Charge filed in 30-year-old slaying of kind-hearted pawn shop owner

Posted Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Anyone with further information about the Lavine case is asked to call Detective Sarah Jane Waters at 817-392-4307.

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FORT WORTH -- In a world where profit is often king, pawn shop owner Melvin Lavine's compassion trumped the usual way of doing business.

Though required to hold onto pawned items 90 days, Lavine preferred to wait 120 days to give customers a little extra time to raise the money to reclaim their possessions.

He accepted sometimes bizarre or worthless items -- including old shoes -- just because he knew some customers were in desperate need.

"I have one of his customer's wooden legs," said one of his daughters, Alison Lavine. "That customer died, the family came into the pawn shop the next day to pawn it. They didn't say anything to him. He didn't say anything to them. Daddy just gave them whatever it was they wanted. He knew they were never going to come back for it.

"He had a heart," Alison Lavine said.

The kind man's life came to a tragic end on March 13, 1983.

As he and his wife slept inside his home on Colonial Parkway, two men broke into the house and demanded money. Lavine, 61, was shot and killed. The men then stole Peggy Lavine's purse and fled.

Now, almost 30 years later, police have obtained an arrest warrant for a 48-year-old county jail inmate in Abilene who investigators say has been linked through DNA to the crime scene.

Benjamin W. Bewley, who is in the Taylor County Jail on charges of felony driving while intoxicated and parole violation, now faces a charge of capital murder on accusations that he fatally shot Lavine while burglarizing the man's home.

The break came after cold case Detective Sarah Jane Waters reviewed the three decade-old case and submitted evidence from the home's back door -- where investigators believe the suspects gained entry into the home -- for forensic screening, said homicide Sgt. Cheryl Johnson.

A DNA profile was obtained and subsequently entered into the Combined DNA Index System.

On Jan. 22, Waters was alerted that a match had been made linking the profile to Bewley. Comparison tests have now confirmed that link and on Thursday, Waters obtained a capital murder warrant for the suspect.

"I'm so glad to have some resolution to this after 30 years of not knowing what happened that night," said Kerry Jo Lavine, another of Lavine's daughters.

A man of integrity

Family members said Lavine started his pawn shop, Melvin's Jewelry and Loan, in downtown Fort Worth around 1941 but later had to move it to 1128 S. Main Street after the city began building the convention center.

Unlike most pawn shops, Lavine's featured a clothing section.

"His father, Harry Lavine, owned a men's clothing shop and then the Depression came and that's when they started loaning money," said Kerry Jo Lavine. "So Daddy always had a men's clothing department in the pawn shop to honor his dad."

Lavine had three daughters and two stepchildren that family members say he raised and loved like his very own. The children often joined him at the pawn shop.

"When we were in high school, we were all required to work there after school," Alison Lavine remembered. "That was part of our chores, he would say."

Alison Lavine said working alongside their father gave the children great insight into his character.

She remembers his long-time customers "Slim" and "Mama."

Slim would come in every month and pawn his sole prized possession -- his shoes -- for $5 when his money ran out. He would then return to get them out upon getting his social security check, which Lavine would cash for him.

Later, Alison Lavine said, her father purchased some of the houses behind his pawn store, including the one rented by Slim and Mama.

"When Slim would come in, (Lavine) would tell Slim not to worry about his rent. He was going to get it covered for him," Alison Lavine recalled.

Sometime after Lavine's slaying, the family sold the pawn shop to Cash America.

Lengthy criminal past

Johnson said it is still unclear whether Bewley knew Lavine.

She said investigators are still trying to identify the second suspect.

Tarrant County court records show Bewley, listed as a "transient" in the mid-1980s, racked up convictions between 1985 and 1988 for marijuana possession, unlawfully carrying a weapon, theft, burglary of a habitation and possession of a controlled substance.

In February 1992, Bewley was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a conviction of burglary of a building out of Taylor County. He was last released on parole in April 2004, according to Jason Clark, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Bewley has been incarcerated in the Taylor County Jail since November after his arrest for felony driving while intoxicated. He is also being held without bond for parole violation stemming from his burglary conviction, jail records show.

Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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