YUMA, Ariz. – A priest from California was murdered in a Yuma motel 34 years ago and police have yet to identify the suspects.
On November 10, 1982, in the middle of the afternoon, Yuma Police were dispatched to the El Rancho Motel on South Fourth Avenue. When they arrived they found a man face down in a motel bed. Upon lifting the covers they found the victim with his hands tied behind his back with black electrical tape.
Yuma Police Department Officer Joe Franklin said, “It was determined as asphyxiation.”
The man was identified as Father Benjamin J. Carrier, a Catholic priest.
Yuma Fire Department Mike Erfert said, “Father Ben was a very well-known west coast priest working with homeless and transient population and there was intense media coverage news teams flying in from the coast.”
Yuma Fire Department Fire Chief Steve Irr said, “It was my first year working as an EMT. We responded to the El Rancho Motel. We were called in to assess this homicide victim.”
Officer Franklin said, “He was strangled.”
The suspects were described as two white men, 20s to early 30s, both about 5 feet 6 inches, average build. One may have light facial hair and one with medium length, brown hair and light skin. One of the suspects has a tattoo on the under side of his left forearm.
A witness described one of the suspects with a cane decorated with a skull on the top and a slight Southern accent.
Franklin said, “We let the investigation run its course and have yet to identify those individuals.”
Assigned as a Community Involvement Officer for the Yuma Police Department, Mike Erfert recalls the slew of media calls they were receiving.
He said he remembers his boss telling him, “The body of a Catholic priest had been found in a motel room, this person was a pretty prominent person and they were getting a lot of media calls.”
Carrier was a priest at Our Lady of Light in Decanso, California, which was a church that took in transients and hippy-like people, sources say.
Irr said, “I think of it quite often. There are times that I remember that particular case. I grew up Catholic. You never think of a priest getting murdered so that’s a big deal.”
Sources say Carrier picked up two hitch hikers on his way through town. One witness said she saw Carrier with two young men at the pool the day before. They fit the description of the suspects. The motel manager said, when Carrier checked into the motel, a man approximately 20-25 with light facial hair was in Carrier’s truck. Carrier paid for two people to stay the night.
Franklin said, “He could’ve been there trying to help them.”
Police found Carrier’s vehicle three days later in Vegas, a 1981 Toyota pick-up truck.
Erfert said, “Bad things do happen but it was a much smaller community. The city limits were much smaller than they are today.”
Thirty years later, it still affects the Yuma community.
Irr said, “He was a passerby in town, murdered in Yuma, it left a lasting impression that I still think about to this day. You go on calls and you don’t know what’s coming ’til you get there.”
Erfert said, “There’s obviously someone out there who knows something, so they should contact the police department.”
If you have any information about the murder of Father Benjamin, you are encouraged to contact the Yuma Police Department at (928) 373-4700.