Grass Valley native Linda Cox and her husband Tom have mourned her sister Nancy Bennallack’s death for 52 years.
Finally, on July 21, a suspect was identified, putting to rest the oldest cold case murder in Sacramento County history.
Bennallack, 28, was killed in her Sacramento apartment on Oct. 26, 1970, by a man later identified as Richard John Davis. By the time investigators solved the crime, Davis had died – the result of alcoholism – in 1997.
Linda recalls the day of Nancy’s death vividly.
“We know she didn’t show up for (work) that morning,” she said. “So they called me at work and I called the apartment manager because Tom and I lived in the same apartment building (as Nancy). We had friends who were court reporters, too, so I called them and I said, ‘Is Nancy’s car out in the parking lot?’ And they said, ‘yes.’
“I said, ‘she didn’t show up today for work.’ So they said they’d go get the manager and his wife and the next thing is, I called Tom and I said, ‘something happened to Nancy.’”
Soon after, she received a call that Tom wanted her to get home immediately. Cox knew something bad had occurred, but “not that. I wasn’t thinking that terrible, but something wasn’t right.”
Nancy’s body was discovered in her second-story apartment – she had been stabbed over 30 times. Tom was deployed to drive to Grass Valley to break the horrible news to Bennallack’s mother, who was working on Litton Hill.
Nancy the hometown girl
Bennallack was born and raised in Grass Valley. She attended Hennessy School and later Nevada Union High School.
Linda Cox said Nancy was an accomplished athlete, a softball player as well as a song leader. She loved to bowl at Gold Bowl in Grass Valley, and by her sister’s account, she was a slight woman with a hearty appetite.
“Nancy could sit and eat (Jimboy’s) tacos,” she said with a laugh.
Bennallack eventually went on to attend beauty school and worked for a couple of years at the Beauty Corral at the corner of Neal and South Auburn streets. She eventually went with a friend to Hawaii, where she worked as a hairstylist before making the trek back to California.
At the time of her death, Bennallack was working as a Sacramento County court reporter and was engaged to be married the following month to Chief Public Defender Farris Salamy.
Tom described Nancy as serious about her job, but fun to be around.
“The three of us did a lot of things together,” he said. “Everybody liked Nancy. She was my TV buddy. We’d watch ‘Perry Mason’ together. Nancy was a lot of fun. She was very into reading. She liked to play tennis; she and I would play tennis and she would beat me terribly. She’d let me hit one back every once in a while.”
“She and I lived together when she was going to court reporting school,” Linda said of her older sister, “and I was working in Nevada City. We all lived together, and we called her ‘Ma’ because we were all crazy and she was the one that kept us in line.”
Forgiveness for Davis, the Cox’s said, isn’t necessarily an impossibility.
“I am trying,” Linda stated simply.
“The Christian in us tries to do that,” explained Tom. “I wanted to go with the police when they arrested him, and I don’t think I would have been very forgiving with him then.”
As it turned out, an arrest was never made.
The turning point
In 2004, several attempts to link DNA found at the crime scene to a suspect yielded no results.
In 2005, homicide Detective Micki Links began her search for Bennallack’s killer. A number of years later, she would retire, but closely followed the case.
In 2019, on a volunteer basis, Links rejoined the case, determined to help the family seek an answer to the mystery.
“It’s been a very long time working on this case,” said Links. “I wanted Linda and Tom to have resolution. I’m sad that Nancy’s mom passed away, but at least some of the family and the community got to see it come to an end.”
According to authorities and Linda Cox, both Davis and his roommate were interviewed within a month of the murder, each providing an alibi for the other.
Davis had covered his fingertips with tape to prevent any prints from being left, a sign that the murder was premeditated. Having lived across the apartment complex from Bennallack, Davis had access to her comings and goings. On the night of her death, he climbed up into her apartment under cover of darkness where the door was slightly ajar to accommodate Nancy’s cat, said Links and Cox.
“(The original detectives) did a good job processing the scene,” Links said. “He stabbed her repeatedly and he cut himself and left the trail down from her balcony and into the parking lot. All those years they thought he must have got in a car. They did interview everyone in the apartment complex and so that was the evidence we had.”
The blood, however, would one day come in handy for investigators.
“She has worked her butt off,” said Linda of Links, “and it was tough. This guy lived in the apartment building. Tom and I don’t recognize him.
“The way (Links) solved it is that she found his roommate, who doesn’t remember why the guy moved in with him or how he met him. But the (killer) had got a divorce and his ex-wife had his baby, a little girl. He never met her, and she never met him.”
Had Links not found Davis’ roommate, she wouldn’t have connected with Davis’ daughter, who is now in her 50s and was “absolutely shocked.” The daughter didn’t want anyone to contact her, but gave her DNA to help the families and investigators solve the case.
On June 13, which would have been Bennallack’s birthday, Linda received a call from Links.
“Micki called Lin and said, ‘Today is Nancy’s birthday,’” said Tom Cox. “Pray to her and ask her to give us a sign. And she said, ‘I am going to be doing the same thing.’ And then this all started falling together.”
Links was following a lead, having received the DNA evidence back from the lab with a simple name, “Richard Davis.” However no middle initial and no birth date were attached. She went back to the original murder case book and sure enough, Richard John Davis was listed as a resident of the apartment building on Bell Street and the pieces fell into place.
“I asked (the roommate) some questions,” Links said. “He told me a couple things we knew about Davis who was our suspect and he confirmed the name and initials. OK, he’s in the book, he lived in the complex, and now the roommate, so I know it’s the same Richard Davis. We did it. We figured it out.”
Linda and Tom Cox remember the moment they received the call that they had been waiting for the past 52 years.
“We had just parked our car in Auburn,” said Linda Cox, “and Micki called and she said, ‘I got a match. We have a match.’
“She said, ‘The turning point was after we asked Nancy, which was June 13. I swear that was the turning point that gave me some hope.’
“I was in shock, honestly. It’s unreal. It’s been so long.”
“The reaction we had together brought up a lot of questions,” said Tom Cox. “Then to find out the murderer himself had died, then we have mixed emotions. Could we have gone through a long trial? Or is it best that he’s not around and we don’t have to belabor the point?
“Micki is the star of this show. She is an amazing woman. She was a police officer and been put through the rings. She was on the ground floor of the DNA research and techniques they use.”
Linda and Tom Cox extend their gratitude to the Sacramento Police Department, who they said was supportive and key in keeping Nancy’s memory alive and the investigation from being overlooked.
Links said that the sibling of a victim in another case she solved said, “I feel like I am not looking in my rear view mirror anymore. And I think Linda is the same way. They can look forward.”
“They always were working on this,” Linda Cox said. “They told us that she was never forgotten, always at the top of the list. She was so kind and such a great person. Nancy was the best sister in the world to me.”