Blood Relations: The Inside Story of The Benson Family Murders
by John Greenya
Publisher – Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Rating – 8/10
Summary – Murder among the wealthy is always interesting. The 1985 “Benson family murders” are particularly interesting because of what the murders revealed about the Bensons. Blood Relations is a good account of the case that any true-crime fan will enjoy.
Review – The story of “The Benson Family Murders” was unknown to me until I saw it featured on Dominick Dunne’s old show Power, Privilege and Justice. The episode was interesting in that involved murder, money, family “black sheep,” pipe bombs, and unbelievable secrets. I knew that someone had to have written a book about the case.
Fortunately, I was correct. Blood Relations by John Greenya is an excellent account of the case that benefits from the cooperation of Carol Lynn Benson, the sole survivor of the pipe bomb attack.
The Rich ARE Different
But for the fact that the Bensons made their money in tobacco, they might have been considered a quintessential American success story. From humble beginnings in Baltimore, two generations of the family managed to amass a $10 million fortune by 1980. At that time, the family moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Naples, Florida.
But all was not well with the Bensons. Eldest daughter Carol Lynn had endured many challenges, beginning with an unplanned pregnancy while she was in college. Carol Lynn had a son named Scott; to “keep up appearances” Carol Lynn’s parents – Benny and Margaret Benson – pretended that Scott was their child and told Scott that this was the case.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carol’s son Scott was not particularly well adjusted. Though he longed to play on the pro tennis tour, he lacked the talent to do so. Instead, the 1980s found him drifting from girlfriend to girlfriend, driving fast cars, taking drugs, and showing no inclination to change.
Still more problematic was Carol Lynn’s younger brother, Steven Benson. In spite of the Bensons’ wealth and the opportunities it afforded, Steven was a failure in all of his many business ventures. By July 1985 Steven was dependent on his mother to pay his many bills – and mother was running out of patience with Steven’s lying and wasteful spending.
On July 29, 1985, Steven Benson made a rare early-morning visit to his family. He told them that he wanted to show them a piece of property. Shortly after arriving, he took the family’s Chevy Suburban and said that he would go get doughnuts for everyone. Steven was gone a long time. Later, the family got into the Suburban to leave to see the property. Steven announced that he had forgotten something; then he got out of the car, and went inside his mother’s house. Afterward, two pipe bombs exploded, destroying the car.
The Case & The Book
Police focused on Steven Benson from the start, as he had the most to gain from the bombing. The subsequent investigation only heightened their suspicions. Eventually, police charged Steven with the crime and the resulting trial was a huge event on Florida’s west coast.
Author Greenya does a great job of relating a complex story. The greatest strength of the book is that Carol Lynn Benson apparently spoke with great candor about life in her family. The reader certainly sympathizes with Carol and begins to understand why she led a surprisingly-difficult life for someone who was born into such wealth. Another strength of the book is that Greenya manages to maintain the momentum during his account of the legal proceedings against Steven. Finally, there are some interesting notes on what happened after the trial’s conclusion.
Blood Relations recounts one of those “you-wouldn’t-believe-it-if-it-weren’t-true” cases. Readers will enjoy learning about Benson family’s story through Greenya’s stylish prose. The lone surprise is that this case has – for the most part – been forgotten by the public. True crime fans will have to make an effort to find an old copy of the Blood Relations, but the effort will be well worth it.