Taylor Behl was a pretty 17 year old from Vienna, Virginia, who had just started as a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She was excited about being “on her own” for the very first time in her life. She had a boyfriend living near VCU who she’d become involved with even before college started. Then two weeks into the fall semester, Taylor vanished, leaving only some grainy dorm security video for campus police to puzzle over.
Of course, college students go off the radar from time to time. The pressures of leaving home, grades, classes, money problems, and difficult relationships can cause students to take a breather from the normal routine. But in Taylor’s case, her Mom’s heart sunk as soon as Taylor failed to resurface, especially because she made no contact with her college friends or anyone in her family. As the hours and then days went by with no word and Taylor’s disappearance became more ominous, VCU Campus Police turned the missing person’s case over to Virginia State Police.
Taylor’s boyfriend had cooperated fully with the law, as had her friends on campus. All had alibis that seemed to check out.
With no leads to go on, Virginia police turned to Taylor’s MySpace account, documenting one of the first times in law enforcement history that social media played a major role in helping police solve the mystery of Taylor’s disappearance, eventually bringing Taylor Behl back home.
Perhaps Taylor’s mother, Janet Pelasara, had a premonition when Taylor left for college just a few weeks earlier. Most mothers experience a pang as their babies go out into the world. Janet, however, said she actually doubled over in pain as she said goodbye to Taylor for what turned out to be the last time.
Taylor disappeared on Labor Day, 2005. On September 17, police found her abandoned car about a mile and a half from campus, with no clues left behind. But when forward-thinking investigators accessed Taylor’s MySpace account, they were able to narrow down the list of suspects. Police noticed that she had been on touch with various friends in the Richmond area while still in high school, anticipating her move there.
The review of Taylor’s MySpace account led to Benjamin Fawley, 38, who represented himself online as a “Goth 1980’s-type skater” and photographer. Fawley dabbled in taking classes at VCU and worked on campus in a work-study program. Professional photographer? Not really. He was actually on disability for bi-polar disorder. Fawley was every parent’s worst nightmare, a campus predator with easy access to young women.
Remember that grainy security video of Taylor? Turns out Benjamin Fawley was with her.
When a search warrant of Fawley’s seedy apartment revealed 7 computers containing numerous child porn files, he was arrested for 16 counts of possessing child pornography. However, he seemed to have a strong alibi on the night Taylor disappeared and police were still stuck.
Further investigation into Fawley’s MySpace account led investigators to a former girlfriend. One picture, entitled “Home Sweet Home” depicted a tumbledown outbuilding in a rural setting. As it turns out, the picture was taken at the home of the girlfriends’ parents in Matthews County Virginia, about 80 miles south of Richmond.
Once police identified the location, they discovered Taylor’s body in a shallow grave on the rural property.
On October 12, against his attorney’s advice, Fawley admitted to investigators that he was involved in Taylor’s death. He claimed that the sex was consensual and that Taylor voluntarily participated in “breath play” (erotic asphyxiation). This predator insisted to law enforcement that the breath play was 17-year-old Taylor’s idea, an idea that went terribly wrong…
Ben Fawley claimed that Taylor died accidently.
When I interviewed him behind prison walls, Fawley seemed to be truly sorry for having participated in such an act. He also seemed to blame Taylor’s death completely on the girl. But as the interview got more intense, I noticed the signs of a sociopath peeking thru his slick façade.
Indeed, Fawley was merely repeating what his defense attorney had already intimated to law enforcement: that the bizarre sex act was Taylor’s idea. That she was responsible for causing her own death because she wanted to experiment with erotic asphyxiation.
Really? A 17 year old dreamed up this kind of sick scenario? More likely, a sociopath addicted to child porn lured a vulnerable young woman into a bad situation, attempted to rape her, and then strangled Taylor to cover his crime. That’s what prosecutors thought when they indicted Fawley for killing Taylor “willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation” while attempting to abduct and rape her. Fawley entered an Alford Plea to reduced charges and remains in prison.
Taylor Behl is at rest now and her story is a cautionary tale to everyone about meeting people on the Internet. While MySpace is no longer in use, Facebook has taken its place. People reveal information about themselves on Facebook never thinking that it can lead to dangerous situations from child predators learning about children, to home burglaries to, in Taylor’s case, murder.
Since Taylor’s death, police have learned what a powerful tool social media can be in investigations. From gangbangers throwing signs and exhibiting stolen items to murderers leaving clues online, law enforcement has learned to use social media for good. Police have taken social media out of the hands of criminals and are using the bad guys’ own words and pictures to bring them to justice.
Taylor’s story will be featured tonight on True Crime with Aphrodite Jones at 9 p.m. EST on the Investigation Discovery channel.
Aphrodite Jones is an investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author of eight true crime books. Her television show, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones has entered its fourth season. She is an expert criminal justice commentator on the FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and NBC’s The Today Show. An accomplished conference speaker, Aphrodite divides her time between New York and Florida. http://investigation.discovery.com/tv-shows/true-crime-with-aphrodite-jones/videos/a-sinister-minister.htm