The sister of a Tecumseh man whose skeletal remains were found in Earlsboro years after he went missing continues to seek answers about what happened to him, but is thankful investigators have given her his ring, which was found and collected as evidence during recovery efforts.

 


The sister of a Tecumseh man whose skeletal remains were found in Earlsboro years after he went missing continues to seek answers about what happened to him, but is thankful investigators have given her his ring, which was found and collected as evidence during recovery efforts.

In 2001, Dustin James Bench, at age 22, went missing from Tecumseh. Seven years later in 2008, a skull and other bones were found in Earlsboro and were positively identified as Bench through DNA in 2009, allowing his family to hold funeral services and give him a final resting place.

Now, 10 years after he first disappeared, what happened to him remains a mystery. His death, an open homicide investigation, remains an unsolved cold case.

His sister, Jamie Bench, who was 10 when Bench disappeared, is a college student on a career path toward becoming a forensic pathologist, a career plan sparked by what happened to her brother.

The past few months, she’s worked with authorities to get back something in evidence found at the site where Dustin’s bones were recovered — a cat’s eye ring he always wore.

“I felt that was something that belonged to the family,” Jamie said, adding she was able to pick it up from investigators just two weeks ago.

“Now it feels like I have a piece of him with me,” she said. “It’s very near and dear to my heart.”

Jamie said it helped the family when her brother’s remains were found, but not knowing why or how he died still takes its toll and sparks even more questions, she said.

Bench disappeared July 1, 2001. He left his Tecumseh home that Sunday to walk to his girlfriend’s home, but he never arrived. Tecumseh detectives followed several leads to locate Bench, but all had negative results.

“I watched him walk away that day,” she remembers. “I have memories — he was my hero, my best friend.”

Over the years of him being listed as missing, Jamie said the family had many sightings, along with several false hopes and leads while trying to find them, yet they continued to live their lives.

On April 7, 2008, an Earlsboro homeowner searching for mushrooms on his 320-acre property found a skull in a wooded area. Further excavation resulted in recovery of other skeletal remains. An expert in forensic anthropology examined the skull and bones and  determined they belonged to a male who was between 17 and 23 years old and had been deceased one to five years.

“We were told it could possibly be him this time,” Jamie remembers, adding they showed her a composite sketch of what the person could have looked liked, “and it really resembled him.”

At that time, Bench’s relatives, who no longer resided in the Tecumseh area, submitted DNA comparison samples. The positive DNA-match came a year later.

“I don’t want to say it was a relief, but it was just a way of knowing you can stop looking,” Jamie said.

At that point, the investigation into his disappearance and death began from scratch and progress was made, with sheriff’s deputies seeking tips from anyone who could help piece together pieces of the unsolved puzzle.

Now, two years later, Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Capt. Travis Palmer said the case remains open. They are still working the case as an active investigation, he said, but hope tips can make a difference in the case.

“We would love to solve it,” Palmer said. “We’re closer than we were, but we’re still miles apart.”

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Palmer at the sheriff’s office, (405) 275-2526, ext. 110.