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Connecticut rapist, on the run since 1976, arrested in Clearwater

Douglas E. Bennett, 76, was convicted in a 1974 rape and kidnapping case in Connecticut, but disappeared before he could serve prison time.

One Valentine’s Day evening nearly a half-century ago, a young woman was home alone in a small Connecticut town when she was confronted by a masked man with a gun. He asked where her father was and took her money, then tied her up, taped her eyes shut, dragged her outside and repeatedly raped her.

Douglas E. Bennett, who worked for the victim’s father, was convicted of the crime in 1975 and ordered to serve between nine and 18 years in prison. But while still out on bail, Bennett disappeared.

This week, police found him in Clearwater.

Bennett, 76, has apparently been living a quiet life for decades under an assumed name, according to federal officials. His true identity was revealed after investigators noticed a peculiarity in a passport application he submitted in 2016.

Douglas E. Bennett appears in a jail booking photo after his arrest Wednesday. Bennett was convicted of rape in Connecticut more than 40 years ago, but disappeared before serving prison time.
Douglas E. Bennett appears in a jail booking photo after his arrest Wednesday. Bennett was convicted of rape in Connecticut more than 40 years ago, but disappeared before serving prison time. [ Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ]

He was stopped and detained Wednesday as he left his Clearwater home. Photographs and fingerprints confirmed it was Bennett. He was later booked in the Pinellas County Jail.

A federal criminal complaint recounts a detailed investigation. It began with a passport renewal application that authorities said Bennett submitted in July 2016 under an alias he’d been using for decades, according to the complaint.

Court documents only give the initials “G.E.” when referencing the alias, but property records show the Clearwater home listed as Bennett’s address is owned by a Gordon D. Ewen. Public records indicate Ewen bought the home at 1624 Chateau Drive in 1994.

The “G.E.” identity belonged to a person who was born in Massachusetts in 1940 and died in 1945, the complaint states. Personnel from a federal agency that investigates passport fraud noticed this while conducting an audit.

In his passport renewal application, Bennett listed a sister, identified in the complaint by the initials “L.A.” The passport officials later discovered that “L.A.” used to be known as “L. Bennett" and that Douglas Bennett was her brother.

Investigators found old news articles and a court opinion from the Supreme Court of Connecticut, which detailed Bennett’s rape case.

During the attack, the victim managed to glimpse her assailant’s face. Her father also told police that the attacker’s description sounded like Bennett, who had worked for his company, according to the court opinion.

The victim recalled that the attacker asked for her father by name, and said he “owes me money.” Bennett, through an oversight, had not been paid for his work and was owed $105, according to the court opinion. Bennett also owned a blue parka and hood similar to one the victim described her attacker as wearing.

At trial, Bennett claimed it was a case of mistaken identity. But a jury found him guilty in 1975 of robbery, kidnapping and rape, among other charges.

The Connecticut high court upheld his conviction. He was to report to prison by May 24, 1976, but never did. A warrant was issued.

Bennett’s original jail booking photo, taken on May 14, 1974, bore a resemblance to G.E.'s 1982 and 2016 passport photos.

At his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, a federal public defender asked for bail, noting that Bennett has been living without any run-ins with police. But a judge found that he poses a serious risk of flight and ordered him to remain in custody.

In addition to an active Connecticut warrant, Bennett faces new federal charges of passport fraud and aggravated identity theft, for which he could get as many as 12 years in prison.

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