Child of Privilege
Robert Lee Bennett Jr. was 22 months old when he was adopted. Prior to the adoption, had the infant been abused, neglected or traumatized in a way that might have turned him to violent crime? The answer is not known.
The childless couple who took him into their home was a successful attorney, Robert Bennett, and his homemaker wife, Annabelle Maxwell Bennett. They had married in 1933 and set up housekeeping in Towanda, Pa. In 1943, the elder Robert Bennett was appointed president of Citizen and Northern Bank. Annabelle Bennett volunteered for the Red Cross, and her husband was a tireless fund-raiser for the Boy Scouts. The family did a great deal of traveling for pleasure.
Bob Bennett Jr. does not appear to fit the profile of a serial predator. The background of such a vicious criminal is frequently one of severe deprivation, either economic or psychological or both. In many cases, there is a background of physical or sexual abuse, or often emotional abuse by unstable, repressed, neurotic, superstitious or alcoholic parents. None of this is known to have occurred to Bennett.
Both parents appear to have loved him and were close to him. As a little boy, Bobby was a Boy Scout and had a paper route. If the weather was inclement, his father would drive him around in his Fleetwood Cadillac to deliver newspapers, recalled Leon Wizelman, a friend of the family who, as a car dealer, sold them cars. Both parents were very high-class people.
Young Bob is remembered as an outgoing teenager, involved in many organizations. Never an athlete, he was not among the most popular boys in school, but neither was he the victim of bullying. He belonged to the Glee Club, the chorus, was features editor of the student newspaper, and was a member of the science club. He appears to have had a lifelong love for botany. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that, He won second place in a science fair for a project about orchids.
For his high school graduation, Bobs father gave him a picturesque $167,000 house located by Lake Wesauking.
Bennett appeared to have grown into a bright and accomplished young man. He graduated from the University of Denver in 1969 and went on to earn a masters degree in political science from the University of Virginia. However, in 1971, while studying there, he was charged with indecent exposure. Records about this case have been expunged.
In 1974 Bennett received his law degree from Atlantas Emory University, took a job with his fathers law firm of Davis, Murphy, and Bennett in Pennsylvania, and had another run-in with the law. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bennett allegedly observed a plainclothes Atlanta officer who was working undercover to catch male hustlers on Fifth Street near Cypress Street. Although the article does not report how successful the officer was at arresting male prostitutes, he was apparently quite good at imitating them since Bennett mistook him for one and kidnapped him. The undercover cop was soon rescued, uninjured, by backup police.
Kidnapping charges had been dropped by the time Bennett came to trial. His attorney cut an excellent deal by which Bob pleaded no contest to the relatively minor offense of simple battery. The millionaire lawyer got off with a meager $75 fine.
In 1976, Bob had another legal difficulty, and one that led him to move away from Towanda. A young New Yorker was traveling in Pennsylvania when, police believe, he met up with Bob Bennett. The attorney paid the man to drink, and the two had sex in Bennetts car. They then headed for the lakeside cottage that had been the Bennetts high school graduation gift.
For some reason, the man from New York got scared. He grabbed Bennetts keys, jumped in his car, and drove off. But he quickly crashed.
The man refused to cooperate with police. Apparently, like so many of Bennetts victims, he wanted to keep his dealings with Bennett private. Also, according to an article in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, a Towanda police officer claimed that another officer discouraged the alleged victim from pushing an investigation. Lindsay speculated that the officer did this because Robert Bennett Sr. held a seat on the Civil Service Board, which reviews police promotions. Another investigator seconded that opinion. Nobody wanted to press charges against him because of the influence of his father, the investigator said. His father was gold.
Guy Notte, an Atlanta lawyer who would eventually handle both divorce and criminal matters for Bob Bennett Jr., recalled a conversation he once had with a saddened Bennett Sr. about his son. He is my cross to bear, the father said. My wife loves him dearly and I love my wife and thats the only reason I put up with him.
The Towanda police were, however, able to persuade Bennett Jr. that it would be best for him if he left the area. He moved to Atlanta.