The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 13, 2013

Couple charged in slaying of elderly Carthage man

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Brian and Kelli Benefiel told police they went to Raymond Ritchhart’s Carthage home looking to steal his prescription medication.

The couple confessed that they beat and stabbed the 87-year-old Ritchhart to death with that as their motive, according to a probable-cause affidavit filed Friday in Jasper County Circuit Court, along with the murder charges the Benefiels are facing.

“Your life’s not worth much if it’s only worth a bottle of pills,” Denny Ritchhart, the victim’s son, told the Globe when that became known on Friday.

A neighbor discovered the body of the retired farmer and World War II vet about 6 p.m. Monday inside his home at 1237 Douglas Court and called 911.

Brian S. Benefiel, 48, a relative of whom lives near the victim, and Kelli L. Benefiel, 27, were taken in for questioning Thursday in connection with the slaying. The Jasper County prosecutor charged them Friday with first-degree murder, burglary and armed criminal action.

Carthage police Chief Greg Dagnan said investigators believe Ritchhart was killed the night of Dec. 7, almost two full days before the murder was discovered.

Dagnan declined to divulge what an autopsy conducted in Kansas City, Kan., determined as the cause of death, except to say that the forensic pathologist indicated that injuries from both the beating and the stabbing were contributing factors.

The probable-cause affidavit states that the Benefiels confessed to beating Ritchhart with “a wooden blunt object.” But Dagnan declined to discuss what that object was or whether any murder weapon was recovered by investigators. He also declined to discuss the specific injuries suffered by the victim, how the suspects gained entry to his home, or if anything, such as medication, was taken.

The police chief did acknowledge that there was no forced entry to the residence “in the sense of someone kicking in a door or forcing open a window.” He also acknowledged that Raymond Ritchhart was acquainted with the Benefiels, although he declined to discuss how.

Denny Ritchhart said his dad knew the Benefiels from his neighborhood. They were frequently at the home of Brian Benefiel’s relative. Denny Ritchhart said they brought his father some biscuits and gravy about a year ago. He said he knew that because he later returned the dish to them for his father.

“My father was very trusting,” Denny Ritchhart said. “He wouldn’t have believed that anybody like that would harm him.”

He thinks the Benefiels may have come up with the notion that his father had pain medication in his house because his dad underwent surgery a few weeks ago and returned home from the hospital wearing a bandage on his face. He thinks they may have seen that and deduced that he was prescribed pain medication.

Court records show that the Benefiels had been in the process of getting a divorce a couple of years ago and that she sought a protection order against her husband in 2009. But the couple apparently got back together and the divorce proceedings were dropped.

Brian Benefiel was convicted of receiving stolen property in Jasper County in 2010 and received a suspended sentence and five years on probation. That probation was revoked in October 2011 when he was arrested for drunken driving and he was sent to the state prison system’s Institutional Treatment Center, where he completed a 120-day program and was placed back on probation.

A probation violation was filed Thursday when he came under suspicion in the murder investigation and an arrest warrant was served on him.

At one point during court proceedings on his prior offenses, he listed his relative’s address as his residence. But Dagnan said he does not believe either Brian or Kelli Benefiel have been living there. He said their most recent address has been 1129 S. Main St.

Kelli Benefiel was convicted in Jasper County in 2012 for possession of drug paraphernalia, and she was arrested in October for leaving the scene of an injury accident.

Denny Ritchhart said family members were relieved to learn of the arrests. He expressed hope that his father’s neighbors may feel safer knowing that those believed responsible are in custody and expressed gratitude to the investigators with Carthage police and the Tri-State Major Case Squad who worked on the case.

“They were so good to us,” he said. “They kept our hopes up.”

Bond amounts

Brian and Kelli Benefiel are being held on murder charges with $500,000 bonds.

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