January 15th was the Bennett's oldest daughter, Melissa's 7th birthday and the house was full of relatives celebrating. The clock hit midnight and the 15th became the 16th and in the early morning hours an intruder entered the home of the Bennett family armed with a knife and a hammer. Bruce Bennett, the father, fought valiantly to protect his wife and two little girls and evidence from the crime scene tells the story of his struggle. He fought with the attacker in more than one location sustaining numerous blows to the head, slashes and stabs yet he kept fighting. He lost the battle on the stairs of his own home. The intruder continued to the bedroom Bruce shared with his wife Debbie and he raped her before he beat her to death with a hammer. He then presumably continued down the hall where he raped the Bennetts 7 yr old daughter, Melissa and killed her in the same fashion. He smashed in the face of the youngest daughter 3 yrs old, Vanessa and she somehow survived.
The family was discovered by Bruce's mother when she became worried after no one showed up to open their family business. Debbie was found in her bed and the two girls in their bedrooms. Vanessa has gone through numerous surgeries to correct the damage to her face and she was raised by her grandmother.
There was no forced entry and nothing was stolen from the house. Debbie's purse was found outside in the yard.
LE was able to extract the killer's DNA in 2004 and it has excluded all the Bennett family members. The interesting thing to note here is that in the days leading up the BRuce family murders there were several hammer attacks in the area. January 4th a man entered a home and beat a couple with a hammer but they both survived. January 10th someone beat a woman to death in her home with a hammer and on that same day
another woman was beat with a hammer in her home but she survived.
This article doesn't say if the survivors actually saw their attacker.
This article has comments by friends of the Bennett family
There is not a whole lot of info on the web about this - there might be and I just can't find it - if anyone has anything I would love to read it.
It sounds like LE is still investigating this case.
'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated'
Wow, how awful of a story is this?
I don't have anything to add, but I will be watching for anyone who might.
Whoever did this is a monster. I wonder if they are in jail, dead, or switched MO.
There is not much to add. I was just thinking about this family today.
'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated'
This sounds like a frenzied attack and to be honest, it sounds like a rage killing. I have a nagging thought that this killer knew this family and it sounded like they knew the layout of the house. A couple details stand out to me. It says that Bruce met the killer on the stairs. Did Bruce go down with any sort of weapon? There is no mention of the cops finding anything close by like a base ball bat that Bruce would have used to defend himself. Also, how did Bruce happen to head downstairs? We will never know. I think his mother said Bruce and his family never did anything to anyone or whatever, but to me, this sounds personal. What if the killer still lives in that neighborhood. I wonder if he knows that little girl survived that attack. Did she grow up in the same area that her family is murdered in? I don't know, there is something about this case-I wouldn't say it haunts me, but it doesn't seem right. I am no expert, but how common were home invasions in 1984? Did Debbie's parents ever say anything? Were the other women in the other cases that are seemingly related raped? Why wasn't the youngest daughter raped ( I am not advocating it, just wondering why the killer didn't since he raped Debbie and her other child).
I always suspected he did not rape the 3 yr old because of either her age, he felt like he needed to get outta there and/or after raping 2 others before her he was 'spent' and did not have the desire.
I am conflicted on if this was random or not. The fact that there were other hammer attacks in the area leading up to this mass murder could lead one to think it was random and after a few 'trial' runs, attacks in which he was not successful in killing his victims, could have left him frustrated anough to randomly target this family or he had worked his way up to feeling confident enough to go after an entire family and kill them.
Then on the other hand, there was no forced entry, there had been a party at the house that day so the family had several guests who would have become familiar w/ the house. I wonder if any of the guests present that day were not usuals - like a new boyfriend of a family member or something along those lines. I would assume the father awoke because heard something and went to investigate or he could have still been awake when the perp made entry but you are right scriptgirl - we will never know for sure what transpired. The Bennett's ran a family business so there is also the possibility of a disgruntled ex employee type situation.
It is encouraging that LE has DNA but unfortunatly I don't think this case will be solved. I am curious as to how often the DNA from the scene is ran through CODIS.
'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated'
What is Codis? But it seems to me that at a child's bday party, you aren't going to have a high degree of randoms or unknown adults. I forgot about there being no signs of forced entry-but is it possible that a basement door or window was unlocked? Do we know where this guy entered? Was Aurora a relatively safe place? Did people feel safe enough in the 80s to keep doors unlocked? Also, you have to wonder if Bruce and Debbie knew about or heard about the other hammer killings. Re this maniac working up enough confidence to kill a family after his other attacks-I would think not. I mean those other people lived, so if he had any kind of sense, he would realize that he was not that good at what he was doing. Could be that the real killer was "inspired" by those other attacks and knew if he killed in this way, the police would link all these incidents together. In the other cases, were there signs of forced entry?
Sorry i missed your post scriptgirl. CODIS is a computer program which operates state and national databases of DNA profiles from convicts, crime scenes, etc. For instance if someone is convicted of a murder, their DNA is taken and put into CODIS. If a detective half way across the country has unindentified DNA he can have the DNA run through the database to see if he gets any hits. With cold cases the detectives will have the DNA run through CODIS periodically to see if their killer has since been arrested for another crime and their DNA put into the database. It is similar to the the fingerprint database.
Any physical description at all in the crime? Shoe print, a guess, ethnicity anything???
Cassie Compton Flyer/Poster/Billboard Project
Long Lost Love: The Bob Harrod Story Disappeared/ID Network
Amazon: Purchase Long Lost Love $1.99
Bob Harrod SAR
“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
― Maya Angelou
I have never read anything which gives us a clue. LE has the killer's DNA so I am sure they know the sex (obviously, most likely male) and they may even know his race and approx age.
LE has looked into the possibility these murders were tied to the recent hammer attacks in which all victims lived but I have never seen or heard anything about a composite or description of the perp.
"There was no forced entry and nothing was stolen from the house. Debbie's purse was found outside in the yard."
Did family member run a late night errand after guests left (ex: need milk for tomorrow breakfast)? Perhaps Debbie as her purse was found in yard. Intruder waiting in shadows forced in behind her, husband came to door after hearing Debbie scream, starts fighting with guy, Mom runs upstairs to her room where phone is to call 911, intruder overpowers Dad and the rest of the story unfolds?
Was attacker a family friend? Came by after all guests had left house to drop off a gift, say hi and wound up holding family hostage/committing crime in early morning hours?
Did house have a garage? Perhaps someone snuck into open door and waited for opportune time. Family closes door before bed, locking intruder in the garage and he enters home later in the night after family has slept.
Doesn't seem like robbery was motive.
LE seems to think Debbie and the children were in bed. I find it odd Debbie would sleep through her husband being violently attacked but stranger things have happened. In any event Debbie was found in the master bedroom and the girls were in their beds when they were attacked. As for Debbie's purse the perp could have grabbed it in an attempt to make it look like a robbery and then dropped it for whatever reason when he was escaping. I don't know. There does not really seem to be a real good explanation as to why here purse and its belonging were strewn across the lawn.
LE also seems to take the idea that these murders were random pretty seriously. It is pretty interesting there were several hammer attacks in the days leading up to this one and LE believes the murder weapon to have been a hammer in the Bennett case.
I have been to Aurora, CO before and at least when I was there it was a very nice community. I could see back in 1984 the possibility the Bennett's did not lock their doors. It is hard for me to imagine doing that asI am paranoid (hmmm, wonder why?) but I hear about people in smaller towns all the time who don't lock up. The no forced entry is intriguing. If it was random and the the doors were locked then how did he get in?
Was Aurora an incorporated part of Denver Metro area at that time? I know Denver was beginning to boom, but unlocked doors would seem like a good possibility if this was in a fringe neighborhood where a lot of developments were being built.
On that same note...perhaps it was an itinerant construction worker. Obviously would have access to murder weapon, building the homes there he would be familiar with layout of houses, could have moved out of area quickly as a construction worker, perhaps even immigrant working under the radar?
I agree with the fact that if husband was being attacked with a hammer, wife would sleep through that. My first thought would be getting my children, running down the hall to them, calling 911...In order to have fought viciously with the husband on the steps, which it says husband struggled with attacker, would have at least given Mom a chance to do SOMETHING...call 911, move position in the house. I certainly wouldn't be sitting in bed still if I could hear my husband being beaten to death by someone who wasn't supposed to be in the house.
Once again, I miss a salient point-had no idea about purse contents being strewn on lawn. I don't think Debbie slept through the attack on her hubby-maybe she was hiding in the bedroom or waiting on the stairs and the killer dragged her into the bedroom
This seems totally random to me, too. If it were anyone with ties to the family, to the crime, to anything in their lives, that person would have been identified in the investigation. I guess my reasoning is that for such a huge, horrific crime, involving the whole family, plus rape of the wife, of a child, and attempting to kill a 3yo, then any real motive would be so big as to be detected by now. Since they cleared the family, and no other suspects exist, I can't imagine it could be anything but a completely random attack.
I would seriously look at people this family knew. I think this may have been a crime of oppotunity. The family probably knew this guy as a semi-friend, not someone they knew really well, but maybe someone who came into the store often. He probably had done the others with the hammer, and was inside the store purchasing things when he made some small talk with the dad and found out about the birthday party and how lots of family would be there that night. If he knew the doors would be opened and closed a lot he may have just slipped in, thus the reason for no forced entry. He may have even asked if he could come and give the girl a gift or something, or claimed he had a girl the same age who "needed to make some friends", and may have scored himself an invite. He may have shown up and said that his child was suddenly ill and he wanted to bring the present for the girl. I think we are looking for someone who did know of this birthday party as an easy way to slip into the house, hide, and wait for everyone to leave. Someone who seemed trustworthy but really was not.
I don't think this was random. My gut tells me it was personal. the killer knew this family
I find it interesting that the attack was so violent, specifically for a random killer.
He left no stone unturned in that house, bludgeoning the husband, raping and beating the Mom and elder daughter and smashing the face of a 3 year old. It doesn't seem as though there was a target for the crime, as the atrocities were inflicted equally across the family with no regard to age etc.
I suspect that this was someone the family had known, perhaps someone that Dad worked with in the Navy? Maybe someone he knew in passing? Perhaps it was someone who Debra had run into (the butcher at the deli at the grocery when she was shopping with daughters etc.). She denied advances or did something (anything from ingnoring his wave to denying his request for a date) that offended him and he began stalking family, planning to take revenge.
I feel like this case should be reinvestigated. The combination of the mutiple hammer attacks in the days before the Bennett murders suggest that if this is the same person, he was becoming more and more aggressive in his attacks, perhaps capping off his crimes with a big finale before leaving the area.
I wonder if LE has investigated other hammer attacks or multiple murders in nearby states occuring in the months following or preceeding this. Whoever murders a family like this clearly has the capacity to commit again or had been 'practicing' his attacks.
I lived in Aurora when this crime ocured and still do. I was 9 years old and I remember everyone was trying to shield us children from the news, but everyone was so scared and talking about it that it was hard to. A teacher at school is where I heard about it and I remember being very frightened. Everyone called this guy "The Hammer Killer."
I can attest that Aurora was a safe, family oriented community at the time, but I know that we would still not leave any doors unlocked at night. I think the consensus was that Bruce went out for a gallon of milk and was so tired when he got home that he did not lock the interior garage door that enters into the house. That is where police believed the killer entered. I am also not sure if the automatic garage door was left open all night. That might have been why the perp chose this house, I have no idea.
At that time, the Bennett's house did not have a fenced in back yard, and the back of their house faced Alameda Avenue which was pretty desolate. Now there are many more housing developments and a large post office there, but in 1984 I seem to remember it being pretty quiet. Since the other hammer attacks that proceeded this attack also ocured on Alameda, it seems like this guy was just working his way up the street or something. Very scary. I have never decided whether he knew them or not. The police here all seem to think it was random.
I remember that there was such a fury in Aurora that everyone went out and got double dead bolt locks on all their doors, and people were carrying guns. I also remember that Vanessa's injuries got a lot of news coverage. There were a lot of community fundraisers to help with her medical costs so I am sure if the perp watched the news, he knew that Vanessa survived his vicious attack.
I think about this crime almost every day as I drive past the Bennett house on my way to work. I sure wish they could find a match with the DNA and expose this monster.
Hi Daisy and welcome to WS! Thank you for your input and bringing this case up again. I tend to believe most cases like this are perpetrated by someone who is acquainted with the victims but this one I am not so sure about. I tend to lean in the direction of it being random especially considering the attacks which lead up to this one. It would be a wild coincidence if the hammer attacks and Bennett murders were not related. Do you recall if the hammer attacks leading up to the Bennett murders got much press? I suppose someone could have seen it on the news and for whatever sick reason decided to perpetrate a copy-cat like crime. However, it seems more likely we are looking at the progression of a killer. His first few attacks were trial-runs, he was working up his courage, perfecting his technique, etc. He was quite brazen during his first attack though - attacking a man in broad daylight on the sidewalk.
In an attack as brutal and personal as this it would be very unlikely the killer did not leave his DNA behind. I am not sure what evidence the police still have from the crime scene but it would certainly be worth re-testing it all. It is hard to believe this person committed these crimes and just stopped. It is also hard to believe they have never been in trouble with the law before considering their obvious penchant for violence.
It is sad an entire family, save one, can be wiped out and 25yrs later it remains unsolved.
Daisy - do you recall ever seeing this crime in the news on anniversaries of the murders or anything like that? Has it been largely forgotten in the area now?
I will ask my mother if she remembers the hammer attacks before the murder getting much press. I was completely shocked when I read about them as an adult. I was completely unaware of them. I've often wondered the same thing as you mentioned, if someone was copying this particular killer or if they were one and the same.
Sadly, I never see anything about this crime on the local news. I was so glad to see it blogged about online as it does seem at times like everyone has forgotten about it. So much press was and is still given to the Ramsey case that it seems like this poor family can't get any.
Here are some other articles I have about it:
Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
January 17, 1984
3 IN FAMILY SLAIN
Author: United Press International
Dateline: AURORA, Colo.
MURDER MULTIPLE ATTEMPT COLORADO
Estimated printed pages: 2
A police officer kept a vigil today at the hospital bed of a severely beaten 4-year-old girl who may be able to identify the attacker who fatally bludgeoned and stabbed her parents and sister and left her for dead at the family's new home.
Officials said the officer had been with Vanessa Bennett since noon yesterday (2 p.m. EST) when she was brought to Children's Hospital for more than 10 hours of reconstructive surgery on her head.
A doctor said Vanessa "took the surgery" well, and remained in critical but stable condition today. The girl suffered multiple fractures and cuts on her face and head.
Police spokesman Mike Sellman said Vanessa was clubbed repeatedly with a blunt instrument and had lost three to four pints of blood when she was found conscious and crying in a bedroom of her family's suburban home yesterday morning.
Sellman said the bloody bodies of the child's parents, Bruce Alan Bennett, 27, and Debra Lynn Bennett, 26, and her sister, Melissa Marie, 8, were found bludgeoned and stabbed inside the home.
Police had no suspects or motive in the slayings, and hoped Vanessa would be able to provide information.
The victims were found yesterday morning by police, who received a report
from a woman who identified herself as Bennett's mother.
Sellman said all the family members were dressed in bedclothes. Police believed they were attacked after 9 p.m. Sunday.
"The mother and daughters were found in upstairs bedrooms, and the father apparently stumbled out of one of the bedrooms down some stairs," said Arapahoe County Coroner John Woods. "There appeared to have been a struggle in the bedroom."
A blood-stained knife was found on the front lawn, Sellman said.
The family had moved to the quiet suburban neighborhood about Thanksgiving
from a home several miles away, police said.
Copyright (c) 1984 Philadelphia Daily News
Record Number: 8302040144
News-Sentinel, The (Fort Wayne, IN)
February 7, 1984
Brutal killings leave another neighborhood in fear's grasp
Author: Dave Haynes of The News-Sentinel
Section: LOCAL NEWS
Estimated printed pages: 3
The headlines in the Denver newspapers are haunting and familiar:
``Three in family slain; girl clings to life.''
``Police want to question three in deaths.''
The stories report the brutal beating deaths of Bruce, Debra Lynn and Melissa Bennett of Aurora, Colo. The family was bludgeoned to death three weeks ago.
Aurora police have no suspects and few leads in the grisly case which has shaken the Denver suburb's 202,000 residents.
They do have a case study: Details of the Bennett slayings bear striking resemblance to the September beating deaths of three members of the Dan Osborne family in Fort Wayne.
While there is not apparent connection between the two incidents, the similarities are eerie.
Consider these comparisons:
* A mother, father and child were slain, while a younger child was attacked, left for dead, but survived. Dan Osborne, 35, his wife, Jane, 34, and their son Ben, 11, all were killed with a blunt instrument - believed to be a baseball bat. Two-year-old Caroline Osborne also was sexually molested and beaten. She survived and wandered through the house for two days before the bodies of her mother, father and brother were found on the morning of Sept. 19.
A co-workers discovered the bodies when Dan Osborne didn't report for work at The News-Sentinel.
The Bennetts - Bruce, 27: Debra Lynn, 26: and their 7-year-old daughter Melissa, were killed by blows to the head with a blunt instrument, possibly a hammer. Melissa was sexually molested. A younger daughter, 4-year-old Vanessa, was critically injured and is recovering in a Denver hospital. Bruce Bennett's throat also had been cut, possibly with the family's butcher knife, which was found in the snow outside, covered in blood.
The bodies were discovered about 10 a.m. Jan. 16. A relative went to the home when co-workers noticed the parents didn't report to work at a wholesale furniture warehouse.
* Both the Osborne and Bennett slayings occurred in upper-middle class neighborhoods where the families had only resided a short time. The Osbornes moved into their Harrison Hill neighborhood home less than four months before they were slain. The Bennetts moved from another part of Aurora to their new home over Thanksgiving.
* Both neighborhoods had recently begun organizing crime-watch programs. Fort Wayne Police Chief David Riemen was speaking to residents in the Harrison Hill neighborhood Sept. 17, just hours after the Osbornes are believed to have been killed. Aurora Police Public Information Officer Mike Sellman said the neighborhood where the Bennetts died had been organizing a crime-watch when the slayings occurred.
* Other violent crimes in the area were investigated for possible links with the murders. The Osbornes allegedly were murdered by Calvin D. Perry III, who was linked by police to a spree of 15 violent incidents, including several rapes and another murder. Sellman said Aurora police are investigating three other incidents in the Denver area in which people were attacked with hammers, possibly the weapon used against the Bennetts. In a Jan. 10 hammer attack, a woman in the Denver suburb of Lakewood died.
* Reactions by residents and investigative techniques by police were similar. As in Fort Wayne, lock, gun and home security system sales increased. So did the response to police crime prevention efforts. A reward fund has been established for the arrest and conviction of the slayer, and a second fund has been established to defray Vanessa Bennett's medical expenses.
As in Fort Wayne, Aurora police called on the FBI to outline a psychological profile of the slayer. The profile has not been released to the public. A profile was drawn of the Osbornes slayer, although details were released.
Aurora police also have established a information hotline phone number and are considering creating a task force.
Fort Wayne Police Public Information Office Tom Engle said he has discussed the cases with a friend who works for the Greeley, Colo., Police Department, but is not aware of any official contact between Fort Wayne and Aurora police. Greeley is about 50 miles north of Aurora.
Aurora police have little reason to contact Fort Wayne authorities because the day the Bennetts' bodies were discovered Calvin D. Perry III was charged with the murders of the three Osborne family members in Fort Wayne.
The next day - as the murder investigation was in its embryonic stages in Colorado - Perry, 18, was found dead in his cell at the Allen County Jail. Officials have ruled he committed suicide and have closed the file on the Osborne case.
Although 26 police officers have been assigned to the Aurora case, there has been little progress, Sellman said.
The body of one of the murdered Bennett family members is removed from their Aurora home Jan. 16. Photo By the Denver Post.PHOTO
Copyright (c) 1984 The News-Sentinel
Record Number: 0203130020
Rocky Mountain News (CO)
January 16, 1994
MOM CAN'T FORGET DAY OF TRAGEDY 'IT'S PART OF OUR LIVES,' SAYS WOMAN RAISING SOLE SURVIVOR OF 1984 MASSACRE OF FAMILY
Author: TUSTIN AMOLE
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS STAFF WRITER
HISTORY MURDER ASSAULT CHILDREN
Estimated printed pages: 3
It's been 10 years since Connie Bennett walked into her son's house and found him, his wife and 7-year-old daughter bludgeoned to death and her 3- year-old granddaughter barely alive.
But the years haven't dulled the pain, and tears still spring easily to her eyes when she thinks about that Monday morning Jan. 16, 1984.
"It occurs to me every day," Bennett said last week. "It's something all of us have had to live with. It's part of our lives."
Bennett's son, Bruce Bennett, 27; his 26-year-old wife, Debra; and daughter Melissa were found beaten to death. Their other daughter, Vanessa, was barely alive, whimpering quietly in her bed, her tiny skull cracked open.
The killer, still unknown, retreated into the nightmare from which he emerged.
Connie Bennett last saw the family alive at a gathering of family and friends at their house 10 years ago. It was an early celebration of Melissa's eighth birthday.
Bennett returned the next morning when the couple failed to show up at work. She remembers thinking she had better check on them in case there had been something like a carbon monoxide leak in the house.
As she walked up the sidewalk, Bennett saw Debra's purse lying on the front lawn, its contents spilled out. Her heart skipped a beat.
"It was like I was in a daze," she recalled.
She found Bruce inside the blood-spattered house on a stairway leading from the main floor to a lower level, bludgeoned and his throat cut. Debra lay dead in the couple's bedroom. Melissa and Vanessa were in their beds.
"I called 911, and I couldn't remember the address," she said. "I had to run outside to get it. I was hysterical, I guess."
Bennett didn't know Vanessa had survived until a paramedic rushed out of the house, cradling the battered little girl in his arms. She had skull fractures to both sides of her head, and her jaw was shattered.
After days of uncertainty and numerous surgeries, Vanessa recovered. Now 13, she attends middle school in the metro area, takes piano and dance lessons and plays trumpet in the school band.
Vanessa still has a shunt that surgeons placed in her head to drain fluid
from the brain. She is a little weak on her left side. Her grandmother tries to make her life as normal as possible.
"She often says, 'Other kids have normal families. I wish I had a normal family with a mom and dad and a sister,' " Bennett said.
Vanessa has some memories, images in her mind of the mother, father and sister she lost.
"She remembers everything around that time," Bennett said. "She remembers her dad carrying her through the snowbank to the house. She remembers the Christmas tree and the blue house."
Vanessa seems especially to miss her sister and their games of hide-and- seek, Bennett said.
"When she was a little girl, she used to say, 'I can see them up in heaven driving a little yellow bug,' " Bennett said. "Debra used to drive a little yellow Volkswagen bug."
Vanessa also tells people she wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up, inspired, her grandmother thinks, by the people who cared for her when she hovered precariously between life and death.
Bennett said knowing the killer has gone unpunished is the salt in her wounded heart.
"It just seems like there has to be some justice," Bennett said. "I think all of us would feel better to know somebody was behind bars and can't hurt anybody else."
Bennett believes that whoever crept though the unlocked garage door in the quiet darkness on a mission to kill was looking for money, maybe high on drugs. She doesn't think it was anyone who knew the Bennetts.
"They had no money," Bennett said. "They probably didn't have five, 10
dollars in there. My son was such a mild-mannered guy. My daughter, too. They lived a real ordinary life."
Vanessa has no memory of the attack, Bennett said. If she does, it's buried too deep to reach now. "We have mixed feelings about Vanessa," said Aurora police Capt. Tom Maron. "If it's not going to lead to anything, maybe we'd prefer that she didn't remember it."
"If she ever does remember something, it's going to be real mind- boggling," said Aurora police Detective Marv Brandt.
The last photo of the Bennett family shows, from left, Melissa,
Bruce, Debra and Vanessa, the sole survivor of a bludgeoning in
Aurora 10 years ago that claimed the lives of her parents and older
sister. Rocky Mountain News Library File Photo. FILE: BENNETT,
Copyright (c) 1994 Rocky Mountain News
Record Number: 9401030725
Rocky Mountain News (CO)
January 16, 1994
ONE DECADE LATER, AURORA DETECTIVE STILL IS HOPING TO SOLVE TRIPLE MURDER
Author: JOHN C. ENSSLIN
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS STAFF WRITER
MURDER INVESTIGATION CHILDREN HISTORY
Estimated printed pages: 2
A decade has winnowed the ranks of those who first investigated the murders of the Bennett family down to Marvin Brandt.
But time hasn't taken the edge off the veteran detective's recall of that day in 1984. He won't let it.
Brandt still keeps a picture of the Bennett children posted at his desk. One depicts 7-year-old Melissa, who was bludgeoned to death, and the other is of Vanessa, the lone survivor of the unsolved massacre.
"It's incentive," he said last week. "You look at these pictures and say, 'This case has got to be solved for these two little girls. For the family, too. But we work for the victims."
The Bennett case is reviewed periodically as detectives join or leave the Aurora Police Department's major crimes unit. But transfers and retirements have left Brandt as the only investigator still assigned to the case who has been involved since the day of the crime.
It has been a frustrating decade, especially as the leads dry up. As of last week, the most recent new call on the case came two years ago from a psychic.
"I would say it's a stone cold (mystery)," Brandt said. "We don't have any leads that are strong enough that we can file a case."
Brandt remains convinced that the murders of Melissa Brandt and her parents, Bruce and Debra, are somehow connected to a series of three other hammer attacks that preceded the murders.
One occurred in Lakewood, where a woman was bludgeoned to death. The other two involved assaults on homeowners who tried to fend off an intruder.
Brandt still has a vivid recall of the day of the murder. He was sitting in an Arapahoe County courtroom as a witness to another murder trial when the call came in.
He remembers walking through the garage door of the Bennett house and encountering another detective, Wilson Egan.
"What's the deal?" Brandt asked.
Egan just shook his head.
"It's quite a mess," he replied.
"It was devastating," Brandt recalled. "All the detectives who were there working were shaking their heads."
Brandt said he remains keenly aware of Jan. 16's significance. As in years past, he will circulate a memo to other officers, telling them to keep an eye out as they patrol the area.
An optimist, Brandt is still convinced the killer will be caught.
"It's just going to take the right person, who's going to tell somebody, who's going to get in trouble sometime, just like they typically do."
Copyright (c) 1994 Rocky Mountain News
Record Number: 9401030656
I think this one is particularly interesting as it's written by a neighbor:
The Denver Post
September 4, 2003
In memory of the Bennetts
Author: Pius Kamau
Section: DENVER AND WEST
There's nothing like a triple homicide in the neighborhood to trigger alarm and fear. When a family of three was murdered during a burglary in our neighborhood in the early '80s, our reactions were varied. One friend moved to a gated community in Cherry Hills; others moved out of state. For our part, we believed that variation of geography never changes the essence of man's nature.
Unfortunately, a short while later, our faith was shaken to the core when the Bennett family was slaughtered on a cold January morning in 1984. Since then, whenever we feed our dogs, we remember the horror. If it hadn't been for that killing, we'd still be an Irish setter family; we instead own Dobermans.
Watching A&E's "Cold Crime Files," I thought the almost-forgotten Bennett case perfect for a murder-mystery. The memory of that harrowing January was indelibly burnt in my mind: The garage door was open all night. He died of a slit throat; his wife and daughter were bludgeoned to death. Little Vanessa survived, with skull fractures and memory loss.
Surely the police would share their findings if they knew I was writing about an Aurora mystery?
We now know the police never forgot; they've "identified" and indicted a John Doe from the DNA he so casually left behind in his imagined "perfect crime." Indeed, today there is no such thing as a "perfect" crime. Criminals always leave something of themselves behind: a fingerprint, footprint or DNA-rich body fluids. And since each human has a particular odor, I foresee a method of someday identifying human "smell" molecules.
In 1984, we didn't move, but we did the next best thing: protect our home. Burglar alarms and guns were impractical with small children in the house. Our friendly Irish setter welcomed strangers at the door with her pretty feathered tail. So for a dozen years, we had German shepherds and later Doberman pinschers, whose aggressive majesty and territoriality belie their love and absolute placidity. With these dogs, the Bennetts would never have been surprised by someone in the garage.
This is still a murder mystery. I think of the killer or killers. Was this a random act? What was the motive and why the Bennetts? Why such violence - knives, hammers, blood everywhere? Why kill the wife and child? And, more important, is the killer still around or is he in jail? What does he think or feel - if anything? I suspect we're dealing with a cold-blooded predator who thought he got away with murder.
But now, the DNA identification may have woken him up from his two-decade torpor. I can see him reading The Denver Post and gasping: "There's a warrant out for me." This is the end of his arrogant, smug confidence. The Bennetts might still get some justice, and we who have lived the nightmare might still see justice carried out.
Most of my neighborhood's old- timers are still here; we were not forced to move by this or any other terrorist. I realize, too, that wherever we are, we're never immune from killers. The evil hand can reach and explode a truck bomb in front of a building; pilot a plane into shining, glass Twin Towers; or carjack you at your neighborhood intersection. And your gated community may not save you from evildoers.
I remind myself that we outnumber them, and we've got to find ways to defend against them. They must be reminded that there's nothing like a perfect crime. If DNA doesn't track them down, then identification of odor molecules will someday get them.
If there's anything certain about science and research, it's that it continues to find and expand ways for justice to be carried out. With our ever-evolving computer technology, it'll be that much easier to connect DNA evidence to criminals.
However, all that will depend on legislative prescience and the availability of financing. Will our lawmakers make the necessary funds available for us to sniff out the murderers among us? The Bennetts' murder and the recent DNA indictment should make all of us think twice about the potential of DNA to catch criminals - and to exonerate the innocent.
Pius Kamau of Aurora is a thoracic and general surgeon and a commentator on National Public Radio's ``Morning Edition." He was born and raised in Kenya and immigrated to the U.S. in 1971.
Copyright 2003 The Denver Post Corp.
Record Number: 1165750
Here is a link to a local free paper called Westword with a short blurp about the murders and a photo of the house.
I watched it this weekend, and the film is about a man who stalks and murders 2 entire families. It was very chilling and I couldn't help but think about The Bennetts. In the film, the FBI agent couldn't find a link between these two families that were murdered. They lived in different states. They didn't know one another. He finally concluded that the murderer was a film tech who had developed home movies of both families and learned about them, the layouts of their homes, pets etc from the films. He then stalked them and killed them.
I couldn't help but wonder if something like this is not the real case in murders such as The Bennetts. Is there someone out there who silently stalked them and chose them months before? Have they also killed other families and the police think the cases are not related because of distance etc?
Sorry I guess I am just thinking out loud. The film just really had similarities to so many of the cases posted about on here.
One weird thing about this case (one weird thing among many, that is) is how each of the hammer attacks occurred six days apart. January 4th, January 10th, January 16th. The attacks stopped after the atrocity at the Bennett residence.
Does that mean anything? Beats me. Interesting, though.
I'd love to see LE make an arrest in this case, but I have serious doubts. It's entirely possible the perp is long dead.
It's too bad that Jerry Nemnich was apparently in prison in 1984. Otherwise, this sounds like him.