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Neighbors offer clues in wake of deadly rampage

June 30, 1997

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) _ The violent ending to Charles Smith’s life followed his loss of a girlfriend and job and trouble paying his bills. Officials said his rage left four people dead and a teen-age girl recovering from rape.

Smith, 53, shot ex-girlfriend Cindy Benson, 34, in her hometown of Joliet, then drove her body 36 miles to the home of her sister, Jymme Murphy, in Marseilles about 70 miles southwest of Chicago, police said.

``They were breaking up, so there was some ill will within the family,″ LaSalle County Coroner Jody Bernard said after the rampage early Saturday.

Leaving Ms. Benson’s body in the car, Smith went inside and fatally shot Mrs. Murphy, 28; her husband, James, 27; and Benson’s daughter, 16-year-old Erica Benson, police said. The girl was staying over to swim in the family pool over the weekend.

Smith also choked two of the Murphys’ three children, a 7-year-old boy and an 18-month-old boy. Both survived.

Police said Smith then raped a 13-year-old girl who was staying at the home before hanging himself in the basement with an electrical cord. The girl was found by neighbors after she came out of the house, crying with a telephone in her hand.

Police and neighbors said Smith had been fired from his job at a steel mill and couldn’t pay his utility bills. His water and telephone had been shut off, prosecutor Michael James said Sunday.

Ms. Benson and her daughter had moved out of Smith’s house, but the couple still saw each other, neighbors and authorities said.

Smith told neighbors he never got along with Ms. Benson’s family and suspected it was because he was black and she was white. That perceived prejudice was believed to be a motive in the killings, James said.

Smith had been charged with a number of minor crimes, including five weapons violations and four assaults, said Jim Hovious, the Marseilles assistant police chief. He was never convicted.

To his neighbors, Smith was the generous, friendly man at the end of the block who would volunteer to mow their lawns. Kristyn Gait, 15, said he was ``the sweetest guy you’d ever know.″