College is a big deal. It’s a huge milestone that most teenagers look forward to with excitement, anticipation, and even trepidation. For 17-year-old Taylor Behl, it would have been appropriate for fear to take center stage. However, it didn’t because no one could have guessed just how much of a reason there was for her and her family to be afraid. Her transition into college life was going great until it wasn’t.
Taylor Behl was like most teenagers. She was excited about college. Taylor was interested in boys, especially ones who resembled movie stars. She enjoyed time with her peers as she embarked on a new chapter. But picking one’s friends and lovers can be a tricky thing. Tricky and sometimes even dangerous.
Taylor Behl is Embarking on a New Chapter
Millions of teenage first-year students head off to college every fall, bright-eyed and ready to seize a thrilling new experience. According to Dean Mirshahi of ABC8 News, Taylor Behl was one of many as she entered her college career at Virginia Commonwealth University. She was described as “full of life,” passionate about drama, and intrigued by the prospect of living in the city. Edie Magnus of NBC News records the musings on Taylor’s blog just before her big transition: “I just graduated from high school, and now I’m off to Richmond… I’m looking forward to meeting people in Richmond because I only know a few people there. But I love to meet new people in general, so feel free to message me whenever to chat!”
As far as Taylor’s mother, Janet Pelasara, was concerned, there was little reason to worry about her daughter’s safety. She had been taught how to look out for herself. Growing up, her single mother raised Taylor, weathered multiple divorce cases, and relocated many times. In addition, Pelasara had zero qualms about her daughter’s dorm arrangements as Taylor got on well with her roommate and the other girls living nearby.
On the surface, the situation appeared ideal. Unfortunately, the one red flag that might have encouraged the need for caution was hidden from Pelasara by her daughter. This red flag came from a 38-year-old photographer she’d met just before school started. Unbeknownst to neither Taylor nor her parents, her willingness to embrace new relationships would lead to her untimely demise.
In the beginning, Taylor’s college initiation appeared unremarkable. NBC News records that on Monday, September 5th, the freshman arrived in her dorm past 10 p.m. According to the information gathered during the investigation, she’d just finished dinner with a friend. She had hung out with Ben Fawley, the photographer friend she’d kept a secret from her mother. She entered her dorm to find that her roommate had company. As her guest was male, her dorm companion asked that Taylor Behl find somewhere else to go so that they could have privacy.
Taylor did leave, taking her car keys, cell phone, and cash with her to skateboard until the coast was clear for her to return. But she didn’t return. For two days, her roommates didn’t think much of it. Preposterous though this might seem, it is not unusual for college students at Virginia Commonwealth University to vanish for a few days at a time without contacting their parents. Often, the reasons are innocent, and they are taking trips to the beach or simply trying to escape the newfound pressures of being college students.
A Team Effort to Find Taylor Behl
Though Taylor Behl was new on campus and hadn’t become well acquainted with her dorm mates, everyone from the students to campus security joined forces in search of the missing teen. Her peers put up posters, and Pam Leply, a member of campus security, discovered that Taylor’s car was gone and promptly began questioning her friends and family.
Only once Palasara arrived at VCU her daughter’s intimate relationship with Ben Fawley began to surface. Taylor’s mother had a definitive feeling about the 38-year-old man as she stood by and listened to him being questioned. He was being asked. “… I couldn’t stand looking at him,” she told Magnus of NBC News. “I was sickened, absolutely sickened. Knowing that this 38-year-old man had taken advantage of my 17-year-old daughter. I couldn’t listen to him… ”
First Suspect is The Girl’s Boyfriend Ben Fawley.
Frawley seemed as concerned about Taylor’s safety as anyone. It took a bit of investigation, but the many things Taylor had kept from her mother regarding the amateur photographer had come to light. Though not a student at the college, it seemed he hung around the campus and met Taylor before she started her first year. He allegedly had a track record of dating younger women. Preliminary research of his online presence portrayed him as a gothic artist-type and potentially former nude model. Frawley is said to have had a Johnny Depp-like air about him. Considering Depp was one of Taylor’s favorite movie stars, it’s little wonder the man intrigued her.
“This beautiful girl climbed up into my bunk,” NBC News records Frawley to have posted online. Taylor Behl responded with, “Well, I was curious.” Frawley replied, “So was I…fact I still am….”
Despite these findings and Pelasara’s motherly intuition that Frawley was no good, there was nothing to prove that he was responsible for Taylor’s disappearance, so the authorities turned their attention elsewhere.
The investigation was kicked into high gear when the FBI joined the search after Taylor had been missing for six days. However, the study could have been more dry. Taylor’s not answering her phone. No activity online. No trace of her whereabouts.
As the case became more critical with each passing day, the police turned to Frawley once again. They searched his home, where they obtained several computers. During this time, the shadows of his past, which included a criminal record involving violence, emerged. An ex-girlfriend and ex-roommate confirmed his bipolar tendencies, mood swings, and anger issues. Still, there was no solid evidence that he’d made Taylor Behl disappear.
Still, it was only a matter of time before the needed clues surfaced. Twelve days after the investigation, the police found Taylor’s car a block from her dorm. A closer look confirmed that the license plate had been changed. Eerily enough, Frawley was known for collecting license plates. All the investigators had to do was check for fingerprints and DNA that would suggest someone other than Taylor had been driving her car.
The fact that sex toys, chains, whips, and a machete, among other disturbing articles, were located in his home only aggravated the case against him. There were even IDs and cell phones among his possessions, but none of this brought the police closer to finding Taylor Behl.
It was time to return to the internet to discover anything they missed.
To uncover any evidence that would help them find Taylor Behl, the police questioned Frawley’s ex-girlfriend and showed her a few landscape pictures Frawley had taken. In one of the snapshots, the ex-girlfriend identified a stretch of land near her family’s home, close to the Chesapeake Bay.
Desperate to find something, anything, the police combed the area. It might have only been a photograph and venturing onto the land a last-ditch effort, but it was the break the police had been waiting for.
By this time, all eyes were firmly on Frawley. Seeing he was cornered, he claimed to have had consensual intercourse with Taylor in her vehicle. ABC8 News reports that Frawley made the following admission at the time of his arrest: “I think I might have put my hand over her mouth and told her to shut up.” It appeared he’d not simply put his hand over her mouth. Though no one could say for sure, it looked as if Frawley had strangled a 17-year-old girl. It was time to take the case to trial.
Ben Fawley’s Great Show of Remorse
According to the Washington Post, the trial commenced in Fairfax County. The atmosphere remained relatively subdued until Pelasara caught sight of Frawley. The aggrieved mother couldn’t stop yelling what everyone was thinking: “Murderer!” He held a picture of his two daughters in his hand and reportedly cried exceedingly throughout the trial. However, these responses, which might have curried sympathy, would not change the verdict. Tears wouldn’t bring Taylor back.
The claims in regards to Frawley’s mental instability were confirmed by the murderer himself when he penned these chilling words to a friend: “I never like the thoughts in my head… People are right. Something is wrong with me. All the thoughts of killing and death were in my head, and now it’s true. I’ve killed someone.”
Was it a harsh enough sentence for a man who had snatched a teen from her family when her life had just begun? Taylor’s mother’s response to the verdict was as follows:
“I’m happy that it’s over… I don’t know that I’ll ever have closure. How do you have closure on losing your only daughter? I don’t think there ever will be.”
Taylor Behl Memorial Scholarship
Despite his grief, ABC8 News reports that Taylor’s father, Matt Behl, has set up the “Taylor Marie Behl Memorial Scholarship.” The scholarship is designed to help students reach their goals since his sweet daughter never had the chance. The fact that he is still willing to support higher education, considering all of the emotional pain Frawley put the Behls through, is moving to say the least.
Jim Nolan, who reported on the story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is recorded by NBC News to have said, “What’s so sad and tragic about this story and why it resonates with so many people is because every August, every September, thousands of mothers and fathers send their sons and daughters off to school for the first time. It’s an adventure. It’s kind of a rite of passage. And everyone hopes when you close the door and wave goodbye and drive off campus, that their child will be okay, that where you left them is where you’re going to find them.”
Unfortunately, the Behl’s were not blessed with this ideal ending. Their little girl was gone.