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A convicted rapist has pleaded guilty after spending more than 40 years on the run using the identity of a dead child, the Middle District of Florida said this week.
Douglas Edward Bennett, 77, pleaded guilty to charges of passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to the Department of Justice. Bennett eluded authorities for 43 years after skipping a sentencing hearing related to rape charges.
He then assumed the identity of Gordon Ewen. According to Massachusetts death records cited by the DOJ, the real Gordon Ewen was a five-year-old boy when he died in 1945.
In 1975, a Connecticut had jury found Bennett guilty of robbery, kidnapping, sexual contact, rape, and two counts of deviate sexual intercourse, the DOJ stated. But he never surrendered to begin his sentence. The Supreme Court stated that on Valentine’s Day of 1974, Bennett wore a mask when entering the victim’s home with a handgun, according to an arrest affidavit.
“He forced his way into the house, looking for the victim’s father,” the affidavit stated. “She was robbed of cash, had her hands tied behind her back, covered her eyes with tape, dragged outside, disrobed, and sexually assaulted by Bennett.”
The affidavit stated Bennett forced the victim into a car, “where she was again raped and sexually abused by Bennett and his companion for over an hour.”
Authorities arrested Bennett on Nov. 4, 2020, at his Clearwater, Florida home after he submitted a passport application in Gordon Ewen’s name, as was previously reported. The 2016 application was flagged after a Department of State security officer discovered the name, date of birth, and social security number linked to the dead child.
The application was for a passport renewal, according to the Tampa Bay Times, whiuch reported that Bennett received six US passports under the name ‘Gordon Ewen’ since 1977.
Bennett used his biological sister, listed as “L.A.” in the arrest affidavit, as an emergency contact in his application. Authorities were able to follow this information to Bennett’s original birth certificate in Buffalo, New York, as well as his parents’ 1982 obituary.
A fingerprint comparison sealed authorities’ suspicions that the man who applied for the passport was the same man convicted of rape in 1975, according to the DOJ. Investigators also found evidence inside his Florida home.
“[On the day of his arrest], federal agents executed a search warrant at Bennett’s house and discovered handwritten notes detailing the first time Bennett used Ewen’s identity and details on how he originally obtained Ewen’s identification documents,” the release stated.
Authorities also found weapons at the property.
“Additionally, inside Bennett’s home, investigators discovered and seized five firearms and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition,” the DOJ continued. “As a convicted felon, Bennett is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
During the 1975 trial, Bennett maintained his innocence, claiming it was a case of mistaken identity, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Bennett’s family continues to uphold Bennett’s self-proclaimed innocence.
“This man isn’t a rapist on the run,” Bennett’s granddaughter, Kaytee Gallagher, told the Times. “This man has paid his taxes every single year. He’s never had so much as a speeding ticket.”
The DOJ release also quoted Bennett, who spoke to his family during video-recorded visits at the Pinellas County Jail.
“I would have explained to him [the Federal Judge] the entirety of things, said ‘yes, I started out as Douglas Bennett,’” he said during the visit. “But Douglas Bennett ceased to exist in 1977… and from that time forward, I’ve spent 43 years being Gordon Ewen.”
Bennett faces a maximum penalty of 22 years in federal prison. A sentencing date in his case has yet to be scheduled.