On night of January 16th, 1984 a gruesome discovery was made at a house on 16300 East Center Drive, Aurora, Colorado. The bludgeoned bodies of husband and wife, Bruce and Debra Bennett, were discovered and it soon became evident that they had both attacked with a knife and beaten to death. Later autopsies would reveal that the Bennett’s had died due to blunt force trauma and that their attacker had likely used a hammer.
Investigators noted there was evidence of a struggle at the house. 28 year old Bruce Bennett had jumped into action when the attacker entered the family home and a struggle broke out between the two as Bennett attempted to protect his family. Evidence of wounds caused by a blade revealed that Bruce attempted to defend himself as the intruder swiped and slashed at him with a knife. His attacker slit his throat before eventually delivering a final fatal blow with a hammer.
The killer then ascended the staircase and entered the couples bedroom where attacked Bruce’s wife, 26 year old Debra, who he raped before bludgeoning to death. He then found the couples oldest daughter, 7 year old Melissa, who tragically suffered the same terrible fate as her mother. The family had been celebrating Melissa’s birthday that night.
The couple’s youngest daughter, 3 year old Vanessa, was also attacked by the hammer wielding assailant. The hammer stuck her in the jaw, shattering the bone which splintered in an explosion of small fragments that punctured her windpipe. He continued to attack the child causing severe injuries, but the 3 year old held on to life and was alive the next morning when she was discovered by her grandmother.
Medical professionals weren’t sure if the hammer attack would leave Vanessa with permanent brain damage or not, but the girls family held on to the hope that she would make a full recovery. The child’s skull was caved in on the right side of her forehead and a metal plate was inserted to reshape the skull, she suffered severe injuries to her head, jaw and neck. She was also left with a shattered pelvis and fell into in a coma.
With time, multiple surgeries and the support her extended family, Vanessa began to recover from her physical injuries, but living a normal life after losing both her parents to a murderer who had yet to be captured and convicted made childhood difficult. The other kids at school would tease her, telling her “the hammer man” was going to come and finish her off. They saw her parent’s killer as a boogeyman who would attack and them and kill them if they went anywhere near little Vanessa’s home for parties or play dates.
As she got older, unresolved anger issues caused Vanessa to clash with her grandmother who had become her primary caretaker after the death of her parents. Although she had no memory of the attack, what happened that night in 1984 would negatively impact the rest of her life. Her head was constantly swimming with thoughts of her parents. Why did they have to get murdered? Why was she the lone survivor? Not only was she left with physical injuries and scars as a reminder of the attack, she was also left with ADHD, PTSD and bipolar disorder. As an adult, she developed a drug habit and became an addict. She left her hometown and moved to Arizona, at one point spending half a year homeless, living under a bridge.
Police later linked the murder of the Bennett family with another rape and murder that happened just less than a week before. The previous week, on the 10th of January, a woman in her fifties named Patricia Smith had also been murdered in her own home in a townhouse in Green Mountain, Lakewood, which is just a 25 minute drive from the Bennett’s home in Aurora. The police found her posed with her arms crossed over her chest, as if she was in a coffin. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head- and the murder weapon? A hammer.
On the 4th of January James and Kimberly Haubenschild were also attacked with a hammer at their home in Aurora, but both survived.
Another resident, Donna Dixon, was also struck with a hammer. She too survived the attack, although she was first in a coma for some time.
In fact, there was a string of unsolved crimes in the area that took place just days apart from each other. Sadly technology was not as advanced in the mid-eighties as it is today, and the case went cold, remaining that way for over 30 years. Investigators did not forget about the hammer murders, however, nor did the town of Aurora; for years the authorities and true crime sleuths never gave up trying to identify the sick individual responsible for the murders and assaults that happened that year. Investigators had collected and stored the killers DNA from the crime scene back in 1984 and since they did not know the hammer killers identity at the time issued a warrant for the arrest of “John Doe” on three counts of murder, attempted murder, felony murder, two counts of sexual assault, and two counts of child sexual assault in the hope that technology in the future could aid in identifying the assailant.
Vanessa, now 38 years old, received a call from the Aurora sheriff’s department informing her that her parent’s killer had been identified as 57 year old Alexander Christopher Ewing.
Alexander Christopher Ewing is already behind bars, serving 40 years for two counts of attempted murder in the state of Nevada. Ewing’s DNA profile was entered into CODIS (the FBI's database) this year (2018 as I write this) and the following morning his profile was matched to the DNA found at the crime scenes of both the Bennett family and Patricia Smith.
Alexander Ewing’s list of seemingly endless violent crimes are described throughout the many articles published about him since he has been identified as the man behind the murder of the Bennett family. This article in the Denver post describes how after he murdered the Bennett’s he went on to enter the house of a man in Kingman, Arizona and attempted to bludgeon the man to death with a 20lb rock.
He was arrested for the crime but went on to escape from prison transport during a gas station break. The same night he escaped, he broke into yet another couple’s house and attacked the male of the home. He went on to continually beat the man’s wife as she attempted to shield her husband from the blows of an ax handle while simultaneously on the phone to 911. Ewing would not stop hitting her the entire time and eventually the woman realized that she would have to play dead in order to get him to stop. Ewing has been locked up since.
Vanessa Bennett was shocked to receive the phone call identifying the man who murdered her entire family and attempted to murder her in 1984 and admits it hasn’t quite sunk in. She said in an interview that she has big plans for the future, and reminds us that "it’s never too late to achieve big things”.
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