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.