« Casefile True Crime

320: Case 274: Benjamin Amato

2024-03-02 | 🔗
*** Content warning: Child victim *** On November 16 2001, two state troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police arrived to conduct a welfare check at the Poconos Mountains home of 52-year-old Benjamin Amato. Friends and neighbours had reported their concerns after noticing Ben’s car in his driveway for several days, but no sign of Ben himself. --- Narration – Anonymous Host Research & writing – Elsha McGill Creative direction – Milly Raso Production and music – Mike Migas Music – Andrew D.B. Joslyn Sign up for Casefile Premium: For all credits and sources, please visit casefilepodcast.com/case-274-benjamin-amato
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Thomas has been investigating Susan and Suzanne's deaths for more than a decade, initially for Broadcasting Corporation's background briefing program and to then for her book, Murder on Easy Street. Has delved into the case again for a brand new original podcast made for Casefile Presents. Search K-9. Isfarr presents The Easy Street Murders wherever you get your podcasts. Entire series for free on the iHeartRadio app. Stay tuned to the end of today's episode to hear the trailer. Our episodes deal with serious and often distressing incidents. If you feel at any...
Time you need support, please contact your local crisis centre. For suggested phone numbers for confidential support and for a more detailed list of... Content warnings, please see the show notes for this episode on your app or on our website. Thanks for watching! 52-year-old Ben lived alone and could often be seen coming and going from his home in Chestnut Hill Township in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains region. But several days had passed with no sign of him. It was now Thursday November 15 2001 and the last time he'd been seen was when he'd stopped at a CVS pharmacy the previous Monday evening. strangers. Still, Ben's dog Sabine left out on the wraparound porch of his house. This was good.
Completely unlike him. Friends and family who tried calling Ben were surprised to find that his voicemail was full. Another anomaly for a man who was typically easy to reach. Chad Price. Not his real name, lived next door to Ben on Sundance Road, a leafy residential street surrounded by woodland. Although the Holmes sat on spacious blocks with plenty of privacy, Chad was familiar enough with Ben's movements to know that something seemed off. That Thursday, Chad went to Ben's house. House and rang the doorbell. There was no answer. Chad returned home but couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. When bands still hadn't surfaced the following morning, Chad called his phone. It went to his answering machine. By now, four days later.
Had passed since anyone had seen or spoken to Ben. Unsure what else to do, Chad Called 911 and asked if someone could conduct a welfare check. He told the dispatcher, It's not an emergency, but it could be. It was approaching midday when two state troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police arrived at Benjamin Amato's property. Many were familiar with Ben as he volunteered for the local fire department. Bann's door continued to go unanswered. The troopers called Dick Hoffman. Another volunteer firefighter who they knew was close friends with Ben. Dick promptly arrived at the property and headed straight to the hospital. To a window that he knew Ben always kept unlocked. It didn't budge.
Dick was officially concerned. He'd known Ben for 20 years and was aware that he struggled with his mental health. In the past few years, Ben had... Made two serious attempts to end his own life. It had been a year since his last suicide attempt and Ben had since sought professional help. Although he seemed much happier lately, Ben's depression was an ongoing concern for his loved ones. Troopers decided there was no more time to waste. They forced their way in through Ben's garage door which was located on the lower level of the house. There, at the At the bottom of the narrow stairwell lay Benjamin Amato's body. Blood pooled around him and was spattered on the walls. Face down, it was clear that he'd been dead for several days.
Forensic investigators were called to the scene. Their preliminary examination found no signs of forced entry or homicidal violence. Instead, it appeared that... Ben had fallen down the stairs sustaining fatal head injuries. Investigators noticed something odd. Clearly visible in the pool of blood was an impression from a boot. There was no way Ben could have made the print as he'd been wearing sneakers at the time he died. Realisation dawned on the investigators. This wasn't an accident or a suicide. It was a...
Murder. A post-mortem revealed that Benjamin Amato had been killed by three to four blows to the head with an unknown blunt object. Investigators climbed the staircase, searching for clues. At the top, they figured out what was going on. The blood spatter as well as orange stains consistent with pepper spray. Blood spatter was also present at the base of the stairs, several feet from where Ben's body was
This led investigators to conclude that Ben was likely climbing the stairs when someone jumped out and assaulted him with pepper spray. Once Ben was in control, he was in a very dangerous Capacitated, they struck him with either a baseball bat or baton. This caused him to fall down the stairs, where the assailant continued to strike him before fleeing the scene. The exact time of Ben's death was unclear, but the level of deconstruction was not clear. Position suggested that his body had been lying undiscovered for several days. This made it likely killed shortly after leaving the CVS pharmacy on Monday November 12. The obvious question was why? His 30s Ben had been living in New York where he was a member of the sanitation department. end. Located to the Poconos after building a summer house with his father and falling in love with the area's natural beauty.
He married a local woman and became a doting stepfather to her three children. Although the marriage ended in divorce, Ben maintained a close relationship with his step-kids, who continued calling him my son. Him dad or papa bear. Semi-retired at the time of his death. He did some occasional snow plow work and enjoyed repairing cars in his spare time. them. Him as kind, caring and fun loving. His friend Dick said he was, quote, Big and jolly, just a hell of a nice guy. Ben lived a modest lifestyle and mostly survived off social security. Making him an unlikely target for theft. Nothing appeared to have been stolen from his home.
And he still had his wallet which held $1000 cash. Nobody in the area had seen or heard anything unusual, but after speaking to those close to Bann, police had their suspicions. Ben's neighbour, Chad Price, had allegedly let himself into Ben's house on several occasions when nobody was home. Been given permission to do so. This was intriguing in and of itself, but police grew... Even more suspicious after noticing that Chad wore boots that looked like they could match the bloody print of the crime scene. Chad Price was called in for questioning. He seemed nervous, flat out denying that he'd ever let himself into Ben's house without permission. His boots were... Confiscated for testing, they weren't a match to the crime scene print.
Although this lead fizzled out, Ben's loved ones were quick to suggest another potential person of interest. Four years earlier in late 1997, Ben had been fossicking for parts at a local scrapyard. Guard owned by a man named Robert Kunkel. As Ben regularly frequented Roberts, the two men established a good rapport. Robert introduced Ben to his daughter, a single mother named Cheryl Kunkel. Cheryl was Considered a tough and independent woman, viewed by some as a little rough around the edges. She'd given birth to her son, Gregory at the age of 17 and had spent the 12 years since working hard to build a comfortable life for the two of them. We're not going to be able to do that. With a penchant for physical labour, she'd worked in welding, construction and as a forklift driver before starting a successful paving business.
Although there was a 20 year age difference between them, Ben and Cheryl hit it off right away. With a shared love for sports and the outdoors, they soon began dating. It was an exciting time for the couple. They spent their spare time boating, fishing and riding quad bikes with Cheryl's 12 year old son Greg. Gregory, to whom Ben became like a father figure. For about seven months, Cheryl announced that she was pregnant. The exciting news for Ben that Cheryl hoped it would be. While Ben was excellent with children and loved his step kids, he didn't actually... Want any biological children of his own. He was too afraid that they would inherit his mental health issues. Ben's father… had also recently passed away. The two had been incredibly close and Ben was still struggling with intense grief. Ben's lacklustre reaction up
Upset Cheryl. She ended the relationship deciding to raise the child on her own. And spiralled into a deep depression which led to his first suicide attempt. The time Cheryl gave birth to a baby boy, Ben's mental health was improving. He wanted to accept and be a part of his son's life after all. Cheryl felt differently. She ceased all contact with Ben and refused to let him visit their son. Ben would not have been able to help her. Distraught by this and his loved ones watched his mental health plummet, unsure how they could help as Ben didn't like to talk about his problems. In 2000, Ben attempted suicide again, which led to him being admitted to a mental health facility. There, Ben was prescribed medication that helped him. As his mental health Improved, so did his determination to be part of his son's life.
But Cheryl remained firm. She didn't want Ben involved with their child in any capacity. The issue went to family court. A conciliation conference was held in the hopes that Ben and Cheryl could reach an agreement without having to go before a judge. You that Ben was incapable of being a responsible parent. To support her argument, she presented... Photos of his home which he argued was dirty and unkempt. Photos were obtained without Ben's permission after Cheryl snuck into his house while he was out. In 2001, to Cheryl's chagrin, Ben was granted a three hour supervised visit with his son in a public park. In June, he was released. In 2001, Cheryl claimed Ben was stalking her by driving past her house and filed a harassment charge against him. them.
Evidence to support her claim, the judge dismissed the case. Enraged, Cheryl stood up and stated, What do I have to do? Fucking kill him. Get him to leave me alone. At a subsequent conciliation conference, it was suggested that Ben be given unsupervised visits. This was the first time Ben had been given a visit. Made Cheryl seethe. Ben's lawyer described her as openly belligerent, arrogant and completely out of control. It was Clear to him that she had no intention whatsoever of letting Ben be involved with their child. She even tried to blackmail Ben, threatening to report him for alleged tax evasion if he continued to seek custody. Then… On September 18 2001, a court order was entered, eliminating the supervised nature of Ben's visits with his son. Additionally,
Ben told his lawyer he wanted to file a petition against Cheryl for contempt of court. He took lightly. According to his lawyer, Ben was terrified that doing so... So would escalate the situation. Told his lawyer. I am dead. I am going to be dead. If I am found dead, Cheryl will have done it. Another conciliation conference was scheduled for November 13 2001. But Ben's law... Julia never got around to filing the petition. By the time the conference rolled around, Ben was already in the position. Already dead. 4 days after Ben Amato's murder, investigators went to question Cheryl Kunkel at the home she shared with her two sons. It was clear to police that she was dead.
It's that Cheryl had a strong motive to want Ben out of the picture, but they knew motive alone wasn't an indication of guilt. Cheryl had a strong motive to want Ben out of the picture, but they knew motive alone wasn't an indication of guilt. Admitted to the investigators that she didn't like Ben. She said that he wasn't the gentle and caring man others believed him to be. Cheryl claimed Ben had been stalking her. Sometimes showing up at her house unannounced and driving past yelling things out the window. While she admitted to being angry at Ben, she denied that they'd been part of a bitter custody dispute or that she had any reason to want him dead. Added that on the night the murder was thought to have occurred, she'd been at home with her two kids. Investigators presented Cheryl with a search warrant nonetheless. us.
At her home, they found several pairs of boots. This wasn't unexpected given that Cheryl had always worked in manual labour. The boots were taken for testing, but none matched the bloody boot print found at the crime scene. Prior to the Bitter Custody dispute, Ben had given Cheryl $3000 to buy a car for her teenage son Gregory. The car was towed for... Forensic examination, nothing of interest was found. Cheryl told investigators that she'd long since moved on from Ben and had recently started a man named Marty Reynolds. He worked as an officer for the Pocono Mountain Regional Police. This detail gave the investigators pause. The key weapons in Ben's murder had been pepper spray and a blunt object, possibly a baton - items carried by Pennsylvania police officers.
Investigators paid Marty Reynolds a visit at the station where he worked. Denied having anything to do with Benamado's murder and consented to his locker being searched. Had as confiscated Marty's pepper spray and inspected his baton. It was obvious. To them it wasn't the murder weapon. After providing an airtight alibi, Marty Reynolds was ruled out as a suspect. As for… Gerald Kunkel, investigators weren't so sure. Days continued to pass with no major breakthroughs. Police appealed for anyone who had contact with Ben in the week leading up to his murder to come forward. Cheryl remained a person of interest but there was no evidence tying her to the crime. time. For fingerprints in Ben's home had turned up one usable set of prints on the sliding glass door.
At Cheryl's or anyone else in the police database. Foreign DNA was also found at the crime scene. Testing revealed it belonged to an unknown male. Then a search of police records revealed something interesting. In early August of 2001, three months before Ben was killed, Had called the police to report a break in at her home. According to the report, a safe containing $8,000 in cash had been stolen during the boom. Burglary. Cheryl had her suspicions about who was responsible. She gave the police two names. April Steinhauser was a close friend of Cheryl's. She'd previously been in a long term relationship with Cheryl's brother with whom she shared children.
Ship ended, April became involved with a man named Nathaniel Levins, or Nate for short. Dealer with a criminal record. April also used the drugs, leading Cheryl's suspect that the couple could have targeted her for the theft. But shortly after Cheryl made the report, she'd contacted the police saying she wanted to drop the charges. This detail intrigued investigators. They wondered what could have prompted Cheryl's change of heart. Perhaps April or Nate had threatened her in some way. Or what if the theft was somehow linked with Benamato's murder? Their next move was... To question Nate Evans. Tracking him down was easy. He was currently serving time for an unrelated assault at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. Nate had been... Incarcerated since November 5, one week before Benamato was killed.
This meant he couldn't have committed the crime itself, investigators were still interested in any details he could provide about Cheryl Kunkel's retracted report against him. him. To an interview room at the jail. The detectives asked him if he knew why they were there. Nate responded, Yeah. You'll hear about us getting paid by that lady to kill that dude. Casefile will be back shortly. Thank you for supporting us by listening to this episode's sponsors. Sometimes breaking a bad habit can feel like climbing Everest in flip-flops. But here's a breath of fresh air.
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And anxiety through fidgeting. Start the year off right with the good habit by going to trifume.com/kate file and getting the Journey Pack today. Fume is giving listeners of the show 10% off when they use my code CASEFILE to help make starting the good habit that much easier. Thank you for listening to this episode's ads. By supporting our sponsors, you support Casefile to continue to deliver quality content. According to corroborated statements from Nate Evans and April Steinhauser, it all started when Sheryl approached April with a proposition. She wanted someone to kill Ben Amato and was willing to pay them to do so.
Told Cheryl that Nate would do it. The two women then allegedly drove to Ben's house to scope the place out. Cheryl thought that they were going to do it. Best way to go about it was for Nate to sneak into the garage while Ben was sleeping. He could then into the house and shoot Ben before staging the scene to look like a robbery. But according to April... Cheryl then came up with a better idea. She suggested that Nate hide in the trees near Ben's driveway while he was out and lie in wait for him to come home. When Ben... Out of his truck, Nate could then shoot him in the back of the head using a gun with a silencer attached. April claims... That Cheryl initially offered $5,000 for the hit before realising she didn't have enough money. She offered $3,000.
Dollars instead, with $1500 paid up front and the remaining amount to be paid once the hit was complete. April accepted the deal, taking the cash advance and a photo of Ben to give to Nate. However, both April and Nate told investigators that neither of them ever had any intention of going through with the hit. Instead, they used the fifth. $1500 to buy presents for April's children and drugs for themselves. Desperate for money, April then returned to Cheryl's house and stole her safe, which contained $6500. She stuffed it under her clothes and ran into the woods. Discovered the safe was missing, she reported the theft to the Pocono Mountain Regional Police, Marty Reynolds was an officer. Marty responded to the complaint, taking April aside.
I'm not sure. Have one hour to return it and we'll forget everything. The couple at home. Arranged to meet Cheryl in a public parking lot. There they handed over what was left of the cash just over three thousand dollars. $1,700. They'd already spent the rest of it on drugs, alcohol and a down payment for a truck. Cheryl dropped the charges regardless, seemingly spooked by a comment Nate had made when calling to arrange the handover. He'd apparently told her Hey, On the guy that you paid to kill Ben Amato. To put it that way, I think it's important to remember that the most important thing is to be able to do it. Proved they were telling the truth, Nate handed police a letter that April had sent him while he was behind bars. In it, she broke the new
News that Benamato had been murdered. April wrote that she couldn't believe Cheryl had actually found someone to go through with her plan. So according to April, Cheryl had caught her shortly after Ben's death claiming she had nothing to do with it. Cheryl said the timing of his murder was a complete coincidence. Invest in the world. Investigators confronted Cheryl Kunkel with the couple's version of events. She adamantly denied their story, saying the truth was that April was a Steinhauser had been visiting her at home when she asked if she could borrow some money for her children. Cheryl said she left the room to fetch some cash and when she came back, April had stolen her safe and fled. After reporting the theft to the police and giving both April and Nate Evans
Cheryl said she had second thoughts. She knew about Nate's criminal reputation and was scared of what he might do. She decided she wanted to press charges against April alone, but law enforcement told her... This wasn't possible. Too nervous to proceed with charging both of them. Cheryl dropped the issue entirely. According to Cheryl, she never told April that she wanted Ben dead, but she had. Mentioned wanting him out of her life. April allegedly used this knowledge against Cheryl, Story about a contract killing just in case Cheryl ever decided to pursue the theft charges against her. Investigators weren't sure what to make of all this. With Cheryl's motive, the murder Higher allegation was incredibly compelling, and the accounts provided by April and Nate could certainly be used to build a solid case against her.
The problem was April and tonight weren't exactly credible witnesses. Not a single shred of physical evidence connected Cheryl to Ben's murder itself. If she had… indeed found someone else to carry out the hit, there was no proof. Then she Cheryl presented the police with a recording she claimed could prove she was telling the truth. Conversation between herself and April in which Cheryl said she'd been questioned by the police about Ben's murder. She told April that the police had mentioned... To April's name and asked, You never said anything to get back at me for what I did to you, for pressing charges. April replied. Bonded that given she'd already spent half of the stolen money, she had to come up with something. I was scared, she said.
I didn't want to go to jail. I needed to get out of it somehow because I was thinking about my kids. I'm sorry. Police remained strongly suspicious of Cheryl, but the recording essentially debunked the only evidence they had against her. With the evidence, they were able to find Cheryl's body. April admitting on tape that she'd made up the whole murder for hire story, it was back to square one. The months continued to pass with no breakthroughs in Benamato's case. Investigators pursued every line of inquiry, but nothing compelling emerged. At the 18 month mark, they conducted a deep dive into Ben's financial records and assets, desperate to identify a motive for his murder. Close to Ben described him as a man of limited financial means who survived off social security.
His financial records revealed otherwise. According to court records published in the The Pocono Record. At the time of Ben's death, he had almost $500,000 in cash and liquid assets spread across multiple countries. Multiple savings accounts, trusts, stocks, and bonds. Some of this was shown in the video. Shared with his 83 year old mother who was partially incapacitated. Also revealed that the mother and son rented a safe deposit box together. Gaiters wondered whether this could hold a clue as to why someone would want the 52-year-old dead. They went to the bank and drilled the safe deposit box open. Nothing of interest was inside. Regardless, they were surprised to find that Ben was so well off and wondered...
If his murder could have been financially motivated after all. Ben hadn't left behind an official will, only an actual unsigned copy. The shared funds automatically went to his ailing mother, but once she passed away they would go to the hospital. Ben's sole heir, the son he shared with Cheryl Kunkel. And until he was born, their son turned 18, the person in control of the money would be Cheryl. Police still couldn't tie Cheryl to Ben's murder. With no other persons of interest, they felt it was time to make a move. In July 2003, one year and eight months after Ben was killed, Cheryl was arrested for her alleged attempt to hire April Steinhauser and Nate Evans to kill him. She means Contained her innocence but was formally charged with the first degree felony of solicitation to commit murder. A month later, she posted to her...
$150,000 bail and was free to go while investigators continued to build their case against her. They remained convinced she'd been involved in Benamato's murder. They just couldn't figure it out. Out exactly how. Ten months later, just After 5pm on Tuesday May 4 2004, 49 year old Kathleen Fisher arrived home from a day at work. Kathleen lived with her daughter, 17-year-old Kristin, as well as Kristin's 7-month-old baby, Kaylee. The trio lived in a private housing development in a wooded area of Pike County in northern Pennsylvania. Fleen opened her garage door and was met by a horrific sight.
Kristin lay lifeless on the ground, an upturned stool by her side and a noose tied around her neck. Kathleen frantically dialled 911 while still facing a terrifying question. Where was baby Kaylee? Kathleen raced through the house looking for her granddaughter. She found her in the bathroom, her tiny body floating face down in a bathtub full of water. It was obvious that Kaylee hadn't died due to a tragic accident. Bathed Kaylee in the sink, not the bathtub. When she did so, she kept a towel and clean clothing nearby. Items which were nowhere to be seen. Yet Kathleen knew that Kristen would never intentionally hurt her own baby. Kristen adored Kaylee. Despite her young age, she was an exceptional and devoted mother, taking Kaylee's life as a
everywhere she went and doting on her every step of the way. Police quickly arrived at the... Scene of the apparent murder-suicide. When they examined Kristen's body, they immediately noticed something odd. The rope… that she'd apparently used to hang herself had been tied to a rail on the garage ceiling. But it hadn't been tied to a rail. Lied securely enough to have ever held Kristen's weight. There was also way too much slack on the rope for the noose to have been effective. Realisation dawned on them. This wasn't a murder-suicide, but a double-hug. Homicide. Whoever killed Kristen had used the rope to strangle her, then staged the scene to look like she'd killed her daughter before taking her own life. Kathleen Fisher suspected she knew exactly who was responsible. from the...
The moment Kristen discovered she was pregnant, the baby's father had wanted nothing to do with either of them. He'd urged Kristen to get an abortion, then... Abandoned her when she'd refused to do so. Since Kaylee's birth, he'd refused to pay child support. Cord, a decision that had gone before the cords. Their next hearing was scheduled for day after the murders. Five days before this, Kristen told a friend that Kaylee's father had left a voice message on her phone, warning I'm gonna fucking kill you if you don't stop trying to sue me for child support. On the day of the murders, Kristen told her mother that Kaylee's father was coming over. He claimed to have a surprise for them. them.
Called her daughter warning her not to let him in. But by that time, he was already at the house. Kathleen told Kristen to kick him out and lock the doors. Investigators familiar with Benamato's murder couldn't help but note the similarities between these two cases. Had happened only 35 miles apart. Both involved either a custody or child support dispute, and the victims were killed. Killed in staged accidents or suicides. But the real watershed moment came when they realised the significance of who Kaylee's father was. 18-year-old Gregory Rowe, Cheryl Kalkle's eldest son. By the time of the double homicide, two and a half years had passed since Ben Amato's murder and
uncle remained on bail awaiting trial for her solicitation charge. Gregory still... Lived with her, but the relationship between the mother and son was severely fractured. According to other family members, Cheryl had always been incredibly critical of Gregory. And domineering, and never hesitated to dump him on a relative whenever she wanted a break. From a young age, Cheryl had told Gregory that his biological father wanted nothing to do with him. In reality, she'd been so jealous of Gregory's father's new girlfriend that she'd purposely kept the two apart. Gregory got older, he sought comfort from his paternal aunt, whom he came to view as a mother figure. He also began to establish a relationship with his father, which Cheryl resented.
That Kristen and Kaylee Fisher were murdered, a security guard who worked in their housing development had noticed an unfamiliar Honda Civic in the neighbourhood and taken note of its license plate. The police ran this number through their system. The car was registered to Gregory Rowe. Gregory was summoned to the police station, with officers telling him there had been a family emergency. When told that Kristen and Kaylee were dead, they were killed. Didn't ask a single question about how they had died. He denied being anywhere near their home or having anything to do with their deaths, with one detective describing him as very cold. Stone cold. Meanwhile, investigators approach to Gregory's home.
They gave Cheryl Kunkel strict instructions to stay away from the garage as a search warrant was about to be issued for her son's vehicle which was parked inside. Cheryl ignored them. Went into Gregory's car and removed several items - a decision that landed her with a charge for tampering with evidence and hindering a police investigation. Being charged with a crime was a direct violation of her bail conditions and she was subsequently remained in jail. A preliminary search of the house and car didn't turn up any evidence. Police confiscated gr- Gregory's computer in the hopes they might uncover an email linking him to the crime. They found no such thing. What they did find was child exploitation material, enough to warrant three felony charges against him. Gregory Rowe was jailed for these charges while police continued to hunt for them.
For evidence in the fish's double homicide. While news spread, many of those close to great were shocked to learn that he was Cayley's father. They never even knew about his relationship with Kristen, let alone that the two... A child together. Cheryl had forbidden Gregory from telling anyone about it. Even if he did, he his current girlfriend Rachel had no idea. Told police that on the morning of the double homicide, she had accompanied Gregory to a True Value hardware store just a few miles from the Fishers' home. There he... An employee to direct him towards the rope. Rachel asked what he needed it for. Gregory explained he was going to put a clothes line up for his mother. Checks with the store confirmed the sale of the rope, the type of which was then compared to the rope used to strangle Kristin Fisher. It was a good idea to make a video about it.
An exact match. According to Rachel, Gregory had also asked her to do a Google search on how to tie a hangman's noose and print the instructions out for him. Gregory Rowe was charged with the murders of Kristin and Kaylee Fisher, but continued to… Maintained that he was innocent. From jail, he wrote his girlfriend Rachel a letter. In it, Gregory claimed that he was innocent. He never wanted Kristen and Kaylee killed. According to him, the person responsible was his mother, Cheryl Kunkel. She had asked him to buy her the robe and print some instructions from the internet showing how to tie a noose. Gregory wrote… that after the murders, Cheryl told him, I took care of the business that you should have taken care of yourself.
Gregory urged Rachel to support his story by saying that she'd witnessed these things herself. If she didn't, Cheryl would kill her too. This is a must, Gregory wrote. Or she'd This is the end for me. Gregory instructed Rachel not to show the letter to anyone else and to burn it after reading. Instead, Rachel showed it to the police. She said she'd never heard Cheryl Kunkel make any mention of Kristen, Kaylee, Rope or Nooses. Investigators didn't believe Gregory Rowe's claims, but they did recognise his desperation as an opportunity. They approached him in jail. Tale, saying they wanted to speak about the murder of Benjamin Amato.
Gregory immediately began to cry. When asked if his mother was involved in any way, Gregory replied, I don't know. What you're talking about. The following day, Gregory Rowe was hit with a hard reality. be. That Kaylee Fisher was under the age of 12, being charged for her premeditated murder meant that he would be eligible for the death penalty. When Kaylee was 12, she was charged with the death penalty. Gregory learned this, he contacted the detectives. He was finally ready to talk. Casefile will be back shortly. Thank you for supporting us by listening to this episode's sponsors. Thank you for listening.
To this episode's ads. By supporting our sponsors, you support Casefile to continue to deliver quality content. Gregory Rowe had been just 12 years old when his mother Cheryl Kunkel began her relationship with Benjamin Amato. Over those years, she was a young woman who was a young woman who had been a young woman seven months Gregory grew fond of Ben. He enjoyed spending time with him and came to consider him a father figure. By the time Gregory was fifteen, he had witnessed the fallout between Ben and Cheryl and the bitter custody battle over his baby brother. Regardless, Gregory's feelings towards Ben never changed and the two continued to spend time together. Gregory even considered going to live with him. In early November of 2001, Gregory thought nothing of his life.
It when Cheryl asked him to go to a local store to pick up a can of pepper spray. The store didn't sell such products to miners but Cheryl had called ahead of time and arranged everything so there were no issues when Gregory arrived to make the purchase. A few days later, on November 12, Cheryl asked him to join her for a drive. Gregory thought they were going to visit his grandparents, but Cheryl veered off course and parked the car near a tree farm about a mile away from Benamato's house. She told Gregory to go to the farm. To get in the driver's seat. Although he was only 15 and didn't have a licence, he did as he was told. Cheryl then directed Gregory to drive to Ben's house on Sundance Road. When they got there,
Wasn't in the driveway. Cheryl allegedly told her son to drive back to the tree farm, wait for an hour, and then return to pick her up. Again, she was in the driveway. Gregory did as he was told. He assumed his mother was going to break into Ben's house and perhaps steal something, but he knew better. Than to ask any questions. Cheryl had a volatile temper and didn't like to be questioned. Gregory knew that one wrong move could send her into a rage. Sat in the car listening to the radio for about an hour before driving back to Sundance Road. This time Ben's truck... Truck was in the driveway. Gregory could see Cheryl crouching down in some trees outside. She jumped into Gregory's back seat, panting. Though she'd just ran a mile. Gregory thought she seemed excited. She told him she'd been
him to drive home via the back roads. As they did so, Cheryl began taking off her clothes and throwing them out the window. She had a child. Change of clothes in the back seat which she put on. She also tossed a child sized baseball bat out the window. A bat Gregory said He'd seen her pick up from a friend's house a few days earlier. Gregory was worried about what all this meant but he said nothing. It was only after the police arrived at their house with a search warrant in the days following that he dared to ask his mother what was going on. According to Gregory, Cheryl admitted that she'd waited inside Ben's house until he arrived home. She then jumped out and... Sprayed him with pepper spray before using the baseball bat to beat him to death. This confession left Gregory shocked.
He asked Cheryl why she would do such a thing. She apparently told him Because of you, it was your fault. She said she couldn't stand the fact that Gregory kept Ben hanging around. Cheryl warned her son to keep his mouth shut. If anyone found out the truth, she would Take him down with her. After all, he was the one who bought the pepper spray and acted as the getaway driver. Cheryl then drove Gregory to the back roads they'd taken on the day of Ben's murder. To the clothes she'd tossed outside before abandoning him there with his bicycle. -Gregory made no real attempt to find the items before returning home empty handed. He refused to leave. Used to go out searching for a second time. But a couple of years later in 2003, Cheryl
him to a field behind her parents' backyard and ordered him to dig. Gregory eventually uncovered a blanket and a garbage bag full of clothes. At Cheryl's request, Burn to the items. you Gregory Rowe's confession was the breakthrough investigators had spent almost two and a half years waiting for. But Gregory himself had just been charged with two counts of murder. Of murder, and his version of events raised some serious questions. For starters, when police had exe- You to the search warrant at Cheryl Kunkel's home just days after Ben's murder. Examination of her car had turned up nothing. If Cheryl had indeed jumped into the car wearing bloody clothes and carrying a bloody baseball bat, surely some blood would have been found.
Found inside the vehicle. And if the clothes had since been burned, there was no way to verify their existence. The bloody shoe print that had been left at Benamato's crime scene had since been determined to have come from a Timberland brand boot. The initial search of Cheryl's home had turned up several pairs of boots, but none were timberlands. With no forensic evidence tying Cheryl to Ben's murder, all investigators had was the word of one accused killer against the other. Not only did Gregory Rowe openly harbor resentment against his mother, he also had something to gain by throwing her under the bus. For starters, if Cheryl was found guilty of killing Ben, it could add weight to her. Gregory's allegations that it was she who killed his ex-girlfriend Kristen Fisher and their daughter Kaylee. If arrayed...
Each over one child related dispute had motivated her to kill one person. What was to stop her from doing that? Doing it again. If this didn't work, testifying against Cheryl could also be a problem. Benefit Gregory in that it might lead to a less severe sentence if he was found guilty in the Fisher case. He was making the entire story up for bargaining power. Another option also had to be considered. Given the similarities between the murders of Ben Amato and Kristen and Kaylee Fisher, And son had worked together on both crimes. Investigators found themselves in a difficult position. Gregory's alleged confession was highly compelling, but they knew it. That questionable testimony from one unsavoury witness wouldn't be enough to secure a conviction against Cheryl. Then,
Gregory wrote a letter that changed everything. For two and a half years, Jerry Telesky had carried the weight of an unwanted secret. Jerry worked with Cheryl's father, Robert Kunkel. In November 2001, days after... Benamato's murder, Cheryl approached Geri in tears. She said that the police had just executed executed a search warrant at her house and she was afraid. Afraid because she was the one who killed Ben. According to Jerry, Cheryl said that she'd waited inside Bent's house for him to arrive home. When he reached the top of his stairs, she attacked him with a baseball bat, where he, a pussy. Cheryl then fled out the side door and onto the deck, injuring
Her leg in the process. Cheryl told Jerry she needed his help to find the clothes and baseball bat used in the attack, which she'd since discarded around King's. Ampekeba Road, a wooded area connecting the Chestnut Hill and Jackson townships. Jerry wasn't entirely sure whether to believe Cheryl's story. He accompanied her out to road regardless and began scouring the side of the road for any sign of the disposed of items. It wasn't long before he came across the baseball bat. A chill ran down Jerry's spine as he realised that Cheryl was telling the truth. Cheryl told him to pick up the bat and burn it. Realising this would implicate him in the crime, Jerry refused. Cheryl became enraged and started
Out, raving like a lunatic. She reluctantly retrieved the bat herself. Jerry then drove with her to a wooded area nearby where Cheryl burnt the bat under a pile of leaves. Jerry was terrified. This information to himself until a letter arrived from an incarcerated Gregory Rowe saying he was… cooperating with the police in Ben Amato's murder investigation, and that Jerry should stop being afraid of Cheryl and do the same. Overcome what? With regret for not coming forward earlier, Gerry finally told investigators what he knew. To Jerry, he wasn't the only one who Cheryl had confided in. Back in November 2001, Officer Marty Reynolds was working a night shift when his girlfriend,
called him in tears, saying the police had just executed a search warrant at her house in relation to Benamato's murder. Mario. Went to visit Cheryl only to find her in the dark, crying. I was there, she told him. Began pacing nervously, saying, I don't want to die. I can't believe this is happening to me. She pulled her pants down and showed Marty some bruises on her leg. The way down the stairs, she said. She then changed her tune entirely, saying that the bruises Were from a motorcycle accident. I might as well say I was there, she said. They're trying to trying to make me believe I was. Marty found Cheryl to be incoherent and confusing. Had made any sense. He later explained.
For lack of a better word, she was cuckoo. She was out there. Marty managed to calm Cheryl down before leaving. Leaves she was involved in Ben's murder, her behaviour set him on edge. The truth. Was, Marty Reynolds was a married man. Nervous that the 10 month fare he'd been having with Cheryl would be exposed, Marty ended the relationship and stopped returning Cheryl's calls. A few weeks later, the Two ran into one another in a convenience store parking lot. Cheryl brought up Ben and said... If this didn't happen to him, it would've happened to me. In the years following, Marty refused to believe that Cheryl had anything to do with Ben's death.
Investigators approached him, he could no longer convince himself of this. After revealing everything he knew, Marty was given two options for withholding this information. Either resign from the police force or be fired. Two decades on the job, he reluctantly turned in his badge. With two independent witnesses corroborating Gregory Rowe's version of events, the decision was made to charge Cheryl Kunkel with Benamato's first degree murder. Given the similarities between the crimes for which she and Gregory were charged, some continued to suspect that the two could have helped each other. Yet, with no evidence to support this, no further charges were laid against either of them. Gregory Rowe faced trial for the murders of Kristen and Kaylee Fisher in January 2006. He tested
In his own defence, tearfully telling the court, I know it's your opinion I did this, but I honestly tell you I didn't. Please don't take me from my family. Point, Gregory was no longer in contact with Cheryl. Gregory's father sobbed as he begged the jury to spare his son from a death sentence, saying, I'm not going to die. I know my son didn't do this. Please don't take him from me again. I know to… Innocent lives were lost, but taking his life won't make it right. The prosecution urged the jury not to be moved by Gregory Rowe's sob story, telling them to think of Kaylee Fisher in the bathtub instead. Quote, You think about that last bubble of air passing through her lips and breaking the surface
Carrying her soul to heaven. After six days of testimony... The jury deliberated for five and a half hours before declaring Gregory Rowe guilty on all counts. Gregory doubled. Over in apparent disbelief. He was spared the death penalty but given life in prison. Outside court, Gregory told reporters, The truth is out there, but they... Failed to see it. When one of them asked if his mother was the real culprit, Gregory returned. Yes. Cheryl Kunkel's trial for the murder of Ben Amato commenced the following year on Tuesday February 6 2007. She also faced charges. For solicitation to commit murder, aggravated assault, burglary, and tampering with evidence.
The 38-year-old appeared confident as she entered the courtroom, despite the fact that she… Jerry Telesky, Marty Reynolds, and her own son Gregory had all agreed to testify against her. The defence team cast a doubt on Gregory's story. They pointed out that the charges against him for possessing child exploitation material had been dropped without explanation. They urged the judge to leave. To consider whether this was due to a lack of evidence, or because Gregory had struck a deal with the prosecution by agreeing to testify against his mother. According to the defence, Gregory had made the entire story up to evade these charges and avoid the death penalty murder trial. Their main argument was that there still hadn't been a single piece of physical evidence tying Cheryl to the crime. The only...
Foreign DNA found at the scene didn't even belong to a woman. Also, tap the B button. Testifying against Cheryl Kunkel was her former friend April Steinhauser. out. After all these years, April maintained her story about Cheryl's failed murder-for-hire plot. According that Cheryl had given the police, in which April claimed to have made the whole story up to save herself from theft charges, April claimed it had been staged. Staged. Everything she'd said on tape had allegedly been scripted by Cheryl. The recording was played to the court. Execution pointed out that it did indeed sound stilted and unnatural, as though the two Two women were reading the conversation from a script. On the stand, Cheryl's father Robert spoke of his fondness for Benamato and how hard things had been for his family.
He called Ben a good guy, saying he didn't have a mean bone in his body. body. On Valentine's Day of 2007, the jury deliberated for just a few hours before delivering its verdict. Guilty on all counts. Cheryl appeared genuinely shocked. She gasped, doubling over with her face in her hands, sobbing no and telling the judge, It's not over, Your Honour. Daughters from his first marriage, Erin and Peggy, also burst into tears. But then... Were tears of relief. Outside court, Erin told reporters that while she was extremely happy with the verdict, quote, things were going to be fine. Won't change for me. I still won't have a dad tomorrow. He'll still be gone because of her.
In the late up to her sentencing, Cheryl Kunkel claimed she'd been the victim of a police conspiracy. According to Cheryl, the truth was that Ben Amato had accidentally fallen down the stairs and died. The amount of blood spatter found at the scene had been planted there to frame her. The sentencing judge said of these claims, quote, Any Anyone who believes that is delusional. Ben's stepdaughters argued that Cheryl should spend the rest of her life in prison, haunted by what she did and… Surrounded by inmates like herself. Peggy said. The first time in your life you will finally see evil face to face. When you leave, Look into those many evil eyes, may you finally see what my stepfather saw just before he took his last breath on this earth. The judge agreed.
On Wednesday, June 20 2007, he sentenced Cheryl to life in prison without the possibility of parole, remarking, For a life to be seen. Snuffed out with such brutality and lack of concern is hard to understand. For Ben's stepdaughters, the depth of their loss. Was felt when they visited Bent grave one Father's Day. Erin remarked that instead of taking her dad Or having him over for a barbecue, she was kissing a cold pitcher on a headstone. time. Was clear to Ben's loved ones that Cheryl didn't want to share her younger son with Ben, they found it difficult to comprehend what Cheryl hoped to achieve by killing him. Ultimately, the act had stripped her of both her children.
At Cheryl's sentencing, Ben's stepdaughter Peggy had asked her, Was it worth it? You did get Ben out of your life, that goal you did accomplish. In turn, you messed up your older son Greg so much that he is currently spending the rest of his life in prison for double homicide. And he says that you aren't even worthy to be called mother. Some believe that Greg wouldn't have committed his own crimes had it not been for his mother's influence. Any truth to this, it means that the trickle-down effect of Cheryl's actions also stripped another mother of her child. At Greg's trial, Catherine's mother, Catherine, was killed. Cleanfisher's voice shook as she spoke about her deep love for Kristen, her only daughter. Christmas Day, Kristen was the greatest gift she ever received. Then when Kaylee was born, she stole...
Everyone's heart. Kathleen said, Holding Kaylee in my arms was the closest thing to heaven for me. Is the memory of how it felt to hold her. Kristen and Kaylee were beautiful children in both physical and spiritual qualities. I was blessed to have them to love and cherish. If it was for only a short time. Custody of Ben and Cheryl's son was awarded to Cheryl's family. Ben's stepdaughter Erin remarked in court Maybe Cheryl will realise what she did when she has to explain to her son why his father is not alive anymore. He didn't deserve to…
die so horribly. No one deserves that. you you you you One quiet summer night in Melbourne, 46 years ago, Armstrong and Susan Bartlett were brutally stabbed to death in their home in Easy Street, Collingwood. As Suzanne's young toddler lay in his cot. Their killer has never been found, and their-- - Double homicide remains one of Australia's most chilling cold cases. - It would be absolutely fear.
To say that I'm 75 now, hardly a day goes by that I don't think about this particular murder. Did they know their killer, or was it a random attack? Police weren't sure and warned women in Melbourne to lock their doors and windows. They failed to interview a number of witnesses living in the street. One right next to her. Door to Sue and Suzanne. She told me that she was sitting there at the window because it was a hot night and she said she saw... A bloke leaving out the back gate. Till this day, until I die, I'm convinced there were two killers, not one. Has the investigation focused on the... Wrong person. How many men were really there? In the Easy Street Murders, we'll talk to forensic and legal experts. As well as Suzanne and Susan's family and friends. I've had a good sense of humour and...
The kids loved her because she made them feel real. Constrained, I should say, by the norms of the time, which 45 years ago are-- Single mother was regarded very poorly by society. A retired detective who'll never forget walking into the little house in Easy Street. Has done something so bad, so bad that humanity just would never even think about it. Forgive him no matter who the relative was, what he did to those two girls could never, ever, ever be forgiven by any. You are.
Transcript generated on 2024-03-03.