Loretta Bowersock seemed to have it all — money and local fame — but the one thing missing in her life was love.
It was 1986 when the wealthy businesswoman decided to lease a room in her Tempe, Arizona, home. Taw Benderly, a Scottish entrepreneur with big invention dreams, arrived by motorcycle, ready to answer her call.
But he stole much more than her heart.
The tragic case of the 69-year-old is the subject of a new episode of “Buried in the Backyard.” The Oxygen true-crime series examines cases from across the country where victims are found in unlikely places. It features interviews with the investigators associated with the cases, as well as loved ones.
“My mother was a very classy lady — she was successful and smart,” Bowersock’s daughter Terri Bowersock told Fox News Digital. “It was important for me to speak out and warn women of these charming predators and how these con men operate. It’s not always like you think. They don’t just walk in, and they’re suddenly the bad guy.”
The matriarch got divorced when Terri was a teen. She relished the single life by hitting the tennis court and dressing up. Mother and daughter later teamed up to launch a consigning business with a $2,000 loan from Terri’s grandmother. Terri’s Consign & Design Furnishings was born, and it quickly transformed into a multimillion-dollar chain.
“I had a calling at a very young age to recycle,” Terri chuckled. “I wanted to save trees. And every time you sell a gently used dining table, you save a tree. So we did that together.”
“She dated around this time, but she hadn’t really found the right person,” Terri shared. “I think it gets harder to find somebody as you get older. I remember she was talking to me about it and feeling sad. I said, ‘You remember “Three’s Company”?’ They ran an ad to get a roommate, and they were really looking for a boyfriend.’ I thought it would be a good idea. So we ran an ad.”
It didn’t take long for Benderly to show up.
“He said he was a big-time consultant or CEO in Scotland,” Terri recalled. “They dated, the whole bit. And he was pulling out all these inventions. He always had these grandiose ideas of making money. He had a certain type of chair for businesspeople, he had a lawnmower blade that would cut sideways — he had all sorts of ideas. And me being an entrepreneur — and a Virgo — I just jumped right in. Within four days, he asked to rent the room.”
“It was a huge mistake,” she admitted.
The mystery man who insisted he was robbed of his wallet at the airport settled right at home. He cooked, cleaned, served as a handyman and told heartbreaking tales of his youth. Bowersock was smitten.
And he was determined to make their wealth grow.
“He always had a neat idea, so we were always signing pieces of paper,” said Terri. “He would say things like, ‘I want to make sure you guys get a portion of this if something happens to me.’ So we were always signing documents. And after a while, we stopped reading them. It was always like, ‘You’re a part of this,’ ‘You’re the owner,’ ‘You’re vice president.’”
For nearly 18 years, Benderly convinces his longtime love to give him increasing amounts of money to help fund new inventions. He struggled to hold onto a job for long and his ideas never seemed to pan out. Friends and family were suspicious.
In December 2004, Terri received a phone call from Benderly. Her mother was missing.
Benderly told police he and Bowersock drove to Tucson on Dec. 14 for what was supposed to be a short trip. He dropped her off at a local mall to shop for the holidays. When he returned, she had vanished. Benderly suspected that his girlfriend had been kidnapped.
“I jumped in the car and drove down there,” Terri recalled. “I immediately went searching.”
Benderly’s story soon began to unravel. When Tuscon police examined surveillance footage from the mall, they found no evidence that the couple had ever been there, Tucson Citizen reported. Investigators also discovered that Bowersock’s home was in foreclosure.
Piles of boxes hidden in the garage contained stuffed-away utility bills, mortgage bills, late notices and foreclosure warnings — all addressed to Bowersock. Eight credit cards were also discovered. Bowersock’s purse, including her ID and checkbook, was still at her home.
Benderly’s car also had a pickaxe and a shovel. They appeared to be recently used. Cellphone records indicated that Benderly was in the desert for two hours.
Benderly quickly became the prime suspect. However, investigators didn’t have sufficient evidence to make an arrest.
“It was very confusing,” said Terri. “I liked him. He and I were both Virgos. He was always eager to help. And my mother really liked him… I wondered, did he ever love her? Did he ever love me? I know in the beginning, I tried to look him up online, but we just never found anything… I guess I just didn’t see the signs as well as I should have… And I think my mother stayed as long as she did because she was the old-fashioned, stand-by-your-man type of person… And I just didn’t want to go there. That the man I knew as my stepfather could commit something so horrible.”
Terri said that at one point, she confronted Benderly.
“I said, ‘Whatever you did, you need to tell me,’” she said. “’Tell me what happened.’ He just looked at me right in the face and said, ‘I can’t tell you because I didn’t do anything.’ I remember something just came over me. I began straightening out his hair, just like my mother used to do… I got up and hugged him. I closed my eyes. It felt like we were saying goodbye.”
Police later uncovered that Benderly was released from prison around the time he met Bowersock. He wasn’t Scottish and Bowersock was not the first woman he’d seduced and defrauded. They also learned he embezzled thousands of dollars on the credit cards issued in her name. In addition, he had been stealing the mortgage payments for months.
On Dec. 23, Terri tried calling Benderly. He didn’t answer. Officers did a welfare check at the Tempe home. Benderly hung himself with an electrical cord in the garage.
Terri, still left with unanswered questions about her mother, held a ceremony for him.
“Everything was a lie,” said Terri, fighting back tears. “I would like to believe that in time, he did love her. She was a good woman, and she stood by him. And I’d like to believe that he loved me.”
Terri was determined to find her mother. And with the help of psychic detective Mary Ann Morgan, she had some clues. Morgan told Terri that the matriarch was “150 feet from the blue” and children could be heard laughing in the distance. Morgan also claimed that Benderly placed a plastic bag over Bowersock’s head, strangling her.
Terri unsuccessfully searched for months. But that all changed in January 2006.
Hikers came across skeletal remains behind an abandoned motel in the Arizona desert. They found a shallow grave with numerous boulders placed on top. The remains were wrapped in a bag. The motel’s exterior was blue. It was also next to a children’s playground, also painted blue.
The cause of death was asphyxiation.
Phone records showed that on Dec. 13, Bowersock was on the phone with Wells Fargo. They believed she found out about the foreclosure and, at one point, confronted Benderly. The confrontation turned violent. That’s when Benderly placed a bag over her head and held it there until she suffocated to death.
Today, Terri hopes her mother’s story will serve as a warning to other women in similar situations.
“It can start small and subtle,” she said. “You have to investigate. You have to do your due diligence. You have to trust your intuition, and you can’t ignore the warning signs… I kept believing my mother because I never thought she would be misled. And maybe there was shame there.”
“He wasn’t going to let her go,” she added.
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