Mallory Benson interview #3
Tuesday, June 2, 2020 – 10:01 a.m.
Mallory Benson was a friend and associate of Zoe Chase. Her attorney, John Welles, contacted the sheriff's department to arrange a meeting between his client and detectives.
Detective Murphy sat down with both of them at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department.
- Detective S. Murphy
- Mallory Benson
- John Welles, attorney for Ms. Benson
Detective Murphy: Please state your name and address for the record.
Mallory Benson: Mallory Benson. I live at 721 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Oxford.
Detective Murphy: And you're here with your attorney.
John Welles: John Welles, Welles & Associates, 1220 Madison Avenue. I want to remind you that this is not a free for all, Sam. Ms. Benson has specific information she would like to divulge but is not submitting herself to endless interrogation.
Detective Murphy: You asked for this meeting, John. If your client has something to say, I'm here to listen, but if she opens a door, I intend to walk through it.
John Welles: Understood. Go ahead, Mallory.
Mallory Benson: Are you sure, John? I don't even know if any of this is relevant.
Detective Murphy: Why not tell me what you know and let me decide if it's relevant?
Mallory Benson: All right. I happen to know that Peggy LeClaire has two guns. She only gave you one, right?
Detective Murphy: What makes you think she has a second weapon?
Mallory Benson: I saw it a couple of years ago.
Detective Murphy: How did that come about?
Mallory Benson: I was at Peggy's, and we got on the topic of guns, self-protection, you know? Anyway, she showed me a .25 caliber Beretta she had. She said it was her secret backup gun and winked.
Detective Murphy: Did she say where she got this secret gun?
Mallory Benson: I think it was from her ex—Boyd somebody. Sometimes she talks about him as if he were around, but I don't think they've seen each other for years.
Detective Murphy: Okay. And? What makes you think that wasn't the one she gave us?
Mallory Benson: Was the one she gave you really small like you could put it in your pocket or purse?
Detective Murphy: Can you give me some idea of the size you're talking about?
John Welles: Sam, if I may, Ms. Benson looked at some photos in my office. I can't be sure, but I think she's talking about a Beretta Jetfire.
Detective Murphy: Okay. And, Mallory, you believe Peggy still has this weapon?
Mallory Benson: I don't know. She might. Or she might have gotten rid of it by now. I just don't know. We haven't talked about it since that one time.
Detective Murphy: We've talked on two previous occasions. Why didn't you mention this before?
Mallory Benson: I just didn't think of it. It was a couple years ago… I don't know, just didn't come to mind. Then recently, with all that's been going on, I've been doing some thinking…
Detective Murphy: Thinking about what?
John Welles: Mallory, remember to keep to the specific facts we discussed.
Mallory Benson: I will, John. Peggy has just been plain peculiar since Zoe died. In lots of ways. She's barely spoken to me, and after she told y'all about the manuscript… I guess I haven't wanted to talk to her.
Detective Murphy: So, are you now confirming that the manuscript Zoe planned to publish was your work after all?
Mallory Benson: Yes, I believe it was. I can't be absolutely positive. I never was able to see the manuscript.
Detective Murphy: Tell me what led you to believe Zoe had stolen your work.
John Welles: I have to advise her not to incriminate herself.
Mallory Benson: I didn't do anything. How can I incriminate myself?
Detective Murphy: Please answer my question, ma'am.
Mallory Benson: Okay. Back in September, I asked Zoe to look at a manuscript I had written. It was a mystery, a genre I had never tried before, and I felt unsure about it. I wanted her opinion.
Detective Murphy: Was Zoe an expert in the mystery genre?
Mallory Benson: No, but she was ruthless in her opinions. I knew she'd be honest, and that's what I wanted. She promised to read it right away, and after a couple weeks, I called her. She didn't return my calls, and then later, I learned she was in New York.
Detective Murphy: Did you call her in New York?
Mallory Benson: No. I had no idea why she was there. I decided to wait until she came back. Then my computer got that virus, and my hard drive crashed, and I lost pretty much everything I hadn't backed up. I guess I thought I had the mystery backed up in the cloud, but I was horrified to discover it wasn't. Then I was really desperate to reach her.
Detective Murphy: So when she returned to Oxford, you called her?
Mallory Benson: Yes, she finally came back, and I got ahold of her and told her what happened. She was very reassuring and told me not to worry. She had it, and it was no problem. She said she hadn't read it yet, but she was going to, and then she'd call me.
Detective Murphy: And then?
Mallory Benson: A couple days later, she called very upset and said she had virus trouble herself, and she'd lost the file too. I was frantic and upset. I tried to get a computer consultant to fix the hard drive and get the files, but they were lost forever. So, I started to try to reconstruct the manuscript.
Detective Murphy: So, if Zoe also had virus problems and lost her files, how do you suppose she could have stolen your book?
Mallory Benson: It was months later. I had gotten much of the manuscript reconstructed and felt I was very close to the finish line. Then I saw the article in the news about Zoe's new book. It sent up a red flag.
Detective Murphy: Red flag? What do you mean?
Mallory Benson: It was strange. Zoe hadn't shared anything with me about it. Then when I read the three-line description of the story, I got a sick feeling in my stomach.
John Welles: Mallory, I have to caution you to keep to the facts.
Mallory Benson: I was pretty sure it was my story. She'd taken my story and gotten herself a publishing deal.
Detective Murphy: What did you do?
Mallory Benson: I tried to call her. She dodged my calls. I couldn't manage to track her down. The fact that she avoided me made me worry I was right. Finally, we had a showdown in her garage.
Detective Murphy: When did this showdown take place?
Mallory Benson: Sometime around the end of April. I don't remember the exact day.
Detective Murphy: And you said this happened in Zoe's garage?
Mallory Benson: Yes. I went to her house early. I sat in my car until I saw she was getting ready to leave, and I cornered her in the garage.
Detective Murphy: Cornered her in what manner? Did you have a weapon?
Mallory Benson: Of course not. I mean, I made her talk to me. I told her what my suspicions were, and she just smiled. I was shocked. That smile said it all. She'd done it, and she had every intention of following through on the deal.
Detective Murphy: Must have infuriated you?
Mallory Benson: No, not at first. At first, I was hurt and stunned. I thought she was my friend. I couldn't believe a friend would do that. I begged her not to do it, not to betray me, but she wouldn't listen. She tried to get in her car, and I held the door open so she couldn't leave.
Detective Murphy: What did Zoe do?
Mallory Benson: She turned into a different person right in front of my eyes. She was mean and shrill, told me I couldn't stop her. She said all she had done was write a better story, and it was too bad I was so late out of the gate about it. I told her I'd go to the police, and everybody would find out what she'd done.
Detective Murphy: That didn't change her mind?
Mallory Benson: She didn't care. She said I had no proof, and no one would believe me. She said I'd end up looking like a jealous fool who couldn't stand that a friend had succeeded where I hadn't.
Detective Murphy: And what was your response to that?
Mallory Benson: I knew she was right. I couldn't prove it. People probably would think I was just jealous. I just crumpled like a paper doll. Didn't know what to do. I just walked away and went home.
Detective Murphy: So you gave up and went home? To what? Plan the murder?
John Welles: Detective! I thought we agreed to keep this a friendly interview.
Detective Murphy: I told you if she opened the door—
Mallory Benson: No! I didn't plan her murder. I didn't kill her. Maybe I wanted to, but I didn't! I just got depressed every time I thought about what she had done to me.
Detective Murphy: So, you did nothing?
Mallory Benson: Yes, I did nothing. I cried a lot.
Detective Murphy: Such as the time Peggy found you upset?
Mallory Benson: Yes. She came over to bring some pages for me that I'd asked her to edit.
Detective Murphy: On the reconstructed book?
Mallory Benson: No, the one I'm currently working on. She saw me crying and was concerned. I didn't mean to, but I told her the whole story.
Detective Murphy: When did this happen?
Mallory Benson: Sometime around the first week of May, I guess.
Detective Murphy: And what did Peggy do when you told her the whole story, as you say?
Mallory Benson: She got angry. She ranted on and on about Zoe and how vile she was. Got off on a religious tantrum.
Detective Murphy: What does that mean?
Mallory Benson: When Peggy gets upset, she quotes the Bible. She's very religious. It comes out when she's under stress.
Detective Murphy: What else did she do or say?
Mallory Benson: She carried on about Zoe's betrayals. Zoe had been very critical of her work, her writing, her clothing, everything, and Peggy doesn't take criticism well. She's very sensitive. She works her butt off for people, and then they abuse her. Frankly, I think she's been a doormat all her life.
Detective Murphy: Did Peggy say she was going to do anything about what Zoe had done?
Mallory Benson: No. She just said that the Lord would make her pay. She said the day of reckoning would come. You see what I mean about the religious thing?
Detective Murphy: After Zoe's death, did Peggy say anything to you about Zoe getting what she deserved?
Mallory Benson: No, she seemed genuinely upset, but that threw me too. She hadn't liked Zoe in life. I couldn't understand why she would be so upset by her death.
Detective Murphy: Did she mention her second weapon to you then or recently?
Mallory Benson: No. But like I said, all the strange behavior… I don't know. I must be crazy to think Peggy might…
Detective Murphy: What other behavior of Peggy's do you think is strange?
Mallory Benson: She's been spending money.
Detective Murphy: On what?
Mallory Benson: She bought a new jacket.
Detective Murphy: Lots of people buy new jackets.
Mallory Benson: Not Peggy. She's very frugal, puts everything into her retirement fund. I guess she never had much as a kid, and she's preoccupied with having savings. I think I've known her for five years, and she's worn the same jacket for that whole time until recently.
Detective Murphy: That changed?
Mallory Benson: One day, she had a brand new brown linen jacket from Neilson's. It's a beautiful jacket, believe me, but you know what their prices are like. She's never shopped there before.
Detective Murphy: How do you know where she got it?
Mallory Benson: She told me. She was very proud of herself. Said she got a big dividend check and bought herself a new jacket.
Detective Murphy: Have you spoken to Peggy recently?
Mallory Benson: Not since she told y'all about the book. She goes out of her way to avoid me.
Detective Murphy: Have you tried to talk to her?
Mallory Benson: I did for a while, but it was clear she wasn't going to return calls. She didn't come to the writers' circle meeting. I don't think anyone has seen her much.
Detective Murphy: Are you accusing Peggy of being involved in Zoe's death?
Mallory Benson: I'm not accusing anyone. I'm just saying her behavior is strange, and I don't know… I just can't believe Peggy would be violent, but you never know about people. Maybe she was a time bomb waiting to go off.
Detective Murphy: So let me see if I've got this straight. You think Peggy might have been involved in Zoe's murder, but you're not sure?
Mallory Benson: Yes.
Detective Murphy: And you think she might have a second handgun that she's hiding from us, but you're not sure?
Mallory Benson: Yes.
Detective Murphy: But whether either of those things is true or not, it definitely wasn't you who killed Zoe even though it was your book she stole, not Peggy's?
Mallory Benson: No! I would never—
John Welles: Okay, Sam, we've said what we came here to say. I think we're done talking.
Detective Murphy: Have it your way, John. At least you've given us some interesting things to think about.
John Welles: I hope so because, if you do, I think you'll see that Ms. Benson was not involved in this in any way.
Detective Murphy: All right, Ms. Benson. I expect you to remain available if we have further questions.
John Welles: You can contact her through my office.
Detective Murphy: Okay. Thanks for coming in.
Interview ended – 10:57 a.m.