Dog Mauling Case Closed
Collier County, FL - On May 26, 2007, 71-year-old Carshena Benjamin left her Golden Gate Estates home for her morning walk. Later that day her bruised and bloody body was found face down in a drainage ditch. Her shirt and jacket were pulled up over her head, leading investigators to believe she had been decapitated. So badly was her body mutilated, she could hardly be identified.
Detectives only found her body by calling her cell phone, which lay close to her in the ditch. The ringing led them to Carshena, who wasn't too far from her home at the time of the attack. It is later determined that she was killed by several neighborhood pit bulls. Nearly one year after her death, no one has been charged and the whereabouts of the pit bulls are still unknown.
By mid June, the District 20 Medical Examiner determined that Carshena's death resulted from dog bites. Detectives and Collier County Domestic Animal Services combed the Estates, looking for the dogs that killed her. What they did not know, is that on the morning of Carshena's death, three dogs covered in blood had returned to the home across the street from where her body was found.
According to a closed investigation by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, "The blood was washed off the dogs, and they were quickly taken to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. Days later the three dogs were driven far from Collier County and dropped off to fend for themselves."
Linda Billie, 54, owns the property where the dogs lived. Records show, however, that Billie lives on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. Shirley Fay Newell, 53, resides in the house, and has been friends with Billie about 20 years. Newell is also the owner of two pit bull-boxer mix dogs, a male and female named PiePie and Sierra. At the time of Benjamin’s death, neighbors said they felt threatened by Newell’s dogs.
Six weeks before the attack, Newell broke her ankle and spent the next month in the hospital. She told investigators that Billie and her ex-husband, Chuck Newell, 60, took care of her dogs while she was away. At the time of Benjamin’s death, Newell told investigators that Sierra and PiePie had run away while she was in the hospital, and she didn’t know where they were. Investigators declared Newell "uncooperative."
Newell's suffering started long before her broken ankle. In the mid-1990s, her son, Barney Ray Phillips, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Melissa Mardis, were gunned down by Melissa's jealous husband, Alfred “Lenny” Mardis. Alfred Mardis was eventually sentenced to life in prison. Two detectives who worked on the Benjamin investigation, Detective Ray Wilkinson and Lt. Mike Fox, also assisted with the Mardis case.
With the dogs "missing" and an uncooperative owner, the investigation turned cold. But in mid-August Detective Wilkinson received a call from Newell. She was having trouble sleeping. She wanted to know if she could be sued or arrested if her dogs had been involved in Carshena's death. She wanted a guarantee from Wilkinson that her dogs would not be euthanized. "No," he told her.
Newell finally opened up and agreed to tell Wilkinson what she knew. After she returned from the hospital, she said that Billie continued to watch the dogs. But on the weekend of Benjamin’s death, Billie was scheduled to play in a pool tournament. She dropped Sierra and PiePie off with Newell, along with her own dog, a Welsh corgi named Corky.
On the morning of Carshena's death, Newell placed the dogs on the lanai to relieve themselves. She later heard the lanai door slam, and found the dogs missing. Newell said she believed Sierra opened the screen door by pushing the latch. When Sierra and Corky returned, both were covered in blood. PiePie was across the street where the body was later found. Newell told Wilkinson that "it looked like the dog was guarding something."
When Billie returned later that day, she cleaned up the dogs, and took Corky and PiePie to her home on the reservation. She later came back and took Sierra as well. Both women told investigators that Chuck Newell, Shirley Newell’s ex-husband, said they needed to kill the dogs. Instead, Billie put the dogs in her truck and dumped them in several locations. She said she knew it was wrong to take the dogs.
In November, the investigation into Carshena Benjamin’s death was quietly closed. The Benjamin family did not know the case was closed until at least a week after the fact. The Sheriff’s Office says the case began as a death investigation, not a criminal investigation. It turned into a public safety investigation to find the dogs so they would not harm anyone else.
Recently, the Benjamin family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Shirley Newell and Billie in Collier Circuit Court. Newell says she's not doing well; Carshena's death has gotten her "all messed up." She believes now that a car struck Carshena and she misses her dogs dearly. Carshena's family finds it ironic that she is in such remorse after having lost her pet. After all, "we lost our mother," said her daughter.