Death, disappearance of 2 from Warriors Trail still a puzzle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 27, 2009

Five months after the stabbing death of Shawn Paul Sponholz and the disappearance three days later of his neighbor and landlord, Benjamin Bearrick, authorities remain tight-lipped about suspects, evidence and the details about what they think happened to the two men.

Sponholz, who was 50 and lived at 5123 Warriors Trail, died Jan. 23 in the emergency room at River Region Medical Center from multiple stab wounds in his neck, Warren County Coroner Doug Huskey said. An autopsy the next day confirmed the death was a homicide.

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Bearrick, 56, 5125 Warriors Trail, had taken Sponholz to the hospital that night, Sheriff Martin Pace said. After Sponholz died, deputies took Bearrick to the Warren County Jail for questioning, and the jail docket that night listed him as being in custody as a “material witness.”

Bearrick was questioned by investigators, then released, Pace said at the time. When investigators returned Jan. 26 to the Warriors Trail property to ask more questions, Bearrick had disappeared.

Pace said Wednesday that investigators have identified a suspect in the Sponholz killing, but will say nothing about what happened to Bearrick other than it involved “foul play.”

“We feel that in the Sponholz case we are on the right track but at this time we are not going to name a suspect,” Pace said. “We do have a suspect in the case who has not been formally charged.”

Regarding Bearrick, Pace said, “I will not comment specifically about any items of evidence, but we do have reason to believe Mr. Bearrick met with foul play.”

Bearrick was the target of a manhunt in the Bovina area Feb. 15. The search turned up nothing.

Family members of both men also wonder what happened to them.

“We’re getting on with our lives, but it still bothers everybody because they haven’t found a killer,” John Barrett, Sponholz’s stepson, said Thursday. “We have no idea what happened and the police haven’t told us anything.”

Sponholz lived in a cabin on the Bearrick property since late October or November, Barrett said. As far as what might have happened to Bearrick, “that’s the million-dollar question,” he said.

A chain has been strung across the driveway leading to Bearrick’s and Sponholz’s homes, with yellow “Sheriff line — do not cross” tape dangling from the chain.

Beth Brewster, Bearrick’s daughter, said Thursday marked five months to the day since she last talked to him. Bearrick called her Jan. 25 to set up a date to go fishing. Two days later, sheriff’s deputies told her he was missing.

“It’s been five months, and my father still has not been found,” said Brewster. “I have no idea why any of this has happened. They haven’t told me anything.”

Brewster said Bearrick owned the property and that she has taken over paying his bills and looking after his affairs, including adopting his dog. “I know for a fact he didn’t just leave,” she said. “He had a sm”

Neighbors said Bearrick could often be seen walking his dog, but otherwise he kept to himself. They said there was not a lot of traffic on the road and no evidence of disturbances or unusual activity around the time that Sponholz was killed and Bearrick disappeared.

Pace said Wednesday that some items of evidence are still being analyzed at the state crime lab, and all information will be turned over to District Attorney Ricky Smith for a grand jury to review and decide if there is enough evidence for formal charges and a criminal trial.

The next Warren County Grand Jury will convene Aug. 3. Pace said he did not know if the case would be ready to present at that time.

Sponholz was a native of New York, said his mother, Carol Sponholz, a New York resident living in Florida at the time of his death. In addition to his mother and father, he left four brothers, as well as two stepsons in Vicksburg and a stepdaughter in Alabama. Bearrick, a veteran of the U.S. Army who was born in Texas, worked for one of the casinos about eight years ago, his daughter said. He also has a son, who is “on the road right now,” Brewster said, and family members in Texas, but had not spoken to them for more than 20 years.