COSTA RICA JOURNAL — “Paradise Lost,” the CBS program probing the Costa Rican case against Ann Bender in the death of her husband, ex-Wall Street trader John Bender, kicked off the 2014-15 “48 Hours” season Saturday night.
You’ve never seen anything like the house John Bender died in.” I can guarantee you that,” says Susan Spencer, correspondent for CBS’ “48 Hours.”
Beyond the house, however, Spencer says there aren’t many sure things in the mysterious death of Bender, 44, a Wall Street rainmaker who ditched it all to move with his wife Ann to the Costa Rican rainforest.
They built a four-story, 8,000-square-foot house that Spencer describes as a “spaceship on a mountaintop.”
It was virtually all glass, with no walls. Whatever lived in the surrounding jungle, from insects to snakes, could wander in, and that was OK with the Benders, because the house was the center of what they envisioned as a 5,000-acre wildlife preserve.
That was one of the ways they were going to spend the estimated half-billion dollars Bender had made as a Wall Street trader.
He was on his way to becoming a billionaire in his mid-30s, Spencer says, when he and Ann decided they had enough. In 2000, they exiled themselves to what they hoped would be a simpler, more rewarding life.
But two other things they bonded over, besides a love for animals and solitude, were bipolar disorder and depression.
“They were both seriously depressive,” says Spencer. “When the depression came, they depended on each other.”
On Jan. 8, 2010, Ann Bender says, she found John in bed holding a gun. She tried to grab it, she says, and it went off, killing him.
Costa Rican authorities were not convinced. The position of his body and the fact he was shot in the back of the head, they say, made suicide unlikely.
Ann Bender was charged with murder and found not guilty. Under Costa Rican law, the prosecution appealed the verdict. So Ann remains in Costa Rica while that appeal is heard.
Spencer and the “48 Hours” team traveled twice to Costa Rica — the first time going in by helicopter — and talked with pretty much everyone involved.
That included Ann Bender, her attorneys and the prosecution. Then “48 Hours” brought in its own forensics team.
In the end, says Spencer, it was as complicated on the inside as it looked outside.
“You can usually get a sense of who’s telling the truth,” she says. “I didn’t come away after talking to Ann Bender with any sense of that.
“I defy anyone who looks at all the facts in this story to say definitively, ‘This is what happened.’ ”
That very mystery, though, Spencer says, makes it an intriguing story, with an unexpected intriguing element.
“The house becomes a character in itself,” she says. “I mean, they had more than 400 Tiffany lamps in the bedroom. Where do you even find 400 Tiffany lamps?”
And even those may not shed enough light.
Source: with files from NY Daily News; CBS‘ 48 Hours