WARREN COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF)- One double homicide left two families awaiting justice for the last three years.
“It haunts me that my aunt died last year with cancer and she was close to Cheryl. She said I hope before I die they find who did this, but that didn’t happen,” Sandra Azimi, the younger sister of Cheryl Newsome told us.
72-year-olds Cheryl Newsome and Troy Bennett were spending a Sunday evening at home on August 2, 2020.
“They actually came to my house about 3:30 in the afternoon and we had a fish fry,” Newsome’s daughter Wendy Purvis told Cold Case Project. “And they came home about 6:30 in the evening. I talked to mama at 7:30 and she called me and we talked briefly and that was the last time we talked.”
Wendy Purvis lives next door to the Mitchell Road home in Warren County where the couple settled in for the night. Bennett had been working on a Blackstone griddle out back he purchased that weekend from an auction in Crawfordville. Newsome was more than likely sitting in her recliner with a blanket. The next day, August 3, Newsome never picked up her granddaughter for a sports physical as scheduled.
“When she hadn’t picked up Gracie by 10 o’clock I knew something was wrong,” Purvis said adding that she sent her daughter next door to the home.
“That’s when she walked in the back door and found Troy on the floor,” she recalled.
And Purvis’ daughter found both her grandmother and her partner dead on the bedroom floor. She called a police friend. And news began to spread, reaching Cheryl’s younger sister in Macon, Georgia.
Azimi shared her perspective on how that day went and said, “Literally, I pulled in Burger King on the Gray Highway and they had to call my daughter to come get me. Cause I was like, you’re kidding. You just don’t think about that happening in this rural community.”
“My understanding, this was a good family, close knit family. They all lived right there together,” said Patrick Morgan, Special Agent In Charge with the GBI’s Region 7 office.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office called Patrick Morgan with the GBI to assist in the investigation on the same day the couple was found. He recalled a homicide down the road from the Newsome/Bennett murders, but for the most part there’s typically nothing like this.
“From a GBI perspective, I can’t say that it’s out of the ordinary for something like this to happen. But, for a community like Warren County, it probably did shock a lot of people and community members that live there,” Morgan said.
Cold Case Project spoke with Cheryl Newsome’s family about her life. The Warren County native loved helping people from a young age, a characteristic that aided in her longtime career as a nurse.
“She would go pick peas or butter beans out of the fields and go give it all away,” Azimi recalled of their childhood.
“She was meticulous with her wound care. All nursing homes wanted her,” said Judy Logue, Newsome’s co-worker.
Logue started working with Newsome in the 1980s at Ethica Nurse and Rehab, now Gibson Nursing Home in nearby Glascock County.
“She probably got Employee of the Month more than anybody got Employee of the Month. And then she got Employee of the Year,” she said.
Logue recalls an eclectic friend always in costume for Halloween, adorned in bling at other times. She said she had the pleasure of dining with Newsome for lunch each work day.
“We didn’t see each other too much out of work, except for ball games and we were there to see our grandchildren play. And I had met Troy at a football game not too long before this happened,” Logue explained.
“And tell me about Troy,” we asked.
She replied, “I said what is he like? She said Judy he is good to me and he is good to my grandchildren. Not my grandchildren, my grand yougins.”
Newsome met Bennett while doing what she loved, dancing. The couple would attend events at the VFW the Vietnam vet ran in Hancock County. The Cherokee County native loved hunting and fishing. He retired from the Cobb County Fire Department and has one son and two grandkids.
Bennett’s grandson, Austin Bennett, shared these words:
“Growing up, I would stay with Poppy (Troy Bennett) and Grandma (Shirley) for weeks at a time during the summer. Some of my most vivid memories are from when Poppy would let me drive around on the UTV to check the horses and cows. The lessons he taught me as a kid and as his adult grandson will stay with me forever. Little did he know he taught me how to be relentless and brave when we were catching snapping turtles bare handed. We would hangout for hours in the pond in front of his house playing and laughing together. He taught me how to play pool, and he would even “let me win” every now and then. I developed a passion for the outdoors, which I still have to this day, thanks to growing up with his love of the outdoors. Poppy’s fearlessness, bravery, enthusiasm, determination, cheerfulness, and overall love for those around him are traits I grew to recognize and admire in my adult life. Striving to have those same qualities is what made me into the man I am today. The agony of losing him is something I will convey for the rest of my life. The moments we had together are no less vivid today than they were the day those memories happened. There is not a single day that goes by where I don’t wish I could call and talk to him just one more time. I would do anything to talk about the football game yesterday, that next trophy buck we’re going to get, or ask how the other is doing just one more time. Not being able to [experience] feeling his arms wrap around for one more hug or hear him say, “love you,” one more time is tormenting. Someone decided to take away a man who meant the world to his grandchildren. We were robbed of so many future memories, and whoever decided to commit these heinous crimes should be brought to justice. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.”Austin Bennett
Purvis said he paid cash for items at the auctions he and her mother frequented and recently purchased a safe.
“Everywhere they went, he paid with cash,” he said. “So I just think the wrong people got ahold of that information.”
We asked Morgan, “Was this some kind of robbery, home invasion?”
“Items were taken from the home,” he said. “There’s items missing from the home. I can tell you that. So, apparently there is a robbery angle to this.”
Purvis added some TVs were taken and cash too, but the safe was untouched.
“I think people knew that there was money in here,” Logue said of her opinion of the crime. “You wouldn’t know going by, but the people that knew her, that knew him, that went to the Crawfordville sale where he bought that safe. Why you going to buy a safe without putting any valuables in it?”
“So you think they were targeted?” we asked.
“I think they were targeted,” Logue replied. “Most definitely think they were targeted.”
Not giving up hope, the family took to Facebook and started the Justice For Cheryl Newsome and Troy Bennett Memorial Group. Two billboards went up in McDuffie County as well with a GBI tip line and a reward.
“Right now it’s at $10,000,” Purvis said.
July of this year, the Coleman-Baker Act went into law. It establishes a GBI cold case unit that will focus on unsolved homicides. Purvis completed applications for Newsome and Bennett. And with the help of Morgan and this newly formed cold case unit, the Warren County double homicide will be among the first in the CSRA to hopefully benefit from the new law.
“It just gets people, I think, that are seasoned with the cold case,” Purvis said. “They read over the information and then see where the investigators can, if there’s somewhere they need to concentrate more.”
Morgan added, “With that unit it will be a fresh set of eyes looking at it because I have not told them anything about the case.”
GBI Cold Case Unit Special Agent in Charge Brian Whidby shared the following information about how the state helps.
The Coleman-Baker Act provides certain designated persons* a process to seek the review and possible reinvestigation of cold case murders by Georgia law enforcement. The GBI will receive and review Coleman-Baker Act applications submitted through the GBI website, https://gbi.georgia.gov/. Only applications where the GBI Investigative Division was the primary investigating agency will be accepted. Applications for review of a cold case murder where the GBI Investigative Division was not the primary investigating agency will not be accepted for review.
The Coleman-Baker Act provides family members of victims another avenue to seek justice and closure for their loved one. The GBI continues to investigate all homicides current and unsolved in hopes of bringing the investigation to a successful resolution and hold those persons responsible accountable. The GBI Office of Special Investigations (OSI) Cold Case Unit (CCU) was created after the passage of the Coleman-Baker Act and has been accepting and reviewing applications. The CCU is currently reviewing unsolved homicides originally investigated by the GBI Investigative Division and following up on all available leads and evidence. The CCU hopes to bring new investigative techniques and technology to those investigations when appropriate.
*A designated person defined by the Coleman-Baker Act is a parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandparent-in-law, sibling, spouse, child, stepchild of a victim, any person who exercised in loco parentis control over a victim under the age of 18 years, or their designated attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Georgia.
Additionally, Morgan said that there are items he submitted for DNA testing. And he said the GBI unit can assist with paying for the tests. He feels the case can be solved. And this is what keeps the family hopeful for justice.
“Maybe it might take years, but I think it will all come out eventually,” Azimi said.
“It will never be over,” Purvis explained. “So, this is just going to be part of our life for the rest of our life. But will it make me feel better when someone is arrested and goes to prison, yes, I think so.”
Anyone with any information on the murders of Cheryl Newsome and Troy Bennett can call the GBI at 706-595-2575 or the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 706-465-3340.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take you to Aiken County were Lisa Shuttleworth went missing from her home. What family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.
Photojournalist: Regynal McKie