Local News

Bennett Murder Suspect May Have Tried To Elude Investigators, Sources Say

Posted October 27, 2005 5:30 a.m. EDT

— The man police accuse of murdering a 23-year-old Raleigh woman in her North Raleigh apartment in May 2002 may have known investigators were tracking him and may have taken steps to try to throw them off his trail.

Last week, Raleigh police arrested 35-year-old Drew Planten outside the building where he was working as a chemistry technician for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and charged him in the rape and death of Stephanie Bennett, a Virginia native who lived with her stepsister at Bridgeport Apartments on Lake Lynn Drive in Raleigh.

Investigators said Bennett was found in her bedroom bound, gagged, strangled and sexually assaulted. They also said that the attacker may have taken some of Bennett's personal belongings, including a compact stereo system and a "mystery item" that may have been the pajamas Bennett wore on the night of her death.

"Police say they found some of her articles in the dumpster about 50 feet from his apartment door," said Sidney Hoff, who lived in the same building at Dominion Apartments, where Planten lived in 2002. "They told us shortly after the crime they thought it was someone in our apartment building."

Hoff said Planten was a recluse who never spoke to him, even when Hoff said he tried to be neighborly.

After police released an updated description of the suspect on the third anniversary of Bennett's death, Hoff called police, saying he thought Planten may have been the suspect for whom they were looking.

"In May, they put out a description of a person of interest that matched his description to a T," Hoff said. "So, I called and gave them everything I knew."

One of the things investigators already knew was that the killer left his bodily fluids all over Bennett's apartment. Because Planten does not have a criminal record, he had no DNA on file with authorities.

Investigators had asked Planten for a voluntary sample, but said he refused. They followed him and finally got it, but sources told WRAL that Planten knew investigators were tracking him and that he covered his tracks by wiping down surfaces he touched and utensils he used.

"I just felt so good that they caught him," Hoff said. "It was something that myself and so many people were praying for -- that this fellow would be caught."

The state of North Carolina and CrimeStoppers has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in the case; Bennett's family has offered a $100,000 reward. Police said, however, that it was still too early in the investigation to determine how and when the reward money would be dispersed.