way. Murders at this level are not just random. There’s no such thing as coincidence. Coincidence is just an illusion that we all tell ourselves myself included, when we are unable to explain how something actually came to be. Killing on this level requires some level of planning on the part of the perpetrator.

The fact that the murders took place between Highline Canal and the Alameda Corridor is curious, in fact, I am drawn to this fact about the case more so than any other fact. By far, easier prey lay in wait just north which would be Colfax Ave and at the time might not have hit the news like the murder of the Bennett family did had the crime occurred in a neighborhood more near Colfax.

Investigators believed the killer’s attacks escalated from just beating someone with a hammer to actually murdering them. I don’t believe that. The killer was practicing, he was unsure of himself and he was unsure of the weapon he would eventually use.  

You see it in the last known crime that the killer committed. He knew he was going to kill the family, Father, Mother and Children, so he clearly wasn’t afraid to go after a man and thought he would be able to easily kill a man. HE had to get knife in addition to the hammer just to ward off Bruce who was trying to protect his family.  

I also believe this is the killer’s first stint at killing humans he most likely as with most serial killers did in fact kill animals earlier in life.

This killer is more the type that would self medicate more than likely be a heavy drinker as opposed to taking medication.  He is more introverted when he is sober and an extrovert when he isn’t. But he isn’t going to talk about this crime to just a friend or bar mate. He may have been in the system at some point but it is difficult to determine whether it would have been on felony charges or misdemeanor because his crimes may have stopped altogether. 

Currently all 50 states have to collect DNA for certain types of Felony crimes and submit it to CODIS. The Military also submits DNA for specific types of crimes committed by it’s members. But some states were slow to add DNA to CODIS and the Damn ACLU had to butt it’s nose into it and doesn’t like how some states collect DNA beyond certain felony charges or convictions.  

The killer also may have completely changed his MO from victim type to weapon used, to less grisly murdering, became better at leaving no DNA behind… Because he committed the murders in Colorado during his learning phase if you will it is difficult to determine what he went on to be if anything.

He could have found other ways to feed the need…

Which is why a more beneficial profile from the onset is more important in fact, it’s critical. Never profile someone using the box as your guide. This is a harsh, cold fact profilers must learn if they are to more accurately profile.

He thought about murder for a long time, he daydreamed about it and more than likely attempted several times prior to these specific attacks to commit murder but for whatever reason didn’t go through with it or was unable to because his victim fought him off, fear of being seen or heard etc. It’s also safe to assume that up until the Bennett murders his weapon of choice was a blunt object, after those murders he quite possibly changed the weapon of choice if he had that overwhelming urge to kill again.

What we do know is that he likes the level of violence a blunt object signifies. It’s bloody, painful for the victim and brutal. He finds his release from the level of pain he inflicts on the victim, the level of violence he is able to achieve. A typical way one would see this is that he likes control, that is wrong. It is deeper than that.

He likes that violent way of killing so going from a hammer to a gun would be a jump for this killer and simply would not be the first choice for him.  

These crimes in Colorado are this killers first stages at killing a human. That is very clear.

The investigators and the CBI were safe to guess that it might have been a construction worker that had been working in the area. One thing that hasn’t been said would be that during the winter in Colorado construction slows and sometimes between Jan-March it slows to a crawl, a lot of guys get laid off or work inconsistently during the week. They do value daylight hours and work them whenever they can during the winter months. During the winter in Colorado it’s difficult to find a construction crew working well into the night. They are more likely to begin work before sunup rather than stay much after sundown.

Here are the days of the week the alleged killer struck each victim (s)

January 4th 1984 was on a Wednesday

January 10th 1984 was on a Tuesday

January 16th 1984 was on a Monday

If it were me, I would explore other possibilities in terms of profiling my suspect here, explore past just some guy who was currently working construction in the area or druggies who killed in a drug fueled rage.  Did you know that one of the most popular places to rob are construction sites? Thieves like to hit them for the tools the guys leave at the sites overnight.

I would re-profile the killer, re-examine the details of each victim’s daily life, re-examine the suspect pool, re-examine the crime scenes without any emotion whatsoever. See them as the killer did, see the victims as the killer did at that moment. Determine the level of organization/disorganization of each crime scene. Expand the list of suspects because on this case it was always bigger than investigators thought it was and the killer was always the least obvious or least likely to stand out.  

Look at the area, the artery that the crimes were committed along. For some reason the killer had to or wanted to be near this artery more so than the major arteries through and around Denver at that time. Whatever the case, this person was in and around this area for at least the first part of January and most likely stayed in the area during that time.

I would tear everything down and start over with the evidence, the crime scene and so on.

This guy is not going to be easy to find because he can easily change his MO and would change it if need be. He also isn’t killing with this level of violence often enough to track. Taking a good long hard look at the evidence again and compare it to someone who was in and/or around that artery in Denver at the time would help to narrow the suspect list or in this case open it up. I would not limit the list to any type of profession or lack of any type of profession until suspects can be eliminated.  Figuring out anyone who was laid off or working less hours on a construction site back then, if the list doesn’t exist right now may be difficult at best. If the list does exist it’s worth a look at as well as look at reports of crimes at the local job sites involving missing tools. It would also be a really good idea to look at troubled or violent teens in the area because I do not believe the killer was over the age of 25. 

Quite frankly if the suspect wasn’t on the original list, spoken to or even noticed in this case it may come down to just DNA unless police have enough evidence and suspect info they can rework the case from scratch.

Often times a profiler will come up with a profile that fits into a box, the box was made from materials that were provided by profiles obtained from past criminals who committed similar crimes, which is a really great place to start. Add some text book, some psychological profiling and presto, they have a profile. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s sort of right, sometimes not even close. Profiling like that is a great place to start, yet it can also mean that it’s a great place to leave a crime long enough that it goes cold. The suspect list shrinks or worse, the profile was so off an accurate suspect list from the get go is of no help and never will be.

Sometimes to get a more clear picture of the criminal, one must see him or her as a human being, see him or her as they truly are, feel what they feel, know what they know, feel the wants, needs and desires of that person. Most importantly take the need to judge them and all of your own emotions and personal beliefs out of the picture. Don’t profile by LOOKING AT the behavior in an attempt to find clues to his or her psychology in an effort to aid in capturing a criminal. If you are just simply looking at it, you miss the most critical and important clues. 


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