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Family asked court to presume missing Woodstock woman dead, documents show

WOODSTOCK – The husband of a Woodstock woman who has been missing since 2010 asked a judge to declare his wife dead months before police announced what could be a major development in her disappearance.

However, police documents related to Benedetta “Beth” Bentley’s disappearance are so sensitive that investigators agreed to share them in the pending probate case only if they were shielded from the public.

“Specifically, the records contain reports and related documents of an open and ongoing investigation into the disappearance of [Beth Bentley],” Assistant Attorney General Brian Jant wrote in a motion Nov. 28. “If [Illinois State Police] produce these records without a protective order in place, there is a risk that the material may travel into the public arena, thereby interfering with the open and ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by ISP. This could ultimately result in the investigation being compromised and any parties responsible for Ms. Bentley’s disappearance avoiding prosecution.”

On Dec. 4, Illinois State Police discovered severely burned human remains and other evidence in rural Jefferson County and are trying to identify the victim, police said Thursday. In light of the discovery, investigators are asking the public for information about Beth Bentley’s disappearance.

On Aug. 28, her husband, Scott Bentley, filed a request in McHenry County court to have his wife presumed dead and to give him control of her estate. At the time of her disappearance, Beth Bentley did not have any assets or a will.

“... Despite all of the resources and investigations used to locate the whereabouts of Benedetta, the fact that she has not seen her family for over seven years and that she has not been seen or heard of since May 23, 2010, she is and should be presumed dead,” Scott Bentley’s petition said. 

Beth Bentley, then 41, disappeared May 23, 2010, after a weekend trip to Mount Vernon with her friend, Jennifer Wyatt-Paplham. Wyatt-Paplham initially told police she dropped off Bentley at an Amtrak station in Centralia.

From there, Wyatt-Paplham told police that Beth Bentley was expected to take a train back to her Woodstock home, but she never returned, police said. Police and prosecutors have questioned Wyatt-Paplham’s account of Beth Bentley’s disappearance.

Wyatt-Paplham was charged in March 2012 with obstructing justice related to Beth Bentley’s disappearance. A judge tossed out the charges later that year.

“They told me not to say anything right now,” Wyatt-Paplham said when reached by phone Friday.

Scott Bentley, who also is a local attorney, declined to comment on the investigation.

“Due to the ongoing investigation by law enforcement, I am not at liberty to provide any such information or comment on the recent developments,” he said in an email Friday. “Doing so could compromise the investigation.”

Scott Bentley’s attorney, Guy Youman, could not be reached by phone Friday afternoon for comment on how the recent discovery might affect the pending probate case.

A person can be presumed dead when he or she has been gone from home for seven years without explanation, and when no one has heard from that person, despite extensive search efforts, according to state law.

At the time Beth Bentley’s missing persons report was filed, Woodstock police, Illinois State Police of Elgin, Illinois State Police of Du Quoin, Mount Vernon police and Effingham police all helped in the search for the mother of three.

Officers and police dogs searched the house where she last was said to have been staying, and flyers seeking information about her whereabouts were distributed throughout McHenry County, Chicago, Las Vegas, Arizona and California, according to probate court records.

In the probate petition, Youman said that Beth Bentley was a happy person with no foreseeable “reason to disappear.” 

She had a strong marriage with her husband, Youman wrote.

In the time that she has been missing, Beth Bentley has missed her father’s funeral, the birth of her brother’s children and the birth of her first grandson, Youman wrote. 

She had no money worries and was supported financially by her husband, the petition stated. 

Other agencies, including the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Illinois State Police, declined to comment. The Jefferson County State’s Attorney’s Office said Friday that it has no additional information to release.

Evidence and information exchanged between attorneys in the probate case has been sealed and is not accessible to the public, according to a judge’s order. State police agreed to share correspondence, notes, interviews, recordings, photographs and other materials with the judge and attorneys involved in the probate case under conditions of an agreement that would shield the documents from public view.

McHenry County Judge Michael Chmiel is expected to preside over a hearing on the probate petition Thursday.

Although police are hoping anyone with information about Beth Bentley’s disappearance will come forward, there is no active reward for information in the case, Woodstock Deputy Police Chief Arthur Lanz said.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call state police at 618-542-2171 or Woodstock police at 815-338-2131.

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