Searching For Secrets
VCU Student Disappeared From Campus On Labor Day
"Love You More: The Taylor Behl Story"
by Janet Pelasara
(CBS) For 17-year-old
Taylor Behl of Vienna, Va., happiness was sipping
cappuccino and listening to live music at her favorite
neighborhood coffee shop. But on Labor Day 2005, having
spent the long weekend at home, all Taylor wanted was to
get back to her freshman year of college.
Virginia Commonwealth University—known as VCU—was only
two hours away in Richmond, but too far away for
Taylor's mother, Janet Pelasara. "I was having migraine
headaches, panic attacks just knowing that she wasn’t
going to be around," Janet remembers.
Taylor is Janet’s only child and the two were
Matt Behl, Taylor's dad, and Janet divorced when Taylor
was almost two, but they shared a profound love for
their daughter. "She didn’t have a wide circle of
friends but those that really knew Taylor really liked
her," he remembers.
"She would always stand up for her friends and you could
turn to her for anything. She would always be there,"
says Taylor's best friend, Glynnis Keogh.
So on that Labor Day weekend, no one wanted to see
Taylor leave, as she headed back to VCU.
Several hours later after leaving home, Taylor arrived
in Richmond at her college dorm. She unpacked, chatted
with her friends, and called both her parents to let
them know she was okay.
But as correspondent Erin Moriarty reports, Taylor
disappeared later that night.
Her roommate, Emma Ellsworth, says the last thing Taylor
said to her was that she'd be back in three hours.
Asked when she first got worried that something might be
wrong, Emma says, "The next night when we realized she
hadn’t been back for a day. Her books were still there,
she hadn’t gone to any of her classes, which was odd."
Emma notified the VCU campus police, who told Janet that
both her daughter and her car were missing. VCU police
questioned friends and acquaintances; they wondered if
Taylor could have simply wandered off.
Desperate for information, Taylor's mom turned to the
press to get the story out and the search for Taylor
"Hope became less and less. I kept telling everyone
around me, you know, 'It’s gonna be ok. She’s gonna come
back alive,'" recalls Glynnis Keogh.
Ten days after Taylor’s disappearance, VCU turned the
case over to the Richmond Police Department. Chief
Rodney Monroe organized a taskforce of local, state, and
"The task force was mainly created just so that we could
handle the volume of information that had to be
processed," Monroe explains.
"Where do you start? You start with your victim.
Everyone your victim knows, every place your victim’s
been and that was our starting point," explains Richmond
Police Captain John Venuti.
Ben Fawley was one of the last people to have seen
Taylor the night she disappeared. Asked what happened
when Taylor came over, Fawley tells Moriarty, "She was
all upset because she had been dumped online by her
But when police interviewed the boyfriend, Jacob
Cunningham, they learned he and Taylor had dinner that
night and had made up.
"Once you talk to Jacob, he’s a very nice young man. We
narrowed his timeline to where we felt comfortable
excluding him from any person of interest," says police
Detective Jason Hudson.
After dinner, Taylor told Jacob she was planning on
going skateboarding. The last sighting of Taylor the
night she disappeared was captured on a campus
surveillance video at 10:24 p.m.
(CBS) After ten
excruciating days, there was finally a break when
Taylor’s car was found on a quiet residential street not
far from campus.
Detectives called in a bloodhound, which picked up a
scent around the car; that scent led them to a location
five blocks away—the home of 23-year-old Jessie
Investigators searched the house but came up empty until
they asked one last question. "On leaving, they asked my
aunt and uncle 'Who was the last person to visit here?'
They’re like 'Probably our nephew Jessie,'" Jessie tells
Detectives brought Jessie in, questioning him for
several hours. Later, they asked him to take a
polygraph. Police tell Moriarty "the polygraph indicated
But Jessie says he didn't know Taylor Behl, and that to
his knowledge, he had never met her. As days passed,
Jessie’s story began to ring true. Capt. Venuti said,
"Do I think Jessie had anything to do with Taylor's
As for the scent picked up by the bloodhound, Venuti
says that still remains a big question mark in the
Just as Jessie Schultz was being cleared, police took
another look at Ben Fawley, one of the last people to
have seen Taylor before she disappeared.
Fawley was known around campus for his colorful hair and
his equally colorful, sticker-covered van — so
distinctive, it was even featured on local TV.
Fawley had been a suspect almost from the very
beginning. "His story had lots of holes in it. He left a
gigantic gap in the timeline. We knew he was affiliated
with Taylor. So he was a good suspect," explains Venuti.
Fawley first met Taylor in Feb. 2005, when she and her
father Matt Behl visited colleges and checked out the
Fawley talked with 48 Hours> about the encounter. Asked
what his first impression of Taylor was, he says, "Very
beautiful, very attractive young lady with her dad at
Taylor planned on staying over with a friend already
enrolled at the university; Fawley was the friend's
Taylor’s dad matt spoke with Fawley, before leaving
Taylor for the night. Matt Behl says he had no
reservations about leaving his daughter behind, because
"Taylor was comfortable."
"He was very friendly, very personable. Dressed a little
differently. But appropriately for what you would think
you would see on a college campus," he remembers.
What Matt didn’t know was that Fawley was no longer a
student at VCU. Even more alarming, Fawley was 37 years
old; Matt thought Fawley was in his mid-20s, at most.
Back home, while still in high school, Taylor continued
communicating with Fawley by e-mail and when she visited
the campus again, this time on her own, she again saw
"It was mostly just him showering her with attention,"
says Taylor's best friend Glynnis. "She never thought of
him seriously. It was never, 'I wanna date him.' It was
more like intriguing."
But at one point, Taylor shared with Glynnis that she
and Fawley had been intimate. "It was a one-night thing.
She didn’t regret it but she didn’t want to do it
again," says Glynnis.
Erin Crabill, another of Taylor’s VCU friends,
understands how she could have been drawn to Fawley. The
24-year-old once dated him.
Asked what the attraction was, Crabill says, "You were
the only person in the world. All of his attention was
on you. And he had all these crazy stories."
But she ended her relationship with Fawley almost as
soon as it began, because she says he became very
"And the thing that caused me to end it was he broke
into my apartment in the middle of the night," she says.
Crabill says Fawley entered her apartment holding mace
and a hammer. "I felt like I don't know what this man is
capable of," she remembers.
Taskforce detectives continued questioning Fawley about
Taylor’s disappearance and as they delved deeper into
his past, they discovered a disturbing pattern.
"We found that there were other young girls who had been
in contact with him over the years. And then, been
assaulted or had been threatened, or felt threatened by
him," says Les Lausiere, an investigator from the
Virginia Attorney General's Office.
In fact, Fawley was convicted of assaulting one former
girlfriend in 2003.
But the taskforce needed proof linking Fawley to
Taylor’s disappearance. Under questioning, the only
thing he had admitted to was having sex with Taylor, who
was a minor. That violation gave detectives what they
needed to search Fawley's apartment.
(CBS) What they found here disturbed even the most
experienced investigators: police say they discovered a
"massive amount" of extremely graphic child pornography,
featuring children as young as three and four years old
But Fawley says none of the pornography found in the
apartment was his. He claimed it had been left behind by
the previous tenant. Still, possessing child pornography
is a felony and police immediately arrested him.
The search of Fawley’s computers yielded an unusual clue
that led investigators to an unlikely crime solver:
Fawley's ex Erin Crabill.
For detective Jeffrey Deem, revelations about Fawley
began with the sheer volume of data he had stored away
on his computers.
In an endless variety of random photos, abandoned
buildings, secluded locations, maps and weapons, the
truly bizarre, along with photos of Taylor,
investigators sensed a jigsaw puzzle of evidence.
Fawley was now a prime suspect in the disappearance of
Taylor and police were looking for someone who could
link the talented student to the temperamental college
Erin Crabill soon figured out just what the police were
beginning to conclude. "They were looking for someone
who was dead. They weren’t looking for a live Taylor
anymore," she says.
Investigators showed Erin thousands of images. She
recognized one photo pulled off Fawley's computer – it
was of a small house, near her parent's house.
It was part police instinct and part Erin Crabill,
recounting how she had once taken Fawley to the house in
the photo, which led cop’s to Virginia's rural Mathew's
County, 90 miles from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Still, Erin wasn’t sure what—if anything—police would
"I was thinking I felt so bad, I'm wasting their time,
they could be doing other things, other things that were
much more important," she recalls thinking.
At that point, it had been a month since Taylor had
disappeared. Erin led the way.
"The first officer said, 'Do you smell something?' I
said 'Yeah.' It smelled like the end of something," she
remembers. "The officer saw her before I did. He said,
'We found someone.'"
Police found a shallow grave, with human remains.
It was not just the news of her daughter's death that
hit Janet Plesara so hard, but how Taylor died. "For him
to leave her in a shallow grave, a ravine to be eaten by
animals, by insects, she was a skeleton. That was what
was left of my baby, because of him," she tells
But Fawley says he didn't murder anybody. "But you know
that’s what everyone expects me to say," he says.
In a rambling statement to police, he adamantly denied
killing Taylor Behl. But he did admit he was with Taylor
the night she died.
But that would be virtually the only part of his story
that would be clear, or straightforward.
"I was very drunk and very high and I don’t know why
Taylor died," he told police.
Fawley claims that everything about that evening was
consensual, starting with his picking up Taylor at her
Police discovered Fawley on the college security
videotape, waiting just outside Taylor's dorm at 10:21
p.m.; minutes later, the same camera captured Taylor
Fawley says they ended up at his apartment. He started
drinking and she started egging him on.
He admits he drank "a bit" and that he also took
The way Fawley tells the tale, Taylor was a daring
teenager, out for a thrill. And, he adds, there was much
more that she wanted to do, so they drove her car out
towards Mathews County and started to play a different,
far deadlier game.
Fawley says Taylor wanted to try an activity, one he
says Taylor called "drunk monkey."
Ultimately, this is how 38-year-old petty thief Ben
Fawley claims 17-year-old college freshman Taylor Behl
died: at her own game, a sex game known as "erotic
"It's where you pass out during sex," Fawley tells
He claims he had never heard of erotic asphyxia before
that night. That night, Fawley says Taylor wanted to
pass out during sex, for "the ultimate orgasm
Fawley claims, that at her urging during sex in the back
seat of her car, he tried various ways to restrict
"She wanted me to put a bag over her head," he tells
Moriarty. "We tried that several times."
Fawley says he held it over nose and mouth. "At first I
thought she was laughing ‘cause we fell off the seat,"
he says. "I thought everything was fine and dandy. …But
she was passed out. And that’s what she wanted."
Then, he claims, unable to wake Taylor up, he froze into
a stone-cold panic.
Asked why he didn’t call for help, Fawley says he
thought about it but didn't "because by the time I tried
to wake her up, what was running through my head, was
'I’m in some serious s--- here."
Ben Fawley then claims he panicked again and that he
drove the body of Taylor back to Richmond, left her in
her car, went to sleep and then a day later returned to
Mathews County, dug a shallow grave, and left the once
vibrant girl by the side of the road.
By the time her body was discovered a month later, it
was impossible to tell exactly how Taylor had died.
Ben Fawley was charged with first degree murder.
One day after what should have been a celebration of
Taylor’s 18th birthday, family and friends were instead
mourning Taylor's death.
On that wet, gray October day, Janet Pelasara was filled
with grief and rage for the man believed to have
murdered her daughter. "My prayer… may the courts see
fit to give him the death penalty so he will continue
his downward spiral into the depths of hell," she said.
But Fawley claims that Taylor’s death was an accident,
the result of a sex game that went horribly wrong. "I
definitely did not murderer Taylor. Am I the direct
cause of her death? I very well could be. But am I
guilty of murder? No," he says.
Prosecutors Jack Gill and Chris Bullard disagree. "This
predator descends upon her, selects her, picks her out
and kills her," Gill says.
Asked if it isn't possible that Taylor's death really
was an accident, Bullard says, "It’s possible a meteor
landed on Taylor Behl. Is it probable? No. The evidence
shows that Mr. Fawley killed her."
The prosecution’s theory? Fawley took Taylor for a drive
to a secluded area to have sex. When Taylor rejected
him, an angry Fawley strangled her.
Prosecutors point out that in Fawley's own statement to
police, he admits he "flipped out" and told Taylor to
"He says he thinks he put his hand over her mouth and
told her to shut up. That’s ‘I’m angry’”, Bullard says.
But Fawley says he and Taylor were not mad at each
other. "She was not rejecting me, she was not telling me
it was over. There was nothing for there to be over
between us," he says.
Prosecutors also say Fawley duct-taped Taylor’s
wrists—not as part of a sex act—but to restrain her.
"Now that’s not erotic asphyxiation, bondage, or any
kind of sex in any of the textbooks that I’ve looked
at," Gill says.
"Her hands, according to your own statement, were tied
behind her back," Moriarty remarks in her interview with
"I know, at one point they were," he acknowledges.
Asked if that isn’t more consistent with abduction,
Fawley says, "I did not abduct Taylor. It was two people
In his statement, recorded by police, Fawley insists the
duct tape was simply part of the game. "She said she
wanted to feel like I was kidnapping her, make her feel
like she was being kidnapped. Tie her up. She said
really tie her up," he told investigators.
"She was as sweet, young college girl who was
experimenting with sex and who knows what else and
unfortunately it led to her death," says attorney Chris
Collins, who along with Bill Johnson, is defending Ben
"How would Taylor have any kind of knowledge about this
bondage or any of these sexual practices?" Moriarty
"Fawley showed her," Johnson says. "He had a computer
that was filled with pictures of you know young ladies
involved in various bondage poses."
At trial, the defense planned to show that Taylor wasn’t
a naïve college freshman.
"It sounds as if, in order to save Ben Fawley from a
long time in prison, you’re gonna really have to put the
blame on Taylor Behl, the victim here," Moriarty
"We’re not going to put any blame on her," Collins
replies. "But we’re certainly gonna incorporate her
activity. And I think that’s fair."
But it's not fair according to Taylor best friend and
confidant, Glynnis. She says the defense theory is
"I know for a fact that Taylor would never have done
that. She would have never been into bondage. She was
not a sexually experienced person," Glynnis explains.
Glynnis says Taylor never talked about an interest in
bondage, and that by 17-year-old standards, she was "a
In fact, prosecutor Chris Bullard says he was unable to
find any evidence, other than Ben Fawley's word, that
Taylor had any interest in bondage and risky sex acts.
"There’s no computer evidence to show that she was
visiting Web sites about erotic asphyxiation," he
What’s more, prosecutors say they can prove that Fawley
is lying about how Taylor died that night. By
re-enacting Fawley's story, Richmond police showed 48
Hours what they learned.
Officer Sarah Powell portrayed Taylor Behl, while Jason
McCleellan of the Richmond Police Department played the
role of Ben Fawley.
The two young officers are the same size as Taylor and
Fawley, and the car used for the re-enactment was an
Det. Jason Hudson read from Fawley's own statement as a
script. The two officers tried to physically follow the
"script" as they were in the car.
"I’ve only been here a few minutes and already half my
body is completely numb," Officer Powell, who portrayed
Taylor, remarked. "So I know that any teenage girl
wouldn’t settle for this too long."
The obvious takeaway, say the officers? "Someone could
not get any kind of enjoyment out of this," McCleellan
As for detective Hudson? “It tells you it didn’t happen
the way he said it did.”
But would this be enough to prove that Fawley intended
to kill Taylor? Or, as the defense is counting on, will
12 jurors have their own doubts about the victim
"Rural jurors expect, you know, men to act like
gentlemen and they expect young women to act like
ladies," defense attorney Bill Johnson explains. "That
mindset, we believe, certainly played into our favor."
And Mathews County is as rural and conservative as it
gets. The quiet, conservative community of Mathews
County, Va., was bracing for a sensational trial in the
death of Taylor Behl.
Everyone seemed to know
about the 17-year-old college freshmen, abandoned by the
side of a country road.
Janet feared the trial would force her to confront all
the horror of what had happened to her child.
The trial seemed set to begin, when suddenly, defense
attorneys learned about a startling statement made by
Fawley from behind bars. Even from the isolation of his
cell, Fawley managed to do what he’d done all his life:
putting his foot in his mouth.
In a flip jailhouse conversation with an officer, Fawley
described his previous statement to police as nothing
more than a cynical strategy to beat the system, leaving
the impression his story about "erotic asphyxia" was
completely made up.
It put his lawyers in a very awkward position.
And then there was this jailhouse letter, penned to an
ex-girlfriend. "I can’t quote it verbatim. It simply
said that, I’m the reason that Taylor is dead. I deserve
to be imprisoned," one of the defense lawyers explained.
Prosecutor Bullard planned to use Fawley's jailhouse
letter against him in court. "People are right.
Something is wrong with me. All the thoughts of death
and killing in my head. And now it’s true. I’ve killed,"
the prosecutor read from Fawley’s letter.
The letter, coupled with his description of the
proceedings against him as nothing more than "a chess
game," left Ben Fawley with few options.
Trapped, by his own boastful words, Fawley could only
manage a whisper, as he agreed to a plea deal.
The deal: second degree murder and the child pornography
Instead of life in prison, Fawley got 30 years, which
his lawyers thought was a pretty good deal for their
"If this is a big chess game, did you win or lose?"
Moriarty asks Fawley's attorneys.
"It’s pretty close to a tie I think," Collins says. "I
agree. I think things could have gone far worse for Mr.
Fawley. I think he may have come out on the better end
of the stick, all things considered," Johnson adds.
Before the sentencing, Fawley had nothing else to say.
But Taylor’s mother, Janet, didn't keep silent as her
daughter's killer was led out the courtroom, shouting
"After the trial, when he was put away I thought there’d
be some relief. Some, okay I can get on now. But it
hasn’t really made a difference," she says.
"It’s something that you think of every single day of
your life," Taylor's father Matt says.
But Janet Plesara has vowed to keep going. She’s written
a book, titled "Love You More"—a special little phrase,
she and Taylor always ended their conversations with.
"It’s about her. About what he took from her. She was so
excited about the future," Janet says. "The list of
things that she wanted to do, and who she wanted to be.
And she would have succeeded. She would have been all