Updated on Page 2: We speak with sheriff's detectives about Benton's role in all of this.
Originally posted at 10 a.m.
The young graphic designer found dead in her parents' Malibu mansion on the evening of Saturday, April 28, may have overdosed on heroin, L.A. County Sheriff's investigators tell the Los Angeles Times. Katie Wilkins, 25, was discovered by her brother in their parents hilltop mansion, a load of laundry in the washer and a meal prepared. Her BMW was also missing, leading detectives to believe someone had fled the scene.
It now appears that someone may have been a high-profile Malibu character:
Surveillance footage from the McDonald's along Pacific Coast Highway reportedly shows Christopher Benton, the 27-year-old son of prestigious Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton, getting into a car with Wilkins on the evening of April 27.
Wilkins' brother Steve — the same one who discovered her body — has been posting updates on the investigation to a WebSleuths forum. He describes the apparent Friday-night rendezvous between his sister and Benton:
“I have text messages showing a planned meeting between Katie Wilkins and Chris Benton on April 27th at 8:30PM. At 8:33PM video surveillance from the Malibu Mc Donald's restaurant shows Katie, in her 1998 BMW Silver Z3, pulling into the McDonalds parking lot, Chris entering the car as a passenger, and just the two of them driving away. This is her last known whereabouts before she was found dead at our family home on April 28th.
When Chris Benton was contacted for questioning about his involvement with Katie on the night of April the 27th an attorney was hired for him.
I have indication that Chris Benton was entered into a drug treatment facility on April 28th. He has not been questioned; he has not made himself available for questioning.”
The Weekly has contacted Detectives Schoonmaker and O'Quinn for more on the investigation. But Detective O'Quinn tells the Times that Benton is not a suspect — that detectives would merely like to ask him, “Did you end up at her house? How did she end up dead?”
Steve Wilkins, the victim's very involved brother, isn't so sure.
He writes on WebSleuths that his sister, who recently graduated from an art college in Orange County with a degree in graphic design, used to have problems with drugs — he describes her as a “recovering/recovered/relapsed? addict” — but but not to this extent.
“At this time I believe Katie died of a heroin overdose, the investigation revealed strong indications of this. Included in the toxicology report is testing for date rape drug, specifically rohypnol. I believe the heroin or heroin/rup was administered by another person. The investigation revealed strong indications that the injection was not self administered.
Somone was there at the home with her before she died; her car keys are missing from the home, her car is missing from the home, if OD then drug paraphernalia was taken from the home. Investigation revealed the house was clean of drugs/drug paraphernalia. Her car remains missing and no one has come forward with any information about it. No one has come forward about her whereabouts on the evening of April 27th.”
Steve speculates that perhaps the Bentons' advantageous position in the Malibu community has hindered a full probe into Wilkins' mysterious death.
Indeed, the strangest aspect of the investigation is that the young woman's very particular BMW has not been recovered after two weeks of searching. [Update: O'Quinn told the Malibu Times yesterday afternoon that “the car appears to have been located,” and is now being held at a tow yard for fingerprints.]
Update No. 1: Andrew K. Benton, president and CEO of Pepperdine, has served an executive position at the university since 1984, and has been president since 2000. He writes on the university website that he has always had a strong “desire to work with young people in their own pursuit of higher education.” Here's the “spectacular view” from his house in the Santa Monica Mountains.
According to Steve, Chris Benton and his sister had “spent time together before on multiple occasions. Chris was not a new friend.”
And for whatever reason,
after Wilkins' death was broadcast widely across L.A. media roughly 30 hours before news of her death hit the news, Steve says Benton sent her this text: “Wut happened? was that ur brother? Lemme kno that ur alrite. have a good day.”
Update No. 2: Pepperdine released the following statement to the Malibu Times.
“The University regards this as a personal matter. The event occurred off campus and is unrelated to the University. Law enforcement's investigation is still on-going. The facts in this terribly sad case will develop over time, but the result will be the same: a young woman lost her life, and her family lost a daughter and a sister. It is tragic for all involved.”
The local paper also reports that on the evening Benton and Wilkins met at McDonald's, the young man “left a voicemail on Wilkins' phone explaining that he did not have a car and needed a ride.”
Detective O'Quinn tells the Malibu Times that “there may have been some narcotics activity between them in the past,” and confirms that Wilkins had some prior drug problems. But she “had been doing pretty well for the last year.”
UP NEXT: Detectives address the car, the drugs and Benton's silence.
Sheriff's Detective Brian Schoonmaker kindly called us back this afternoon to talk about the Wilkins death investigation.
The victim was found with syringe marks in her arm, says Schoonmaker, but no drug paraphernalia nearby. Investigators later guessed she had OD'ed on heroin based on her history with the drug.
We ask if detectives are planning to interview Benton.
No, says Schoonmaker, because “he's not available” to be interviewed. “His attorney won't let him talk to us, even though we've made it clear that it's a non-criminal investigation.”
Benton is believed to have been hanging out with Wilkins before she died. But because there were no signs of trauma to her body — no signs that someone had forced drugs upon her — Benron is not considered a suspect in her death.
“It is possible that someone else administered a syringe drug to her,” says Schoonmaker. “But not against her will.”
So at this point, homicide detectives are considering the incident an “accidental overdose.” Schoonmaker points out that “it's not unusual for friends to inject each other. Especially someone who has been off the drugs for many years,” as Wilkins is believed to have been.
The young woman's BMW turned up at a Canoga Park tow yard earlier this week.
“An officer from the Department of Transportation found it and called us,” says Detective Schoonmaker. But after brushing it for fingerprints — the results of which will come back in three to four weeks — the Sheriff's Department released it to the family. Again, “because this is not a criminal investigation.”
Even if Benton did take the BMW, that wouldn't be of concern to the Homicide Bureau, says Schoonmaker. Although if a local police agency got involved, they could “technically charge him with car theft.”