AUGUSTA (AP) – It took police days to find relatives of 72-year-old Audrey Lou Benn after she was strangled to death in her cluttered basement apartment Feb. 22. Little was known about her past, where she had come from or why she was living in Maine’s capital city.

It turns out that Benn had been a teacher in New York and happily married before mental illness caused her life to unravel and finally come to a violent end.

Raymond Leslie Clark, 35, who rented an apartment in the same building as Benn, has been charged with her murder. Police said he confessed, but he has not entered a plea.

Elizabeth Glass, a daughter of Benn’s who lives in New York City, told the Kennebec Journal in Augusta of happier days in her mother’s life, and described her as “kind, generous, beautiful and brilliant.”

Benn had been a French teacher in Binghamton, N.Y., and was married in 1965 in what Glass described as a “lavish” wedding. Glass also has a brother.

“She was a competent, loving parent,” Glass said. The family spent summer vacations in Maine, staying in a cabin along a lake in a small town several miles from Augusta. But a family tragedy whose shadows followed Benn through the years gradually took a toll.

In 1952, Benn’s mother, Virginia Benn, and an 11-year-old brother, Richard, were killed in a car crash. Benn’s father and grandmother were critically injured but survived.

“Despite this tragedy, my mother carried on,” said Glass. “She finished college, worked, had many friends.”

But depression Benn suffered led to a mental breakdown in 1974, Glass said. Benn became increasingly depressed and at times manic. Her marriage fell apart and her former husband raised Glass and her brother.

“Heartbroken beyond words, we were no longer able to visit her,” Glass said in an e-mail to the newspaper.

At some point, Benn came to Augusta and was living in a neighborhood of older homes and converted apartment buildings, many of which are occupied by lower-income people. Neighbors said Benn was seen frequently on the sidewalks near her apartment.

Donald Raymond Jr., a third-floor resident of the building where Benn lived, said she had occupied the basement apartment for nearly a decade, but he didn’t know her name. Raymond described Benn as friendly, but said she “could get a little paranoid about people at times too.”

Records show she had been arrested at least twice, as recently as last year on an outstanding warrant. In 1999 she was charged with assaulting an Augusta police officer, the newspaper reported.

A police report said Benn’s apartment was “extremely cluttered” when they responded to the report of her death, with cigarette butts on the floors of the bedroom and bathroom. Benn, whose gaunt and haggard appearance contrasted with her earlier attractive looks, had kept a journal, police said.

Paul and Priscilla Bouchard, who live several houses away, said they often saw Benn walking in the neighborhood, sometimes pushing a carriage with a doll inside. Sometimes she would ask neighbors to sit down at a picnic table near her building and have a soft drink with her.

“She might have been a little eccentric, but nobody needs to go like this,” said Raymond.

It took police until Tuesday to find Benn’s relatives. Spokesman Stephen McCausland of the state Public Safety Department said police made great efforts to find her next of kin, but could find no evidence of family names or phone numbers to call.

Her daughter said Benn “was dearly loved, and is now with God, in peace.”

Information from: Kennebec Journal,

AP-ES-02-29-08 1515EST

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