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Investigators Release More Information About Raleigh Murder

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RALEIGH — Stephanie Bennett was found dead in her north Raleigh apartment about a month ago. New information suggests she was bound and gagged, strangled and sexually assaulted.

"It was a brutal murder. There's no doubt about that. The autopsy report makes it clear," says Raleigh Police Lieutenant Chris Morgan.

The autopsy released Thursday says the 23-year-old was naked when her body was found in one of the bedrooms.

Bennett was found with cloth, possibly undergarments, stuffed in her mouth.

The report goes on to say that Bennett had a 13-inch bruise around her neck, several bruises on her face, and the medical examiner also found bruises on her mid-section.

Smaller marks found on her wrists and ankles suggest she was bound, possibly with handcuffs.

Detectives say she appears to have been sexually assaulted and the report indicates that Bennett tried to fight off her attacker.

The medical examiner lists the official cause of death as strangulation.

According to the report, a screen was missing from one of the bedroom windows, and investigators believe that is how the suspect entered the apartment.

Bennett's bedroom appeared to have been ransacked.

"I consider this a very dangerous person," Morgan says.

Despite a flood of tips, no suspects have been identified, causing frustration and concern.

"It frustrates me every day, it frustrates me every time I have to talk with Stephanie Bennett's family and say, 'We don't have a suspect in custody yet,'" Morgan says.

The situation is also frustrating and frightening to neighborhood residents.

"I don't sleep as well at night ... but I've just got to hope that they find whoever did it," says Suzanne Marrone.

Investigators have entered the case into a national database called VICAP, violent criminal apprehension program, to see whether any similar crimes have been reported elsewhere in the country. So far, nothing has turned up.

Police are also using a profiler to get a better sense of the suspect, but at this point they have little to go on.

"They haven't given us any information as to tall, short, dark, so you look at everyone and wonder, 'Could that have been the man?'" says neighborhood resident Nancy Hartley.

"I think it's important to know what happened just so you can be more careful," says resident Erin Gough. "When you don't know you kind of make up things about what could have been. So it's better to know."

Police would like to know more, too.

"If the question arises, 'Could this possibly happen again?' Certainly," Morgan says.

Investigators say the suspect stole Bennett's 1995 compact JVC MXC-220 stereo system and that he may be holding on to it, perhaps as some type of memento. If you know someone who came into possession of this type of system in the last few weeks, or was trying to sell one, police would like to hear from you.