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Crime News Buried in the Backyard

Arizona Businesswoman's Murder Seen in Vision by Psychic: "Blue Everywhere"

The victim's boyfriend, the prime suspect in the case, committed suicide while he was under investigation. 

By Joe Dziemianowicz

In January 2006, a family searching for fossils near an abandoned motel in Arizona, California stumbled upon a body in a shallow grave.

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Whose was it? The answer was tied to a decades-long mystery, according to Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

The story begins in the summer of 1987, when 50-year-old Loretta Bowersock, who’d helped her daughter Terri Bowersock run a successful chain of consignment furniture stores, leased a spare room in her home in Tempe, Arizona.

Her tenant, Taw Benderly, told her that he was from Scotland and a successful entrepreneur. Loretta soon fell for the man, with her daughter Terri telling producers that her mom "was beaming from ear to ear" the first time she met Taw.

Taw and Lorretta enjoyed those first years together, enjoying meals and holidays with the Bowersock family. "They were the perfect couple," said journalist Jana Bommersbach.

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On December 14, 2004, he was traveling to Tucson for a business presentation on solar panels at the University of Arizona. Loretta joined him for the two-hour trip to do some Christmas shopping.

Taw said he dropped Loretta off at a local mall, where he made plans to pick her up at 4 p.m. But when he returned at that time, Loretta was nowhere to be found.

Taw called Terri and told her that he thought something was wrong. Her daughter Terri rushed from Phoenix to Tucson.

The mall security confirmed that there had been no medical emergencies, so Taw called 911 to report that Loretta was missing.

Was Loretta Bowersock abducted?

A photo of Loretta Bowersock, featured on Buried in the Backyard 503

Police considered the possibility that Loretta, 69, who was a local celebrity due to TV ads for Terri’s business, may have been targeted for a robbery and abducted. 

Taw, who was the last person to see Loretta, was questioned first. He said that after his business meeting, he and Loretta were going to New Mexico to dig for geodes. 

Taw also told authorities that he observed a white van at the mall whose driver was acting suspicious. He thought that the van was following his vehicle, so a description of the white van was released to law enforcement by detectives. 

Meanwhile, canine officers, bicycle patrol, and air support units searched for Loretta.

But in a surprising twist, Loretta didn’t appear in any security footage inside the mall or in the parking lot.

Terri used her media connections to spread the news that her mother was missing and posted flyers in the surrounding area.

When a ransom demand for Loretta failed to materialize, the kidnapping theory lost traction. Investigators turned their attention to Loretta’s home in Tempe, where Taw gave them permission to search.

Loretta Bowersock case shifts focus to money

At the residence, investigators found a foreclosure notice on the home. That revelation led detectives to determine that Loretta’s disappearance wasn’t a kidnapping, Fabian Pacheco, a detective at the Tucson Police Dept., said.

Believing that financial matters could be factor in Loretta’s disappearance, they kept the foreclosure to themselves.

Asked about her mother’s relationship with Taw, Terri said that she had no reason to suspect that he had been abusing her. "I said, you know, 17 years, they've had their ups and downs but I don't think it's any different than other couples so I don't really feel like they have a problem," Terri said of her discussion with authorities.

News of Loretta’s vanishing led to numerous calls by psychics, according to Buried in the Backyard. “They came out of the woodwork. They had theory after theory,” said Bommersbach.

One of those calls came from Mary Ann Morgan, a psychic detective who had worked with law enforcement on local and international levels.

A psychic shares insights on the case

In her conversation with Loretta’s daughter, Morgan said, “Terri, the house is in foreclosure.” Terri expressed her disbelief, telling Mary Ann, “I’ll talk to you another time.”

Terri reached out to police about Mary Ann’s call, at which point they confirmed to her that her mom’s home was under foreclosure. While shocked, Terri acknowledged that she didn’t know the details about her mother’s financial business.

As the investigation unfolded, the picture that emerged was that there was “a dire financial issue” going on inside Loretta’s house, Trent Luckow, sergeant at the Tempe Police Department, said.

In the garage there were boxes filled with bills and late notices. There were even more fiscal red flags, with Terri adding that detectives had learned that Taw had racked up $40,000 on eight credit cards in Loretta’s name.

With questions mounting, investigators asked for permission to search Taw’s car that was still parked at the hotel in Tucson and he obliged. Inside, they discovered a pickaxe and a shovel in the trunk, raising suspicions. But Taw claimed that he always carried the tools because he often dug for fossils.

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Investigators turned to Taw’s cell phone records to help account for his whereabouts. His timeline didn’t match up with digital records, which showed he spent much longer in the Casa Grande area than he said. 

Pacheco said of their findings, "This is not matching up at all with what Taw is reporting in terms of his timeline. What were you doing for two hours out there in the desert?"

At Loretta’s home, investigators found her purse wrapped up in a towel. In it was her license and credit cards, “everything that she would need … to go shopping,” Luckow said.

Taw claimed that she had it with her when he watched her walk into the mall. With so many inconsistencies popping up, Taw was asked to come in for further questioning, but he claimed he didn’t know anything about Loretta’s whereabouts.

Taw Benderly commits suicide

Detectives dug deeper into Taw’s history, learning he wasn’t from Scotland and that he had a criminal history. And when Taw responded to Loretta’s room-for-rent notice, he’d just come out of prison, not from abroad as he'd claimed.

By December 2004, Taw had risen to be the prime suspect in Loretta’s case. But investigators didn’t have sufficient evidence to make an arrest and had to release him.

So Taw returned to his home in Tempe. Then, on December 23, 2004, nine days after Loretta went missing, Terri repeatedly tried to contact Taw without success. Officers made a welfare check and found him hanging from an electrical cord in the garage.

"That was a really hard night. Because now I was going through, did he kill himself because he was in so much sorrow or did he kill himself because he did kill her?" Terri remembered.

Hidden Note in Briefcase Points to Taw Benderly's Suicide

Following his suicide, the extent of Taw’s betrayal became clearer. Financial records showed that he had been embezzling from Loretta for years. 

Investigators learned that Taw had a history of defrauding women prior to meeting Loretta.

“He would just suck the blood out of everybody he could find and use his charm to get away with it,” said Bommersbach.

After Taw’s death, the search for Loretta continued. But following weeks of no results, the search was suspended. "To find a body that was buried in that area is like finding a needle in a haystack," Pacheco said.

So Terri reached out to psychic Morgan, who told her that she saw Taw come up behind Loretta with a plastic bag. And while Loretta fought back, Taw was strong.

Morgan added that she saw Loretta in a place where “there’s blue everywhere. She’s 150 feet from the blue.”

Months passed. Then, on January 10, 2006, hikers discovered the body in the shallow grave in an area southwest of Casa Grande.

The remains were determined to be Loretta’s. An examination showed that she died from asphyxiation.

Investigators theorized that Loretta learned about Taw’s financial misdeeds and that a confrontation turned fatal.

Loretta had never arrived at the mall. His phone records suggested that Taw had buried her in the Case Grande area before getting there.  

At the motel where Lorette and Taw stayed, the color blue was everywhere – on the building, the sign, and the playground.

To learn more about the case, watch Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.