A 28-year-old Dagsboro man was driving near Rehoboth Beach Friday, July 6, when he was stopped by U.S. Marshals.
A U.S. Marshal's Task Force arrested Matthew N. Burton of Power Plant Road. He has been charged with first and second degree murder in the June 15 death of Nicole Bennett of Millsboro.
He is being held at the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, pending an extradition hearing.
Bennett, a 35-year-old mother of three, rented a home with her husband of 15 years, Kevin, in the Peninsula at Long Neck.
Bob Bennett, Nicole's father-in-law, said the family is relieved and happy that an arrest has been made.
"We are ecstatic," Bennett said. "We want to go to trial, and we want justice for Nicole. We want Nicole back, but we can't have that."
Bennett's body was discovered on the morning of June 15, on an embankment off Swamp Road in Worcester County. An autopsy conducted at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined Bennett was murdered and had been asphyxiated. Autopsy evidence also indicated she was already dead when her body was left on the embankment.
During the course of the initial investigation, police learned that one hour before she was found, Bennett’s husband had called 911 in Delaware, reporting her missing. She had not returned home from Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro, where family members said she was working late, having missed work earlier in the day. Nicole Bennett was director of the nursery program at the church.
Delaware State Police responded to the church and found Bennett’s vehicle parked on the lot. It was locked with her personal belongings inside. Police learned Bennett had been alone inside the church with a custodian, identified as Burton. Burton was subsequently located and interviewed by investigators.
State police homicide investigators executed search warrants and processed the homes and vehicles of both Bennett and Burton. Several interviews were conducted with numerous family members, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. Investigators sought video surveillance footage from area businesses and from the church, which is about six miles from where Bennett was found.
Evidence links Burton to murder
DNA evidence gathered by crime scene technicians from the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division connected Burton to the crime. After consultation with the Worcester County State’s Attorney, an arrest warrant was obtained.
About 7:15 p.m. July 6, the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force, a warrant apprehension team located Burton driving on Route 1 near Rehoboth Beach. Burton was apprehended on a subsequent traffic stop and taken into police custody.
Bennett said he was not told why Burton was in Rehoboth.
Investigators have not yet determined where Bennett was murdered. Police said a motive for the murder remains unclear.
Burton worked as a part-time janitor at Bay Shore Community Church, where his parents, Bonnie and Gene Burton, were also members. According to a YouTube video posted by the church, Bonnie was a member of the Blessings United Ministry at Bay Shore, which collected food for low-income families. Bonnie also worked as a part-time secretary at the church, but both she and Matthew Burton were released from employment during the investigation into Bennett's murder.
Burton has been married to his wife, Traci Burton, since 2002. The couple has two young children. Traci Burton referred all questions to Attorney John Garey of Dover.
Garey could not be reached for comment.
Burton had two previous arrests: The first in 2001 was for criminal mischief and conspiracy; the second in 2004 for endangering the welfare of a child. Burton served one year probation for the 2004 charges, and agreed to have no contact with the two girls.
As part of his sentence in 2004, Burton also agreed to be listed on the Delaware sex offender registry as a Tier 1 sex offender. According to Delaware State Police spokesman Paul Shavack, Tier 1 offenders are not listed on the online registry.
A church administrator notified police that Burton had been released from employment June 16. When Burton failed to register his change in employment, Delaware State Police Sex Offender Unit arrested him June 22. He was released on $5,000 secured bond June 23, according to Justice of the Peace Court 3 in Georgetown. That case has been transferred to the Court of Common Pleas.
Burton's mother, Bonnie Burton of Georgetown, was attempting to have Burton's 2004 sentence expunged. She approached Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, more than a year ago. King said after researching his case she found the record was not eligible to be expunged until 2015. King also attends Bay Shore church.
Bennett said the Burton family has no connection to Nicole. Bennett said he and his wife, Mary, are also members of Bay Shore church, but they did not know the Burtons.
A family tries to recover
He said Kevin and the three girls are coping with Nicole's murder, but that every day is difficult.
"Kevin is just in a daze," Bennett said. "We are trying to deal every day."
Nicole's family in Nebraska declined to comment at this time, said Rachel Reiser, Nicole's sister-in-law.
Bennett said all those who would like to support Nicole's family can donate to the Nicole Reiser Bennett Fund at WSFS Bank in Millsboro. A website will also be launching in the coming week, said Bennett.
To donate to the Bennett family, stop by a branch or send a check to Nicole Reiser Bennett Memorial Fund, WSFS Bank, Millsboro Branch, 26644 Center View Drive, Millsboro, DE 19966.