The family of Katie Wilkins, a 25-year-old aspiring graphic designer found dead in her parents' Malibu garage on Saturday, April 28, may never know exactly why or how she died.
Based on syringe marks in Wilkins' arm and her drug history, L.A. County Sheriff's investigators are quite positive she overdosed on heroin (although the coroner's final autopsy results are still pending). But there was clearly someone else at her side on that Friday night:
Twenty-seven-year-old Malibu royalty Chris Benton, whose father is Pepperdine President Andrew Benton, has been placed at the scene by a thumbprint that investigators found on the garage door. He can also be seen in surveillance video from a nearby McDonald's, climbing into Wilkins' silver BMW around 8:30 p.m. on Friday. And the victim's brother, Steve Wilkins, wrote on an online sleuth forum that he has "text messages showing a planned meeting" between the two old friends at that very hour.
When Steve discovered his sister's lifeless body on Saturday evening, all drug paraphernalia had been removed from the scene -- along with Wilkins' silver BMW.
The car turned up at a Canoga Park tow yard a little over a week later, and was brushed for fingerprints. Today, Detective Tim O'Quinn tells LA Weekly that the crime lab finally has those results:
"There were no prints," he says. "They didn't come up with anything."
So whoever drove the car last either made sure not to touch the freshly wiped steering wheel, or made sure to wipe it down before jumping ship.
As much as this appears to be another move on Benton's part to cover up what really happened at the Wilkins' mansion that night, Detective O'Quinn says neither the squeaky-clean BMW nor the thumbprint on the garage is enough to warrant Benton's arrest.
The young Pepperdine progeny is certainly wanted for questioning in the case. But before investigators could convince him to talk, they say the Benton family lawyer contacted the sheriff's station and said no such interrogation would take place.
"If you've got a guy who's unwilling to talk to you, what do you do?" asks O'Quinn. "We can't beat a statement out of anybody."
The detective later adds that if Benton "were an average Joe on the street, perhaps we would be able to talk to him. [But] he had a fairly expensive lawyer hired from day one."
Even as more suspicious details about Wilkins' final moments come out -- cops now say her clothes were partially removed, and a syringe was stuck into the same arm she writes with -- no witness nor video nor DNA test can say exactly when Benton left, or what he may have done before leaving.
Wilkins was found with her pants pulled down to mid-thigh and her shirt pulled up above her bellybutton, according to O'Quinn. He says it looked to both him and the coroner that the young woman had been "dragged or pulled" into the garage.
But even if DNA test results end up showing that Benton touched Wilkins' clothing, "how do you prove the timing?" asks Detective O'Quinn.
Benton could be in semi-serious trouble if he confessed:
If he administered the drug to his friend, with or without force (there were no immediate signs of trauma to Wilkins' body, and she didn't test positive for a date-rape drug, says O'Quinn), he could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. And even if Benton was merely present when Wilkins shot herself up, then left the house with the knowledge that she could die -- without calling 911 or getting help -- he could face the same charge.
However, detectives can't determine any of the above without talking to Benton -- and at this time, he has no intention of coming forward. So although the case isn't officially closed, it's at a complete standstill.
The City of Malibu is historically obsessed with maintaining an annual murder count of zero, so officials are probably going to be happier with the "accidental overdose" verdict. As is Pepperdine President Andrew Benton, who released this statement to the media early on:
"In this case I am just Andy, father of someone who knew Katie and her family. Pepperdine has absolutely nothing to do with this. To suggest otherwise is merely sensationalism. My wife and I hold the Wilkins family in very high regard and are deeply pained by their loss. Illegal substances are a scourge on society and they have hurt many wonderful families in Malibu. If anything, I hope this devastating situation will underscore the damage that drugs have had on some of our best and brightest. I don't really know anything. Period. I would like to be helpful, but I don't really know anything beyond what I am reading in the press."
Meanwhile, on the "Truth for Katie" Facebook page, a member of the victim's family asks:
"How can someone who knew Katie leave her body like that? Why wasn't 911 called? She deserved more respect. What happened to morals? What happened to accountability? What kind of person could act in such a despicable manner? I am angry and sad...my parents are broken...our lives have been changed forever. And the person who was with her the night she died walks free without a care in the world."