ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Editor's note: This story may be disturbing to some readers.
5:15 P.M. UPDATE
The body of a woman found dead in a Subaru that crashed late Monday night in Airport Heights had been hidden in the car under a sleeping bag with signs of mutilation, according to murder charges filed today in state court.
Benjamin Wilkins, 34, made an initial court appearance in the case that at first appeared to be a simple drunken driving crash until police discovered a bound woman behind the driver’s seat. The charges say the head of the victim -- 30-year-old Jacqueline Goodwin -- had been covered with a plastic bag with zip ties placed around her wrists.
"(Police) found that she also had tape and zip ties around her mouth, and zip ties stuffed down her throat," the charges say.
Police ripped off the bag and tried to save Goodwin to no avail, the charges say. Her body was still warm but had no pulse.
A judge set Wilkins' bail at $1 million. Prosecutor Gustaf Olson said Goodwin suffered a “prolonged and agonizing death."
He said Wilkins poses a flight risk and that the facts of the case are "absolutely horrific."
The investigation led police to a home on the 1900 block of Wildwood Lane, owned by Suzanne Stefano, Wilkins' grandmother. The home sits within yards of West High School and is valued at over $814,000, according to property records.
Wilkins’ grandmother said her grandson rents a room in the basement. Wilkins' mother lives there as well.
Drops of a substance that appeared to be blood were found on the threshold to the basement entrance, and a rope that resembled a rope that was used to bind Goodwin was found hanging from a tree in the yard, the charges say.
In the basement, police found 14.69 ounces of black tar heroin, 48.29 ounces of mushrooms, 60.58 ounces of Xanax, 39.79 ounces of methamphetamine, 8.93 ounces of cocaine and 173.87 ounces of processed marijuana. They also recovered over $125,000.
A mattress on the bed was stained with blood and had been punctured by what appeared to be a gunshot, the charges say. Bullet fragments were also found in the room, according to prosecutors.
An autopsy found that Goodwin’s wounds included an apparent gunshot wound to the abdomen. She had been badly wounded in other ways that complicated the autopsy, the charges say.
The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be a combination of factors, including asphyxiation, blunt force head injury and a gunshot wound.
Wilkins' brother and mother also face charges in the grisly murder case.
Wilkins’ brother, Connor Stefano, is charged with tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution. His mother, Jacqueline Stefano, faces charges of hindering the prosecution and misconduct involving a controlled substance.
Shortly after finding Goodwin's body, police headed to the home owned by Wilkins’ grandmother. When police arrived at the West Anchorage home, Connor Stefano seemed “extremely nervous” and told them that he didn’t want police to come inside. He said he hadn’t seen his brother in a week, according to a charging document.
Wilkins’ mother, Jacqueline Stefano, allowed police in and told them she remembered Wilkins coming to the home around 5 p.m., heading to the basement and leaving with the grandmother’s car around 10 p.m. During a second interview the next day, her story changed.
Wilkins’ mother later said she heard a loud argument between her son, Ben, and a woman. Jacqueline Stefano said the woman sounded “distressed” so she called Connor to come over and deal with it around 8 p.m. She was evasive as to why she called Connor and not police if there was an assault occurring the home, according to the charging document.
Later that day, police went to Connor’s trailer on Arctic Boulevard near 36th Avenue. He told police that when he arrived at his grandmother’s home, he heard an argument and waited until it was over before heading down into the basement. He described the basement as “a mess” and started cleaning it up with Clorox. He later returned to his trailer to dispose of his bloody clothes.
Although Connor told police he didn’t take part in the murder or dispose of the body, officers noticed that someone backed a vehicle up over the grass to the stairs going down into the basement. Although there was blood on the threshold, there were no blood or drag marks on the stairs, indicating that Wilkins had help carrying the body up the stairs and placing her in his grandmother’s car.
Police noted that Wilkins weighs 155 pounds while the victim weighed 175 pounds.
Police later recovered evidence of blood cleanup in the basement’s kitchen area, bloody cleanup supplies in a shed on the property, and zip ties consistent with the type used to bind and gag the victim, according to court papers.
Police saw a brass bed with some bars bent and broken. The mattress had bloodstains on it and what appears to be a bullet hole through it. Bullet fragments were found in the room and a broken collapsible baton was found in the shed along with the cleaning supplies.
An autopsy of Goodwin's body showed she suffered significant trauma to her face and chest, including what appeared to be plier marks on one of her breasts. Many of her teeth had been broken due to blunt force trauma.
Wilkins did not enter a plea during Wednesday's hearing. The judge appointed him a public defender and set another court hearing for Thursday at 2 p.m.
Connor Stefano and Jacqueline Stefano have yet to be arraigned.
Benjamin Wilkins, 34, is scheduled to face a judge at the Anchorage jail today on murder, kidnapping and sexual assault charges after a vehicle wreck in which police found a dead woman in the car.
The woman, Jacqueline Goodwin, 30, died of injuries sustained before the Subaru that Wilkins was driving slammed into a light pole, according to police. The crash occurred at 11:40 p.m. on the 2800 block of Debarr Road, near Alaska Regional Hospital.
Wilkins was taken into custody on suspicion of impaired driving.
In 2003, Wilkins was indicted on federal drug and gun charges after aiming a gun at Anchorage police officers. Wilkins had four large bags of marijuana, 18 bags of cocaine, at least two stolen guns, and nearly $40,000 in cash when he was taken into custody on Aug. 8, 2003.
At the time, police said that they had tried to pull Wilkins over in connection with a hit-and-run accident. Wilkins refused to stop. After a car and foot chase, Wilkins pointed a gun at an officer. Another officer struck him with his cruiser when Wilkins refused to drop the weapon.
Goodwin had a long history with the Alaska court system, including multiple no contest pleas to prostitution, theft and shoplifting.
Attorney Richard Payne of Denali Law Group defended Goodwin in several of her cases. He said she was sweet but led a life of desperation.
“She was a kind and decent person,” said Payne. “I feel very badly for her family.”
Reacting to word that Goodwin had been murdered, Payne said, “no one deserves that type of treatment.”
Many of Goodwin's cases were transferred to a therapeutic mental health court called Coordinated Resources Project, or CRP.
The mental health court “usually handles defendants who are chronically ill, for whom the expected outcome is not a cure but stability or improvement in the overall situation,” according to a description by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
No one in Goodwin's family could immediately be reached.
Contact KTUU Digital Director Kyle Hopkins at email@example.com, 907-762-9288 or @kylehopkinsAK. Contact KTUU Senior Digital Reporter Paula Dobbyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-762-9242 or @pauladobbyn