Officials: No cause of death yet in Waynesboro missing woman case

Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 9:31 PM
Last updated Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 2:21 AM
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WAYNESBORO, Ga. — Au­thor­ities have not yet determined the cause of death for a 77-year-old Waynesboro woman whose body was found Saturday at a nearby home, almost a month after she went missing.

Arletha Bennett
Arletha Bennett


A neighbor said her brother and the owner of the home found the body, and that one foot had on a clean sock that looked like it had “never been used.”

About 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Waynes­boro police received a call that retired teacher Arletha Diane Bennett, an Alz­heimer’s patient last seen leaving her home Jan. 16, had been found dead inside the laundry room of a home at 1144 Herman Lodge Blvd., Police Chief Augustus Palmer III said.

Bennett, who taught for 35 years in the Burke County school system, lived a few houses down from where her body was found.

The Georgia Bureau of In­ves­­tigation and the Burke County Coroner’s Office are assisting Waynesboro police. An autopsy will take place at the GBI crime lab in Atlanta early this week, Coroner Susan Salemi said.

Palmer said Saturday that no arrests have been made.

Luberda Jenkins said she has lived across from the house where Bennett was found for more than 32 years. Her brother, Wayne Bennett, discovered the body along with James Salisbury, who lives in the house.

Jenkins said her brother walked across the street about 1 p.m. Saturday to retrieve clothes from Salisbury, who has been a family friend for years. When Bennett tried to enter the exterior laundry room, the door wouldn’t budge.

“He kept saying, ‘I can’t get the door open. The door is stuck,’” Jenkins recalled.

When Salisbury came to assist, the door opened and the men saw a foot, Jenkins said. She watched from across the street as both men jumped back in shock.

“I thought they had just seen a snake or something,” she said.

Jenkins said her brother rushed back across the street to report what he thought might be either a body or drunk person.

“They pushed the door open for me and I saw the foot with a clean sock on it,” she said. “It looked like it had never been used or walked on.”

Jenkins and her brother rushed to call police. They arrived within minutes to rope off the location, occasionally peeking in the laundry room to attempt to identify the body. About 6:30 p.m., Jenkins said, the body had been positively identified and removed, and police began to clear the scene.

She said a lack of odor from the body, with police not wearing masks, led her to think it hadn’t been there a long time.

Kevin Jones, who was taught by Ben­nett at Blaken­ey Ele­­mentary School and lives four houses down from where her body was found, said he was at Salisbury’s house Friday but didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary.

Jones said he walks past the house every evening on his way home from work and was shocked to see the crowd that formed around it after the body was discovered.

“She was just the nicest lady,” Jones said. “I didn’t sleep none last night.”

Salisbury was home Sun­­day afternoon, Jenkins said. She called him to ask whether he would speak to a reporter, but he declined.

“She was a good person,” Jen­kins said of Bennett. “I was hoping all this time that when they would find her that she would be found alive.”

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