Embarking on a holiday at the golden beaches of Goa, 40-year-old Stephen Bennett’s journey took an unexpected turn, leading him far from the tourist trail and into the vast expanse of paddy fields and dense forests around 250 miles away. His family asserts that he was abducted in Goa, presumably for monetary motives, and forcibly transported out of the state. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Death on the Beach: India: The Body in the Tree’ depicts how the events surrounding Stephen’s disappearance remain enigmatic, leaving his family in a persistent quest for answers nearly two decades later.
Who Was Stephen Bennett?
Stephen Bennett, the second of five siblings, was remembered as cheerful and people-oriented during his childhood. His younger brother, Paul Bennett, described him as a blend of streetwise and naivety, always seeing the good in people before the bad. The Bennett family, residing on the south edge of Cheltenham in Leckhampton, was characterized as close but chaotic, with a shared love for pets, including cats, dogs, and even a goat. Stephen, never married, doted on his children from different relationships.
Stephen’s pursuits varied, showcasing his maverick spirit. He delved into photography, art, and acting, though he occasionally worked in construction with Paul to make ends meet. Well-traveled, Stephen explored various European destinations and Indonesia, harboring a curiosity about different cultures. On his 40th birthday, he chose to venture to Tenerife. However, he spontaneously altered plans, opting for the more exotic locale of Goa, India—the beach capital of the country, where he intended to immerse himself in the local culture.
However, Goa, known for its high crime rates against foreigners, particularly theft, would become the backdrop for a tragic turn of events. Stephen flew to Goa on December 3, 2006. His family, accustomed to his lack of communication during fortnight-long trips, received a call on December 6, expressing Stephen’s fear for his life. Believed to have witnessed a dispute between locals and Britons on December 4, he changed accommodations and made a series of distressing calls home over the following days, claiming he was in danger.
How Did Stephen Bennett Die?
According to police sources, Stephen checked into an Arpora, north Goa resort — Sodder’s Renton Manor — upon arriving in Goa on December 3. He was reportedly with a British friend, John Cronin James. Parab Babani, front office manager of the hotel, claimed Stephen initially checked into room 204 but later shifted to room 101 after he complained about loud music from the lounge. The hotel staff alleged the British duo left the hotel premises on the afternoon of December 4. He checked into a Baga hotel — Sunset Cottages — at 8:30 pm on December 5.
However, the family alleged on the show that Stephen had witnessed an argument between a group of locals and a group of British on the evening of December 4. He was scared and fled to another accommodation — Sunset Cottages — the following day. The hotel employees claimed Stephen had no local currency and had paid the front desk receptionist a ten-pound note initially. After converting some pounds to rupees at the Sky Lark Cafe and enjoying a meal and drink, Stephen returned to his accommodation. However, he feared he was drugged.
Upon returning to his lodgings, a harrowing turn of events unfolded as he was allegedly abducted by individuals posing as the “local police.” His abductors purportedly coerced him, intimidating him to lead them to a group of fellow British citizens who had engaged in a dispute with locals. After this ordeal, Stephen found himself abandoned in Panjim, adding a layer of complexity to the already distressing events. Dumped in Panjim afterward, Stephen called home, expressing fears of imminent harm.
His mother advised him to secure a good hotel, clean up, and book a flight home. On December 6, Stephen checked into Palacio De Goa at 5:30 pm, though his stay was brief. Reports cited that he paid Rs 1,350 for a room but did not complete the paperwork. Since he had no local currency or his passport but only a credit card, the hotel refused to let him stay for more than a night. Stephen’s subsequent call home at 8:07 pm conveyed his distress and intimidation, emphasizing his innocence.
Early on December 7, he took a taxi to Sunset Cottages to retrieve his passport and luggage. According to the show, the taxi driver allegedly suggested sharing the fare to Mumbai with two others for a flight home. However, the police sources indicated he boarded the Mandovi Express at Margaon on December 7 after purchasing a Margaon-Mumbai ticket. Tragically, four days later, on December 11, Stephen’s lifeless body was discovered hanging from a tree with a saree in the remote jungle village of Malsai, 70 miles from Mumbai.
Initially deemed a suicide, the autopsy revealed ligature marks inconsistent with such an act. However, the Indian media covering the case soon noticed discrepancies in the theory. They noted Stephen had several injuries on his body, including ligature marks on his neck. Additionally, he was found hanging from such a height, which was practically impossible while taking his life. Faced with the media scrutiny and the victim’s family pressure, the local authorities soon conceded that foul play might have been involved.
Who Killed Stephen Bennett?
The circumstances surrounding Stephen’s death became more perplexing as local police suggested he might have disembarked from his train in Roha during a brief halt. They further alleged Stephen was drugged, citing witness statements from fellow passengers, who complained about him smoking weed. According to the authorities, Stephen accidentally stumbled upon a village woman relieving herself, leading to a possible honor killing by enraged villagers. An officer suggested the villagers beat him with sticks before hanging him from the tree.
On December 13, four men—Ramesh Mene, Vithoba Mene, Kashinath Marathe, and Nathuram Mohite—were arrested, with two more—Raju Malusare and Ravindra Dalvi—apprehended in January 2007. All six faced charges in connection to Stephen’s murder. Meanwhile, Stephen’s family found it hard to believe the official theory, traveling to India to meet with the police and even the villagers of Malsai. They claimed the police attempted to cover up the murder by coercing witness statements and sweep everything under the rug.
Five years after the murder, all six were presented before court and acquitted in December 2011 due to a lack of evidence after the prosecution’s main witness retracted his statement during the trial. Meanwhile, Stephen’s family challenged the prosecutor’s version, providing evidence that he never boarded the train but was in Wadkhal instead. Stephen’s sister, Amanda, alleged in 2013 that her brother’s friends — John Cronin and Gabriel Hannon — owed Rs 35 lacs to a drug dealer, Shauna Boy, who killed Stephen in revenge.