Woman’s mood changed night before her slaying

Maureen Henson, a friend and neighbor of murder victim Linda Benson, told jurors Tuesday that Benson was a good mother who was happy with her life in the days leading up to her slaying in July 1975.

“Was she the type of person who would fight back if she was attacked?” Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle asked Henson during the murder trial of 65-year-old Jerry Nemnich.

“Yes,” said Henson, who used the last name of Grant in 1975.

Henson said she went to bed around 10:30 p.m. on July 24, 1975, and heard nothing unusual in her unit, No. 311, at Chateau Apartments that night or early July 25. Henson’s apartment was directly above Benson’s.

Henson said she was awakened only around 6 a.m. by a loud meowing of the Benson family cat below, as if it had been locked out the front door or couldn’t get inside a sliding-glass door on the balcony. Later July 25, Henson said she noticed the curtains were still drawn on the sliding-glass door, which also was unusual.

Around 8 p.m. July 25, the bodies of Linda Benson, 24, and her daughter, Kelley Ketchum, 5, were discovered by Benson’s common-law husband, Steve Benson.

Henson testified she and Linda Benson spent the afternoon of July 24 practicing yoga in Henson’s apartment and were interrupted late in the day by Kelley, who ran upstairs to tell her mother someone was looking for her. Henson testified she didn’t know who was looking for Linda Benson that afternoon, or whether it was one or more people.

Stranger visits, mumbles

On cross examination, Henson said Benson’s mood had changed when the two last saw one another around 9 p.m. July 24 in front of the apartment complex.

“She seemed distant, tired,” Henson testified Tuesday. “She wasn’t upset. It just seemed like something was on her mind.”

Jurors heard testimony that a man, whom Henson described in a 1975 police report as roughly 50 years old, with a beard and mustache, walked inside Henson’s apartment on July 21 in a bizarre incident three days before the slayings. Henson was celebrating her birthday with Linda Benson. Henson told detectives “some old man” walked in on them, then said something which neither Henson nor Benson understood. The man then walked away.

“They (Henson and Benson) laughed about it and said the man looked strange,” Tuttle said, reading Henson’s statements from a 1975 police report.

Henson testified she didn’t know a Jerry Nemnich or recognize the name from 1975, or that of Nemnich’s girlfriend in Grand Junction, Sandy Higgins.

Evidence on the move

On direct questioning, Grand Junction Police Department Sgt. David Oswalt acknowledged that evidence in the case — including blood samples that authorities alleged matched Nemnich’s DNA in 2009 — has been moved at least five times over the past 35 years during various remodeling projects at the department.

District Judge Brian Flynn overruled a series of defense objections challenging the admissibility of several evidence items. The defense argued prosecutors couldn’t establish chain of custody.

Since 1975, the evidence room of the Police Department has been relocated at least twice in the basement of police headquarters at 625 Ute Ave., in addition to moves to and from leased warehouse space on Crossroads Boulevard. Items in the Benson-Ketchum slayings also were stored with evidence in other unsolved cases in a downtown Quonset hut, which was plagued by a leaky roof and had no climate controls.

Drapes from the Benson apartment, several crime-scene photos and a section of drywall from the apartment believed to contain a bloody palm print remain unaccounted for, Oswalt testified.


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