Steven Benson's Motivation For Blowing Up His Mother, Tobacco Heiress Margaret Benson

On a hot July morning in 1985, 63-year-old Margaret Benson climbed inside her Chevy Suburban with her daughter Carol Benson Kendall and nephew Scott Benson. The New York Times reports that the family was waiting in the running car for Benson's son, 33-year-old Steven, to come aboard the vehicle that was parked in the driveway of their Naples, Florida mansion. Before he could emerge from the house, the vehicle exploded with such force that debris was projected more than 200 feet onto the fairway of the golf course that the mansion was built next to. Margaret and her nephew were killed in the blast. Kendall survived — but with severe burns.

Margaret Benson was the heiress of a large Pennsylvania-based tobacco company. She and her late husband, Edward, had moved to the Naples country club several years earlier in 1980. Edward had managed his wife's family business as well as the household finances. The proceeds from Margaret's Lancaster Leaf Tobacco Company proved to be quite lucrative. After she became a widow, she was worth an estimated $10 million.

The bombing put the city of Naples into a state of shock. Violent crime wasn't commonplace in this gulf city. Soon after the July 9 explosion, the ATF joined local authorities to help piece together the crime. It wouldn't take long for investigators to home in on their primary suspect. Two wills, botched business deals, pipe bombs, and greed served as the backdrop for what became one of Florida's most interesting cases of parricide. 

A financial motive for murder is revealed

Lancaster Online reports that the investigation quickly focused on Margaret Benson's son, Steven. At 33, Steven had already racked up a series of disappointments to his family. He spent most of his life living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and attended Franklin & Marshall College there. His enrollment in higher education would perhaps be the first in a long series of failures — he would never graduate. Still determined to make something of himself, he tried his hand at entrepreneurship. He started a landscaping business, which soon failed. He attempted to run an import/export business, which also folded. Other short-lived ventures included real estate, graphic design, and outside sales. He was given various roles in the family business at Lancaster Leaf Tobacco, which were also failures.

Investigators uncovered two different wills left behind by the tobacco heiress. The first will was drawn up in 1983, as reported by The New York Times. The document's instructions were to leave the estate to be managed by her attorney, Wayne Kerr. The proceeds were to provide an equal income to her surviving children. But a second will was filed in January 1985 by a different attorney. The will filed by Guion DeLoach did not make any mention of the trust that was filed two years prior.

Naples News reveals what police would consider a strong motive for murder. The outlet reports that greed drove Benson's son to plant the explosive devices in her vehicle, with the hope of killing her and the two others on board that might stand to inherit what he desperately wanted.

Steven Benson feared being disinherited

With a trail of failures dragging behind him, Steven Benson wasn't exactly the apple of his mother's eye. But his business shortcomings and lack of success in college might not have been enough to get him written off. Facts purported by Naples News, however, provide a clearer picture of why his dear old mother might have been considering disinheriting him. The outlet tells of how Benson became aware that her son had been embezzling money from her. It's alleged that he was able to milk an estimated $2 million from the heiress before she got wise.

His maternal aunt also thinks that her nephew was bent on killing his family for the money. After all, if his mother lived long enough, she might actually get around to removing him from any will or trust document that had been established. Janet Murphy told Naples News, "I think it was just pure greed for money. No mental problems, he was just evil."

Steven Benson was convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to two life terms in prison. In 2015, he was found dead just a week shy of the 30th anniversary of the murders (per Lancaster Online). The outlet reported the following spring that his cause of death was a stab wound to the head. He was 63 (via Lancaster Online).

The money the killer was so fixated on getting eluded him. Though still listed as an heir, the law precluded him from inheriting since he killed for profit. The proceeds were split between his sister and his three children (via the Associated Press).