Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Gallaudet Murders

Second Strike

A fire alarm went off in Cogswell Hall during the early morning hours of February 3, 2001, and the RA who investigated the fourth floor came across Benjamin Varner, a nineteen-year-old resident there. He was in his dorm room, murdered. The room was spattered with blood, and it looked as if a struggle had occurred; Benjamin apparently fought for his life. Once again, the police arrived to process the scene. Almost no one could believe that two murders had occurred on this campus, in the same dorm.

Benjamin Varner
Benjamin Varner

The autopsy revealed that Benjamin had been stabbed multiple times in his head, chest, and neck. One lung had collapsed, his throat was cut open, and the knife had penetrated his skull in at least one place. Like Eric, Benjamin had lived alone.

The police failed to locate a murder weapon on the room or anywhere outside. However, they did notice a blood trail leading away from the room and out the door toward the adjacent dorm, an indication that the killer had been injured. They collected samples to run tests so they would something to compare should they identify a suspect. They also found a bloody shoe print, which a detective identified as a Nike cross-trainer. Now with two deaths in the same dorm, it seemed most likely that someone with access to a key card had committed this crime.

Nike Cross Trainer, Similar
Nike Cross Trainer, Similar

A search of the grounds recovered a bloodstained jacket and knife in a trash bin beside a dormitory. The team of crack detectives determined that the day before he was found, Benjamin had failed to meet with two friends, as scheduled, and had not gone to class. He also had not kept a doctor's appointment. That information helped to narrow down his time of death. His mother, who heard from him daily, had not received a call or email since February 1.

Bloodstained jacket recovered by police.
Bloodstained jacket recovered by police.

Some people wondered if media coverage about the grand jury had triggered a copycat murder. The FBI was asked to assist and a reward of $10,000 was offered for information leading to an arrest. Students whispered about a serial killer haunting the dorm, but the idea seemed absurd. In fact, the similarity between the crimes seemed superficial the victims had lived in the same dorm in single rooms. The fatal attack had not been the same, nor were there many similarities between them as people. Unlike Eric, Benjamin had kept to himself and was not involved in many campus activities. An industrious student, his goal had been to become an accountant. He was from San Antonio, Eric from Minnesota. They did not travel in the same circles.

Gallaudet University Police Patch
Gallaudet University Police Patch

The university beefed up security, including implementing 24-hour identity checks on anyone entering campus, posting more surveillance cameras, and closing all gates except the main entrance, as they had done for a few months following Eric's death. They also recorded the license plate numbers of anyone coming or going from campus. Students were required to use their key cards to enter the dorms and more staff and volunteers were recruited to stay in the dorms during overnight hours. Cogswell Hall itself was closed and its residents reassigned to other dorms.

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