MILAM COUNTY (KXAN) - If someone you loved died under unusual circumstances you'd probably do anything in your power to find out what really happened.
That's what friends and family of Larry Bennett are doing. Authorities say his death was an accident, not suspicious. But Bennett’s friends and family think there may have been foul play in what is shaping up to be a Milam County mystery.
Loved ones told KXAN that Bennett told them he feared for his life. So when Bennett went missing and was later found dead in the thick brush covering Sugarloaf Mountain, they expected a thorough investigation. But they say that didn't happen.
“He was a beautiful spirit, just a beautiful man,” said DeDe Largent, who had been close friends with Bennett for years. “In the order of the perspective of him, he loved God, his mama, his dogs and his horses.”
Bennett disappeared on June 9. Milam County deputies found his truck parked on a County Road at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain where Larry enjoyed hiking. And on June 29, a K-9 search team found his body in the rough, wooded terrain.
“My heart sank,” said Largent. “But I was also grateful that he was found.”
Still, resolution has eluded Bennett’s loved ones without knowing how he died and why. They do not believe a thorough investigation in to Bennett’s death has been completed.
“I believe that where he was found he was not physically able to get there, because of the physical condition of his knees,” said Largent. “He had already been in touch with the doctors and had appointments and had surgery set up for double-knee replacement.”
But it was more than just his limited physical condition. Larry was found naked with his jeans nearby and the legs knotted at the bottom.
“It’s just everything combined and the fact that the police did not want to hear or not even take notes,” said Largent. “They never called us. They said they would call us."
Family members also say threatening voicemails were left on Larry's phone. And those who love him believe the death of a gay man in a rural Texas county simply was not a top priority for investigators.
“If it was someone who sat on the front row of the Baptist Church over there or was a member of city council or one of their family members I can promise you that they would probably be doing a little more investigating,” said Largent.
The autopsy report only made things more confusing. It showed the manner of Bennett’s death as “undetermined” and there was no evidence of injury.
After lying three weeks in the wilderness, in the scorching Texas summer heat, there wasn't much left of Bennett’s remains to examine. Investigators said the death was an accident and closed the case.
A Milam County Sheriff's Office spokesman told KXAN that no one would be available to talk on camera. But he did say the office investigated the death with the Texas Rangers and a forensic anthropologist and they don't believe there was any foul play.
But they never investigated claims that Larry had been afraid for his life. Family members turned over a letter to KXAN, which they say he left for his sister in the event of his death. In it Bennett wrote “something strange is going on around here” and that he “felt a set-up.”
“I hope I'm just a little paranoid,” the letter says. “I feel that someone is fixing to make a move. I wanted to tell you all this in case something happens."
“His life matters," Largent said. "It still matters and it will continue to matter and we want to know the truth, however ugly it is. It’s still the truth and it deserves to come to light and we're never going to stop thinking about it.”
Bennett’s family is so certain his death was not an accident, they're offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in this case and want anyone with information about Bennett’s death to call 512-717-1725.
KXAN will continue to investigate and share any new developments in this case.
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