It was one of the most notorious crimes in Connecticut: a 13-year-old girl abducted in broad daylight from a supermarket parking lot by a gang of young people hell-bent on sex-fueled revenge.
Maryann Measles had reported to New Milford police a few days prior she had a sexual relationship with two local men, who were 19 and 21, and she felt vulnerable. She told her mother she thought the men were going to go after her.
And they did.
“It all happened so fast,” her younger sister, Jennifer Johnson, told The Daily Beast. “My mom went inside to get a few things after picking up Maryann and when she came back—she was gone.”
Authorities say a group of eight friends took the seventh-grader to a secluded house where she was bound, beaten, and gang-raped before she was drowned. At least one of the man also had sex with her after she died.
Nine months later, in July 1998, a driver spotted the teen’s remains—bound in a blanket and wrapped in a metal two chain and padlock—floating on Lake Lillinonah, about 20 minutes from where she was last seen. It took four years, 80 interviews, and a $50,000 reward for police to arrest eight suspects
“The whole town was relieved when they were finally arrested,” Johnson said this week. “We just wanted justice for my sister.”
“My mom went inside to get a few things after picking up Maryann and when she came back—she was gone.”
— Jennifer Johnson, sister of murder victim Maryann Measles
Among the accused were three women who allegedly took part in the crime because they were furious Maryann reportedly slept with their boyfriends. One of them, Maggie Mae Bennett, cut a plea deal with police in March 2004, agreeing to testify against her friends in exchange for a 19-year prison sentence.
But Bennett, now 40, will not serve the full sentence. As The Hartford Courant first reported, she will be released on Oct. 10 with time off for good behavior.
“It’s sickening,” Johnson said. “I am having chest pain, kidney pain, depression about all of this. It’s literally making me physically sick to know she will be out soon.”
Johnson said she was 10 years old when she last saw her sister on Oct. 17, 1997. Maryann had just returned home from the police station, where she spent “several hours” giving her statement about sexual encounters with A.J. Walter, Jr., 19, and Keith Foster, 21.
“I was outside in the yard when she got dropped off by a deputy,” Johnson recalled last week. “She changed and before she went back out again, she hugged me and said ‘I love you baby sis.’”
“Maryann had changed over the last few months before she disappeared, and we weren’t as close as we had been, so I remember being shocked by the hug,” she added.
That change, she said, began after Maryann turned 13 and started gabing out with a group in their late teens or early 20s.
According to Bennett’s 2006 testimony, Maryann began showing up to smoke marijuana with the group at a secluded spot in New Milford. At the time, Bennett said, the friends had all coupled off: Bennett was sleeping with Walter, Foster was dating Dorothy Hallas, and Jeffrey Boyette was seeing June Bates Seger. By early October, Walter and Foster had allegedly had sex with Maryann multiple times.
“I was upset because [Walter] was my boyfriend at the time,” Bennett testified, according to Westport News.
Bennett said the group was enraged when they found out Maryann and her mother had gone to New Milford police several times to make a statutory rape complaint against Foster and Walter. She said they hatched a plan to get her to stay quiet.
Johnson said her sister had been with the older friends for two days when she called her mother, Cindi, collect on Oct. 19 and asked her to pick her up.
“I didn’t know this at the time, but my mother apparently heard the group yelling nasty things at my sister in the background,” Johnson said. “My aunt stayed on the phone with Maryann while my mom went to go get her.”
Low on gas, Cindi Measles decided to stop at the grocery store and told Maryann to wait in the car “because it would be fast,” Johnson said. Johnson believes two men approached the car just as soon as her mother walked through the supermarket’s automatic doors, took Maryann into their car, and drove her to their weed spot.
Hallas was allegedly the first person to start hitting Maryann, “calling her a liar, calling her a bitch, saying the guys never raped her,” Bennett testified. Maryann, she said, was “crying” and begging everyone to stop.”
Foster then ordered Bennett to open the black van, and Boyette, Walter, and their friend Deaneric Dupas pushed Maryann into the back. Bennett said she could see one of the boys raping her.
“She was trying to break loose from when they were holding her,” Bennett testified, adding that Boyette and Foster also took turns. Afterward, Bennett alleged, Walter and Dupas dragged Maryann down to the water, forced her to her knees and put head her underwater for five minutes.
“She’s trying to struggle, but they’re both a lot bigger than her,” Bennett testified. “At one point, when Dean picked her up, she wasn’t coughing anymore. Keith yelled down and asked if she was dead yet.”
When Maryann started floating, the boys began to laugh, Bennett said. Walter then allegedly had sex with the teenager’s corpse before the group wrapped her in a blanket, secured it with a tow chain and padlock, and pushed her into the river.
For months, the Measles family desperately searched for Maryann, posting hundreds of missing persons flyers throughout town. New Milford Police spent more than 700 hours in search parties, conducted over 80 interviews, and tracked about 60 leads, according to a police spokerson.
“My mother sent me and my two little sisters to my aunt and uncle’s house for a few months so they could focus on looking for Maryann full-time,” Johnson said.
“It’s literally making me physically sick to know she will be out soon.”
— Jennifer Johnson
Meanwhile, the eight friends pretended like nothing happened, consoling the Measles family whenever they ran into them around town and making up stories about what happened to her.
“My mother saw Maggie one time at Burger King,” Johnson said. “She apologized for my mother’s loss and said that if she ever needed someone to watch me and my sisters, she was available. Can you imagine?”
Although Maryann’s body was found in 1998, it took police almost five years to arrest and charge Foster, Walter, Dupas, Boyette, Bennet, Seger and Hallas. Ronald Rajcok, who drove the group, was also arrested.
“Our family had gotten their hands on a police scanner, which in 2002, they were really hard to get,” Johnson said. “And as the police were catching them, they were on the scanner yelling ‘We fucking got them!’ as my family and neighbors were all together cheering. It was like a block party.”
Bennett was the first of the group to flip on her friends, pleading guilty a month later to first-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping, risk of injury to a minor, tampering with evidence and witness tampering.
In February 2004, Walter pleaded guilty to murder, reenacting the attack on video for two state detectives as part of his cooperation agreement, and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Walter later admitted to having sex with Maryann’s dead body.
Hallas, who also testified in court, pleaded guilty to felony murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping, and risk of injury to a minor. In the same month, Boyette was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder.
In 2006, Superior Court Judge Robert C. Brunetti sentenced Bennett to at least 19 years in prison and Hallas to 25 years.
“I know I have done the unthinkable and I deserve to be punished, but I have also helped in some ways with the conviction of one of my co-defendants and helping the truth come out,” Bennett wrote in a statement to Brunetti, which was read by her public defender in court. “I’m begging for mercy, for the least amount of time allowed by my plea agreement.”
Hallas was reportedly contrite during her sentencing, telling the judge that while was sorry, she could not “take any of it back.”
“I didn’t kill her, but I was there. And it hurts me. And I just want to say I’m sorry,” she said.
“I know I have done the unthinkable and I deserve to be punished, but I have also helped in some ways with the conviction of one of my co-defendants and helping the truth come out.”
— Maggie Bennett
Dupas and Rajcok were both sentenced in January 2005 for their roles in the brutal slaying. Both tried to have their multi-decade sentences reduced, but a judge refused, citing the “heinous nature of this crime.”
Foster was the only one of the eight defendants to go to trial. After several of his former friends testified in court, he was convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison.
“Prisons are for people like you,” Judge Thomas O’Keefe said at the sentencing, calling him and Walter’s plan “a perfect storm of evil.”
Seger was the last to be sentenced—to 30 years in April 2006, after pleading guilty to felony murder. Although Seger originally took police to the secluded house where Maryann was murdered, she denied being there for the killing. Later, she described seeing Walter and Foster take “an oblong object” out of the van and roll it into the water.
“They claimed it was a dead dog,” Seger allegedly told police.
For Johnson, the release of one of the eight is heartbreaking. What’s worse, she said, is the lack of empathy from the prison system.
“I called the warden a few weeks ago to ask to speak to Maggie,” she said. “She was so cold and brushed me off. I totally feel like the justice system failed my sister.”
She said the one thing she wants people to remember about her sister is not her murder—but her laugh.
“It was so obnoxious,” she said while laughing herself. “It was a stupid, loud laugh that made everyone else laugh. I miss that laugh and her voice. I don’t remember her voice.”