When Patricia Fletcher learned this week that an arrest had been made in the murder of her best friend nearly 50 years ago, she felt a mixture of relief and surprise.

Fletcher was pleased that an arrest had been made but surprised she didn’t know the man who is accused in Karen Bentz’s stabbing death.

“I always assumed whoever did that to her, I probably knew them,” Fletcher said. “I had my suspicions. It turns out — I was wrong.”

Gustave Sapharas — a man Fletcher has never met — recently was arrested for the unsolved murders of Bentz and another woman in the Akron area in the ‘70s.

Sapharas, 75, of Jackson Township, was scheduled to have his video arraignment Wednesday in Summit County Common Pleas Court, but that was delayed until Friday morning to allow time for him to be appointed an attorney.

Sapharas was arrested Friday for the stabbing deaths of Bentz, 18, of Akron, in 1970, and Loretta Jean Davis, 21, of Brimfield Township, in 1975. Both women were stabbed in the chest and left along the road, with Bentz’s body found in Tallmadge and Davis’ body discovered in Suffield Township.

Sapharas is charged with aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping, maiming or disfiguring another and attempted rape. He is being held in the Summit County Jail.

He's also being looked at as a possible suspect in the 1972 unsolved murder of Kathy Wiltrout Bevington, a 27-year-old woman whose body was found in a wooded area of Kreighbaum and Raber roads in what is now Green, according to a late Wednesday report by Beacon Journal partner News Channel 5 Cleveland.

According to a 1987 Beacon Journal article, she was found by a hunter. She had been stabbed seven times in the back and neck. A married mother of two, she reported for work at 10 a.m. Oct. 4 at a pharmacy on Massillon Road. She left the store some time later, leaving her purse and cigarettes in the store and her car in the parking lot. The druggist at the pharmacy said he last saw her talking to a man with sandy-colored hair. She was reported missing that night, having never arrived home from work. 

The television station reported Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry said detectives are investigating whether Sapharas was in the area at the time of her murder. 

Sapharas previously was convicted of the 1976 rape of a 28-year-old Cuyahoga Falls woman and was acquitted of the 1991 murder of a Columbus woman.

His arrest has spurred at least one other local law enforcement agency to look at cold cases for similarities to the Bentz and Davis murders.

“Anytime something like this happens — an arrest is made in a cold case — you’re hopeful for closure for the families,” Barry said Wednesday. “Are we looking? Yes. Do we have anything? No, we do not.”

Barry said detectives will look for cases that resemble the Bentz and Davis slayings, such as the method of death, that happened around the same time period. He said they then will see what evidence, such as DNA and fingerprints, is available for testing.

Tallmadge detectives reopened the investigation into Bentz’s stabbing death in 2013. They say they developed new evidence that tied this case to Davis’ murder and pointed to Sapharas.

Fletcher, whose maiden name was Statler, said her reaction to hearing someone had been arrested in the murder of her friend was, “Hallelujah!”

Fletcher lived behind Bentz in Akron, with their backyards abutting, and they attended grade school and then Central High School together. She said Bentz’s nickname was “Siren.”

“She was hilarious — a lot of fun,” Fletcher said. “Growing up with her was more than you could imagine.”

Fletcher graduated from Central in 1968, but Bentz dropped out of their last year because she was pregnant. She had a baby daughter and named her Lori. When Bentz was killed, her mother was taking care of Lori.

Fletcher was living in West Virginia when she learned about Bentz’s death. She said she heard first from her parents and then from detectives who had a scary message — she might want to stay away from Akron because whoever killed Bentz might know her.

“I was scared as hell,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said it was the detectives’ message — along with her own suspicions — that led her to think she might know her friend’s killer. She later moved back to Akron and has long hoped to find out what happened to her friend. She said she has always believed Bentz fought her attacker — and might have left behind evidence that could help solve the case.

“I want justice for her,” said Fletcher, 68, who still has a snapshot of herself and Bentz together. “I really do.”

Katie Byard contributed to this report.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj. Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.