Inmate faces capital murder charge in 30-year-old Fort Worth case

Posted Friday, Mar. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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

Though required to keep pawned items for 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 bizarre or worthless items -- including old shoes -- just because some customers were in desperate need.

"I have one of his customers' wooden legs," daughter Alison Lavine said.

"That customer died. The family came into the pawnshop 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," she 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 in and demanded money. Melvin Lavine, 61, was shot to death. 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 suspicion of felony driving while intoxicated and violating his parole, now faces a charge of capital murder on accusations that he fatally shot Lavine.

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 burglars entered -- for forensic screening, homicide Sgt. Cheryl Johnson said.

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

On Jan. 22, Waters was alerted that a match had been made to Bewley.

Comparison tests confirmed that link, and Waters obtained a capital murder warrant Thursday.

"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

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

Unlike most pawnshops, 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," Kerry Jo Lavine said. "So Daddy always had a men's clothing department in the pawnshop to honor his dad."

Lavine had three daughters and two stepchildren he raised and loved like his own, relatives say. The children often joined him at the pawnshop.

"When we were in high school, we were all required to work there after school," Alison Lavine said. "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 longtime 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 return for them after getting his Social Security check, which Melvin Lavine would cash for him.

Later, Alison Lavine said, her father bought some of the houses behind his 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 said.

After Lavine was killed, the family eventually sold the pawnshop to Cash America

Lengthy criminal past

Johnson said it is unclear whether Bewley knew Lavine.

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

Tarrant County court records show that Bewley, listed as a "transient" in the mid-1980s, racked up convictions from 1985 to 1988 for marijuana possession, unlawful carrying of 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 burglary of a building in Taylor County. He was last released on parole in April 2004, according to Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Bewley has been in the Taylor County Jail since his November arrest on suspicion of felony driving while intoxicated.

He is also being held without bail on a parole violation stemming from his burglary conviction, jail records show.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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