Church Custodian Arrested In Murder Case

WHALEYVILLE — A Dagsboro, Del. man has been arrested and charged with the murder of a woman found dead in a ditch along a rural road in northern Worcester County last month.

Maryland State Police homicide detectives have charged Matthew Burton, 28, of Dagsboro, with murder after connecting the suspect to the death of Nicole Bennett, 35, of Millsboro, whose body was found on a roadside embankment in Whaleyville on the morning of June 15. Burton, a registered Tier I sex offender in Delaware, worked as a custodian in the church where the victim also worked and was last seen the night before her body was discovered.

Shortly before 9 a.m. on June 15, Worcester Central received a 911 call reporting the discovery of the body of a deceased woman in an embankment off Swamp Rd., a dirt road east of Nelson Rd. near Whaleyville. The caller was walking along the rural road when he discovered the body, which was later identified as Bennett, a wife and mother of three young children. During the course of the initial investigation, police learned Bennett was the subject of a missing person’s case being investigated by the Delaware State Police.

One hour before Bennett’s body was found, her husband had called 911 to report her missing after she didn’t return home from working late at the Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro the night before. Delaware State Police responded to the church and found Bennett’s vehicle in the parking lot with her belongings inside. Detectives learned Bennett had been alone inside the church with Burton, who was working as a custodian. Burton was located and interviewed by investigators, but no arrest was made initially and no charges were filed against him.

Homicide detectives executed search warrants and processed the homes and vehicles of both Bennett and Burton. Several interviews were conducted with numerous family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Investigators sought video surveillance footage from area businesses and from the church, which is located around six miles from where Bennett was found.

DNA evidence gathered by crime scene technicians from the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division ultimately connected Burton to the crime. An autopsy conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore determined Bennett was murdered and had been asphyxiated. Autopsy evidence also indicated Bennett was already dead when her body was left in the embankment off the dirt road in Whaleyville.

Investigators have not yet confirmed the scene of the initial crime and a motive for the murder remains unclear. Burton was terminated from his job at the church the day after Bennett’s body was found. Burton was arrested on June 22 for failing to report an address change, a requirement for registered sex offenders.

After the investigation, including DNA evidence, connected Burton to Bennett’s murder, detectives consulted with the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office and a warrant for his arrest was obtained. Around 7:15 p.m. last Friday, 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 was taken into custody. He has been formally charged with first- and second-degree murder and is being held at the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Del. pending a hearing on his extradition to Worcester.

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