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Crime News Snapped

Arkansas Officials Track A Twisted ‘Monster’ Preying On Women Known As The River Valley Killer

Could a serial killer terrorizing a southern community turn out to be one of its most well-liked members?

By Joe Dziemianowicz
Charles Ray Vine River Valley Killer 2

He was a man who spent quality time with his kids and shared vegetables from his garden with neighbors in the quiet community in Fort Smith, Arkansas. 

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Those admirable outward traits made it all the more difficult to comprehend that Charles Ray Vines was hiding a dark and depraved secret. 

He was also a brutal serial murderer, infamously known as the River Valley Killer, who raped and stabbed two elderly women to death in Sebastian and Crawford counties the 1990s. He was caught in 2000 after attacking a 16-year-old girl. 

Vines’ heinous crimes are explored in depth in “Snapped Notorious: The River Valley Killer,” airing Saturday, October 9 at 9/8c on Oxygen. The two-hour special features interviews with detectives, psychologists, and victims’ family members.

Vines’ first victim, Lilly Jones, was an 89-year-old woman who lived by herself despite being legally blind. On the night of April 10, 1993, Vines kicked his way through the door of her house, where he savagely beat and raped her, according to the special.

The victim’s inability to identify her assailant and limitations of DNA evidence three decades ago meant that the case stalled. 

Two months later, on June 23, Juanita Wofford, 58, was discovered murdered in her bed after she failed to attend a church event. The blood-covered crime scene “was so horrific … almost beyond description,” authorities told “Snapped Notorious: The River Valley Killer.” 

It had to be “a monster to do something like this,” they said.

The murder scene yielded disturbing evidence. Wofford had been sexually assaulted after she was dead. Someone had urinated near the body.

Police considered and cleared various persons of interest. The investigation eventually led to local resident Danny Bennett, who originally denied guilt but later confessed to the crimes. He was taken into custody and charged with Wofford’s murder.

Fort Smith residents breathed a collective sigh of relief, but that reassurance soon evaporated. On August 10, 1995, while Bennett was behind bars, 74-year-old Ruth Henderson was brutally assaulted and killed in a crime scene disturbingly similar to Wofford's murder.

Bennett was released, and detectives doggedly resumed their search for the killer. The case went cold for five years. In March 2000, parents of a 16-year-old girl came home to find her being raped and stabbed by Vines, a family friend. He was tied to the earlier attacks.

In exchange for telling police details of the rapes and murders, which included his confession about assaulting Jones, Vines was able to forego the death penalty. Vines was convicted and sentenced to three life terms without the possibility of parole. 

To learn more about the seeming nice-guy-next-door who plunged Fort Smith into years of terror, watch “Snapped Notorious: The River Valley Killer,” airing Saturday, October 9 at 9/8c on Oxygen.

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