The body of a California teenager who vanished 37 years ago might be buried at Yosemite National Park, court documents reportedly reveal.
The suspect behind the disappearance and apparent murder of 15-year-old Susan Bender allegedly told a woman he had been living with at the time that he killed a “female” and buried her body at a campground near the Big Oak Flat entrance of the well-known national park, according to court papers obtained by the Modesto Bee and other outlets.
Raymond Lewis Stafford, who was arrested earlier this month over the cold case, allegedly made the disclosure shortly after Bender went missing in 1986, according to the court docs. He allegedly didn’t identify the female.
He also told the woman, who was an employee of Stafford’s at the time, that he strangled the unnamed victim for about 45 minutes with a cord or wire, the outlet reported.
Stafford, now in his mid-70s, was charged with Bender’s murder after she was last seen getting into a green van at a Modesto bus depot in April 1986. Though investigators uncovered possible evidence at the time that linked Stafford to the teen’s disappearance, he wasn’t arrested.
Stafford, who had owned a security company, rented a green van the day Bender went missing and returned it the following day, authorities have said.
Her body has never been found.
After the case received renewed attention in 2020, Stafford was arrested in Texas and will soon be shipped to Stanislaus County, the Modesto Bee reported.
“All the ugliness has opened up again,” Bender’s mother, Patricia Chupco, told the outlet this week.
“I am glad (the case) is getting toward an ending, but it will never end for me.”
Chupco reportedly said she briefly worked for Stafford and went on a few coffee dates with him. She believes that when Stafford called her home once, her daughter picked up and a relationship got underway.
Stafford ran for local office about a year before Bender vanished, billing himself as “the man next door,” according to Bee archives. But he lost amid legal trouble, including an arrest for soliciting an undercover female deputy for prostitution.
A detective that most recently investigated the cold case interviewed Stafford, who denied he knew Bender or her mother before his arrest, the Bee reported, citing the court papers.
He only allegedly replied “OK” and “alright” when confronted by the evidence against him during a jailhouse interview in Texas.
He was jailed over violations of his sex offender registration, the newspaper reported.
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