Death of Waynesboro woman still under investigation

Arletha Bennett: 77-year-old was found dead after vanishing for close to a month.

 

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.

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