Bruce Bennett, 27, his wife, Debra, 26, and their two children, Melissa, 7, and Vanessa, 3, resided in a quiet neighborhood in Aurora, Colorado in 1984. Bruce worked at a family-owned furniture store, and was also trained as an air traffic controller. The family led a quiet, normal life in this small Denver suburb.
But that all changed in one night.
In the early hours of January 16, 1984, between midnight and 6:00 a.m., an intruder entered the Bennett home and viciously attacked the entire family. Bruce had been slashed several times and hit in the head with a hammer. He repeatedly crawled up the stairs to try to save his family; however, he was unsuccessful.
Debra and Melissa were both raped, bludgeoned, and stabbed to death.
Little Vanessa’s jaw was crushed sending jagged bones into her windpipe. However, she survived the attack.
Bruce’s body was discovered the next morning by his own mother, Constance Bennett, who immediately called police.
A massive investigation began but produced no leads in solving the case. There were no signs of forced entry or an obvious motive for the killings. Nothing was taken from the house except the knife used to slash Bruce and a purse which was discarded outside.
Six days before the deadly Bennett home invasion, on January 10, 1984, 50-year-old grandmother of two, Patricia Smith was sexually assaulted and killed in her Lakewood town home sometime in the afternoon. She was found by her daughter and grandchildren, who resided with Patricia. Her body had been staged to look similar to one laying in a casket – she was flat on her back with her hands and arms carefully crossed over her chest. Her jeans were pulled down and her boots were still on her feet. A hammer was laying nearby.
Six days before Patrica Smith was murdered, on January 4, a man nearly beat to death James and Kimberly Haubenschild in their Aurora home. The weapon used was a hammer. James Haubenschild suffered a fractured skull, and Kimberly had a concussion. Both survived.
Also on January 4, 1984, a man used a hammer to attack flight attendant, Donna Dixon, in the garage of her Aurora home, leaving her in a coma. Dixon also survived.
The attacks ended with the Bennett family, and all the attacks appeared to be at random. Whoever the killer was, he had no problem attacking innocent children.
In 2002, based on DNA, John Doe was charged 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.
In 2010, DNA officially tied The Bennett family murder and the murder of Patricia Smith together. However, the DNA match has not been linked to a specific person. Therefore, both cases remain unsolved.
It is not clear if the January 4th attacks were tied to the same killer, although it is very likely.
Questions still remain in the Bennett-Smith cases:
- Because there were no signs of forced entry, how did the intruder get into the Bennett home?
- What was the motive for killing the Bennett’s? Did the killer attack Bruce first so he could rape Bruce’s wife and daughter? Why wasn’t Vanessa raped?
- Did the killer know his victims?
- If not, why did he choose these particular people/houses?
- Investigators believe the killer knew Patricia’s daughter and grandchildren lived with her. Why didn’t he kill them, too? Was he stalking Patricia prior to her murder? What about the Bennett’s?
- Why was Patricia killed during the day and the Bennett’s killed overnight?
- The killings ended with the Bennett’s. Why? Did the killer die? Or did he just stop killing? Move to another state?
Little Vanessa was raised by Constance Bennett. In a 1994 interview, Constance said that the young girl did not remember the attacks, but she did remember bits and pieces of her family.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Aurora Police Detective R.J. Wilson, the lead investigator on the case, at 303-739-6106 or the Lakewood Police Cold Case hotline at 303-987-7474.