Keokuk True Crime
I Love Money
Unlike Ramsey and his problems from birth, Shawn Bentler was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father Michael, was a successful businessman in Bonaparte, Iowa, about 40 miles north of Keokuk. He didn’t live in Keokuk, and the crime wasn’t committed in Keokuk, but nonetheless I am including this murder because it is so vile and unnerving that it affected almost everyone in a 200 mile radius and even throughout the state and nation.
Shawn Bentler was born in 1984 to Michael and Sandra Bentler. His father ran several lumberyards in the southeast Iowa region, mainly serving the rural communities and farming communities scattered in that area. Michael was apparently very successful in his businesses and also was involved with home construction. Michael and his family lived in a very large and nice house in rural Bonaparte, went hunting on a regular basis and they never went without.
Shawn had an average life growing up, played sports in high school and dated several girls. He graduated from Harmony High School in Farmington, Iowa in 2002. After high school things changed rapidly for him, going from only son of a wealthy businessman to slugging it out on his own, and not doing that very well.
Shawn had two children by two different woman, moved frequently because he could not pay the rent and had trouble holding a full time job. He started college in Quincy, Illinois only to drop out halfway into the first semester. His friends and roommates described him as lazy and seemingly out of touch as how to function in the real world. He did smoke marijuana, but being broke almost all the time he did not smoke very much. His friends in Quincy usually saw him on the couch playing video games and keeping to himself.
It has been established that he frequently asked his mother for financial help to pay his bills and to pay his child support. He would drive to his folks house every other week or so and return with items he had stolen and then pawn them off for cash. His roommates in Quincy described Shawn as a pawn store freak. One time he arrived back at the apartment with a bag of quarters he had lifted from home.
Shawn seemed to go through his mother for help and told others of his negative relationship with his father. He had worked in the family business but in the end just quit for reasons unknown. Had he persevered with employment at his father’s business, he probably would have been set for life. He left behind in Iowa two children, a full time job, a loving family and security that comes with all that.
Bentler worked for Lowe’s and Home Depot in Quincy, but called in sick a lot and was probably fired from both jobs. He moved to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to work with his dad and reportedly made good money while there. He then moved back to Quincy and moved into a friend’s apartment. When he quit his last job at a car lot, he mentioned to the owner that his dad had died. On his last visit with one of his daughters, he told the mother that his father had a short time left to live and that he would inherit a lot of money making things easier for her and his kids.
By October of 2006 he was without a car (he did have a motorcycle), his driver’s license was suspended, and he had a warrant out on him for a missed court date for possession of drug paraphernalia.
On Friday, October 13, 2006, Shawn was seen in his apartment by his roommate. The roommate left to attend a ballgame and said Shawn was there playing video games around 7 :00 PM. The roommate got back from the game around 1:00 AM, and admitted that he had been drinking and was drunk and could not really say exactly what time he arrived. He did say that when he came into the apartment, Shawn was again on the couch watching TV. The roommate went directly to bed as he had to work the next day.
At 3:38 AM on Saturday, October 14, 2006 a 911 call came into the Van Buren County Sheriff’s department. The person identified herself as Shayne Bentler and told the operator that her mother had told her to call, adding “My brother’s going to do something, I don’t know what, My mom’s yelling at him, saying Shawn, don’t”. A woman’s voice can be heard in the background screaming, “Please don’t, please Shawn don’t !”. Then there is a popping sound, a few seconds of silence and then Shayne screams “Shawn, no !” and then line goes dead.
While the 911 operator was on the phone with Shayne, a second 911 came in. After the call with Shayne ended, the operator attempted to go to the other call but heard nothing. She called the number and got Shelby’s voice mail. The phone was a cell phone registered to Sandra Bentler and the operator tried calling the Bentler home and got no answer. She alerted the sheriff and the sheriff headed out to see what was the matter.
At 3:55 AM, the authorities arrived at the Bentler home and noticed there were no lights on in the house and all was quiet. After searching the house, they found everyone in the house shot to death. Michael was found nude in the bedroom, Sandra was found at the top of the stairs, Shayne and Shelby were found in their bedrooms, in their respective closets with cell phones and Sheena was located in her bedroom in the basement of the house. The layout of the large house was difficult for the lawmen at first to navigate, and concluded that whoever had done this was familiar with the home.
The basement where Sheena was found was only half of the basement, and the two spaces were not connected, the other side of the basement held a safe that contained guns and the safe was wide open. It appeared that one rifle was missing because a case was found laying on the floor of the basement in front of the safe. Also, .22 ammo was found on the floor and seemed to match the shell casings found near the victims. It seemed apparent that the killer had somehow known how to get around this house and that if the lights were out, it would be very difficult to know where to go without alarming the family members. For example, for a stranger to know that there was a girl in the basement, and then find her, was deemed most unlikely by investigators. ( Later on, the judge took a tour of the house and was convinced that this house was laid out in a style which was, at the least, confusing to a stranger ).
The authorities determined that a son, Shawn was not living in the house at the time and set out to try to locate him to inform him of his family’s death. They understood he lived in Quincy and called the Quincy Police Department who then went looking for Shawn to notify him. They had by then been alerted to the fact of the 911 calls earlier that day that definitely put Shawn in a bad light.
A former roommate of Shawn’s dropped by Shawn’s apartment early that morning before he had to be at work. Keith Gratz knew Shawn from Bonaparte and had shared the apartment with him and Nathen Holder. Grate reported he had received a phone call from his mother in Iowa asking if had heard anything about the Bentler family on the news. He said he hadn’t and his mother informed him the entire family living there had been murdered and that Shawn was a suspect. When Gratz saw Shawn he asked when was the last time he had talked to his family and Shawn answered that it was the day before. Grate told Shawn to call his family but Shawn said he had left his cell phone in his mother’s car. Gratz let Shawn use his phone, he dialed a number but hung up after a few rings saying there was no answer and did not seem to indicate anything out of the ordinary.
Gratz called his work, told them he would not be coming in and left to Iowa to be with his family. Later on he was interviewed by the authorities.
The quincy police went over to Shawn’s apartment and on the way there, saw him on his motorcycle. Since he had no driver’s license and a warrant out on him he was stopped. He offered no resistance and was taken to the police station for questioning. Shawn was asked general information questions and was forthwith and polite. He was asked about the last time he had seen his family and answered that he had seen his mother the previous evening when she had come to Quincy at approximately 10:30 pm. He said she had stayed for 20 minutes and left and that he had accidentally left his cell phone in her car.
He did not ask why he was being questioned and continued to answer all the questions asked of him.
Finally the interrogators asked if he knew why he was there and he said no. They informed him his family had been found murdered and if he knew anything about it. Shawn became very upset and said they were wrong and to call them and find out for sure. The police continued to ask if he knew anything and he replied, ‘no he did not’. Shawn was crying and sobbing and very distraught, yet continued to answer questions about his whereabouts the previous day and night. He stated that he was in Quincy, and that his mother visited late in the evening and that he watched television and then went to bed and woke the next morning and got on his motorcycle to go to the bank. He stated several times that he had left his cell phone accidentally in his mother’s vehicle.
The investigators zeroed in on Shawn by asking if he knew anything about what happened. Shawn replied that he knew nothing. Further questioning brought out inconstancies that would later prove to be very damaging to Shawn’s defense effort. As mentioned before, Shawn claimed to have lost his cell phone the night before in his mother’s car. His cell phone was found by investigators at the Bentler residence on the day of the murders. It was located in a container with the other cell phones of the family, minus the ones used to make the 911 calls by the daughters. It seemed to be common practice to put all the phones in one location at night and retrieve them in the morning as the family members were leaving. How it got there is a good question. Regardless, the phone was found there but there were calls made after Shawn said his mother left with the phone in her car. The calls were to Shawn’s friends and his daughter’s mother. The call to his friend was 3 minutes long and it was unlikely his mother made these calls.
Also, a call from one of the daughter’s friends to the Bentler residence at about 10:45 was made. The friend claimed she talked to the daughter and at one point Mrs. Bentler came on the other line and told her daughter to make the call short and then hung up, this shows that Mrs. Bentler was in Bonaparte and not in Quincy as Shawn claimed. There was a high school football game that evening and the Bentleys were in attendance at the game, they arrived home around 10:00PM with no indication of Mrs. Bentler leaving to see her son.
Investigators also visited Shawn’s apartment in Quincy and searched but found very little. A pair of socks were located that had a spot of blood on them that were later found to be Mrs. Bentler’s type. Shawn’s roommate told the investigators that Shawn did not own a vehicle except for the motorcycle and Shawn would sometimes use his car without permission. Upon further investigation of the car, it was reported to have 1/4 of gas in the tank, but was on empty the morning of the murders. The roommate could give no explanation for the empty tank. He reported to have seen Shawn at 8:00pm Friday night, again at about 1:00AM Saturday morning and again at 8:00AM Saturday morning.
Shawn maintained his innocence through all this and was finally arrested for the warrant and driving without a license. His bail was set at $1000 and he was sent to the local jail. He made repeated calls to friends begging them to raise bail so he could be released, and also mentioned his fears of being charged with his family’s murder. They all refused. And later on he was charged with 5 counts of first degree murder.
The prosecutor’s version of events went like this… Shawn left in his roommate’s car after the roommate went to bed. He drove to his family’s house and entered with a key he had or his mother let him in. He may have talked to his mother about his financial problems, since his father was found nude in the bedroom it appears the father was not involved in any discussions. If they were seated at the kitchen table talking, Shawn may have put his cell phone on the table and Mrs. Bentler may have taken it by mistake to the container with the other phones.
At some point Shawn went to the basement and removed a 22 rifle from the safe and .22 ammo in a box. He loaded the rifle, went upstairs and got into an altercation with his father, as the father was found to have bruises that may have come from being struck with a rifle butt. He then shot and killed his father with a single shot to the head. The mother yelled for the daughters to call 911 and pleaded with Shawn to stop and don’t shoot which is heard on the 911 call. He then shot and killed his mother (although evidence points to the fact she may have walked to the end of the hall before expiring), went into one bedroom and shot a sister, and then went to the other bedroom and shot the other sister. There is a question as to the order of death regarding the sister in the basement bedroom, was she shot first or last ? Being that the house was large and the distance between the upstairs and the basement was great, it seems that Shawn could have killed her first without the people upstairs being aware, or killed the upstairs people without the sister realizing what was happening.
The search for the rifle ended the next day when it was located about a 1/4 mile from the house in a ditch by the road. To establish that it was the murder weapon, tests were conducted and it was concluded the rifle found was the weapon used. Ownership of the rifle was never made final, the dealer in town who sold many of the weapons to Mr. Bentler had his records destroyed in a fire and was unable to identify the rifle as one he had sold to Mr. Bentler. The open safe in the basement, the gun case on the floor and the shell box open with bulletts missing were pretty conclusive to the authorities that the rifle originated from the Bentler residence.
He pleaded not guilty but was found guilty of all charges and received 5 consecutive life sentences. He has consistently denied any involvement in the murders.
The $2.8 million that he was looking to get his hands on eventually ended up in the hands of his two children, causing an uproar between the brothers and sisters and parents of the elder Bentler parents who were murdered. But according to Michael Bentler’s will and Iowa law, the money will be split between Shawn’s two children.