Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Taylor Behl

"...Sick of Living in Fear..."

By Steve Huff

On September 23, 2005, at 11:24 a.m., the following comment was left on Taylor Behl's Livejournal:

(...) i haven't been found is because i don't want to be... im happy now, im sick of living in fear, i've had my ups and downs but now im starting over, i'll visit after the new year comes in but untill then just stay calm, hold your head, you can keep praying for me if it makes you feel better but im alright now, it's all ok.... it's gonna be ok...

It is doubtful that the comment was posted by Taylor Behl. Weblogs that have acquired some sort of notoriety after the weblogger has vanished, disappeared, or been arrested are magnets for wags who find the attention given the person and journal somehow amusing, or perhaps a source of jealousy.

Whether a sick joke or red herring, the comment did prompt the question; what else could have happened to Taylor Behl the night of September 5, 2005?

The mainstream media began to mention early in the investigation Taylor's 38-year-old 'amateur' photographer friend, Ben "Skulz" Fawley. Fawley's identity was rapidly determined by webloggers and cybersleuths, but it was not until Fawley was arrested on September 23, 2005, and charged with 16 counts of possessing child pornography, that the mainstream news seemed comfortable mentioning the man by name. By then, rightly or wrongly, Ben Fawley seemed the suspect most likely to have had something to do with Taylor Behl's vanishing.

The reasons were many; Fawley and Behl had a romantic relationship, and Ben Fawley had a history of instability, petty crime, and violence. The day after Behl disappeared, before she was reported missing, Fawley filed a report that he had been mysteriously assaulted and kidnapped. From a journal entry made by Ben Fawley at skulz.deviantart.com on September 8, 2005:

I was out very early, not sure of the time but the sun hadn't been up long. I was heading up to Monument to take photos when 3 to 4 guys jumped me. They got a trash bag over my head before I could see them. Tossed me into a car and dumped me out on some dirt road. I wasn't hurt much, just from where that sat on me. As they never said a word I am sure this was not just a robbery. My one camera and tripod is missing along with the $20.00 I had tucked in the camera. I didn't have my wallet, but I did have my bank card and that wasn't taken...

By the time Ben Fawley wrote the words above, Taylor Behl had been reported missing to University police. Yet, in Fawley's journal entry, there was no mention of Taylor, at all. The Richmond Times-Dispatch article about Fawley's alleged kidnapping reported that he had stated at one point that he was out around 5 a.m. Many noted in blogs and on various messageboards that the sun did not rise that morning until about 20 minutes after 6 a.m.

Still, as the search for Taylor continued, Richmond Police made it clear that Fawley was not the only person of interest in the investigation. There was Jesse Schultz, a 22-year-old man whose scent was tracked from Taylor Behl's white Ford Escort after it was found parked on a street 1.5 miles from VCU to his home. Upon tossing Schultz's home, police arrested him for cocaine possession. There was "Jake," a young man whom Behl had apparently just begun to date after arriving for her freshman year at VCU in August of 2005.

There was at least one entry in Taylor Behl's Livejournal that seemed to indicate problems present in her life before she even arrived in Richmond. She wrote the following on April 8, 2005, titling the entry, "Another Night at Dad's":

I don't really want to be here. I want to be home in my bed where I know I'm safe. I would be home alone, except for the cats, and I'm fine with that. My dad's g/f's son is creepy, he hits on me and it makes me very uncomfortable...

The "Dad's girlfriend's son" was barely mentioned in early coverage of Behl's disappearance.

Perhaps Taylor Behl really had run away. For whatever reason, she decided to leave her dorm room after 10 p.m. on September 5 with just the clothes on her back, a student I.D. and some cash.

In June of 2004, Taylor wrote in her blog:

I wish I had real friends that would hang out with me. But I'm kind of a bitch so I really dont think I would want to hang out with me. Not to mention im kinda full of myself, not as bad as some...

Was Taylor Behl really feeling alienated from many of her friends? Was she feeling like no one would 'hang out' with her, or was the passage indicative of a passing mood no different from those experienced by any teenage girl on the cusp of her senior year in high school?

In the past, the journal of a missing teen might be something available only to the detectives charged with finding her — a thing pored over under fluorescent lights in a police precinct for some clue as to how the young person set out on their road into limbo.

The Internet Age brought the average web user into the picture. A grim phenomenon was born, and webloggers in their sweatpants and stay-at-home moms in their jeans could spend hours looking at the missing person's online journal, figuratively peeping over the detective's shoulder. Hunting in a way previously only dreamed of by amateur sleuths for the breadcrumbs left by children like Taylor Behl as they made their way through the shadows of the worldwide web.

Copyright Steve Huff

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