Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Taylor Behl

I Must Do Laundry

From Ben Fawley's site, a journal entry written September 19, 2005:

C:= [Reminder - laundry, must do the laundry.......and the sheets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

Since 38-year-old artist and photographer Fawley was the suspect most talked-about in the news after the September 5, 2005 disappearance of VCU freshman Taylor Behl, with whom he had a romantic relationship, naturally many who read the line above wondered if Fawley was playing some sort of game with what he was aware was a large number of new visitors to his websites. By the time Fawley wrote of 'doing the laundry,' his name had been in the news quite a bit, first being published in more than one weblog, then revealed the following day in the mainstream media.

Four days after Fawley wrote that journal entry, on September 23, Detective Jeffrey W. Dwyer compiled a list of items seized with a search warrant executed on Ben Fawley's premises at 407A North Hancock St. in Richmond, Virginia. Among the evidence seized at Fawley's residence were a plastic laundry hamper containing clothes, a laptop computer and a Macintosh, a digital camera, sex toys, a knife, two bags of clothes from a garbage can outside, a beaded necklace with a cross that had been tossed out, a bicycle chain necklace, a watch, also from the trash, a 35mm camera, a box apparently containing bones, rolls of film, a black brassiere, machete, chains and straps, a .32 caliber cartridge, hatchet and hammer, and a pry bar. Additionally, a cutting of a reddish-brown stain was made from a box spring located in the residence for laboratory analysis.

To those already suspicious of Fawley many items seized from his apartment seemed alarming. Just days before the warrant was made available online and first mentioned on Court TV's Catherine Crier Live   on September 29, 2005, a misunderstanding between a Richmond Police spokesperson and the press resulted in Fawley seeming, for a day at least, to no longer be a "person of interest." Some watching the case wondered if the investigation was stalled. Only after the police clarified that Fawley's being in jail on child pornography charges made him more accessible and did not actually alter their view of his relationship to Taylor Behl's disappearance was it apparent that Fawley was definitely still under suspicion.

When Fawley wrote of "doing the laundry" on the 19th and specifically mentioned the sheets, the reddish-brown stain from a box spring in his residence seemed that much more startling. Unless the list of items seized was not precise, the fact that the stain was on the box spring and not the mattress might be more telling – where was the mattress, and how much blood did it take to soak through a mattress to the box spring below?

Another item on the list, a .32 caliber cartridge, was also interesting. Ben Fawley sometimes worked on movie sets and in theatrical productions, and had expressly stated on one of his websites that he couldn't work with real weapons because of his status as a convicted felon. Why was he in possession of a .32 caliber cartridge?

The warrant brought a wealth of questions to mind, of course. Why did city-dwelling Ben Fawley own a machete? A defense attorney might point to Ben Fawley's hobby of exploring and photographing "urban decay" – abandoned buildings and houses. Ben might need to hack his way through some weeds now and then. Also, most households might have a knife and a hammer around. The machete defense could also apply to Fawley's reason for having the hatchet, as well.

More subtle items seemed stranger still, such as the beaded necklace and watch found in the garbage outside Fawley's residence. They did not seem like items typically just tossed in the trash. Then there were the cameras on the list. Ben Fawley stated in this journal entry that a tripod and camera were stolen from him by the three to four mysterious men who allegedly kidnapped Ben the very night Taylor Behl disappeared. Yet still digital and 35 mm cameras were in his possession when he was arrested on the 23rd. How many cameras could Fawley, who was receiving disability payments for bipolar disorder, afford?

Of the other people examined in connection with Taylor's disappearance, only one other name was mentioned with any frequency in the mainstream media; Jesse Schultz. The 22-year-old 'skateboarder' was arrested after scent dogs tracked from Taylor Behl's vehicle to Schultz's front door -- the residence of his uncle and aunt, where he was staying. The arrest came after evidence of cocaine was found in Schultz's room.

The Richmond Police, however, seemed to take care to allow Fawley's name to be the one most often mentioned in conjunction with Taylor Behl. In appearances on cable news channels, Taylor's family, her mother, Janet Pelasara, and father, Matt Behl, both seemed to know the most about Ben Fawley, and discussed him a great deal with various reporters and news anchors.

As the September faded into October, the search for Taylor Behl continued.

In an e-mail a source stated that police were poring over the photos Ben Fawley had posted online of various deserted and run-down sites in the Richmond area, photos he'd taken of what he felt were fascinating examples of "urban decay."

Perhaps the answers to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Taylor Behl were near an old vine-covered bridge, a dilapidated house, an abandoned railyard. The answers to the questions her family and friends continued to ask, answers to questions asked by complete strangers saddened by Taylor's youth and beauty in photos posted on one of her websites. The answers might be found in a desolate place in the real world, but if Taylor Behl had truly fallen prey to someone decayed and dead on the inside, her vanishing might remain an intractable mystery long after the case was cold, or closed.

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