Ax Handle Attacker Alex Ewing Named Suspect in Bennett Family Murders

A childhood photo of Vanessa Bennett, who survived the hammer attack, and Alex Ewing as seen in a mid-1980s booking photo.
A childhood photo of Vanessa Bennett, who survived the hammer attack, and Alex Ewing as seen in a mid-1980s booking photo. Family photo via 9News/Nevada Department of Corrections via 9News
At a press conference this morning, August 10, representatives of the Aurora Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies confirmed that Alex Christopher Ewing, a 57-year-old prisoner in Nevada, where he's serving time for brutally beating a couple with an ax handle, has been named in arrest warrants related to the 1984 hammer killings of Bruce, Debra and Melissa Bennett and the severe wounding of Vanessa Bennett, then age three, as well as the murder of Lakewood resident Patricia Louise Smith six days earlier.

Ewing's DNA profile, which was only recently uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database used by law enforcers nationwide, is said to have scored a match with samples from the scenes of the Colorado homicides, much to the relief of those at today's gathering, including current detectives working the case in Aurora and Lakewood and investigators who retired without being able to bring matters to a resolution.

"It was obvious that this case haunted our detectives and officers," said Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz, adding that "it was a case that haunted the families and victims to the core."

Prior to Colorado authorities tying him to the Bennett and Smith slayings, Ewing was just three years from becoming eligible for parole. Among the comments he's shared about himself online: "I've been no saint in my life but I want to do better and I realize I'm still alive by the grace of God."

click to enlarge Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz at the press conference. - SCREEN CAPTURE VIA 9NEWS
Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz at the press conference.
Screen capture via 9News
The announcement was scheduled after a 9News report on August 7 maintained that a Nevada inmate was being eyed for the Bennett and Smith homicides, with formal charges likely to be divulged in the coming days. A subsequent APD statement advised the media in general that "any information provided by a source other than one of these organizations may be inaccurate and should be treated with caution. These are sensitive and complicated investigations, and information is being made available as quickly as possible."

Rather than being cowed by this warning, 9News and reporter Kevin Vaughan, a refugee from the Denver Post, doubled down, specifically naming Ewing in a piece that also detailed other hammer assaults in the metro area circa 1984 and doing so again in a moving interview with Vanessa, now 38 and living in Arizona. In conversation with Vaughan, Vanessa, who suffered a shattered jaw and pelvis, among many horrific injuries, revealed how she was taunted by kids at school about the "hammer man" and acknowledged a later history of substance abuse, a number of run-ins with the law and diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and a bipolar condition. More recently, she recalled, she had received phone calls from representatives of the Aurora Police Department and the 18th Judicial District DA's Office during which Ewing was identified as the killer of her parents and sister.

In our 2013 account of the case, culled from the Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons website, we noted that Bruce Bennett had married Debra before joining the Navy, where he served at Pearl Harbor between 1976 and 1980 as a sonar analyst. Upon the completion of his service commitment, the couple moved to Aurora. There Bruce worked at a family-owned furniture store and helped Debra raise their two daughters.

"They led a very quiet life," said Constance Bennett, Bruce's mother. "They worked hard and stayed home at night." She added that Bruce had enrolled in a local college, where he trained to be an air-traffic controller with an eye toward landing a job at an airport in the area.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts