There was sex, lies, and a reported videotape, but no body. Nevertheless, forty-nine-year-old Brian Eleron Hancock stood trial for first-degree murder of his friend Peter Bentz. As Hancock’s trial began on January 6, 2020, in the San Diego courtroom of Judge Joan Weber, the paramount question was raised: Did Hancock stab Bentz to death after believing Bentz posted a sex-tape of the married Hancock and his secret girlfriend? The prosecution contended he did, and then in a panicked cover-up used Bentz’ credit cards to purchase cleaning products and other items, including a shovel, dolly, saw, mattock, and rug before burying Bentz in the desert. The sixty-eight-year old Bentz last communicated with Hancock on the afternoon of November 21, 2017, when Hancock asked if he could “swing by.” Bentz was never seen or heard from again, and his body has never been found despite exhaustive searches.
Although Brian Hancock was married and the father of two young daughters, he was living a secret, double life, not only having an affair with another woman but also having sexual liaisons with Bentz. The story it seemed could not get any more complicated or salacious, but then Hancock took the witness stand. Supremely confident, even arrogant at times, he adamantly denied ever harming Bentz, and then told an extraordinary tale. Would the jury believe his smooth-talking account? Or would they believe a much darker version? Hancock’s ex-wife, along with another witness, told a vastly different story. Granted immunity from prosecution, had they turned to save themselves as the defense propounded, or were they speaking the gospel truth? Would crime scene evidence, along with cell phone tracking and credit card purchases be Hancock’s undoing? Or was there a simple explanation for it all as the defense offered? But let’s start at the beginning.
Peter Bentz – An Upbeat Man of Regimented Routine
Peter Bentz served in the Army and was an upbeat, robust, and athletic man, who loved to play tennis and work out at the gym said his younger brother who was the first witness to take the stand. He loved photography and was especially proud of some prized photographs he had taken while on African safari. He always wore a gold chain that held a real gold nugget, which his father had gifted to him. A ring with a black stone always adorned his hand as well. Described as a “smiley” person by one friend, he was also a man of regimented routine, with another friend pronouncing him OCD (which stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Timing everything perfectly, he went to his gym, 24-Hour Fitness, on prescribed days and times, not willing to deviate for anything. He kept his rent receipts in perfect order, compiling a stack dating all the way back to 1999. He was known to answer text messages quickly and to contact his family and friends regularly.
Peter Bentz was not a person to disappear without a word. So, when he failed to attend the annual Thanksgiving gathering at his brother’s home on November 23, 2017, a tradition spanning over two decades, his family grew worried. Then when he didn’t contact his close friend for their mutual birthday celebration at Denny’s, another solid tradition of twenty years, everyone knew something was seriously wrong. His family reported him missing and then devoted intense efforts to finding him. What had happened to their dependable and beloved Peter?
Did an Afternoon of Sex Lead to Murder?
Brian Hancock testified he met Peter Bentz in August or September of 2017, when Hancock repaired a ceiling fan at Bentz’ apartment. Hancock was a trained electrician but had been laid off his job and was working whatever side-jobs he could find. He told police though he met Bentz on-line for sex. However, their meeting came to be, Hancock and Bentz grew close. Hancock would spend time at Bentz’ apartment, both smoking marijuana, and eventually doing more serious drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin. At one time Bentz was a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, but according to his brother, he had been sober for a record-breaking 25 years. Had he relapsed unbeknownst to all? He had, if Hancock was to be believed.
Bentz was an active on-line dater, seeking out women as well as men. He told his brother he was a “swinger.” Hancock too was bisexual, and he testified a sexual relationship developed with Bentz, with Bentz even videotaping or livestreaming their sessions on some occasions. It was always with the consent of Hancock, although his face was not to be shown. At times, Bentz would even give him money.
Peter Bentz was not the only person Hancock was seeing though, as he was engaged in an affair with Rosa Hammond too. As she had a boyfriend, Hancock and Hammond kept their relationship secret from their respective partners. This was not Hancock’s first affair with Rosa Hammond, having been involved with her almost ten years prior when his wife, Angelina, was pregnant with their first child. The affair contributed to the demise of his marriage in 2010. However, Angelina, apparently being forgiving, was willing to give the relationship another try and remarried Hancock in 2011. They had another daughter and Hancock appeared to be a family man. It was not to last. In 2017, Hancock found Rosa Hammond on Facebook and their bygone affair resumed. Soon enough, their sexual escapades involved Bentz.
On November 17, 2017, Hancock took Hammond to Bentz’ apartment in Ocean Beach for an afternoon of sex. According to Hammond, they all did methamphetamine together as well. The sexual coupling began first with Hancock and Bentz engaging in sex together on the living room couch as Hammond watched. Afterwards, she had sex with Hancock while Bentz watched. Was Bentz also secretly videotaping them? Neither had knowledge of this nor had offered their agreement.
The next day, November 18, 2017, Hammond received a surprising message through Facebook messenger with an attached video link. Although, she was never able to access the video, she was told it was a sex-tape. Hammond sent the link to Hancock and the two began to text about it, discussing it for days, from November 18th until the 21st. Finally, Hancock told her he was going to talk to Bentz about it. He soon informed her, “I took care of it.” On cross-examination, Hancock’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jimmy Rodriguez showed Hammond was most worried about her immigration status when meeting with the police, had used drugs before the meeting, and had a habit of “filling in” whatever she didn’t remember.
Damning Testimony from Tori Flores
Tall and blond, Tori Flores took the witness stand and relayed how at one time she was homeless, had made her living selling drugs, and had used heroin and methamphetamine every day. She testified she met Hancock in 2017, would sell him drugs, and they would drive around together, sometimes stopping at sex shops to buy clothes. She was intimate with him on one occasion. Hancock told her about the sex-video, stating he was not aware it had been made. He said Bentz asked him if he could put it on the internet, but he had told him “no.” Hancock was angry the video was posted anyway, and said, “I am going to get him.”
A few days later, Hancock texted Flores, either writing “I did it” or “I got him.” Flores could not remember the exact words. But when she talked to Hancock, she recalled his chilling words. He said, “I had to stab him seven times. He was a big guy, hard to take down.” Hancock then asked her if she would be a lookout so he could clean up the apartment. Flores wanted no part and told him “no!” He told her he had to go to Home Deport to buy cleaning supplies. Flores was scared knowing about the killing and told no one about what she had learned. When she was picked up by the police with her friend, John Gonzalez, who everyone called “Eddie,” she told the police she didn’t know anything about Hancock being involved with a missing person or involved in any violent acts.
It was not until she was in jail on an unrelated burglary that she decided to talk. Soon she signed a Cooperating Agreement with the district attorney on May 24, 2018 and June 6, 2018, where she agreed to testify against Hancock and was given immunity from prosecution. The defense argued her testimony was suspect, as she was simply trying to save herself, and she received a more favorable sentence of probation and drug treatment rather than prison.
In a dramatic moment on the witness stand, as Tori Flores’ testimony was ending, when confronted with the police report by the defense, she suddenly turned to Judge Weber and requested a break to talk to the district attorney. It was a confounding moment, and everyone was stunned. Judge Weber ultimately had her speak with both attorneys in a private room. Once back on the witness stand, Tori Flores, now very emotional, testified Hancock had really told her, “I am going to kill him.”
Hancock’s Ex-Wife Testifies Against Him
As Angelina Hancock took the witness stand, her attorney, David Shapiro, was close at hand to aid her at any time. Angelina was married twice to Hancock and testified she has known him for 25 years. She first met him in 1994 and married him in 1998. She learned Hancock was having an affair with Rosa Hammond when she was pregnant with their first child, and she divorced Hancock in the Spring of 2010. They remarried in 2011, but following the events of this case, Angelina again divorced him, this time in September of 2019. They have two daughters together, ages 8 and 17.
Angelina said her husband was usually the life of the party, very beloved, and fun to be around. But in 2017, Hancock injured his back, had to have surgery, and went on disability. When he returned to work, he was subsequently laid off. Although she worked full-time, their finances were strained, and Hancock fell into a depression and was “very angry.”
As the prosecutor delved into her knowledge of her husband’s cheating ways, it was hard not to fill compassion for this loving wife and mother. She obviously had devoted her life to him and seemed to have loved him deeply. In October of 2017, she was upset and hurt to find out he was again seeing Rosa Hammond. She discovered the affair when Hancock left his tablet out and a message popped up. She read the message and then others between them. She confronted Hancock but he downplayed it saying he was just trying to lead Hammond on for her not supporting him in another court case. Years before, Hancock had revealed he was bi-sexual, but he told her it was a phase, so she had agreed to move forward. Although she tried to understand his time with another man, she could not abide his seeing other women. Soon she also learned of his involvement with Tori Flores. Despite the painful discoveries, a more horrifying matter would command her attention, that of murder.
Angelina testified on November 21, 2017, the day Peter Bentz was believed to have been killed, she spoke to her husband by phone many times. In the first call, he was unusually quiet. In the second call, he was quiet, seemed stressed, and upset. By the third call, Hancock was very panicked and scared. She had never heard him so panicked or scared in all the years she had known him. When he came home around 7:00 p.m., he was in a “full panic attack, breathing heavy, eyes wide, and sweating.” He was pacing up and down the house. At one point, he asked her to bring him a paper towel. There was blood on his left calf along with a splotch of matted hair.
He left the home, but returned later, agitated and stressed. He asked her to drive him to the Wal Mart in National City. Afterwards, he left again and did not sleep at their house. Hancock’s attorney, Jimmy Rodriguez, argued Hancock’s behavior was simply due to his methamphetamine use, which would account for his physical symptoms, odd hours, hyperactive, and chaotic life.
The next morning, November 22, 2017, Angelina spoke with him and he was still very anxious and stressed. Later, she called him and asked him if he wanted to go for lunch. He said he couldn’t and instead wanted her to give him some boxes. Angelina purchased two to three boxes and he came home to get them. He eventually confided he tried to use the boxes to make one big box to transport Bentz’ body, but it did not work. He told her Bentz’ body was heavy and asked her if she would help him move the body. She would not. Hancock did not return to their home again that night.
The next day, November 23, 2017, was Thanksgiving and by 8:30 a.m. Hancock was still not home. He was supposed to deep fry a turkey and then the family had plans to go to her parents’ home for the Thanksgiving celebration. Hancock finally arrived home, prepared the turkey, and they made it to her parents’ home, although late. That evening, he told her he needed her to follow him so he could return a friend’s car. She drove behind him as he drove Bentz’ silver Toyota Highlander, although she did not know whose car it was at the time. She followed him to Logan Heights, and he instructed her to wait for him at a strip mall. When he returned, he got in her car, and as they drove, he suddenly told her to stop. They were on Boston Avenue and he threw a plastic bag over a chain link fence. She asked him what he threw over and she was panicking as she was beginning to realize her involvement in the matter. He told her Bentz’ wallet was in the bag and also revealed he had been driving Bentz’ car. Later, through Bentz’ license plate reader, detectives found the discarded bag. Inside were Bentz’ military ID, Bentz’ rent receipts, cleaning wipes, and a paper towel with blood on it.
On Saturday, November 26, 2017, Hancock told her he was going to move Bentz’ car to Mira Mesa and asked her to meet him in Mira Mesa where they would take the girls to a movie and ice-cream. By the time he arrived it was too late, so they just went to Baked Bear for ice-cream. On December 12, 2017, Hancock’s car was found in Mira Mesa with the keys still in the ignition.
Angelina testified her husband brought some of Bentz’ belongings to their house including a chess set, china dishes, and a big ring with gold hands holding a black stone. He told her he buried the ring in the yard, and she told him to dig it up and get rid of it. In fact, she wanted everything gone.
Angelina further testified her husband instructed her to delete text messages between them, which she did. However, she did not delete any phone calls, yet when her phone was inspected, calls were not found from November 18-24, 2017. Her husband had access to her phone she said.
On January 23, 2018, Hancock was arrested on other felony charges. He was charged with murder on June 8, 2018. After his arrest, police began to lean heavily on Angelina, and she was interviewed four times. Her first statements were not truthful. When asked by the prosecutor why she lied, she said she was terrified, she was worried about her family, and she had spent her entire life with Hancock. After detectives went to her place of work, she grew worried and eventually hired an attorney. On September 19, 2018, she signed a Cooperation Agreement with the district attorney for full immunity if she testified against her husband. This was an agonizing decision for her, but the detectives had frightened her by saying she would be prosecuted, the media would get involved, and it would be “hell for the kids.” If she was prosecuted, she worried the children would end up with Child Protective Services.
The prosecution soon played recorded jail calls from Hancock to Angelina. In one call, Angelina informed Hancock the police told her they would file charges against her unless she told them where the body was. She told Hancock she responded, “I can’t tell you what I don’t know.” The most wrenching call of all came when Hancock confronted his wife for betraying him. Sobbing wildly, she tried to explain, “I didn’t want to lose our girls.” Hancock yelled at her and angrily questioned, “Did you tell them where? Did you tell them everything?” He went on to say, “You sold me out. You sealed my fate for this!” His ranting at Angelina was unrelenting, and Angelina continued to sob uncontrollably. He castigated her for not asking for an attorney. “All you had to do was ask for an attorney. Four words, ‘I want an attorney.’” He told her “I thought I had a fighting chance, now I know I don’t have shit.” He tells her to have fun raising their kids alone before abruptly hanging up. Angelina continued to sob.
In his final argument to the jury, Deputy District attorney Jeffrey Dort declared there was a mountain of evidence showing Hancock killed Bentz. Even without the damning testimony of Tori Flores and Angelina Hancock, was there enough to convict? Prosecutor Dort certainly believed so. He told the jury if he could only give them two pieces of evidence to prove murder, he would give them the paper towel containing Hancock and Bentz’ blood and the Home Depot purchases. But there was much more. He went on to say Hancock panicked after the killing, bought bleach, destroyed evidence, stayed up for three nights cleaning Bentz’ apartment, asked friends for help, used Bentz’ credit cards, bought a new cell phone, and left a traceable trail.
Without a doubt, Hancock’s cell phone and cell tower locations left a clear trail of his whereabouts. In addressing this issue, Dort proclaimed, “This case tells you how important it is to know where your phone is.” Why Hancock left his cell phone continuously on if he was indeed trying to get away with murder is anyone’s guess. Needless to say, a timeline was easily constructed. At 2:20 p.m. on November 21, 2017, Hancock called Bentz and shortly thereafter his phone showed he was near Bentz’ apartment. By 7:04 he was leaving the residence, with records showing he not only had his phone, but also Bentz’ in his possession. Both phones were tracked to Hancock’s home, with Bentz’ final ping ending there. Hancock then decided to purchase himself a new phone and in the wee hours of November 22, 2017, he did just that, registering it in his middle name. 1:38 a.m. was the first recorded activity, further showing he was at Wal Mart from 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Hancock’s phone would continue to pinpoint his locations.
Credit card purchases provided another clear trail. Hancock’s use of Bentz’ credit cards to buy incriminating items was another incomprehensive move. The receipts not only left a trail of evidence, but his image was captured clear as day on the stores’ video cameras. After leaving Wal Mart on November 22, 2017, Hancock was soon at Smart & Final, buying peanut oil, bleach, and furniture polish. His shopping endeavors ceased briefly for the Thanksgiving holiday, but by Black Friday on November 24, 2017, he was back at it. First, he went to Wal Mart at 2:06 a.m. and purchased two computer tablets, explaining they were Christmas gifts. At 9:52 a.m., he was at Home Depot buying the most incriminating items of all according to the prosecution: a shovel, table saw, a mattock, dolly, and waterproof gloves.
It was then time for him to at last bury Bentz. The Detectives believed he placed the body inside a cedar chest once belonging to Bentz’ mother, as the chest was mysteriously missing from Bentz’ apartment. Using a borrowed truck, he made his way to Campo. Antonio Ramirez, a friend of the Hancock family, testified to receiving a call from Hancock around 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Hancock asked for use of Ramirez’ GMC truck, explaining his brakes had gone out and he needed to drive to a recently acquired temp job. Hancock used the truck for six days and returned it on November 29th fully detailed. “It was immaculate. I couldn’t believe it!” Ramirez exclaimed. The implication was clear.
Hancock’s time in Campo was once again traced through cell phone records and tower sites, showing he spent four hours in this remote area. He explained his presence was not because he was burying Bentz, but rather working another side job at Las Coches, a destination enroute to Campo. He further accounted for his time, stating he gambled for hours at the nearby Acorn Casino. The detectives searched the suspected site, with lead detective Kevin Iwasaki testifying he went to Campo eight times. They never could find Bentz’ body even with the aid of a cadaver dog and drone. Scattered about though, they found a rusted hatchet, a cleaner spray bottle, and a tag ripped from a mattock.
On November 28, 2017, a camera captured Hancock and Eddie at a pawn shop with Bentz’ ring and other jewelry. The next day, Eddie returned the table saw, dolly, and rug to Home Depot.
A Trail of Blood and Missing Items
Criminalist David Cornacchia testified there were pooling stains on Bentz’ living room entertainment center and blood running down the CDs. Blood spatter indicated the impact occurred to Bentz when he was low to the ground. Attorney Dort told the jury the blood spatter was four inches off the ground, and blood that low could only come from a surprise attack. Blood was also found on the interior front door lock and north kitchen counter, both of which contained Hancock’s DNA. Cornacchia further testified there was an attempt to clean up the scene. White cleaning residue was present, and rugs had been moved to cover the blood-soaked carpet. A long swath of the carpet, still saturated with Bentz’ blood, was displayed to the jury.
Missing from the apartment was Bentz’ computer and monitor, his mother’s cedar chest, camera equipment, Bentz’ prized gold chain with the golden nugget, rings and other jewelry.
Hancock Testifies to a Night of Sex Movie Making
Hancock took the witness stand and boldly told a much different account. He adamantly denied ever harming Bentz, acknowledging he was at Bentz’ apartment on November 21, 2017, but not for a deadly showdown, but rather for filming of a sex video with three to four other men. The use of Bentz’ credit cards was partial payment for his participation he explained.
In discussing the videotape of him and Rosa Hammond, which videotape was never found, Hancock testified he received a video link from Hammond, along with a message which said, “I think we were recorded.” Hancock was shocked as he had not seen any recording equipment. Neither did he ever see the purported video, as when he tried to access it, it simply would not play. Nevertheless, Hancock told Tori Flores he thought they were recorded. He was going to ask Bentz if he recorded them and why.
When he arrived at Bentz’ apartment there were three men already there, Tom, Raul and another man whose name he could not remember. He asked to speak privately with Bentz, so they went into the bedroom, where he questioned whether they had been recorded. Bentz responded “no,” looked at the link, and did not recognize it. Candy Daddy or Sugar Daddy were the sites he usually posted on. Since there was no recording, there was no argument Hancock easily explained.
Hancock went back into the living room where Bentz was talking about filming a sex movie. Bentz offered him $3,000 if he joined in, and Hancock agreed as he needed the money. He testified Bentz then gave him $600 in cash and authorized him to use his credit cards for the balance, although he could not go over a certain limit and needed to provide receipts. Hancock told Bentz he was going to buy Christmas gifts and supplies to build a shed.
The men did speed and heroin together and made the movie, filming in two separate sessions. They stopped the first session at 6:20 p.m. as Hancock had to go home to his wife. When he left, Bentz walked him outside, carrying Hancock’s shoulder bag. Hancock told him his brakes were going out, so Bentz offered the use of his car and instructed him to return after 9:30 p.m.
Arriving home, he noticed Bentz’ cell phone was in his truck. Hancock told his wife about the movie, and she got very upset, wanting to know who would see it. Eventually, she agreed to let him go back to finish filming, but first Hancock wanted Angelina to give him a ride to Wal Mart. There he bought a new phone, stating they had been discussing switching from Verizon. Eddie drove him back to Bentz’ apartment, where he arrived around 11:00 p.m. He gave Bentz his phone back, but it fell, and may not have worked again. They finished the movie around 2:00 a.m. It was now November 22, 2017.
Hancock left and went to Tori Flores’ camp to get high. They then went to Wal Mart, but Hancock did not remember what he purchased. He told Flores she could buy $200 worth of clothes. Around 7:00 a.m. he returned to Bentz apartment, and Bentz said he was not going to his family’s Thanksgiving as he was worried they would know he was using drugs again. Instead he would take a vacation to Ixtapa. Hancock left and went to Smart and Final but returned to Bentz’ apartment to give him the receipt. Raul was there and Hancock stayed about four hours.
On Thanksgiving night, Hancock sent a message to Bentz informing him he would drop off Bentz’ car at Raul’s. Angelina followed him and he told her to wait at Church’s Chicken. He dropped off the car and Raul came out to get the keys. He next saw Bentz on Friday, November 24, 2017, when he went to give him more receipts. Raul was there again, and Bentz said he was getting ready to go to Ixtapa. He was excited about the trip. The last time he saw Bentz was on Sunday, November 26, 2017, when he gave him his credit cards back and they talked about five minutes. Hancock reached out on Monday, November 27, 2017, but never received a response. Bentz was supposed to leave for Ixtapa on that day, so he figured he had left on his trip.
Hancock firmly denied ever asking anyone to help him clean up or move Bentz’ body. When he asked his wife, “Did you tell them where?” he explained he was referring to the stash of methamphetamine and heroin he had hidden at the house. He was worried he would be charged. No matter the question, Hancock always had a quick answer. But would the jury believe him?
After deliberating for two and a half days, the jury of seven women and five men returned their verdict. Brian Eleron Hancock was guilty of first-degree murder. As the verdict was read, Hancock showed no emotion. Finally, he bowed his head quickly before resuming his immovable stance. Hancock faces 25-years-to-life in prison when he is sentenced but may face additional time as he has two prior strikes (serious felonies of arson in 1999 and residential burglary in 2003). He will be sentenced on February 26, 2020. As Hancock looks to a lifetime behind bars, the family of Peter Bentz is left to wonder if they will ever be able to lay him to rest.