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Who would brutally beat and rape a defenseless 89-year-old blind woman?
On April 10, 1993, Fort Smith, Arkansas authorities and residents of the community faced that shocking question. That night, Lilly Jones, a deeply religious woman who lived alone despite her age and visual impairment, was attacked in her own home.
While Jones survived, other women in Sebastian and Crawford counties, an area known as the River Valley, didn’t.
“Snapped Notorious: The River Valley Killer,” a two-hour special streaming now on Oxygen, takes a deep dive into the disturbing case with interviews with detectives, psychologists, and victims’ family members.
Two months after Jones was assaulted, 58-year-old Juanita Wofford brutally attacked and killed. Her body was discovered on June 23, 1993, after she failed to come to a church event.
“Juanita was extremely faithful to the church. And so I sent two men to go over and check on her,” a Fort Smith resident told producers. “They said, ‘There’s something extremely wrong. The door’s been broken into. It smells.’”
Authorities arrived at the “horrific” crime scene, where Wofford was found dead with stab wounds. “Apparently she had been there for a day or two,” said Jay C. Rider, Former Captain, Fort Smith Police Department. “From her state of undress it was quite apparent that she had been raped.”
Analysis of Wofford’s body revealed that she had been sexually assaulted after she was dead. At the crime scene, detectives found evidence that someone had urinated near the body.
Investigators worked the case, collecting DNA evidence and witness statements. After clearing a number of possible persons of interest, a local resident, Danny Bennett, who originally denied guilt, but later confessed to the crimes, was taken into custody and charged with Wofford’s murder.
On August 10, 1995, while Bennett was behind bars, there was an attack on a local woman. Ruth Henderson, 74, was brutally assaulted and killed.
She was a “mirror image” of Wofford. “It was a vicious, vicious attack,” Rider told producers. “So many stab wounds you could just stand there and count them."
Bennett was released, and detectives doggedly resumed their search for the River Valley Killer. The case went cold for five years. In March 2000, police responded to a 911 call from a Crawford County 16-year-old girl who had been stabbed repeatedly and raped in her home.
The teen’s father arrived home during the attack and beat and subdued the attacker, 36-year-old Charles Ray Vines, who was a friend of the family.
Authorities connected Vines, whose parents had run a mortuary, to the rape of Jones and the murders of Wofford and Henderson.
Vines, a divorced dad, had a reputation as a nice guy and had known some of his victims. Vines was convicted and sentenced to three life terms without the possibility of parole.
To learn more about the case, watch “Snapped Notorious: The River Valley Killer,” streaming now on Oxygen.
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