By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
As Dale Blue was driving home from work last April 24, he saw no hint of the surprise party about to be sprung in his honor. He never caught a glimpse of any of the TV trucks or police cars or SUVs full of FBI and BCA agents that were massing near the apartment building where Blue lived in downtown Anoka, waiting for him to get home. Instead he walked in the door as usual, to the news that an FBI agent had phoned and would be calling again.
Blue's son, Michael Benson, had escaped from a locked unit at the state hospital in St. Peter a week earlier, and Blue and his girlfriend, Sharon Lang, were getting used to fielding calls from cops. He didn't mind; he understood that when a prisoner escaped—particularly one as dangerous as Benson, a thoroughly unrepentant serial rapist—cops always kept tabs on the family, because sooner or later escapees usually called on their families for help. Blue had only been home for a moment when the phone rang again. He agreed to meet the FBI agent on the other end of the line the next day.
A few minutes later, a dozen armed officers burst into the apartment. They seized Blue, patted him down, handcuffed him, and placed him under arrest on charges of aiding and abetting his son's escape. They then proceeded to search his wallet and his home. They demanded to see Lang's ID, but when she reached for her purse, the two agents closest to her jumped. One barked that she shouldn't make any more quick movements.
Two of the agents took Blue into the tiny apartment's bedroom and told him it was his last chance to tell them what he knew or they were taking him to jail. When he insisted he knew nothing, they led him down a short, dark hallway and out the building's main door into the parking lot.
It took a moment for Blue's eyes to adjust to the harsh sunlight outside, and the scene he beheld might have made him think he was hallucinating. Some 50 SUVs clogged the leafy downtown Anoka side street, and armed officers ringed the small building. The FBI, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and police from Anoka and St. Peter were there, as were TV vans, satellite trucks, and a phalanx of six rolling video cameras. Front and center: a crew from the reality-TV manhunt show, America's Most Wanted.
Stories about the hunt for Benson dominated the news at the time, and in the coming days and weeks the clips of Blue being arrested and paraded in front of cameras were broadcast over and over—nationally as well as locally, thanks to America's Most Wanted. The show's webpage titled the Benson/Blue story "A Family Affair," and the purported details were offered up breathlessly: Blue smuggled saw blades to Benson inside a pair of boots so Benson could cut a bar from his window, and might have subsequently helped Benson elude capture. To frustrate any effort to aid Benson, Blue was booked into the Nicollet County jail on $1 million in bail—an amount befitting a killer.
But a review of the investigators' reports in the case shows officials had no real evidence against Blue. In fact, even before they began questioning him, investigators had several good leads on who had helped Benson and the three other men who broke out with him. They had even arrested the mother of another escapee, who quickly confessed to being the intended getaway driver. More potentially explosive, they had indications that staffers at the St. Peter facility may have helped.
Yet despite the evidence pointing to others, Blue would not be released on bail until two weeks after his son's capture on May 2. And the charges against him would not be dropped until mid-August, when his frustrated attorney demanded a hearing to determine whether there had ever even been probable cause to arrest Blue in the first place. Even today, the Nicollet County attorney says he is continuing to investigate Blue—yet he has not charged the confessed getaway driver or any of the escapees' other alleged accomplices.
Blue would like the return of the $18,000—the sum total of his retirement account—that the ordeal has cost him in legal fees and expenses. And he'd like the return of the "evidence" police seized from his home. But more than that he'd like public vindication, and some acknowledgement that he was arrested chiefly because, as the father of a sex offender, people figure he's probably no better than his son.
"To arrest someone because they're blood-related, that doesn't happen in this country," says Blue. "It might happen in some Third World country, but it's not supposed to happen in this country."
If Blue had nothing to do with his son's escape, it wasn't for lack of Benson's trying to recruit him. On March 21, Blue and Lang were in Oklahoma for the funeral of one of Lang's relatives when Blue's cell phone rang. The number that came up indicated Benson was calling from a state hospital. Blue wasn't prepared to deal with him then, so he ignored the call. Benson tried again every few hours, 18 times in total. After several days, Blue took a call from a number he didn't recognize. The woman on the other end was calling on behalf of her uncle, another St. Peter confinee, Blue says. The uncle wanted Blue to pick up the next time Benson called.