Cold case cracked? Man charged with killing girl last seen at Modesto bus depot in 1986

With authorities in Texas, the Modesto Police Department has made an arrest in the 37-year-old cold case of a missing Modesto teen presumed murdered, though her body never has been found.

Susan Robin Bender, 15, was last seen in public on the afternoon of April 25, 1986, at the Greyhound bus depot in downtown Modesto. She told a friend there that she planned to visit people in Carmel. But instead of getting on a bus, she called someone on a depot phone and 10 minutes later got into a green van.

According to a news release Thursday, the Modesto Police Department obtained an arrest warrant Aug. 10 for Raymond Lewis Stafford. Deputies with the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Department in Texas apprehended the 76-year-old at his residence. He was taken into custody without incident and subsequently booked into the Van Zandt County jail on charges of murder with special circumstances. The special circumstances included that he committed a homicide while engaging in the crime of kidnapping.

Susan Bender’s mother told The Bee in 1999 that some of her daughter’s personal belongings, such as a diary, phone book and clothing, were found in a man’s home around the time of her disappearance. “I’m afraid she was murdered by a man the police questioned but never arrested, even though they had a lot of circumstantial evidence against him,” the mother told The Bee. ”The police said there’s little they can do without a body.”

A Modesto Police Department spokeswoman could not immediately confirm Thursday afternoon whether the man Susan’s mother spoke of did indeed turn out to be Stafford.

Modesto police in 2021 issued a news release saying they were reopening the case, and the DA Office’s new Cold Case Unit became involved last year, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson.

Stafford is awaiting extradition to California.

No information was released Thursday about how Bender might have been killed, whether there is any chance of recovering her body, or what new evidence resulted in the charges against Stafford.

In Thursday’s news release, Modesto police expressed their gratitude to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, the California Department of Justice and various Texas authorities for their help in the “long and challenging” investigation.

“The collaborative efforts of these agencies have been instrumental in bringing closure to Susan Robin Bender’s case,” it said.