TECUMSEH — For seven years Jamie Bench studied faces in the crowd, hoping to find her brother.
Dustin Bench, 22, went missing after he left his Tecumseh home on July 1, 2001, to see his girlfriend.
Two years ago, she learned what had become of him when his DNA was matched to skeletal remains found in Earlsboro, 8 miles east of Tecumseh.
Now she wants justice.
Jamie Bench, who was 10 at the time, said she remembers her brother as a best friend who could always make her laugh.
“He stuck up for me,” she said. “He was a typical big brother.”
When Dustin Bench wasn't protecting his sister from bullies on the school bus, he would quiz her about music artists and songs. His favorite music was from rock artists such as
Ozzy Osbourne and Korn. “He gave me my love for music,” she said.
Their father, James Bench, said he didn't realize anything was wrong at first when his son didn't come home that night. When his son missed work, though, he began to worry and filed a missing persons report.
“He was basically a good kid,” he said. “He was pretty quiet. He was a real good person.”
Jamie Bench said she recalls the last time she saw her brother. He wore blue jeans, a dark shirt and hat and New Balance white, orange and black shoes.
“I remember the day he disappeared,” she said. “It wasn't unusual.
“Dustin usually did his own thing.”
Searching for answers
Jamie Bench, now 20, wants to speak out about her brother's case in hope that tips and new leads will help investigators find whoever was responsible for his death.
People have told authorities they believe Dustin Bench was killed and thrown off a bridge, but officials say the story doesn't match up with where his body was found. There's also speculation that his life could have been taken by people to whom he owed money.
She said her family spent many years looking for him after he disappeared. Sometimes they would drive through town and try to find his face in the crowd.
As time progressed, the possibilities of what happened to her brother became hard to deal with. She said members of her family would pass time by thinking that he would show up on their doorstep someday with a wife and a baby.
Skeletal remains found
But those stories came to a halt in April 2008 when skeletal remains were found by a mushroom hunter in a field in Earlsboro, about 50 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. The family had a feeling the remains belonged to their Dustin.
The state medical examiner's office reported that 49 human bones were recovered, and a DNA sample from James Bench linked the bones to his son.
Jamie Bench said she received the confirmation in February 2009. She said the news was surreal, but she was glad the family was finally able to lay him to rest at a memorial in March 2009.
“It was a relief because you don't have to look at every face you passed.”
Investigators said no clothing was found. The cause of death remains undetermined.
Investigators with the Pottawatomie County sheriff's office have been following up on leads in the case. Capt. J.T. Palmer said they are investigating it as a homicide because officials also uncovered what they think is a .22-caliber bullet.
Investigators have interviewed more than 100 people, including some residents of other states, such as Kentucky.
“Anybody at any age that is kidnapped, murdered, dumped in a field, it's a horrific crime for not only our victims but for our families,” Palmer said. “The Bench family went seven, eight years without knowing.
“They got to bury him, but now they get to see who gets punishment for them. We're doing this for the Bench family,” he said.
Three and one-half years since the remains were found, Palmer said he believes investigators are getting close.
“I'll never lose hope on a case,” he said. “I think there's someone who knows something.”
Life goes on
Jamie Bench now has her brother's cat eye ring, which was found with his remains. She keeps it with her as a reminder.
“I feel like I have a piece of him back,” she said, clutching the ring in her fist.
She has also started studying forensic science in college, intending to become a pathologist. She said watching authorities work on her brother's case has inspired her to help other families someday.
“I really believe everything happens for a reason,” she said.
“Knowing what they're going through, that might give me a touch of compassion.”
How to help
Anyone with information about the death or disappearance of Dustin Bench should call the Pottawatomie County sheriff's office at 275-2526.