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‘He Was Her Mark’: Victim’s Cousin Says Former Ballerina Allegedly Seduced, Then Killed Her Wealthy Husband
“She took his money, his peace, and eventually she took his life. And he loved her until the end,” Doug Benefield’s cousin said of his fatal shooting in Florida at the hands of his wife Ashley Benefield.
When Doug Benefield met a beautiful ballerina 30 years his junior he thought he had found his ideal match, but the whirlwind romance would end in deadly pas de deux for the pair.
“He was her mark,” Doug’s cousin, Tommie Benefield, told People. “She took his money, his peace, and eventually she took his life. And he loved her until the end.”
Doug was shot to death Sept. 27, 2020 after he had gone to the Florida home of his estranged wife, Ashley Benefield, during a “custody battle” for the couple’s young daughter, according to a statement from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Ashley said she shot Doug in self-defense during a heated “domestic argument” but investigators and Doug’s family have questioned that account, saying it didn’t appear to match the evidence found at the scene.
According to the sheriff’s office, “detectives found no evidence that she was acting in self-defense when she fired multiple shots at her husband” and “found no signs that she had been physically abused.”
Ashley was arrested last year on charges of second-degree murder and is awaiting trial next year.
Doug met Ashley, then known as Ashley Byers, in 2016 at a Republican Party fundraiser where the 24-year-old was working on behalf of presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Doug, a 54-year-old Navy veteran and technology consultant, was immediately smitten and just 14 days later the pair tied the knot.
It was a chance for Doug to find love again after losing his wife Renee from a heart condition just nine months earlier, CBS News reports.
The couple had big dreams and quickly set off to build their own ballet company in Charleston, South Carolina, known as The American National Ballet.
The goal was for the company to be an inclusive and welcoming home to dancers of all body types and ethnicities.
“There was so much hope for what could happen with this new company,” Christopher Charles McDaniel, a Black dancer who joined the company after leaving the Los Angeles Ballet, told Vanity Fair.
The dancers were told they’d have eight-month long contracts and health insurance and would help redefine the ballet world—but the company began to struggle before it ever got off the ground.
The dancers were surprised to find that Ashley, the company’s cofounder and director, was nowhere to be found and had moved back to Florida, according to Vanity Fair.
Ashley had returned to Florida after getting pregnant so that her mother could help take care of her during what she described as a difficult pregnancy, CBS News reports.
Doug, who had no previous ballet experience himself, tried to step in, but the dancers began to worry that the company’s lofty promises would never come to fruition when they didn’t get paid.
The company folded not long after it began—but the failing business endeavor wasn’t Doug’s only concern.
The relationship between Doug and Ashley had also begun to crumble. The couple often argued about the tense relationship between Ashley and Doug’s teenage daughter Eva.
Once the tension got so high, Doug took out a gun and fired it into the ceiling of the couple’s home, CBS News reports.
He would later tell friend Trip Cormeny, “I did the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Cormeny told the outlet.
Ashley began to make a series of accusations against Doug, accusing him of poisoning her tea and suggesting he may have had something to do with his first wife’s health issues, according to the news outlet. Authorities looked into the claims, but were never able to substantiate her allegations.
“During this investigation, it was found out that since the time Ashley found out she was pregnant with the child that she and Douglas share she has made several allegations against Douglas,” investigators wrote in an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. “While looking into the outcomes of the numerous cases it was found that they never resulted in criminal charges and were furthermore closed as unfounded.”
Investigators concluded that “it appears that the main focus of these complaints was to keep the child away from Douglas,” the affidavit alleges.
Before the fatal shooting, Ashley had also tried to keep Doug away from their child by filing an injunction against him, but the judge in the case “openly advised” that she did not find one “scintilla of truth” to her claims and ordered Doug be granted visitation with the child.
“At this point, it appeared that Ashley had exhausted all legal means to keep the child away from Douglas before the shooting,” the affidavit said.
Just months before the fatal shooting, it seemed like the couple might have been reconciling after Ashley emailed Doug saying she wanted to talk, according to Vanity Fair. They began to go out on dates and Ashley suggested they move together to Maryland for a fresh start.
On Sept. 14, 2020, Doug appeared to be preparing for the move and emailed Ashley that he was “excited to begin (the) next stage of our shared journey” with a “sincere heart and love.”
But the couple would never get their second chance. Ashley allegedly shot Doug on Sept. 27, 2020 after going to her Bradenton, Florida home.
His body was found—with multiple gunshot wounds—on the floor of her bedroom.
Ashley told investigators she fired the fatal shots in self-defense, but authorities believe she had likely been standing several feet away from Doug when she began to shoot.
“Based on entry wounds on Douglas it does not appear that he was facing Ashley when she began shooting. It also does not appear that Douglas had taken any kind of defensive of combative stance," authorities said in the affidavit. "Douglas was not found to have any weapons on his person or near him."
Ashley, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, is out on bond and living in Florida as the trial against her awaits.
Brittney Brown, a public records coordinator for the Office of the State Attorney, 12th Judicial Circuit, told Oxygen.com the case is set for “case management” at 9 a.m. on January 24, 2022.