(b. 1983 or 1984) is a convicted murderer from Bonaparte, Iowa.
Shawn was convicted of murdering his parents and 3
teenage sisters with a shotgun, allegedly to inherit the family fortune
immediately all to himself.
On June 19, 2007, Shawn Bentler was sentenced to five
consecutive life sentences (four for the murders of his father and
sisters, one for the murder of his mother) to be served in an Iowa State
The four life sentences that are concurrent are for
the murders of the three Bentler girls and Michael Bentler. The other
life sentence will be served consecutively for the murder of Sandra
Man accused of one
of Iowa's worst mass killings is remembered as a 'good friend'
Sunday, December 17, 2006
His best friend and ex-roommate sits
in an Iowa jail, accused of one of the worst mass murders in state
history. The shock is slowly starting to wear off, but more questions
than answers remain — and probably always will.
When Keith Gratz thinks of Shawn
Bentler, the man accused of murdering his parents and three sisters in
October in their home in Bonaparte, Iowa, he simply shakes his head.
"Why?" asked Gratz, 22. "That's what
everybody wants to know."
Authorities remain tightlipped about
the case. Friends and Bonaparte residents are still in shock over the
murders. But there are some clues and some ideas forming after piecing
together details of Bentler's relationship with his parents, his
relationship with friends like Gratz and his demeanor in the hours
before and after the killings.
Gratz has insight few others do
because he grew up with Bentler, graduated with him four years ago from
Harmony High School in Farmington, Iowa, and lived with him in Quincy
until a few weeks before the murders. Gratz saw Bentler briefly the
morning after the murders.
"Shawn was a good friend," said Gratz,
who now lives in Keokuk, Iowa, but still works at a Quincy electronics
store. "But he was a bad roommate. He was lazy and he was terrible about
paying bills, especially rent."
Bentler, 22, was arrested Oct. 14 in
Quincy and is accused of gunning down Michael Bentler, 53; his wife,
Sandra, 47; and their daughters Sheena, 17; Shelby, 15; and Shayne, 14.
Bentler pleaded not guilty Nov. 1 and
is scheduled for a bench trial Feb. 20 in Iowa.
Authorities say a 911 tape recorded
Bentler's mother and sister Shayne pleading with Bentler before a
shotgun blast was heard and the phone went dead.
Most people in Quincy who were
acquainted with Bentler only knew him peripherally. Investigators have
not said what might have led to the attack. However, Gratz says he might
have an idea about what precipitated the tragic events.
He said Bentler had trouble keeping
jobs and was behind in paying his bills and child support to two young
daughters by two mothers.
Gratz said when he asked Bentler for
help with bills and to pay rent for the house they shared at 26th and
Spruce in Quincy, Bentler would go to Iowa and come back with items like
jewelry and bags of quarters. Gratz now suspects Bentler was taking it
all from his parents' safe in their Bonaparte residence before the
murders took place.
"Shawn was a pawnshop freak," Gratz
said. "He was always selling his stuff. Then not long before this
happened, he went up there (to Iowa) and came back with a bag of
quarters to pay his bills."
Authorities said the Bentlers died of
shotgun wounds. Gratz said Bentler hunted as a youth but didn't own a
gun. However, firearms were inside the Bonaparte home, Gratz said.
Bentler was seen by his roommate at
the Quincy house late on the night of Oct. 13, hours before the murders.
Bonaparte is about an hour north of Quincy.
Gratz said he moved out of the Quincy
house several weeks before the murders. He and Bentler shared the
residence with Iowa native Nathan Holder, Gratz said.
At around 8 a.m. on Oct. 14, about 4
1/2 hours after authorities say the murders took place, Gratz stopped by
the Quincy house and said Bentler was asleep on the couch.
Gratz said Bentler often borrowed
roommates' vehicles without asking, and he claims Holder's car had about
a quarter of a tank of gas missing that morning.
Gratz, who grew up about a mile away
from the Bentler family in Bonaparte, said he was "just hanging out"
that morning when he got a phone call from his mother. She told him the
Bentler family had been killed and that Shawn, who was laying on the
couch in front of him, "was the main suspect."
"I was sort of freaking out," Gratz
said. "I asked Shawn when the last time he'd talked to his family was,
and he said it had been the day before. I told him to call them, but he
said he'd left his cell phone in his mother's car."
Gratz said he gave his cell phone to
Bentler, who dialed a number that he said was his mother's. No one
answered. Gratz said Bentler acted calmly and did not seem to indicate
anything was wrong.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," Gratz
Shaken by the turn of events, Gratz
left the house, called his boss to tell him he wasn't coming in that day
and went back to Iowa to be with his family. He was later contacted by
Bentler was arrested at about 10:15
that morning while on his motorcycle a few blocks from his residence. He
spent the afternoon at the Quincy Police Department being interviewed by
Iowa investigators, then was lodged in the Adams County Jail.
Bentler needed $1,000 to get out of
jail for possession of cannabis and several traffic violations, but had
no luck getting the money. Early that night, he called Gratz.
"He just wanted out of there,
basically. He wanted me to bail him out and call people for him," Gratz
said. "He was sort of freaking out, you could tell it in his voice ....
he wanted to get out before his bond jumped to $1 million or $2
Gratz said he was uncomfortable
talking to Bentler and didn't offer to help his former roommate.
"I think he knew that I knew (Bentler
was a suspect in the murders)," Gratz said.
Bentler never had trouble with the
law growing up in Bonaparte and attending Harmony High School, where he
ran on the track team and was one of 40 students in his class. Gratz
said Bentler's parents were well-respected and always attended their
"I knew him when he was in school
here and he was a nice kid," said Peggy Troutman, who runs the Bonaparte
Mercantile grocery store. "I didn't know him after he left."
Gratz and Bentler moved to the Trace
Apartments in Quincy in the summer of 2002 and attended John Wood
Community College. College records show Bentler dropped out in November
before his first semester was over.
Hannah Flesner of Mount Sterling, now
a student at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, lived next to
Bentler in the Trace Apartments at that time. She described him as a
friendly young man who never caused any trouble.
"I didn't know him really well, but
he seemed like a really nice kid," Flesner said.
Bentler was sometimes seen with a
young daughter, Flesner said.
The Des Moines Register reported in
October that Bentler had recently been getting to know his younger
daughter, 1-year-old Avaley Leslie. The baby's mother, Lexie Leslie,
told the newspaper she had broken up with Bentler when she was two
months pregnant, but that Bentler had been trying to reconnect since
Kasha Nicole Pickard, the mother of
his other daughter, Cloe Bentler, 4, said Bentler had not seen the girl
in a long time. Pickard, who has since married and now goes by Nicole
Kite, said she ended Bentler's every-other-weekend visits with Cloe some
time ago, but declined to say why.
Bentler tried to keep up with child
support payments when he was employed, Iowa authorities said.
After living at the Trace Apartments,
Bentler moved into an apartment at 18th and Kentucky in May 2003 and
lived there for a couple of months.
"It just blows my mind," said Nathan
Allen of Quincy, who shared the apartment with Bentler. "I've never seen
him mad before. He never yelled or even raised his voice."
Allen said Bentler mostly kept to
himself. He rarely talked about his family, Allen said, and he never
went back to Iowa that summer.
Allen asked Bentler to leave in
August 2003 because he wasn't paying rent and because he found Bentler's
marijuana pipe in the apartment.
"He didn't do it (smoke pot) in the
apartment, but he did have paraphernalia," Allen said. "That's one of
the reasons I had to make him leave. He never smoked it up there (in his
room). What he did on his own time was his business."
Bentler was arrested in May of this
year in Quincy for possession of drug paraphernalia. He missed a Sept.
19 court appearance for the charge.
"This whole thing has nothing to do
with drugs," Gratz insists. "Shawn didn't have the money to be into
drugs that bad. He was always broke."
When he lived with Allen, Bentler was
employed at Home Depot and had a girlfriend.
"He had that job, but he called in
sick a lot," Allen said.
Bentler also worked at Lowe's in
Quincy for about four months, said former Lowe's employee Chris
"He was quiet," Cornwell said of
Bentler. "He was always very well-dressed when he came to work."
Spokesmen from Lowe's and Home Depot
declined to say how long Bentler worked for them or why he was no longer
employed. However, other employees say Bentler often didn't show up for
Gratz said Bentler moved to Mount
Pleasant, Iowa, in 2003 to work for his father at the family lumber
business. Shawn Bentler made good money by helping his father design and
build houses, Gratz said.
Bentler moved back to Quincy in early
2005, living with Holder and Gratz at 26th and Spruce. Court records
indicate he had several traffic violations in Iowa, and he didn't have a
valid Illinois driver's license.
Gratz said he doesn't know why
Bentler moved back to Quincy. Unlike his father, who ran several
successful lumberyard businesses, Bentler didn't seem to have the
business savvy or motivation to do well, Gratz said.
"I do know that he felt he had a lot
to measure up against when it came to his family," Gratz said.
Bentler sold used cars this year at
Shottenkirk and Neal Coleman in Quincy, but he was fired from both jobs.
He told his supervisors at Neal Coleman that his father had died of a
On the late September night he was
fired, a Neal Coleman employee saw Bentler drinking in a Quincy bar.
When the employee offered condolences about his father, Bentler said, "I
was never that close to him, anyway."
Gratz said Bentler enjoyed selling
cars, but he would often lie about how well he was doing.
"Almost every day he would come home
and say, 'I sold a car today.' But then I'd ask him for rent money or
for help with the bills, and he'd say it all went to child support,"
Bentler's parents would occasionally
come to Quincy to bring their son food or take him shopping, Gratz said.
On a warm early fall day in September, the Bentlers met their son at
Reservoir Park in Quincy, when Shawn, Gratz and some other friends were
It was the last time Gratz saw
"They brought him a cooler of pulled
pork or turkey," Gratz said. "His parents were nice people. They would
have helped him at the drop of a hat."
But Bentler was uncomfortable with
living off his parents, Gratz said, so he may have tried to distance
himself from them.
"He didn't want to look bad in the
eyes of his parents," Gratz said. "He wasn't the type of person to ask
Gratz says he has things to help him
keep his mind off of the murders. He has no desire to talk with Bentler,
but admits he keeps up with the case through the media.
"I've been through the best of times
and worst of times with Shawn, but nobody saw this coming — nobody," he
"You know the
guy for 22 years, and then this happens."
Family now waits for
Robin Delaney/Managing Editor
KEOSAUQUA - A desperate attempt to save himself.
That is how Mario Mendez described his nephew's testimony Friday as
the accused murderer told of how he loved his family and attempted
to explain his actions on Oct. 14, 2006 - the day all five members
of his family were killed.
Shawn Bentler, 23, is accused of fatally shooting
his parents, Michael and Sandra Bentler, and sisters Sheena, 17,
Shelby, 15, and Shayne, 14, during the middle of the night on Oct.
14 at their rural Bonaparte home.
Greg Bentler, Mike Bentler's brother, and Mario
Mendez, Sandra Bentler's brother, spoke publicly for the first time
about the trial late Friday afternoon at the end of the week-long
“His (Shawn's) parents were the salt of the earth.
They were the parents any kid would have been lucky to have,” Greg
Bentler said. “It shows you that as beautiful as this family was, evil
somehow found its way.”
The Mendez and Bentler families have packed the Van
Buren County Courthouse each day of the trial, some wearing buttons
showing a photo of the slain family members.
“We will heal, gather together, and as a family we'll
get through this,” Mendez said. “My mother is very religious - you've
seen her holding her rosary every day, and that will get us through it
Testimony and closing arguments ended Friday. Shawn
Bentler waived his right to a jury trial and now the verdict is in the
hands of District Judge Michael Mullins. The judge has said it will
likely “take some time” for him to render a ruling since Iowa law
requires that he submit a complete written ruling rather than simply
announce a verdict in open court. Mullins did say he would give
attorneys, the media and family members 2-3 days notice of when the
verdict is to be announced in open court proceedings.
On Friday, the defense put Shawn Bentler on the stand
as its final witness. Speaking softly and showing little emotion,
Bentler reminisced about holding each of his sisters at their births and
described a bond with his mother that only grew deeper when he became a
“She was happy to be a grandma,” Bentler said.
He also spoke proudly of his father. “First and
foremost he was a provider for everybody. He put everybody else's needs
first. No matter what he did, he was the best at it,” Bentler said,
adding that his father often gave him money or paid for needed items.
“I didn't have a habit of asking for a lot,” he said.
“But if there was something that needed to be taken care of and I didn't
have money, my Dad would take care of it.”
Bentler said he loved his three sisters.
He said Sheena was more of a tomboy, who liked
hunting. Shelby, he said, was more of a girly-girl and “an amazing cook.”
His youngest sister, Shayne, was very smart just like his other sisters,
But during the prosecution's cross examination,
Bentler admitted he stole his mother's jewelry and pawned much of it and
stole money and gasoline from his parents. Bentler denied speaking
negatively about his parents, however a prosecution rebuttal witness,
Cornell Williams, said Bentler had plenty to say about his father and
that it was seldom good.
Williams said he worked at Chevy Shottenkirk in
Quincy, Ill. with Bentler for several months until Bentler was fired,
but continued to socialize with him occasionally until September 2006.
“He didn't like his father at all,” Williams
testified. “He'd say he (his father) would be dead soon and that he
would eventually inherit his money.”
Travis Holder - Bentler's roommate in Quincy - was
recalled to the stand in rebuttal and testified that he was with Bentler
when he took about $150 in change from his parents' safe - which was
unlocked - and some of his mother's jewelry.
Closing arguments for both the defense and
prosecution mirrored opening statements. Defense attorneys David Sallen
and D.J. Arbabha asked the judge to dismiss the case because prosecutors
had failed to meet their burden of proof by showing Bentler had the
means, motive and opportunity to commit the murders. The judge denied
the motion, but the same argument was made in the defense's closing.
However, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown
said a tape of the 9-1-1 call at 3:38 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2006 from Shayne
Bentler provides the best evidence. Brown said the state need only prove
that the five were murdered and that the defendant acted deliberately
and with premeditation.
“Identity is the issue. How do we know it was Shawn
Bentler? Shayne Bentler identifies him three times on that 9-1-1 tape.
Sandra identifies him when you hear her say “Shawn don't,” Brown said.
“We could have done this case in one day with just the 9-1-1 call.”
Defense attorneys have tried repeatedly to prevent
the admission of the 9-1-1 tape into evidence, claiming that some of
Shayne's statements are hearsay since she was relaying what she was told
by her mother. The judge has denied each of these motions.
The defense also submitted Sandra Bentler's records
from her optometrist in an attempt to prove Sandra Bentler may have
misidentified her killer. Shawn Bentler also testified that his mother
could not see clearly beyond 12 inches without glasses or her contacts.
“The last person Sandra Bentler would have guessed as
being there and shooting was her son,” Brown said.
In earlier testimony, Van Buren County sheriff 9-1-1
dispatcher Nancy Springsteen testified she received a 9-1-1 call at 3:38
a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14 from a caller identifying herself as Shayne
The 14-year-old said she was instructed by her mother
to call, but was not sure of the nature of the emergency. Springsteen
said she asked if her mother was ill and that Shayne replied that she
A few seconds later Shayne said “My brother is going
to do something, but I don't know what.” In the background Sandra
Bentler is heard yelling, “Shawn don't!” which is followed by a gunshot.
There is then a creaking sound which prosecutors argue is the sound of
Shayne's closet door being pushed open. Then Shayne Bentler is heard
yelling, “Shawn, no!” before the line went dead.
A second call made to 9-1-1 by Shelby Bentler at 3:39
a.m. on her mother's cell phone did not reach a dispatcher. The call
just registered a series of clicking sounds. When a dispatcher attempted
to return the call it went unanswered.
Brown said physical evidence also identifies Bentler
as the murderer.
Mike Halverson - a DNA analyst for the Iowa
Department of Criminal Investigation - testified earlier that the white
ankle socks Bentler was wearing when he was arrested contained two small
drops of his mother's blood. Halverson wore plastic gloves as he handled
the socks in court.
Defense attorneys claim Bentler's mother did his
laundry and that the blood could have transferred that way. However,
Halverson showed the judge the two visible blood spots he tested and
said “some sort of impact had to have happened to make the blood stain
break up that way.”
Halverson also matched several blood samples with DNA
profiles of the five murder victims and Bentler. None of the samples
were matched to Shawn Bentler, however samples in the master bedroom
matched the DNA of Mike and Sandra Bentler. Other blood samples found on
the door of Shayne's room, a wall in the hallway leading to the bedrooms
and a white land line phone on a stand in the hallway matched Sandra
Bentler's DNA, showing she was at various locations in the hallway
before dying slumped against a chair at the end of the hallway.
Brown said that although they cannot determine
whether Sheena Bentler - who was found shot twice in her bed in a
basement bedroom - was killed first or last among the five victims, the
evidence shows Shawn Bentler went upstairs where other bedrooms were
located. There, Brown said, Bentler struggled with his father and hit
him with the butt of the Remington .22 caliber rifle forensically
connected to the murders, shooting him in the leg and head before
shooting the others.
“Mike was the biggest threat. They struggled and
Shawn Bentler won,” Brown said. “We hear Sandra scream...the gunshots.
Then we hear Shayne on the phone, the creaking of the closet door and
gunshots before the line goes dead. We know Shelby was next because of
the clicking sound her 9-1-1 call made at 3:39 a.m.”
Brown said the murderer had to be someone that knew
the layout of the Bentler residence because of its unique design and
would have to know where light switches were located. Although a Van
Buren County deputy testified there were not lights on in the residence
when he arrived at the scene at 3:56 a.m. in response to the 9-1-1 calls,
prosecutors contend the murderer turned on some lights and turned them
off when fleeing the scene.
“How do we know that? From the accuracy of the shots.
They were shot in the head. Someone would have to know their way around
the property, to the house, and their way in that house to know how to
get up to the upper bedrooms. Someone had to know where lights were
located to turn them on and off,” Brown said.
Brown argued Bentler turned off the lights after
shooting Shelby, fled the scene, and panicked because he saw a phone in
Shayne's hand when he shot her, causing him to throw the Remington rifle
into a ditch less than two miles from the Bentler residence.
“He panicked. He saw the phone and he knew it had to
be the police,” Brown said during closing arguments. “So he took the
back road. If he took the main driveway he might be met by a deputy and
arrested. And he had to get rid of the gun fast, otherwise he could have
thrown it into the river.”
Bentler found guilty of killing family
May 24, 2007
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
Iowa---- An Illinois man was found guilty Thursday of killing his
parents and three teenage sisters at their southeastern Iowa home
Judge Michael R. Mullins read the verdict in Van
Buren County District Court. The courtroom was packed with about 100
family members and others.
Prosecutors argued that Shawn Bentler, 23, wanted to
inherit money from the family's successful grain elevator and lumberyard
businesses. They said that led Bentler to shoot his parents, Michael and
Sandra, and teenage sisters, Sheena, Shelby and Shayne, with a .22
caliber rifle in the early morning hours of Oct. 14, 2006.
Prosecutors focused on a 911 call made from the
Bentler home the night of the slayings. The call begins with Shayne
saying her older brother was ''going to do something,'' followed by the
sound of his mother screaming, a gunshot and a scream ''Shawn, no!''
before the line goes dead.
''A mother and sister would almost certainly not
mistake their son and brother as the murderer,'' the judge said.
Defense lawyers tried to show that Bentler got along
with his family, and that he could not have traveled from his home in
Quincy, Ill., to the family's home in Bonaparte and back in enough time
to kill them. They had used Bentler's roommate --who said he saw Shawn
hours before and after the slayings -- in presenting an alibi.
''There was an adequate window of time ... to commit
the crimes and return to Quincy before he was next seen by'' his
roommate, the judge said.
Bentler took the stand during the trial earlier this
month, repeatedly denying that he killed his family. He reminisced about
holding each of his sisters at their births, described a bond with his
mother and spoke proudly of his father.
Shawn Bentler Found Guilty of Murdering Family
By Dave Franzman, TV9 Reporter and AP
By Ashley Hinson
KEOSAUQUA - After a bench trial that lasted a week,
we now know the fate of Shawn Bentler.
A judge has found the Quincy, Illinois, man guilty of
five counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of his parents
and three teenager sisters at their home in Bonaparte last October.
In a statement given to reporters from his lawyers,
Bentler continues to assert his innocence and says “the circumstantial
evidence against me was very weak.”
Prosecutors focused on a 911 call the night of
slayings. The call begins with Shayne saying her older brother was
“going to do something,” followed by the sound of his mother screaming,
a gunshot and a scream “Shawn, no!” before the line goes dead.
The judge says “a mother and sister would almost
certainly not mistake their son and brother as the murderer.”
Bentler faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison
without parole. Sentencing is set for June 19.
Members of the victims extended family that packed
the courtroom hugged as the defendant left for jail. Some will tell
Shawn Bentler what they are feeling at his sentencing. It won't be an
easy task to put those feelings into words.
“Unfortunately, evil found its way to this place and
unfortunately to our family,” said Gregg Bentler, Mike Bentler’s brother.
“We're all still in shock, it's the whole situation
just doesn't seem real,” said Mario Mendez, Sandra Bentler’s brother.
Shawn Bentler's attorney's delivered a written
comment from the defendant Thursday. In that he thanks family members
who visited him for several months. He still insists he's innocent and
demands an appeal.
Thursday was a rainy dreary day in Bonaparte. And
people there seemed to have an overwhelming sense of sadness.
The guilty verdict may have brought Bonaparte
residents some closure. But it doesn't make dealing with the situation
They told TV9 that they expected a guilty verdict all
along. So actually hearing the judge say guilty, didn't really make all
this any easier.
"I don't feel any better. I think it's a no-win
situation. A whole family got wiped out in the process and now a son has
basically lost his life," said Sharon Menke, Bonaparte resident.
Everyone here is also just eager for things to get
back to normal. But many wonder if that will ever truly happen.
Bentler Appeals Murder Convictions to Iowa Supreme Court
By Becky Ogann
July 7, 2007
DES MOINES (AP) - Shawn Bentler is appealing his case to the Iowa
The 23-year-old is serving life in prison for driving from his home
in Quincy, Illinois, last October and shooting his parents and three
teenage sisters in their rural Bonaparte home.
Bentler, who has denied any wrongdoing, was convicted May 24 of five
counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced last month to five life
Bentler has asked relatives to stand by him while he appeals the
verdict, calling the evidence weak and circumstantial.
During trial, prosecutors said Bentler killed his family to gain
control of his parents' $2.8 million estate. The focus of the
prosecution's case was the 911 call placed by his 14-year-old sister
Shayne. On the tape, she identifies her brother and screams before a
gunshot is heard and the line goes dead.