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|Witness Interview: Mallory Benson, Victim's Friend|
Wednesday, October 25, 2000 - 4:30 p.m.
This witness, identified as a friend and a known associate of the deceased. In response to a request from Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Detectives, Ms. Benson came in to the Sheriff's Office for an interview with Det. Sam Murphy.
SM: For the record, could you please state your name and address?
MB: Mallory Benson, I live at 721 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Oxford.
SM: Ms. Benson, thank you for coming in. The Sheriff's Department appreciates your cooperation.
MB: Naturally, I want to help in any way I can. I still can't believe it. I've been reeling since I heard...
SM: I understand. It's not uncommon for the family and friends of victims to go through a period of shock and disbelief.
MB: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound selfish. I suppose her family is probably just grief-stricken.
SM: You never met the Neidelmens?
MB: No, I never had the pleasure.
SM: But I understand that you and Ms. Chase were close friends.
MB: Well, I think we are... were. But her parents live in Florida and didn't visit often, from what Zoe said.
SM: Did Ms. Chase tell you about her relationship with her parents?
MB: She said she loved them, in her own way. I guess they weren't real close. Maybe they didn't particularly approve of her lifestyle.
SM: What about her lifestyle didn't they approve of?
MB: I think they thought Jack was a little young for her. And she drank more than they thought she ought to. Things like that.
SM: What about her birth mother? Did you know her?
MB: I never met the woman. Zoe didn't like to talk about it much. I guess it was a bit of a shock for the woman to just show up the way she did. Then it seemed Zoe was just trying to adjust to the idea.
SM: Idea of what?
MB: Well, that Debbie was here... in Oxford. It was... well, in fiction, it'd be called a "complication." You know, a challenge the heroine has to overcome in order to get to her goal?
SM: But this wasn't fiction.
MB: No, it wasn't. Sorry, there just isn't anything more I know about Debbie.
SM: You came to know Ms. Chase through the Oxford Writers Group?
MB: Well, actually we met at James Foods. We kind of both bumped each other's cars in the parking lot. She was new in town. I guess I thought she might need a friend.
SM: Why did you think that?
MB: Well, I know everybody talks about how vivacious Zoe was and how she had a lot of friends and that's true enough. But, there is a side to Zoe many people don't know or see. She just seemed kind of lost, lonely even. She was in a new town, wanted to make something of her life and, except for Dani, didn't know a soul in town.
SM: So, you became friends?
MB: Yes, we got to talking and discovered we were both writers and I invited her to join the group.
SM: So she could make some friends?
MB: Well, of course, but also I felt she could bring something to the group that it lacked.
SM: Such as?
MB: Some liveliness, I guess.
SM: Wasn't too lively before then?
MB: Well that's the thing about us writers... most of us can turn a phrase and dazzle you with words on paper, but in person we're kind of shy, even introverted. Maybe that's why we're forced to commit our thoughts to paper, since we can't seem to spit them out without prompting in real life.
SM: But Ms. Chase was different?
MB: She was that rare writer who was eloquent both on the page and in person. She had charisma.
SM: How did the other writers respond to her?
MB: I think it was mixed. Some liked her, others didn't so much. Though they all found her witty and very funny.
SM: Anyone in particular who didn't like her more than, say, the average person who didn't like her?
MB: No one comes to mind in particular.
SM: Tell me about the last time you saw her.
MB: It was at the monthly meeting on the 14th.
SM: Anything unusual happen that night?
MB: Not really. Well... she did read a few pages of her book, the one that was to be published. But she didn't get much into it.
SM: Why not?
MB: Well, things were a little tense. Steven and she had argued over the agent thing. And I think she was ticked at Peggy because she forgot to turn in her column to the magazine...
SM: Did Ms. Chase tell you these things or did you learn of them from other sources?
MB: Well, I talked to Steven a couple of hours before the meeting and he was pretty worked up. I spent a bit of time trying to get him to calm down. Another passionate soul, just like Zoe.
SM: What do you mean?
MB: Nothing really. Just that I always thought they were so much alike, same intensity, same passion. I wondered why they never got together. It seemed like they would be a natural for each other. God knows they argued like they were married sometimes, but I guess you never know.
SM: Did Mr. Atwater tell you he had more than platonic feelings for Ms. Chase?
MB: I used to tease him about it and he never denied it. Then there was that cookout at Dani's.
SM: Which cookout?
MB: The one on the 4th of July. Seems Zoe and Dani conspired to fix him up with Kathy, Zoe's agent. And he just didn't appreciate it at all. And I have to say, he really acted like an ass. Personally, I think it made him feel bad because Zoe just couldn't see what was under her nose.
SM: That Steven Atwater wanted to be "fixed up" with her, in a manner of speaking?
MB: Yes. But again, that's just my take on it. I could have been wrong. Guess it doesn't matter now, since they'll never have the chance to find out.
SM: Okay, so back to the meeting. Things were tense with Mr. Atwater. How about with Ms. LeClaire and Ms. Chase?
MB: Well, they didn't speak. I noticed that right away. And Peggy left early, saying she had a headache.
SM: Anyone else leave early?
MB: Not that I noticed. Everyone pretty much left after the meeting.
SM: Did you leave before or after Ms. Chase?
MB: I believe I may have been out the door first.
SM: Any particular reason?
MB: I had some work I had to get to and finish by Monday, so I was anxious to get at it.
SM: A novel?
MB: No, it was some technical writing for a client.
SM: Are you presently working on any fictional writing?
MB: I'm always working on something. But to answer your question, yes and no. I am presently doing some research for an idea I have.
SM: Anything you can tell me about?
MB: Well, we writers are pretty close to the vest about our ideas... but it's a coming of age story.
SM: No murder mysteries?
MB: Not my style.
SM: Do you know of anyone who may have had a grudge against Ms. Chase?
MB: No, not really.
SM: How about her boyfriend, Jack Swanson?
MB: Hold a grudge? Jack? I don't think so. He's so crazy in love with her, I doubt he could ever stay mad at her.
SM: Do you know anyone who was upset with her, other than Mr. Atwater?
MB: I guess she and Peggy had a tiff, over the article thing. But I'd hardly qualify that as a grudge.
SM: Do you know if Ms. Chase was planning to fire her? Ms. LeClaire?
MB: Well, Zoe threatened all the time, but Peggy's work is impeccable, even if she is disorganized sometimes. She has done work for me to, so I know what I'm talking about. Zoe never would have fired her. It would have been like cutting off her nose to spite her face.
SM: Did Ms. Chase ever mention to you that she worried she was being followed or stalked?
MB: Heavens, no. Who would have done that?
SM: Do you happen to know if Ms. Chase had a gun, registered or otherwise?
MB: I doubt it. She was terrified of guns and didn't like to be around them. She believed hunting was barbaric. She simply felt there was no reason for anyone to carry a gun. No offense.
SM: None taken. Is there anything else you can tell me that you think might have some bearing on this crime?
MB: No, I'm sorry I can't think of anything that would have caused someone to do this.
SM: Okay. Well, thanks for coming in. If we have more questions, we'll contact you.
MB: Any time.
SM: Afternoon, ma'am.
End interview 4:52 p.m.