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Officially dead in Nevada, ex-Marine surfaces in Utah

SHARE Officially dead in Nevada, ex-Marine surfaces in Utah

An ex-Marine who was thought to have died in a 1994 fire near Lake Mead reappeared last week in a tiny Utah town, charged with raping a child.

Among other things, authorities want to know who was cremated and buried in the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, Nev., since it wasn't Staff Sgt. Arthur Bennett.Now authorities in three states are investigating the incident as a possible insurance scam, with a homicide involved, Las Vegas Metro Police homicide Lt. Wayne Petersen said Friday.

At the time of his recent arrest, Bennett was living in Hurricane, Utah, with his ex-wife and three teenage daughters.

"The family knew after his death he was alive," Petersen said. "The real question was when did they know?"

A body believed to be that of Bennett was found in a fire-ravaged travel trailer near Lake Mead, southeast of Las Vegas, on Feb. 3, 1994. The victim's hands and feet were burned off, defying fingerprint or footprint identification, according to Petersen.

The trailer and a nearby truck were registered to Bennett, who was seen in the area prior to the fire.

"The trailer had burned to the ground and we found what was left of a human body," Petersen recounted.

Petersen said the circumstances pointed to suicide.

Bennett was facing a court-martial at the Yuma, Ariz., Marine Corps Air Station for molesting a child.

"He was suicidal and had already attempted suicide at Yuma," Petersen said.

"We had problems identifying the body," Petersen said. "We couldn't find any military dental records." A doctor flew to Las Vegas from Yuma to try to identify the body and couldn't make a positive identification.

The Clark County Coroner's Office finally ruled the death a suicide, and the military doctor decided the victim was Bennett.

That is until a week ago, when a man using the name Joseph Benson was arrested in Hurricane, Utah, and charged with raping a child.

A fingerprint check identified Benson as Bennett, and Las Vegas police were contacted.

"That's when we found out our suicide victim was alive," Petersen said. "Now we're investigating the dead body we found at the lake as a homicide. It looks like he placed the body in the trailer to cover his disappearance."

Petersen said a propane tank had been taken from the front of the trailer and placed inside, then ignited, burning the trailer to the ground.

"The pathologist determined the person was living at the time of the fire and died in the fire," Petersen said. "The fire was accelerated by the propane tank left inside the trailer."

Petersen said some members of Bennett's family collected $200,000 in insurance from the military, plus Social Security and veterans' benefits. The family included Bennett's mother, two brothers, his ex-wife and three daughters.

Las Vegas detectives have visited Bennett, 44, in his jail cell in southwestern Utah, but "he wasn't saying much," Petersen said.

The Marine Corps has asked that a hold be placed on him to face the 1994 court-martial charges.

As for who is buried in the Boulder City cemetery?

"We have no idea who was in that trailer," Petersen said.