Charge: Slain landlord told Everett man his lease was ending

In various stories, Frank Walton denied killing the Mukilteo man. Detectives believe he hid the body miles away.

EVERETT — An Everett man told police that the deadly beating of his landlord last month took place in his rented apartment. But he claimed the killing was done by two random intruders who burst in, then tried to force the victim into the tenant’s car, according to charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

In reality, detectives believe Frank Walton killed the landlord, Howard Paul Benzel, 67, of Mukilteo, after being told his lease would not be renewed at an apartment in the 2100 block of Madison Street.

A couple in Skagit County found Benzel’s remains two days later, over 30 miles away, about a mile north of Lake McMurray.

A neighbor’s security camera captured a banging sound around 4:10 p.m. on March 28. About a half-hour later, Benzel’s wife called 911. He had been working at their mixed-use building in south Everett but was supposed to have come home hours before. She had gone to the complex and seen Benzel’s truck and cellphone, but no sign of him. She reported seeing Walton — who she knew didn’t get along well with Benzel — wiping up blood from the sidewalk and carrying a bag to a purplish Buick.

Police went into the apartment, fearing Benzel might be hurt and still be inside, but he was not there. Instead they noted a Tulalip Casino players card belonging to Walton, 40, who had been going by his first and middle names, Frank Edmund.

Officers tracked down the tenant around 8 p.m. at a friend’s apartment complex in Marysville. In a story that “changed frequently and often did not (make) sense,” he told police that day he’d been at his apartment, an Everett storage unit and the Marysville apartment. He owned a Ford SUV but hadn’t used it all that day, according to his report. Police asked about the purplish Buick. He reported that he had just bought the car and had taken it on “one run” earlier. He also acknowledged he’d argued with the landlord hours before at his apartment but denied any kind of physical altercation.

Outside the Marysville apartment, in a dumpster, police found rags that smelled like chemicals, as well as cleaning supplies, packaging materials, a banner and thick rubber floor mats — all of which had blood on them.

According to the charges, Walton later agreed to a recorded interview. He told police he’d lied about several things in his first interview and couldn’t explain why. Detectives asked him about evidence in the dumpster.

“I was in fear for my life,” he reportedly replied.

He claimed two men “who appeared to be cartel members” broke into his apartment, along with the victim. There, he reported, they punched the landlord in the head, flashed guns and told Walton to mind his own business.

“The defendant could not provide a reason why they would have taken the victim or entered the unit,” according to the charges.

In Walton’s account, the intruders told him to clean up everything, and that’s why he disposed of the evidence.

In explaining why there was blood in his car, he said the men slammed Benzel’s head into his Buick in an apparent attempt to get him into a wide-open door of the car. He clarified that he was assuming that happened, because he didn’t actually go outside to witness it. He maintained that he didn’t harm Benzel at all, and that he did not act in self-defense.

On March 30, the human remains, wrapped in plastic, were recovered in Skagit County. An autopsy found Benzel died of blunt-force trauma to much of his body and that he’d been struck many times with a weapon — a hammer or something similar.

In the meantime, a bag of bloody clothes was recovered from Walton’s home.

An employee of Conway Elementary School found security footage of a purplish Buick heading east on Highway 534 around 5:15 p.m. March 28, about six miles from the spot where the body was later recovered.

At his arraignment last week, Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy set Walton’s bail at $1 million. He remained behind bars, charged with second-degree murder and tampering with evidence. Walton has ties to Chicago and Milwaukee, where court records show he’d been convicted of misdemeanors but no felonies.

In an obituary, Benzel’s family remembered him as “a dedicated husband, grandfather and father of two, salesman (a good one), golfer, angler, questionable driver, handyman, jokester, and consummate host to family and friends.”

At the end of the day, his obituary said, he liked to drink a cocktail “and watch our beloved but beleaguered Mariners go down by four in the bottom of the third. … These moments were just as important as any of the many nagging chores that wouldn’t fix themselves. There was always tomorrow.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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