An investigation into the death of a 77-year-old woman found almost a month after she went missing remains open, Waynesboro Police Chief Augustus Palmer III said.
On Friday, the Waynesboro Police Department denied an open records request from The Augusta Chronicle to access case files of the investigation into the death of Arletha Diane Bennett, a retired school teacher who went missing Jan. 16 and was found in the laundry room of a home on Herman Lodge Boulevard about a month later.
Responding via e-mail, Palmer said the investigation “isn’t officially closed.” He did not immediately return a call or e-mail seeking further comment Friday.
In the weeks after Bennett’s disappearance, police and volunteers from across the Southeast traveled to Waynesboro to assist in the search, at times using all-terrain vehicles and helicopters.
Authorities received a call Feb. 15 after Bennett was found by Wayne Jenkins and James Salisbury, who lives at the home. Bennett
lived several houses down from where she was discovered.
Two days later, Burke County Coroner Susan Salemi said Bennett died of natural causes. The cause of death was listed as senility with Alzheimer’s and probable hypothermia, and Bennett might have died not long after she went missing, Salemi said.
No autopsy was performed because the body did not display signs of trauma or foul play, and she was buried at Bark Camp Baptist Church Cemetery on Feb. 24.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which assisted Waynesboro police in the weeks after Bennett’s body was discovered, is no longer involved in the case, Special Agent in Charge Pat Morgan said.
After consulting with District Attorney Ashley Wright, Morgan said, the agency decided to leave the investigation in the hands of the Waynesboro police.
Wright declined to comment on the investigation Friday and directed further questions to the Waynesboro Police Department.
In an e-mail Feb. 19, Palmer said the department would continue to work through the information it has gathered through interviews and would brief the public at the end of the investigation.