The man, Shawn Bentler, 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 Shawn 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.”
Shawn Bentler, 22, was arrested October 14th 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 November 1st.
Authorities say a 911 tape recorded Bentler’s mother and sister Shayne pleading with Shawn before a shotgun blast was heard and the phone went dead.
Most people in Quincy who were acquainted with Shawn 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, Shawn 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 Shawn Bentler hunted as a youth but didn’t own a gun. However, firearms were inside the Bonaparte home,” Gratz said.
Shawn Bentler was seen by his roommate at the Quincy house late on the night of October 13th, 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 October 14th, about 4 1/2 hours after authorities say the murders took place, Gratz stopped by the Quincy house and said Shawn 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 Shawn Bentler acted calmly and did not seem to indicate anything was wrong.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Gratz said.
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 Iowa investigators.
Shawn 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 million.”
Gratz said he was uncomfortable talking to Shawn Bentler and didn’t offer to help his former roommate.
“I think he knew that I knew (he was a suspect in the murders),” Gratz said.
Shawn 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 children’s activities.
“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 Shawn 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 Shawn 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 Shawn 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 September.
Kasha Nicole Pickard, the mother of his other daughter, Cloe Bentler, 4, said Shawn 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, Shawn 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 Shawn 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.
Shawn Bentler also worked at Lowe’s in Quincy for about four months, said former Lowe’s employee Chris Cornwell.
“He was quiet,” Cornwell said of Shawn. “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 work.
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.
Shawn 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 heart attack.
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,” Gratz said.
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 playing tennis.
It was the last time Gratz saw Bentler’s family.
“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 for help.”
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 said.
The Bottom Line
Shawn Bentler 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 Prison.
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 Bentler.
credit – murderpedia