“I fell asleep but had a nightmare” read the last text message 21 year old Hannah Bender would ever send her mother.
Hannah sent the ominous message on the night of September 15th 2019. “Are you home alone?”, her mother responded. She would never receive an answer.
Several days passed and no one would hear from Hannah. She was officially reported missing on the 19th and her parents were not optimistic about finding her alive. They knew their daughter well enough to know that she would never voluntarily leave or completely cease contact with them. They felt a dull pain in the pits of their stomachs at the thought that something untoward had happened to her. According to her cousin she was a “Mama’s girl” who was in near constant contact and it would be completely out of character for her to take off without letting her family know that she was safe. She put others before herself and wanted everyone to be happy, the last thing she would want to do was cause worry or panic. Her parents knew right away that something was wrong.
“I miss her terribly and there ain’t nobody that can bring her back” her mother told the media.
When news of her disappearance hit the headlines a tipster called the local police and they soon found Hannah’s bloody clothing near a campsite out in the sticks in Lumpkin County. Hannah had always loved camping.
It seemed the missing young woman’s parents had made a tragic predication when the body of a young woman was found in a ravine by a bridge off highway 306 in Forsythe County.
The body had been buried in a shallow grave near Parks Road and although the police could not confirm that it was Hannah Bender without first receiving the autopsy results, the body bore the same tattoos and distinctive markings as the missing 21 year old. The nature of the girl’s death has not been reported in the media.
22 year old Austin Stryker of Dawson County was quickly named as a suspect and a manhunt was soon underway.
“Turn yourself in, give it up, you’ll be running for the rest of your life, pal”, Hannah’s father told Stryker through the local news.
Several agencies pursued him over several Counties and posters with his description, as well as a description of the vehicle police believed he was driving, were posted online and around the state. Stryker was described as a 5”9 Caucasian male with light hair and blue eyes, weighing around 150lbs. Citizens were told to look out for a white 2000 Explorer with the registration PSH4402. Posters warned that he was considered armed and dangerous and a $5000 reward for information leading to arrest was put on the table.
The suspect was thought to be on the run with a 78 year old man named Jerry Harper but the relationship between the pair was unclear. Harper was later arrested after police recognized him driving in his SUV. He was arrested in connection with Benton’s death on charger of concealing a body and tampering with evidence.
The suspect’s significant other, 21 year old Elizabeth Donaldson also was arrested for tampering with evidence and concealing a death.
Stryker was eventually apprehended several days later, fifteen minutes before midnight in Pittsburg, over 600 miles from Benders last known location. Stryker surrendered to the authorities and admitted to the active warrants in his name and was detained. He is scheduled to be extradited to Georgia.
Police confirmed that the crime was not a random attack and revealed that both the suspect and victim did know each other but would not say what their connection was. The motive behind the crime is also unknown at this point in the investigation.
The arrests didn’t stop there, however, as two teenage boys, Dylan Reid and Isaac Huff, were arrested for concealing a death. Reid was also arrested on an additional charge of tampering with evidence.
By October 2nd a sixth person had been arrested, a 21 year old named Bailey Williams who as also charged with tampering with evidence.
According to ACJ.com the sheriff in charge of the case believes that there are crime scenes connected to the death across Dawson, Lumpkin and Forsyth County. He believes Bender was killed in Lumpkin.
Such a high number of arrests in a case like Bender’s is unusual and it is not yet clear how those who have been arrested so far are connected to each other and the victim.