WOODSTOCK – Now that the friend of a Woodstock woman missing for nearly two years has been arrested, the missing woman’s family is hoping authorities will find some answers in a case that has stymied them since day one.
Beth Bentley last was seen May 23, 2010, after traveling downstate with her friend, Jennifer Wyatt-Paplham. Wyatt-Paplham was charged Monday with two counts of obstructing justice.
Police now say Wyatt was lying when she said she did not have contact with Bentley on or after May 25, 2010.
They also say Wyatt lied when she said she dropped Bentley off at an Amtrak station in Centralia so that Bentley could take a train back to Chicago.
Phone records indicate that Wyatt had made a call to the phone number belonging to Bentley later than Wyatt initially told police, said lead detective Jeff Parsons with the Woodstock Police Department. Contact was made “numerous times,” Parsons said.
Authorities won’t say when the two last had contact, but at least one call from Wyatt to Bentley lasted for at least five minutes, Parsons said. It is unknown whether Bentley herself answered the call.
Wyatt long has maintained that after a weekend trip to Mount Vernon, about 80 miles east of St. Louis, in May 2010, she dropped Bentley off across the street from an Amtrak station. Amtrak had no records of Bentley buying a ticket, and no one saw her in the vicinity.
Wyatt didn’t wait for her friend to be picked up or to board the train, a fact that “haunts me every day,” she said a year after the disappearance.
“I feel horrible,” Wyatt said at the time. “I do feel like it’s a lot my fault because I did take her where she wanted to go.”
Authorities don’t believe that Bentley ever made it on the train to Chicago.
“[Wyatt] later recanted and said Beth had no intention of getting on the train – [Bentley] was going to meet a friend,” Parsons said.
It’s been 21 months since Beth Bentley last was seen, and Wyatt is the only person charged with any crime related to her disappearance.
“I don’t think things have changed,” Parsons said. “We’re exploring other avenues and approaches, like the arrest that was made [Monday]. We’re holding people accountable for obstructing justice through our investigation.”
Wyatt’s arrest was looked upon favorably by those closest to Beth Bentley.
“There’s been absolutely nothing all this time,” Bentley’s husband, Scott, said after learning of Wyatt’s arrest. “I don’t know if this will lead to any closure at all, but it’s a start, so obviously it’s good news.”
Wyatt worked in Scott Bentley’s McHenry law office, where Beth Bentley also worked. But Wyatt was let go when the office moved to a different location in McHenry.
There remain more questions than answers, and police are keeping tight-lipped, citing the open investigation.
Parsons said he couldn’t get into detail about who has been questioned regarding Bentley’s whereabouts, but said some have been “less than forthcoming.” He would not answer specifics about what evidence, if any, was collected or what was done in the investigation. Woodstock police are working with Illinois State Police with the help of downstate authorities.
Beth Bentley is considered a missing person, but police are considering the possibilities that Bentley was abducted, was harmed, or chose to leave for her own reasons. Authorities have not established a leading theory.
“We’re investigating both sides – that she met with foul play and that Beth left on her own free will,” Parsons said. “Unfortunately, no evidence has been developed that points to either.”
“At this point, we don’t have evidence of a crime that happened in Woodstock ... [or] elsewhere,” he added.
Wyatt was appointed public defender Kim Messer, who declined to further comment for this story.
“It’s too early in the matter to make a comment at this point,” Messer said.
Wyatt has a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 25. She is charged with Class 4 felonies. A Class 4 felony is punishable by one to three years in prison.
The Beth Bentley missing person case has a new lead detective. Jeff Parsons now heads the Woodstock Police Department’s detective division after Kurt Rosenquist retired earlier this year. Parsons has been investigating the Bentley case since the beginning. Woodstock Police are focusing their efforts on the Mount Vernon and Centralia areas with help from downstate authorities and the Illinois State Police.