The Story Of The 3-Year-Old Girl Who Survived The Brutal Murder Of Her Family

In the evening hours of January 15, 1984, an intruder forced his way into the Aurora, Colorado, home of Bruce and Debra Bennett. As reported by The Denver Post, Bruce, Debra, their 7-year-old daughter Melissa, and their 3-year-old daughter Vanessa, were upstairs in bed when the man entered their home. Bruce went downstairs when he heard a disturbance.

Authorities said evidence collected and observed at the scene suggested the intruder attacked Bruce on the landing of the staircase. Using a hammer, and a knife he took from the couple's kitchen, he struck and stabbed Bruce multiple times and left him for dead before proceeding upstairs.

The Denver Post reports the man then went into the master bedroom, where he physically and sexually assaulted Debra before beating and stabbing her to death. He then made his way into a second bedroom, which Melissa and Vanessa shared. Law enforcement officials determined the man sexually assaulted and ultimately killed Melissa. Although Vanessa was severely beaten and was left with a crushed jaw and a lacerated trachea, she was the only member of her family to survive the brutal attack.

Authorities eventually determined the Bennetts were victims of a serial killer, who was dubbed the "Hammer Killer." The unknown assailant's ruthless crime spree spanned 12 days in 1984 and seemingly stopped as abruptly as it began. It would be 34 years before DNA would confirm the "Hammer Killer" was a man named Alex Christopher Ewing.

Alex Ewing was in prison for another crime when he was identified as the 'Hammer Killer'

In 1984, Alex Ewing was arrested and charged with breaking into a Kingman, Arizona, home and bludgeoning a man with a large rock. However, The Denver Post reports he managed to escape custody while awaiting trial.

On August 9, 1984, Ewing and several other inmates were being transported to a hearing in a jail van. When they stopped for a restroom break, Ewing managed to get away from the guards and ran. That same evening, he broke into the Henderson, Nevada, home of Christopher and Nancy Barry. Although he brutally beat the couple with an ax handle, they both survived the attack. Ewing was eventually captured, convicted, and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

On August 6, 2021, Ewing was convicted in the murders of Bruce, Debra, and Melissa Bennett based on DNA collected at the scene. He was subsequently sentenced to three life terms, which are to be served consecutively. As reported by People, Vanessa Bennett, who survived the brutal attack, gave a victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing.

Vanessa, who was 41 at the time, said that in addition to suffering the loss of her parents and sister she was left with a severe head injury that has impacted nearly every aspect of her life. She said she has struggled with anger issues, anxiety, depression, and heroin addiction. 

Vanessa Bennett does not remember her family

During the sentencing hearing, Vanessa Bennett said, "I didn't just lose my parents and my sister, I lost the person who I was supposed to be." As reported by People, she admitted she still faces many struggles. She said, "I lost my sanity. I look in the mirror every day and look at myself and I hate who I am. And I hate what I had to go through and still go through. I hurt myself. I was a drug addict for so many years."

In an interview with A&E True Crime, Bennett discussed the murders and their impact on her life in more depth. One of the most devastating points is that she simply does not have any memories of her parents or her sister. However, she also does not remember being attacked. Bennett said she was encouraged to undergo hypnotherapy, which may help her recover some lost memories, but she is concerned it could make things even worse for her. 

Bennett has a metal plate in her forehead and her jaw needed to be reconstructed after the attack. She also has a degree of paralysis on her left side, which makes it difficult to use her left hand. During her interview with A&E True Crime, Bennett said she was raised by her paternal grandmother, but went to live with her aunt when she was in the 8th grade. Bennett went on to attend high school at a boarding school.

Vanessa Bennett said she is finally 'in a better place'

Vanessa Bennett admitted she started drinking and using drugs, including cocaine and heroin, when she was 19. In her interview with A&E True Crime, she also revealed her drug use caused her to lose custody of her son only three months after he was born. Although she said she still felt a "connection with him," she admitted she did not "know how to be a mother" at the time.

Bennett said she has dealt with homelessness and was incarcerated on several occasions for assault, domestic violence, drug possession, shoplifting, and trespassing. She has also been diagnosed with a number of mental health issues, including ADHD, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

During the interview with A&E True Crime, Bennett said she had a total of three children. Although she was reunited with her son when he was an adult, she has been denied visitation with her two daughters.

Bennett said attending Alex Ewing's trial, and giving a victim impact statement, was difficult. Although she is thankful that Ewing is behind bars, she said his conviction did not have much of an impact on her life, as "the damage had already been done."

In recent years, Bennett said she is "in a better place." She said she and her husband are currently living in Tucson, Arizona. They are both disabled and have been receiving public assistance and help from family. However, she said she has a strong will to keep moving forward.