The decomposing body of a woman was found Monday next to a dead pit bull by Liberty County deputy constables in a barn in the small community of Clark, about 22 miles north of Liberty.
The body was covered by a tarp and trash in a small barn behind a trailer house in the 26000 block of Highway 146. Investigators estimate the woman had been dead six or seven months. An autopsy is being performed to determine the exact cause of death.
The owner of the property, Billy Ray Bennett, told sheriff's detectives the dead woman was a friend who had died of natural causes. Bennett has been charged with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He's being held in the Liberty County Jail.
Constable Mark Davidson and Sgt. Investigator Brian Bortz of the Liberty County Sheriff's Office went to Bennett's home at around noon Monday acting on a tip. Liberty Co. Sheriff's Captain Ken DeFoor says Bennett gave them verbal consent to search after the officers noticed a funny smell coming from the barn.
"They went back there, raised the door, there was a dead dog inside the building. It was also decomposing. He (Bennett) said that's probably what everybody was smelling," DeFoor said. "They went a little bit further and found the deceased wrapped up in tarpaulin, not far from where the dog was."
Deputies returned to the property Tuesday to search the trailer and barn and to collect seven pit bulls and six puppies they found locked in a room in the trailer. The dogs were turned over the Houston SPCA.
Bennett, 44, has an arrest record dating back to 1988 that includes drug possession and theft. Family member say the trailer belonged to his parents and that he moved in last fall after his mother passed away. Bennett's father, Assistant Chief William Bennett, died in 2011 after serving 34 years with the Pasadena Volunteer Fire Department.
Bennett is estranged from surviving family members, according to Red Parham, Bennett's sister's father-in-law.
"The family... is taking it hard.," Parham said. "It's a bad day."
Liberty County investigators say they will notify the next of kin of the woman Bennett identified as the victim, but investigators say that can't be confirmed until toxicology and DNA test results are returned, which could take six weeks or more.
Officials say Bennett could face more charges pending the outcome of their investigation.