VELMA, OK - Former Wilmington resident Miles Sterling Bench, 21, was charged Monday with the murder of 16-year-old Braylee Rae Henry in Oklahoma. He had been in custody since Thursday, June 7, just hours after Henry died.
Velma, OK, police had been called about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, to the Tee Pee Totem Convenience Store by a customer reporting that there was no clerk on duty. Officers found a large pool of blood in a back room, and contacted the Stephens County Sheriff's Office for assistance.
Sheriff Wayne McKinney said the investigators at that time thought they had a case of a store clerk being injured and abducted. Bench, who had reportedly worked there for less than one month, was the clerk. While that investigation progressed, however, the officers received a report concerning a missing girl. Henry, who was last seen at the store, had reportedly gone there to buy a can of pop.
She never returned home, and her parents reported her and her car missing around 9:30 p.m.
Surveillance video from another store showed Henry's vehicle on Highway 7 heading out of the city, giving the officers a direction and time of travel.
"We thought the best way to search [for Henry] was to check the oil lease roads," the sheriff said. Property leased for oil drilling is common in the area, he explained. Search teams, including a canine unit with a bloodhound trained to track, were dispatched to the fields.
"The first one outside the city limits, the dog picked up the track and led us about a quarter mile back into a heavily wooded area, where we found the body of Ms. Henry," Sheriff McKinney said. The site was accessible by car.
Henry's vehicle, a late-model General Motors product, was equipped with OnStar, and the investigators tapped the capabilities of that available technology. OnStar quickly responded to the law enforcement request to locate the vehicle. The company 'pinged' the car, and the vehicle gave its exact location, about 130 miles west of Stephens County.
The Stephens County Sheriff's Department contacted the Custer County Sheriff's Department and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol with the location and the vehicle. Bench was behind the wheel when the vehicle was pulled over on Interstate 40 near Weatherford, in Custer County, OK.
"OnStar reacted very quickly, and that resulted in us catching the guy before he made it out of the state," the sheriff said. Blood was found on Bench as well as in the vehicle. Investigators also found hair dye, razors and a change of clothing in the vehicle, according to reports of testimony from a court hearing held Monday.
Bench was turned over to the Stephens County Sheriff's Department.
Henry's remains were taken to the medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City for an autopsy, which was conducted Friday. The preliminary cause of death was expected to be issued Monday - Sheriff McKinney predicted the cause of death would be multiple blunt force trauma.
"It was a brutal murder," he said.
Following his arrest, Bench was held on a complaint of first degree murder and larceny of an automobile. He was charged formally on Monday, June 11.
"I have no doubt in my mind that this is our suspect and he is the only suspect in my mind," Sheriff McKinney commented.
Bench is being held without bond in the county jail in Duncan, OK, the county seat. He seeks a public defender, and is scheduled to appear in court again on Aug. 13.
Bench was a member of the Wilmington High School class of 2010. He joined the U.S. Navy and completed basic training at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, IL in late 2010 or early 2011.
Bench was arrested by Will County Sheriff's Deputies on Jan. 26, 2011, for possession of a stolen motor vehicle, tampering with a motor vehicle and criminal trespass to a motor vehicle. At the time he was 19, and a resident of Davis, OK.
According to the sheriff's office, deputies observed a 1973 black and white Dodge Monaco parked in a driveway on the 200 block of Sumac Street, in Lakewood Shores, Wilmington. A silver star was painted on the door and the word "police" was peeling off the rear bumper. The vehicle had been reported stolen by Bensenville Police on Jan. 25 and was described as the Blues Brothers squad car. Bench had come to visit a friend after leaving Great Lakes Naval Base on foot and had found the vehicle unlocked with the keys inside.
Bench was indicted for vehicle theft by a Will County grand jury in Feb. 10, 2011. He pleaded guilty, was credited for the 31 days he served in jail and was released on a 24-month conditional discharge (parole) that was to terminate in February 2013.
Bench had also been AWOL from the Navy and listed as a deserter. Sheriff McKinney said he had had several other contacts with police, including a domestic abuse arrest.
Stephens County, OK's 2010 population was 45,048 (a little smaller than Grundy County). Velma is a small town of about 700 near the county seat of Duncan.
The community of Velma held a candlelight vigil in Henry's memory on Thursday. In addition, the convenience store was closed for two days out of respect for the victim and her family. Funeral services were held Tuesday in the high school gymnasium.
Velma-Alma High School, where Braylee just completed her sophomore year, was opened so area teens could meet with grief counselors. Henry was a member of the school's basketball, track and cross country teams, and the Future Farmers of America. She was also active in 4H and Student Council.