On Friday, September 1st, 2023, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office announced that they have solved the 36-year-old cold case murder of Cathy Sposito, a 23-year-old college student who was brutally killed while hiking near Prescott in 1987.
Authorities named Bryan Scott Bennett, a high school student at the time, as Sposito’s killer.
The murder occurred on June 13, 1987 when Sposito went hiking alone on the Thumb Butte Trail. That morning she had ridden her bike to the trailhead and began what was supposed to be a peaceful morning hike. But screams were later heard coming from the trail by other hikers in the area. By the time they located Sposito, she was already dead.
Investigators determined the young woman had been shot in the eye, stabbed multiple times, and bludgeoned repeatedly with a rock and ratchet. The gruesome murder stunned the small town of Prescott but despite an intense investigation, the case quickly went cold with no suspects or leads.
Nearly 36 years later, advances in forensic technology finally provided the break investigators needed. DNA evidence conclusively linked Bryan Scott Bennett, a 16-year-old high school student at the time, to the brutal killing.
According to Sheriff David Rhodes, Sposito was Bennett’s first victim, but he went on to attack numerous other women in northern Arizona over the next seven years. In April 1990, Bennett assaulted another female hiker in nearly the same way as Sposito — sneaking up behind her on the trail and holding a rock to her head. By chance, the second victim survived the horrific attack.
Bennett’s violence escalated further in July 1990 when he followed a woman into a bedroom during a house party and attempted to sexually assault her. Partygoers were able to stop the attack but Bennett was later acquitted due to conflicting witness statements.
The pattern culminated on June 2, 1993 when Bennett sexually assaulted a woman at knifepoint outside the Prescott post office. He was arrested but eventually released due to lack of evidence.
The reign of terror only ended when Bennett died by suicide in January 1994 in his home state of Kentucky. He was never charged for Cathy Sposito’s murder while alive.
Now, thanks to DNA evidence extracted from Bennett’s exhumed body earlier this year, Sposito’s family is finally getting long-awaited answers. The sheriff’s office is also looking into connections between Bennett and other unsolved crimes in the region.
At a press conference Friday, Sheriff Rhodes proclaimed “After 36 long years, we now know who killed Cathy. This case is no longer cold.” It was an emotional moment for all who remembered the shocking murder that stunned Prescott in the summer of 1987.
Interesting in True Crime in Arizona?
Read the riveting true story of Danny Ray Horning and his 6-week run as fugitive during the summer of 1990.