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For Carrie Always
Angel Garden Of Hope In the News
« Thread started on: Apr 22nd, 2005, 11:42am »
Sleuth casts a wide Net for the missing
Hall woman works to keep memories alive for lost, slain
By RICK LAVENDER
You guys I was dieing with the flu in this photo but we went ahead with this anyway. I'm so proud of this.
The screensaver on Jill Bennett's computer doesn't show a gurgling aquarium scene or pipelines running amok. Instead, it's a collage of faces of missing and slain people.
Scores of women, men and children, each photograph collected by the 30-year-old West Hall woman and merged into a patchwork of people. Bennett can tell you the story behind every picture.
Bennett's passion, powered by the Internet, is keeping their memories alive and giving hope, however thin, to those families who still don't have an answer, and may never.
Early in the morning, late at night and deep into the weekend, Bennett spends hours maintaining an online message board that lists hundreds of people who have vanished.
She creates free Web sites for the missing and murdered, helps organize vigils, sends sympathy cards and even has washed cars to raise reward money.
She and her mother drove to more than 20 Hall County convenience stores on Monday passing out flyers about Ronald Andrew Goodridge, a Gainesville man missing since Jan. 14.
In Rob Endres' view, the care comes from a "heart of gold." His wife, Patrice Tamber Endres, disappeared from her Forsyth County hair salon on April 15. She hasn't been heard from since.
Bennett created a Web page profiling Patrice and offering updates and media reports at www.findpatriceendres.com.
She also helped expand the search via Internet links.
"I've talked to people who come into Georgia from Massachusetts and they know about Patrice through this," said Endres.
Bennett has been interested in mysteries and the missing since she was a child. She watched and taped every "Unsolved Mysteries" program. She can remember her mother taking her to a murder trial but court officials turned them away because Bennett was only 12.
"She should have gone into law enforcement," Judy Bennett said of her daughter.
Instead, Jill Bennett steered her interest into action three years ago, after watching a Court TV segment on a missing woman in Blanchester, Ohio.
Carrie Culberson disappeared in 1996. A year later, a jury found her former boyfriend guilty of murder. Culberson's body still hasn't been found.
Bennett went online that night and found little information on Culberson. "Bored" and wanting to help, she put together a Web site and e-mailed Culberson's mother to express sympathy and tell her about the page. She and Debbie Culberson later became friends. Encouraged, Bennett did more.
She started the message board findcarrie.conforums.com and built a Web site for Heather Teague, a Kentucky woman abducted from a river beach in 1995 and never seen again.
Then came the Endres case. Bennett and her mother helped Rob Endres wash cars in the rain as a reward fund-raiser.
In November, Bennett created Angel Garden of Hope, a site that explains the home-based effort Bennett's parents, Judy and Bradley, also support.
The Garden of Hope is a computer desk in the living room of the family's modest home just off Dawsonville Highway. The setup includes a large screen, scanner, digital camera, printer, high-speed cable connection and how-to software books. Two ceramic angels overlook the screen and keyboard.
Bennett, single and a self-taught Web site maker, gets up 30 minutes early on weekdays to begin updating the message board, using the Google search engine to scan for new stories on the names listed.
She also keeps names and dates in a planner: when somebody was reported missing; when they would have celebrated their birthday. She tops the message board with the photos of two or three each day.
On the larger list, the missing are marked with a yellow rose. Those who are dead get a red one.
'It's important to me'
She returns to the computer in the evening, monitoring the message board, catching the A&E network's "Cold Case Files" at 7 p.m. on the TV set next to her desk and then keeping an eye on Court TV until bed.
She keeps her cell phone close. There is a network of people who track these cases, a fascination mirrored in cable series and coverage of trials like the conviction of Californian Scott Peterson for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Bennett also talks with family members of the missing and murdered.
"If I'm not on the computer," she said, "I'm talking to somebody's mama."
She plans to attend a missing person conference in North Carolina and then a march supporting the search for a girl in California.
This isn't her only interest. She likes Van Halen and other rock bands. She's also an admitted "shopaholic." Still, Bennett said in a Southern drawl that most people will consider her "cuckoo," considering her main hobby.
More, though, will simply want to know why she does this.
She wants to help, Bennett answered. She's intrigued and saddened by the situations. She might like a career in law enforcement, but only if they assigned her to the "cold" cases. "This," she said, "is what is important to me."
There are occasional contacts with detectives. But Bennett has never seen one of her favored cases solved. At least not yet.
"I'd like to see each of them solved," she said.
Some have, in a sense. Carrie Culberson's murderer is in prison. He hasn't said, however, where her remains are. "The media moves away from (such cases)," Bennett said. "But the family never forgets."
Families give thanks
It took 11 years to push the search for Villa Inez "Chubby" Dowdy toward an end.
Her husband, David Dowdy of Dahlonega, confessed earlier this month to killing her and led authorities to national forestland in Lumpkin County, according to family members. Investigators dug up what is believed to be the woman's remains.
When Bennett called the funeral home handling the arrangements to express condolences and see if she could help, owners directed her to Dowdy's family. She later made a Web site for Chubby Dowdy.
"It's given us as a family of the victim a way to go in and write messages (about) her," said Dowdy's niece, Tammy Abernathy of Gainesville, Texas.
"I just wish we had known about (Jill Bennett) 11 years ago," Abernathy said.
Tiffanie Goodridge is searching now. Her husband, Ronald, hasn't come back after leaving home Jan. 14 for a nearby convenience store on Candler Road (Ga. 60). Authorities have scoured the land and water near Clarks Bridge on Lake Lanier, where Ronald Goodridge's car was found.
Tiffanie Goodridge called Bennett a Godsend. "I think we need more people like Jill," she said.
As of Friday night, www.geocities.com/FindRonald had registered 209 hits.
Bennett wants to buy a computer server so she can offer bigger, more complex Web sites for free. She also is registering Angel Garden of Hope as a nonprofit.
She has softly reined in some of her outreach. "If they're not local anymore, I don't search them out," she said. "But a lot of times, they'll come to me."
It's a commitment this self-described advocate for missing and murdered people doesn't tire of. "We're just doing all we know how to do," Bennett said.