BEAUTIFUL BALLERINA ASHLEY BENEFIELD SAID SHE SHOT HER HUSBAND AND CLAIMED IT WAS SELF-DEFENSE – WAS SHE FIGHTING BACK OR WAS IT INTENTIONAL?
“48 Hours” Investigates in “The Black Swan Murder?”
Wednesday, Sept. 8, 10:00 PM, ET/PT
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On a night in September 2020, Ashley Benefield, a former ballerina and bikini model, walked to her neighbor’s house and said she shot her husband Doug Benefield in self-defense. But was it? Correspondent Jim Axelrod and 48 HOURS investigate the death of Doug Benefield and the May-December relationship between the two, in “The Black Swan Murder?” to be broadcast Wednesday, Sept. 8 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) and streaming on Paramount+.
To some, Ashley Benefield is a woman who fought back from alleged abuse. To others, she’s a manipulative murderer who shot her husband so she would not have to share custody of their daughter. She was, some say, similar to the devious character in the theatrical film “Black Swan.” They knew each other for just 13 days before they got married. She was 24. He was 54 and a widower. Four years later it ended with one of them dead and one charged with second-degree murder.
“To Doug … Ashley’s this innocent, pure White Swan,” says Stephanie Murphy, Doug Benefield’s family attorney. “But underneath those white feathers… she’s an evil woman. …She’s the Black Swan.”
Ashley Benefield maintains her innocence and is awaiting trial.
“The Black Swan Murder?” is a bizarre story of beautiful bodies and ugly accusations. Over the four years the Benefields were married, there were strained relationships, allegations of abuse, a failed ballet studio for unconventional dancers, and the stories of family members left behind trying to make sense of it all in the wake of a deadly gunshots.
Alice Robb, a Vanity Fair contributor, started covering the story after hearing about a scandal in the ballet world.
“It was a business story about a ballet company that turned into a murder investigation,” says Robb, whose story appears in Vanity Fair’s November issue, online now.
At the time of the shooting, Ashley Benefield was living in a home in Florida owned by her mother. The couple had separated, but then reunited. They were packing up to move to Maryland for a fresh start when Doug Benefield was shot. He lived for an hour and died at nearby Doctors Hospital. Investigators say they found no evidence that Ashley Benefield was acting in self-defense, because Doug Benefield did not have any weapons near his body and Ashley Benefield only had minor scratches on her body.
Ashley Benefield has not spoken with investigators. But the night of the shooting, her mother told police they lived in fear of Doug Benefield for three-and-a-half years, and claimed that they tried to get help but nobody would help them. Ashley Benefield’s attorney also told police that Ashley had created an escape plan, including a rental car and safe location, to get away from Doug once and for all.
“Was she genuinely afraid, and just trying to protect her baby and save herself?” asks Robb. “Or was she trying to… get Doug out of her life… just out of spite because she hated him?”
“I feel like part of her wanted to believe that my dad was a good guy, but there was also part of her that was scared of him and I think that part took over,” says Doug Benefield’s daughter, Eva Benefield, who explores her feelings on TikTok using the name “evathefreakindiva.”
Axelrod and 48 HOURS report on the case through interviews with Robb, Doug Benefield’s family and attorney, students of the failed ballet studio in Charleston, S.C., and more. 48 HOURS: “The Black Swan Murder?” is produced by Paul LaRosa and Dena Goldstein. Tamara Weitzman is the development producer. Michael Loftus is the associate producer. Richard Barber is the producer-editor. Grayce Arlotta-Berner and Gary Winter are the editors. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.
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