"Playing with Fire... "
By Steve Huff
Ben Fawley, the 38-year-old 'amateur' photographer named a person of interest in the disappearance September 5, 2005 of VCU freshman Taylor Behl, put a lot of himself on the internet for the world to see. At one point you could even learn that his shoe size was 10.5, he was 5'8", and his weight was usually around 140.
But the man that liked to go by the nickname Skulz had more than simple statistics about himself on the web. He also had websites devoted to his own morbid artistic endeavors. Photographs focused not only on images of death and decay, but also on subtle and not-so-subtle erotic depictions of women — typically women much younger than Ben Fawley. One photo might be of an assemblage of various animal skulls, another of a girl seemingly no older than 18 posing seductively in a plaid 'schoolgirl' outfit.
Ben Fawley was intriguing enough to 17-year-old Taylor Behl that it appears she at least initiated the romantic part of their relationship. Positive portrayals of Ben, many found in this Livejournal kept by a former lover, portray him as thoughtful and sensitive, a romantic, prone to caretaking. Another Livejournal, begun by an ex-girlfriend the day after she had Fawley arrested for assault in March of 2004, depicted both sides to Fawley in the first entry:
I know that he is a wonderful person. But there is another side, that scares (...) me. I cannot tolerate an object being thrown at me, then it hits me in the arm. A big thing of keys can hurt a lot when its (sic) thrown at you hard. My arm is bruised, and scraped. It could have been worse, but even something as small as that is unacceptable.
A third former lover reported via e-mail that though she felt Ben was indeed charismatic and charming, he also had a penchant for spotting the psychological vulnerabilities in another, and making them feel as though they were problems he shared, and understood. Her tolerance of Fawley was fairly limited:
Ben and I were involved for about a month before his erratic behaviour, mood swings and criminal activity forced me to stop seeing him.
A weblog purportedly kept by an acquaintance of Fawley's seemed to indicate that Fawley's pattern of pursuing much younger women and girls was fairly common knowledge:
(...Y)ou know the missing VCU chick? It turns out they questioned Skulz re: her disappearance(...) because they were friends(...) While he's probably uninvolved... that would SO not surprise me. He's been scaring (...) underage chicks after worming his way into their vaginas ever since I met him...
Ben Fawley wrote at least three weblogs. One could be found in the 'journal' section of Fawley's site at deviantart.com, skulz.deviantart.com. The other two blogs were Livejournals; http://www.livejournal.com/users/skulz67/ and http://www.livejournal.com/users/line_nowhere/. There is reason to believe, based on similarities in user profiles found for these journals, that Fawley at one time may have kept a third Livejournal, under the user name 'darkevilgoth.'
Fawley was cryptic in many of his weblog entries. The following quote comes from a skulz67 journal entry that at one time contained photos of canisters with hazard symbols on them. That journal was subtitled, "Playing with Fire ~ The Trash of a Crazy X-Con":
It's (sic) gonna burn........nothin ya can do about it, its just gonna happen again and again...
In the same weblog, Fawley wrote an entry musing about his recent sexual experiences, referencing partners with only letters like "K," "E," and perhaps significantly, "T," with whom he implied there was something he still "wanted to try."
Ben Fawley was a photographer with a decent eye for composition and light, an artist with a predilection for images alluding to decay, death, fire, and sexuality. On the surface, he wasn't all that different from many well-known and accomplished artists who are fascinated with the extremes of the human experience. A person's hobbies, habits, and artistic pursuits do not make them a killer, or a rapist, or a kidnapper.
However, in a move that was said to be unrelated to the disappearance of Taylor Behl, Ben Fawley was arrested by Richmond Police September 23, 2005, on child pornography charges. The NBC television station in Richmond reported the following quote from Fawley's lawyer, Chris Collins; "It's my information that those were found on computers from an ex-roommate."
The ex-girlfriend who mentioned Fawley's "erratic behavior" disputed this excuse, " He didn't want anyone touching his precious machines. Perhaps now I know why."
While Ben Fawley was not the only person of interest to the Richmond Police as the investigation into Taylor Behl's disappearance unfolded, he certainly seemed to be the most intriguing, and troubling.
Copyright Steve Huff