Cincinnati Enquirer

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Wife endured threats, abuse
Employer hired security, but she was killed at home

By Sheila McLaughlin
Enquirer staff writer

SYMMES TWP. - Trustees at the Clermont County Public Library were so fearful for Bonnie Speece's safety after her husband threatened her with a gun on June 5 that they hired an off-duty deputy to stand guard outside the Batavia building 12 hours a day, the director said.

Colleagues comforted one another Monday at work, a day after Speece, 54, the library's human resources coordinator for six years, was gunned down outside her Symmes Gate Lane condominium.

Sheriff's officials said Benton French Speece, a 54-year-old self-employed home builder who was out of jail after posting a $20,000 cash bond in the earlier incident, fired the fatal shots about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Then he sped off to his apartment at nearby Harper's Point and shot himself.

Benton Speece never appeared at the library earlier this month.

But that was little comfort to director Leslie Massey, who worked closely with Bonnie Speece and considered her a friend.

"I thought that he would follow through," Massey said. "He had some craziness going on. Obviously, the man was very unbalanced. Certainly all of us that cared about Bonnie were very concerned."

On Monday, a bouquet of cut flowers lay as a memorial in the driveway where Bonnie Speece died.

The couple's daughters, ages 23 and 11, were gone from the home.

Sheriff's detectives continued to investigate the deaths.

Court records show that violence had escalated in the couple's 26-year marriage since January, when they separated, and that Bonnie Speece had done what she could to keep him away.

He kept coming back.

"This is a real sad one. Because it does appear to look like there were a lot of signs that this was a dangerous guy. And, he was doing the classic signs we see - escalating his behavior," said Ann MacDonald, executive director of the Rape Crisis & Abuse Center of Hamilton County.

MacDonald said Bonnie Speece took all the right steps to get out of an abusive relationship, from filing for divorce, to seeking protective orders through the court, and calling police when things got out of hand.

In an application for a civil protective order that was granted through domestic relations court on May 4, Bonnie Speece listed several incidents since January, including threats of suicide and that he would "trash our condo, set fire to the funds in his 401K and bury me in debt."

In a late January incident, Bonnie Speece said her husband dragged her out of the car, threw her in the snow and ripped off half of her clothes after a dinner together. He let her put her clothes back on after she quit fighting him.

About a week after she filed for divorce in May, Bonnie Speece and her husband attended a marriage counseling session and had planned to depart separately. Benton Speece, however, hid in her car outside the medical office building, and surprised her when she got into her car. She ran to a security guard for help, her affidavit said.

On June 4, a day before Bonnie Speece accused her husband of pulling a gun on her, he ran after their 11-year-old daughter, threw her on the floor and kicked her in the back during an argument, the affidavit said.

"He justified his actions and refused counseling," Bonnie Speece wrote.

She also had a protective order issued June 5 through Hamilton County Municipal Court, where Benton French Speece was being prosecuted on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and aggravated menacing for taking a gun out of a shopping bag, pointing it at Bonnie Speece and threatening to kill her.

"He told me that he was going to kill me, then kill himself," Bonnie Speece described the encounter in court documents. "I started talking to him about dropping the divorce action and telling him what he wanted to hear about the marriage. He placed the gun back in the bag and we talked for a while. When he left, I called police."

Benton Speece spent the night at the Hamilton County Justice Center, but was released June 6 after he appeared in municipal court and posted the $20,000 cash bond that Judge Heather Russell set at an arraignment.

The bond was far above the $1,500 bond that is called for in a guide that municipal judges use for misdemeanor cases. Russell was not available Monday, so it was unclear how much she knew about Benton Speece's past. Lawyers representing the Speeces in the divorce action and the criminal case either could not be reached or declined to comment.

A new law that goes into effect in August requires judges to consider several factors when setting bond in a domestic violence case, including whether the suspect has a history of domestic violence or other violent acts, the suspect's mental health and whether the suspect is a threat to any other person. Under current law, a judge is required to determine whether a suspect charged with domestic violence violated a protection order or has a prior conviction for domestic violence. Speece had none.

Amy Rezos, a West Chester mother after whom the law is named, wasn't sure Amy's law could have stopped what happened Sunday.

"Amy's law is not something that's there to keep it from happening altogether. God, I wish it would. But I think they would have gotten more information on him before they did let him out," Rezos said.

Meanwhile, the library administration is trying to put together a memorial service for Bonnie Speece, possibly on Wednesday, Massey said. It will provide an opportunity for her co-workers to share their grief and seek some closure, she said.

"The reactions ranged from shock to anger to can't believe it happened to just being devastated," Massey said. "It's just a horrible situation."

Jane Prendergast contributed to this report. E-mail