CLEARWATER — One morning last November, neighbors on a narrow, tree-shaded loop called Chateau Drive glanced out their windows to see men with guns and tactical gear descending on a modest white house.
The homeowner at 1624 Chateau Drive was listed as Gordon D. Ewen. And when the cops confronted the man who emerged, he had a driver’s license bearing his likeness and a birth date in October 1940.
When they took his fingerprints, though, they matched someone else.
Douglas E. Bennett was a fugitive from Connecticut, on the run since 1976. He’d skipped town, prosecutors say, in the face of a long prison sentence for violent crimes he insisted he did not commit.
What he did in the 44 years that followed is as enigmatic as the man himself.
Public records and the people who know him don’t tell the whole story. But they tell some of it.
It begins in a place called Wethersfield, a small city near Hartford, Conn.
A jury there convicted Bennett in 1974 on charges that included rape and kidnapping.
In a Connecticut Supreme Court opinion, the victim is identified as “Miss M.”
She was 22 and lived with her parents. The crime occurred that year, on Valentine’s Day. She was home alone that evening when she was confronted by a man who wore a stocking mask and carried a handgun. He forced his way into the house and asked for her father.
“Where is Howard?” he asked. “Howard owes me money.”
The gunman uttered an obscenity about her father, then made Miss M. give up her wallet, which held $54.
He bound her hands behind her back, put a strip of masking tape over her eyes and dragged her out of the house. He stripped her. He raped her.
Another man drove up in a car. Miss M. was forced into the back seat. She was raped again over the course of an hour. Later that night, she described her attacker to a police detective. He wore a blue parka with a hood, she said.
Her father, hearing the description, said it sounded like a man who worked for his company. The man owned a blue parka with a hood. Through an oversight, the company had failed to pay him, and he was owed $105.
The man’s name: Douglas Bennett.
Bennett was 29 and lived in Granby, Mass., about a 50-minute drive north of Wethersfield.
News reports indicate that Bennett had worked as a drama instructor at Mount Holyoke College, a small, all-female liberal arts school near his home. There is no indication that he’d ever been in trouble.
Two weeks after the rape, a detective visited his home.
Bennett was asked if he knew Howard.
“I certainly do,” he said. “He still owes me some money.”
The detective asked to take his picture, and Bennett agreed. Miss M. was shown the Polaroid image, a court opinion indicates. She identified him as her attacker.
Although the victim said there were two assailants, no other suspects were identified.
That May, Bennett was booked and fingerprinted at the Wethersfield Police Department.
In a grainy, faded mug shot, he appears thin, clean-shaven and expressionless. His hair, cut in a bowl style, is light-colored with dark patches. He wears aviator glasses, a white shirt with pinstripes and a dark tie.
His defense attorney argued it was a case of mistaken identity. He also claimed an alibi.
In the hour that the victim was attacked, Bennett said he made a transaction at a bank in South Hadley, Mass. He said he had his 6-year-old daughter with him. He said the bank teller could verify this.
But the teller was never called as a witness. A judge told the jury they were entitled to infer that the teller’s testimony would not have helped the defense.
Bennett was found guilty. On Jan. 4, 1975, a judge ordered him to serve between nine and 18 years in prison. Bennett, maintaining his innocence, remained free while he appealed the case to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
On May 11, 1976, the high court rejected his appeal. He was ordered to begin serving his sentence within 10 days.
Then, Douglas Bennett disappeared.
It’s unclear what anyone did to try to find him. Records of any police search are scarce.
“We actually don’t have a case file on him,” Wethersfield police Lt. Donald Crabtree said recently. “I’ve actually gotten more records from the local newspaper than we had in the police department.”
“That was a different time,” said Brian Preleski, the state’s attorney in New Britain, Conn. “In the ’70s, we didn’t have databases. We didn’t have computers that could cross-check. Things like driver’s licenses didn’t even have pictures on them.”
Ken Mummery remembers meeting the man he came to know as Doug Ewen in an amateur radio licensing class. It was in San Diego, he said, about 1980.
Mummery, who now lives in Arkansas, recalled that Ewen had plans to work as a hired hand at sea. He needed a Federal Communications Commission license, he said, so he could operate maritime radio systems.
“I know, being an FCC licensee, they do a quick background check,” Mummery said. “There’s rules about being somebody you’re not.”
In January 1982, a man identified in court records by the initials “G.E.” applied for a passport by mail through the U.S. Department of State. A photo accompanied the application. It showed a man in aviator glasses, a head of thick, dark hair and a bushy beard.
Mummery recalled that Ewen told him he’d worked as a stage manager for shows in southern California. Not long after they met, he said Ewen was hired to sail a yacht from Los Angeles to Holland. It was the apparent beginning of a lifetime spent traversing the globe.
“He started sailing all over the world for various rich people,” Mummery said. “He had quite a career at that.”
When he spoke, his words came with a deliberate cadence, a tone of erudition, not quite American, Mummery said. He figured his friend had spent so much time abroad, he somehow adopted a European speech pattern.
“He’s a strange duck,” Mummery said. “He always has been.”
In the late 1980s, the two tried going into business together, Mummery said. They developed a software system to help yacht captains coordinate the delivery of ship supplies.
They tried selling it, but high taxes on yachts and other luxuries in the early 1990s left them with few buyers, Mummery said. The business folded.
In February 1994, Ewen bought the house at 1624 Chateau Drive. It’s in a dense collection of single-family homes, many of them built in the early 1960s, in a neighborhood east of Eagle Lake Park just outside Clearwater.
A 1994 mortgage document filed in Pinellas County in the name of Gordon D. Ewen listed his previous address as: MSY THE OTHER WOMEN (BOAT) LINDEN NJ 07036. “MSY” is an abbreviation for motor sailing yacht.
Linda Antaya, a retired nurse, lives less than a mile away from the house. She is Douglas Bennett’s sister.
She confirmed as much in a recent phone call with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, but declined to say anything more.
No one else in his family seems to want to talk about him. Numbers for relatives listed in public directories rang to voicemail. Messages went unanswered. A woman who answered one number told a reporter: “I think you should just stop contacting us all, in general.”
Ewen had a couple of encounters with local law enforcement over the years, but raised no suspicions.
In the late afternoon on Aug. 1, 2008, a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy on Alternate 19 in Palm Harbor spotted a blue Ford pickup truck moving past a long line of cars that were stopped behind a public bus. He pulled over the driver.
The deputy ran Ewen’s name and date of birth. “No wants or warrants,” the deputy wrote. The driver went on his way.
One night about two years later, at another home on Chateau Drive, Largo police officers shot and killed a man who was suspected in a robbery. A detective questioned neighbors. Ewen said he was hard of hearing and thought the gunshots were part of the TV show he was watching. The detective moved on.
In 2012, Vince Stegura moved in next door. He described Ewen as something of a hermit, with a cantankerous streak.
“You could tell he was kind of a dark, cold, lonely guy,” Stegura said.
He knew his neighbor well enough to know that he’d been a sailor. He said Ewen’s other passion was woodworking. He’d recently rebuilt a set of cabinets in his home and invited Stegura to look at the finished project.
Stegura and Mummery said Ewen had survived cancer.
When he underwent treatment a few years ago, people would come by his house to assist him, Stegura said. They seemed to be family.
It’s Mummery’s sense that Ewen once aspired to become a cruise ship captain.
More recently, Ewen had taken a more conventional job as a clerk at a Home Depot, Mummery said. When they talked, Ewen would complain about age discrimination. He’d also mentioned that he was sick again.
In July 2016, the U.S. Department of State received a passport renewal-by-mail application. It bore the name, Social Security number and birth date for a person identified in court records by the initials “G.E.” The application included a photo, which showed him in glasses, with a white beard, his hair thinner.
It included an emergency contact for a person whose initials are “L.A.” It identified L.A. as the applicant’s sister.
Sometime thereafter, agents with the department’s Diplomatic Security Service, the federal agency that investigates visa and passport fraud, received information from the National Passport Center that led them to review the application.
They discovered that G.E. was born in 1940 in Holyoke, Mass., and had died five years later.
Forestdale Cemetery is a tree-shaded green stretch surrounded by chain-link fencing in Holyoke, up the road from Wethersfield. It’s a few miles south of Mount Holyoke College and a few more miles from where Douglas Bennett once lived. Its stone monuments date back more than 150 years.
A child is buried there. His name was Gordon Ewen.
His parents, John and Catherine Ewen, who died in 1979 and 1991 respectively, are buried nearby.
It is unclear whether there is any connection, familial or otherwise, between Bennett and the child.
Federal agents also discovered that L.A.’s maiden name was Bennett and that she lived in Clearwater.
An obituary published in 1982 in the Sun and Eerie County Independent details the life of the late Elmo B. Bennett Sr. of Hamburg, N.Y. His list of survivors includes two grandchildren: “Linda Ataya and Douglas Bennett.”
The man known as Gordon Ewen was booked Nov. 4 in the Pinellas County Jail under the name Douglas Bennett.
Mummery had trouble making sense of the allegations. He’s seen the mug shot of the man the feds say is Douglas Bennett. He recognizes it as his friend, Doug Ewen.
He’s also seen the passport photos in Ewen’s name and Bennett’s 1974 arrest photo. With those, he’s not sure.
“Being somebody else — he’s never mentioned anything like that,” Mummery said. “I just can’t believe they have the right guy.”
Bennett was jailed on a Connecticut warrant, still active since 1976. Prosecutors there have said they plan to bring him back to their state once the federal case concludes.
Now 76, he faces three new charges: passport fraud, use of a means of identification without lawful authority and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The latter charge apparently relates to a shotgun, two rifles and two pistols authorities say they found after his arrest.
His defense attorney has said they anticipate going to trial.
One day in December, he shifted into view before a cinder block wall. He peeled off a medical mask, revealing a white beard and peered through shaded glasses at the lawyers on the Zoom screen.
They addressed him as “Mr. Bennett” and asked if he could hear.
“I may need to adjust my hearing aids,” he said, “but so far, so good.”
Before his arraignment, he gazed at the virtual courtroom and spoke to no one in particular, quoting John Milton, the 17th-century English poet.
“They also serve who only stand and wait,” he said. “I guess that’s what I’m doing.”
Correction: John Milton was a 17th-century English poet. A previous version of this story misstated the time period in which Milton lived.