Washington state

Slaying exposes man's secret

John William Branden ran from his name for eight years but he kept it close, inside a locked backpack in the attic.

His masquerade ended in death last week, in a quiet home on a quiet street in Gig Harbor. It held a handful of secrets and housed a man with many names, a man fleeing a criminal past that included arrest warrants for rape and attempted murder.

Branden, 62, who called himself John Williams in Gig Harbor, apparently killed himself after fatally shooting Turi Bentley, 66, the woman he called his wife, and critically wounding Randall Nozawa, 49, a friend and business associate of the couple.

The Pierce County Sheriffs office released Branden's name Tuesday, after several days of investigation to verify his identity. It wasn't easy.

The backpack detectives recovered from the shooting scene contained enough phony IDs to fill a deck of cards. Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer spread them across a table Tuesday, showing the array of names: John Williams, John Brand, John Bentley, even Turi Bentley, the nickname of the woman who lived with Branden.

Most of the IDs were flimsy pieces of cardboard from the Virgin Islands. They listed his occupation as doctor or pastor. According to detectives, Branden was neither.

One piece of ID stuck out from the rest: an expired Oregon drivers license with what's believed to be Branden's real name and birthdate, and an address in Gold Beach, Ore.

It was the hidden name, the one attached to the arrest warrants and another victim who was lucky enough to survive.

Oregon court records say Branden raped and tried to kill his then-girlfriend in 1999. Branden and the woman lived near Gold Beach, a small town on the southern Oregon coast.

"There was a relationship there," said Det. Dave Gardiner, who investigated the case for the Curry County Sheriff's office. "I want to say that they'd been together roughly 10 years."

Charging papers from that incident say Branden raped the woman, tied her up and kidnapped her. Holding a butcher knife to her throat, he told her he planned to kill her, cut up her body and throw her remains into the ocean.

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