To Print or Not to Print
The air in the newsroom of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the citys biggest newspaper, was thick with tension. It was the newspapers tradition to withhold the name of a suspect in a criminal investigation who was neither a fugitive nor officially charged with a crime. Did they dare break with tradition in the case of the Handcuff Man?
As reporter Richard Greer noted, the name of Robert Lee Bennett Jr. was meaningless to most Atlantans, his right to privacy as great as any other little-known persons. What if Bennett was not the Handcuff Man? By publishing his name, would the newspaper be invading his privacy? Would it be subjecting an innocent man to an unwarranted public notoriety? Some feared it would compromise the privacy of innocent citizens in the future. Because of this concern, previous stories on the Handcuff Man had not only refrained from mentioning his name but had left out information that might lead readers to identify him.
But some in the newsroom argued that public safety was at stake. They pointed out that there were many documents connecting the wealthy local attorney to the Handcuff Mans cruel crimes against gay hustlers. Bennett had been arrested for kidnapping an undercover officer posing as a hustler. When his ex-wife sued him for divorce, her lawyer and several men had accused him of being the Handcuff Man. And, as Greer wrote, State archives contained more than 400 pages of documents providing solid links between Bennett and the sadistic acts of the Handcuff Man.
Editors at The Atlanta Journal Constitution, however, still were not satisfied that publicly naming him as the suspected torturer was justified. Then his most recent victim picked his photograph out of a group of photos. And a victim of years previous also fingered him. That did it.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a story naming Robert Lee Bennett Jr. as the suspected Handcuff Man.
The next day, Tampa police requested information from their Atlanta counterparts, and they later charged Bennett with an attack on a Florida man, who had been doused in gasoline and lit on fire. The victim had survived, but the injuries were so severe that both of his legs had to be amputated.
In retrospect I have no doubts, Greer later said. Considering the information we had by the time we published Bennetts name, our natural fears should have been allayed. Our prime concern should have been prodding the police to enhance the safety of the young men who were at risk.