- Courtesy of El Paso County Sheriffs Office
- Cecilia C.C. Benefiel, an El Paso County Sheriffs lieutenant, was murdered 15 years ago in her Colorado Springs home. Friends, family and crime watchdogs are pushing for progress in the case.
On Nov. 18, 1990, just a day before her divorce paperwork was to become final, Cecilia "C.C." Benefiel was found dead in the Colorado Springs home where she sought to carve out a new life alone.
El Paso County Sheriff's deputies, concerned about the welfare of their missing lieutenant, had entered the house to discover her lifeless body at the dining room table.
She had been there, in uniform, for perhaps two days. Her gun was secure in its holster indicating that she knew the person who aimed a pistol at her face and twice squeezed the trigger.
Nobody ever has been charged with the murder. But the name of one person has repeatedly surfaced: that of Colorado State Patrol trooper Robert Benefiel, C.C.'s estranged husband.
He professed his innocence long ago, but to friends and family like C.C.'s brother, Jim Cipriani, a retired federal prison manager who lives near Nashville, Tenn., nobody else could be responsible.
"I feel he did it," he says, adding that family and friends use C.C.'s maiden name, Cipriani, when they speak about her. "Definitely. He didn't like the idea of the divorce."
The Colorado Springs Police Department the agency with jurisdiction in the case initiated a flurry of investigation, and then-4th Judicial District Attorney John Suthers named Robert Benefiel as a suspect. But momentum in the investigation eventually stalled.
Today, C.C.'s death is one of more than six dozen unsolved homicides dating back half a century, haunting the CSPD and occasionally provoking criticism that not enough of the department's resources go to difficult cases.
Two weeks ago, a crime victims' watchdog group the nonprofit Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons Inc. joined with C.C.'s family, friends and members of a sheriff's fraternal organization named after C.C. to essentially shame Colorado Springs police into making the case a top priority again.
The coalition has issued a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in C.C.'s death, as advertised on a billboard near Platte Avenue and Murray Boulevard.
"We feel more can be done on this case," says Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons. "You can't say that [Robert] Benefiel was behind it, but many people feel he was. We feel he might have had relationships with people who now will come forward."
Morton is also asking for cooperation between local agencies something that has not happened in the past. He wants 4th Judicial District Attorney John Newsome to convene and lead a joint "task force" that includes police and sheriff's investigators in a collaboration he hopes could bring more resources to the case.
Newsome could not be reached for comment.
Never ruled out
Rumored to be living in Texas, Robert Benefiel could not be located for comment.
Twelve years ago, he denied "any involvement in the death" of C.C., according to federal court documents in which he sought to obtain the payout on the insurance policy for his wife.
In the months following the murder, the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co. withheld from him an insurance payout that, with interest, amounted to $75,800. Though the company did not specify why it wouldn't pay Robert Benefiel, some court documents indicate it might be connected to his being named a suspect in the case.
In 1994, after a paper-laden pre-court battle, the money went to Jim Cipriani and another brother, John, in the form of a complex settlement that saw Robert Benefiel relinquish his claims in exchange for payment of his legal fees.
C.C., a Wisconsin native, was the first woman ever to become a lieutenant in the sheriff's office.
"She was loved," Jim Cipriani says.
He adds that other incidents involving Robert Benefiel have raised red flags. In 1993, three years after C.C. was killed, Benefiel was placed on paid administrative leave from the State Patrol following a domestic disturbance at his Manitou Springs home with next wife, Erma Benefiel, according to court documents.
In 1984, Shannon, Robert Benefiel's teenage daughter from an earlier marriage was killed, and another daughter injured, after Benefiel's vehicle rolled off a mountainside following a ski trip. An article in Denver alternative weekly Westword claims he took $25,000 life insurance policies out on the girls three weeks prior to the accident.
He was never charged in the incident.
Colorado Springs police Detective Richard Gysin says he is currently scouring old evidence to see if any clues in C.C.'s murder were overlooked, including potential DNA.
Gysin says he must remain open to the idea that anyone could have killed C.C. But no "persons of interest" have been identified except for Robert Benefiel.
"I don't know that he's ever been ruled out," Gysin says.