On the night Amanda Strous was killed, witnesses said they saw the man charged in her killing blocking the door to her burning apartment with blood on his legs, according to search warrants.
At about 5:36 p.m. June 18, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, the Charlotte Fire Department and Medic responded to an apartment fire on Toscana Way in southwest Charlotte. Detectives searched the residence and found evidence that a fire had been intentionally set and probable cause that a murder had been committed.
According to the search warrant, detectives interviewed multiple witnesses who said they heard a woman screaming before the fire alarms went off.
During the evacuation, witnesses saw a man with blood on his legs on the phone outside the burning apartment, sweating profusely and physically blocking anyone from entering, according to the search warrant. The man told witnesses that someone was injured inside.
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Witnesses saw the man run to the third floor, then down to the parking lot to flee the scene. Detectives identified the man as Mathew Thomas Benner, 28.
On June 19, detectives contacted a witness who spoke with Benner, learning that Benner had confessed to the witness and was fleeing to another state, according to the warrant. The witness has a personal relationship with Benner and has known him for approximately five years, according to the warrant. The witness told detectives Benner returned to his apartment immediately after Strous’ death and prior to fleeing.
Benner lived in the apartment directly above Strous. Their relationship is unclear. Police executed search warrants on both apartments.
Police seized swabs, matches, lighter fluid, cellphones, fibers and a smoke detector from Strous’ apartment. They seized matches, lighters, gloves, firearms and ammunition from Benner’s apartment, as well as several personal items including laptops and a notebook.
Benner has been charged with murder in Strous’ death and is being held in the Mecklenburg County jail. Investigators had tracked Benner’s cellphone to Pahrump, Nev., about 60 miles east of Las Vegas.
Deputies found him asleep in his car and arrested him without incident. “An interview was conducted and confession obtained from Benner,” the Nye County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
Benner’s attorney, Jeremy Smith, released a statement June 25 asking the public to reserve judgment until the facts are presented in court.
Strous, 27, was pronounced dead at approximately 6:18 p.m. June 18 after being taken to a hospital with what police described as pattern burns. Strous, a counselor at Central Piedmont Community College’s Harper Campus, was engaged to be married July 20.
Rachel Herzog: 704-358-5358; @rachel_herzog