Detectives say trucker may have killed before

SPOKANE — The mystery surrounding Ralph Benson didn't end with his conviction for killing and dismembering a state employee. Authorities say the polished and methodical way the truck driver disposed of Roger Erdman's body leads them to suspect Benson has killed before.

"We think there is a high probability there are other victims out there," said State Patrol Detective Ken Wade of Spokane.

"We have no specific information of other cases," Wade said, but Benson's wide travels and solitary lifestyle have them concerned. So does circumstantial evidence from an old case that points to Benson.

State Patrol detectives are using Benson's log books to develop a timeline, going back 30 years, of his travels.

Benson, 64, was sentenced last month to almost 32 years in prison for the shooting and dismemberment of Erdman, a state fuel-tax auditor who went to Benson's home south of Davenport, Lincoln County, on June 12, 2002, to audit records of the trucker, who recently had filed for bankruptcy.

Benson lived alone in a dark, dank former nuclear missile silo and worked alone as an independent trucker.

A Lincoln County jury convicted him of first-degree murder Nov. 13. At his sentencing, he continued to maintain his innocence and has filed notice to appeal.

Erdman was shot in the back of the head and his body dismembered with unusual precision, the Spokane County medical examiner testified.

When Erdman failed to return from Benson's place, officers obtained a search warrant and found Erdman's blood, the bullet that killed Erdman and 320 other pieces of evidence.

In looking at past cases, Spokane law officers are particularly interested in the disappearance of trucker John Warren Deetz, who was last seen in a Spokane Valley truck stop Dec. 30, 1988.

That night Deetz called his wife in Fulton, Ill., saying he'd be home soon. Then, he apparently climbed into the rig's sleeper cab.

Sometime that night, his truck was stolen, and the 38-year-old truck driver has not been seen since. The stolen truck was found three years later in California on property owned by Benson.

In January 1991, detectives searched Benson's silo. They found three stolen vehicles and two others with altered identification numbers. That led investigators to conclude Benson was dismantling stolen rigs at his silo.

They also found the Nevada license plate from Deetz's rig.

But without a body or other physical evidence, investigators couldn't charge Benson with stealing Deetz's tractor or killing him.