WILLIAMSTOWN — Had she lived, Kim M. Benoit would have turned 65 last Oct. 10.
Her birthday might well have been an occasion for remembrance of the good times of her youth and for celebration of life’s milestones: marriage, the birth of children and grandchildren, friendships — all the joys of a life well lived.
A $15,000 reward is being offered for anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction in the 1974 murder of Kim Benoit of North Adams.
Kim Benoit was denied those by a killer, someone who also tore a permanent hole in the fabric of her family and community. Particularly for her family, the tear gets more ragged as time goes on. Forty-seven years have passed since her body was discovered on Nov. 16, 1974, in the town of Florida near a bank of the Deerfield River. She was 18. The identity of her killer remains unknown.
In hopes of changing that, the Benoit family and the office of Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington established a reward fund of $15,000 last month. The money will be paid for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of her killer(s).
Since the reward was announced, “the Berkshire State Police Detective Unit, the North Adams Police Department and the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office have received multiple leads from individuals in assorted states spanning the east coast,” Harrington wrote on Nov. 24 in response to emailed questions. “Each lead has been received and documented with immediate follow up currently taking place.”
After more than 25 years in newspapering, I could be said to have been in the rumor business for a long time, and I know that those undercurrents in the flow of information, along with odd tidbits that people forget about or overlook, are especially important in a “cold case.” I’ve learned that a long-lost smidgen of information may trigger a crucial recollection.
Understandably, Harrington declined to comment in detail on a question concerning the suggestion (churned up by the rumor mill 47 years ago) that the killer retained items of Benoit’s clothing as “trophies.”
“In order to preserve the integrity of the investigation and any potential prosecution, it is not appropriate to comment on any evidence collected from the person of Ms. Benoit or the scene,” she wrote. “Items taken by suspects from victims for assorted reasons are always a feature of investigation that is examined in depth.”
There is no doubt that investigators in the Benoit case have tracked down scores of rumors over the years and will continue to do so. Anyone who wants to help might consider my experience with rumors: They often are laid aside and forgotten when the people who discuss them agree that “there’s probably nothing to it,” or that the police “must already know about that, so we shouldn’t bother them.” Sometimes, this has the effect of stopping a rumor in its tracks and it isn’t followed up because investigators didn’t hear it.
If you remember something — even vaguely — “bother” them. There’s no shame in telling oft-told tales, particularly when justice has been delayed this long. Also, no one who has committed a crime like this one deserves anybody else’s loyal silence.
Here are a few points of departure on a trip down this dark memory lane:
• Benoit was last seen on Nov. 1, 1974. It was a Friday and she attended a dance at the Sons of Italy Lodge on Melody Lane in North Adams, her hometown. A June graduate of Drury High School, she was unemployed and had been living primarily with her sister, although sometimes at friends’ homes.
• Harrington said that a “likely timeline with corresponding locations” has been established over the years to account for the time between Nov. 1 and Nov. 16, the day her body was found. This information is continually reviewed and is sometimes revised accordingly, she said.
• Initial reports of the death suggested that the cause was a drug overdose. Harrington said that the death certificate lists the manner of death as homicide and the cause as asphyxia by strangulation. “In Ms. Benoit’s case, the medical examiner determined the above-listed manner and cause (of death), indicating that narcotics did not play a role,” she wrote.
• The body was found by hunters on the east side of River Road in Florida, about 1.8 miles south of the intersection with Whitcomb Hill Road. “The area is steep and wooded and is located between River Road and the Deerfield River,” Harrington wrote. “The area can be accessed by vehicle along the roadway and by foot to the specific location.”
State police may be contacted at 413-499-1112; the North Adams Police Department’s number is 413-664-4944.