'Something wasn't right'

Roy Ray Bennett, 71, was found dead Sunday in the home he has lived in for decades at 2 Lombardi Lane in Hanahan. Neighbors knew him as a generous man who would lend others tools and let people use his swimming pool.

Hanahan — Roy Ray Bennett had been a victim of crime before.

Last week, a man was arrested on forgery charges after $10,000 worth of checks were cashed in Bennett's name.

And Bennett had been accused of crime, too.

He recently learned that prosecutors were pursuing a trial in his 2009 child pornography arrest.

But Bennett's son doesn't know why anyone would want to hurt the man, known by residents of his Otranto neighborhood as “Mr. Ray.” The retiree and Army veteran was found dead in his bed about 1 p.m. Sunday, his limbs bound with duct tape and a bag over his head, according to the person who discovered his body.

“Who kills a 71-year-old man?” Tim Bennett, a 47-year-old Columbia resident, said outside his father's home Monday. “I was just hoping he died in his sleep.

“I found out he was murdered instead. I thought he had passed peacefully.”

The Hanahan Police Department released few additional details Monday about the city's first homicide this year. Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said an autopsy Monday morning did not immediately indicate how he died and that toxicology tests might shed light on that.

Detectives found no sign of forced entry at Bennett's home at 2 Lombardi Lane and were still looking for his Toyota Tacoma pickup, which was thought to be stolen after the killing.

A neighbor who borrowed Bennett's lawn mower Sunday morning told The Post and Courier that he became suspicious when he spotted two men inside Bennett's Toyota. The neighbor said the men, who had been living with Bennett for a short time, scrambled back inside the house.

When the neighbor returned with the mower and to check on Bennett, he saw several empty bottles of alcohol on a counter. He walked through an unlocked door and found Bennett's body on the bed.

“He was a nice man, but he didn't let people take his truck,” said the neighbor, who cited fear of retribution in asking that his name be withheld. “I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't expect to find him in the state he was.”

Hanahan police Lt. Michael Fowler would not “confirm or deny” the account about how Bennett's body was found and said investigators still were looking for the Toyota. They intended to question several people but had developed no firm suspects, Fowler said.

At the request of the local police force, the State Law Enforcement Division was helping to run down leads and interview Bennett's acquaintances.

Neighbors said they recently saw several people from outside the community visiting the home. Some might have been staying there.

“There was a lot of traffic in and out of that house, but I can't go into details,” Fowler said. “Some of those people, we are desperately interested in talking to.”

Previous cases

Police officers knew of Bennett, though they did not visit the home frequently, according to Fowler.

An officer last spoke with him Friday, when Bennett said prosecutors were continuing to pursue the 2009 charge of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

That case was based on SLED agents' discovery of “visual materials” on his computer that showed children engaged in sex, according to a 2009 news release. He was accused of downloading and distributing the porn.

In letters to neighbors, he defended himself by saying someone else had put the images on his computer and used a peer-to-peer network to share them, according to his son.

On Friday, the Hanahan officer visited his house to follow up on an arrest that the North Charleston Police Department made July 10 in which a man was accused of forging 13 of Bennett's checks and cashing $9,800 worth.

The man, 39-year-old Harry Shane Dupree of Vine Street in Goose Creek, told police that a woman would forge Bennett's signature on the checks, then give them to Dupree to cash.

But Bennett refused to tell authorities about the activity because of his history with that woman, according to Dupree's statements to the police.

“(The woman) had been a neighbor of (Bennett),” Dupree said, according to an incident report. “While she was a child, (Bennett) had supposedly taken advantage of her that was criminal in nature.”

Fowler, the Hanahan lieutenant, would not say whether Bennett's past was connected to his slaying.

“The officer went there because someone was writing bad checks,” Fowler said. “But he ended up not wanting a report.”

'Had no enemies'

Though they were aware of the allegations against him, neighbors knew Bennett as a caring man who often would lend his possessions, such as power tools.

He was a skilled woodworker. He constructed much of his own furniture from cedar.

Children living in houses along his tree-lined, dead-end street often went for a swim in his backyard pool, including 18-year-old Cody Buehrer.

“If anyone here needed anything, he was the one who did it,” said Buehrer, a next-door neighbor of Bennett's for seven years. “This cul-de-sac is losing a good man.”

A native of Raleigh, Bennett graduated from North Carolina State University in the 1960s, his son said. He then spent two years in the Army, a requirement of his involvement with the school's ROTC program.

After serving a tour in Germany during the Vietnam War, he moved to Hanahan with his wife and only child. The couple later divorced.

He worked his entire career as an electrical engineer at the MeadWestvaco paper plant in North Charleston, where he retired during the last decade.

“He kept to himself, but he liked piddling in the yard and the garden. That was his life,” said his son, who last saw Bennett on Christmas, when they ate sugar cookies and exchanged gifts. “He always had his garden of tomatoes and corn.”

Tim Bennett said his father's Sunday newspaper had been retrieved from the yard and was on his living room couch, where he read it religiously each week. Nothing in the house seemed disturbed, though his wallet was missing.

“I'm just in a numb state right now,” Tim Bennett said. “He had no enemies.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.