Autopsy: No signs of foul play

An autopsy of the body found above Lithia Park Tuesday morning showed no evidence of foul play, police said, but they are still unsure of the time and cause of death, and the victim has still not been identified.

Sock puppets were found near the body according to police, and many familiar with the homeless community are concerned the victim could be Bennett Tanner, a man known for his comedy routines and puppet shows.

Although the autopsy reported the death appeared to be caused by a fire that got out of control at the campsite some time ago, police are waiting until all toxicology reports come back to make a final determination, which could take several weeks.

"We do not have any type of criminal activity at this time," said Deputy Chief Rich Walsh this morning. "It appears to be an accidental death."

Police have collected several names of possible victims, but the identity will have to be determined through dental records or DNA analysis, they said.

Friends of the man they knew simply as Bennett hope he is not the victim, but fear the worst, they said.

"We're like 99 percent sure," said Joseph Talboom, a friend of Bennett's, who said he provided the police with a picture of the man. "Everything just fits ... it'd be great if it wasn't him, but I'm starting to worry."

Bennett's friends thought he might be in California, but he has not returned any of Talboom's e-mails, and he didn't tell anyone where he was going or ask that his mail be held, things he normally did before leaving town. He was known to camp in the granite pit area where the body was found.

Friends remembered Bennett as a kind man who loved kids and all things spiritual, often flying prayer flags above his campsite. He had been in Ashland for at least nine years and regularly met with friends at Evos Caf&

233; and the Ashland Food Co-op.

"He'd keep to himself sometimes, but he's generally pretty outgoing," said Bill Weston, who met Bennett at Evos about two years ago. "People have been talking about him a lot in the last couple of days."

Investigators are still attempting to locate next of kin, police said, and until the body is positively identified, rumors are swirling.

At least one person suspected the victim might be a homeless man named Paul, a man fond of painting pictures of wolves and polar bears, who was rumored to be camping around the same area and has not been seen for several weeks. Paul was less-known in the community, because he had only been in Ashland about six months.

"If it was Bennett, it's going to create a lot of heartbreak in Ashland," said Daniel Reuff, a friend of Bennett's for several years.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

Share This Story