Local News

Bennett Murder Investigation Far From Over

Posted October 22, 2005

— On Friday, investigators searched the apartment of a suspect accused of killing 23-year-old Stephanie Bennett three years ago. Meanwhile, more information was released about the suspect and his family.

Drew Edward Planten, 35, of Raleigh, was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree murder in the May 2002 death of Stephanie Renee Bennett, who was found gagged, strangled, raped and dead in her North Raleigh apartment, according to investigators.

At Planten's apartment on Friday, investigators searched for anything relevant to a case that went unsolved for more than three years. Police lifted fingerprints from a number of items, including a laundry basket.

They also took enough evidence from Planten's apartment to fill a police van. Police have not said what they removed from the apartment or if they were searching for anything in a particular.

But since Bennett's death three years ago, police have maintained that a stereo and a mystery item were taken from Bennett's apartment the night she was killed.

WRAL has learned that the mystery item may be pajamas Bennett wore on the night of her death. An FBI alert sent out to police agencies before Planten's arrest said the killer took the clothes Bennett was wearing.

Investigators said they have not finished searching the apartment, and they have more people to interview, including Planten's co-workers at the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

On Friday, more information was also revealed about Planten's family. The suspect has an older brother who went to N.C. State and another older brother, Donald Planten, who got married in Raleigh.

Criminal records show that Donald Planten, who lives in Asheville, was convicted for a peeping Tom incident at his workplace two years ago.

Police reports indicate Donald Planten placed a hidden camera in the ladies' restroom at Vaughn and Melton Engineering and Architecture, in Asheville.

When police searched his home, car and storage unit, they seized an arsenal of recording equipment, including a homemade periscope, housing for a peephole camera and more than a dozen X-rated videos.

Donald Planten received probation for his peeping Tom incident. Donald Planten's former employer, Vaughn and Melton, had no comment.

Raleigh police would not say if there was any connection to Donald Planten's peeping case and his brother's murder charge.

From the beginning, investigators thought a peeping Tom may be linked to Bennett's murder.

The Bennett family filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex where Stephanie lived that claimed she did not feel safe. She e-mailed her aunt about a man with a hood "seen beside the bushes."

Witnesses reported seeing a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt outside her window about a month before her death.

At the time, the apartment complex where Drew Planten lived was right next door to where Bennett lived. Only a tree line separated the two complexes.

Police said Drew Planten was the suspicious person lurking outside Bennett's apartment before her death.

"We do believe that Drew Planten was the peeping Tom in this case," Maj. Dennis Lane, of the Raleigh Police Department, said. "He very closely resembles that description we received."

WRAL could not reach Donald Planten for comment on Friday.

Sarah Chandler, Drew and Donald Planten's mother, said she had no comment.

On Thursday, Chandler said Drew Planten was a "good person" and "an upstanding citizen." She said it was difficult to believe her son faces charges in a three-year-old homicide case.

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