Arrests Bring Solace to Montana Town Nearly 7 Years After Grisly Killings

By Beacon Staff

FLORENCE – Glen’s Cafe hasn’t had a night shift in nearly seven years, ever since someone walked into a local hair salon and slashed the throats of three women.

The grisly November 2001 killings stumped investigators for years. Some residents say the small western Montana town in the picturesque Bitterroot Valley was never quite the same after the attack.

“We didn’t feel it was safe to have those young kids working in here (at night),” said Joanne Moore, 53, a baker at the cafe.

With the arrests last week of two suspects, residents are ready to move on and hope to put the bad memories behind them.

“I’m amazed it took so long to get them,” said John True, 53. “I can now get along and not worry about locking my doors. Just like it used to be.”

It was the morning of Nov. 6, 2001, when someone walked into the Hair Gallery salon and killed Brenda Patch, 44; Cynthia Paulus, 71; and Dorothy Harris, 62. Police had few leads.

On Tuesday, Brian W. Weber, 31, and Lincoln Benavides, 33, each pleaded not guilty to federal charges of murder while engaged in drug trafficking, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and violent crimes in aid of racketeering.

A lawyer for Weber said he had not yet seen the evidence and could not comment, and Benavides’ attorney did not return calls seeking comment. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

A federal indictment alleges that Weber killed the women on the order of Benavides, who authorities said was the head of a methamphetamine and marijuana distribution ring in western Montana.

The ring used “intimidation, violence, threats of violence, extortion, kidnapping and assaults to ensure payment compliance from delinquent customers and deter others from becoming delinquent,” the indictment said.

But many details remain unknown. Police have not said how the attack was related to the drug ring.

Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman declined to discuss the case, citing the pending trial. “I would like to help you, but I can’t,” he said.

More than two years ago, Weber told a newspaper he had been questioned about statements made by Benavides linking him to the crime. Weber, first questioned weeks after the killings, has been in custody since 2004 on a 10-year cocaine sentence.

Benavides has been in state prison since January 2005 after being convicted of criminal sale of dangerous drugs in Lake County.

Some in Florence are calling for the death penalty in the salon killings.

“I think they should suffer a little, like those ladies had to suffer,” Moore said, earning nods from patrons at Glen’s Cafe.

“Hang ’em out on the street,” one patron responded.

Longtime resident Chuck Fricke said he remembers the fear that gripped the town immediately after the killings. He said his wife stayed with friends when he left town.

“Sure, it affected the rest of the community,” Fricke said. “And like any community would be, we are relieved to think they have the people who did it.”

And the owner of Glen’s Cafe is thinking about bringing back the night shift.

“It’s about time,” said Moore, the baker.

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