Police seek boyfriend of woman accused of locking daughter, 10, in closet

The boyfriend of Kansas City woman whose 10-year-old daughter weighed just 32 pounds when she was rescued from a closet remained at large Thursday, one day after he was charged with child endangerment.

Neighbors had long suspected Marcus R. Benson played more of a role than he initially claimed after a call to a 24-hour child abuse hotline led authorities to the family's apartment June 22. Inside a locked closet that reeked of urine was the girl, weighing less than half of what a typical child her age weighs.

The girl's mother, whom The Associated Press isn't naming to protect the girl's identity, was charged the next day with assault, child abuse and child endangerment. She has pleaded not guilty and waived the right to a preliminary hearing during a court appearance Thursday. Her attorney, public defender Curt Winegarner, declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Immediately after the girl's discovery, Benson told police he didn't live in the apartment, and said that he often visited to see his 2- and 8-year-old daughters, but hadn't seen their half-sister in about a year, according to the probable cause statement filed in the mother's case.

Benson said that when he asked the mother about the 10-year-old, she told him she was with her aunt or in her room because she was in trouble. He said he never knew the mother put the girl in the closet or "he would have done something about it," the probable cause statement said.

But a couple days after the 10-year-old was discovered, longtime neighbor Aishah Coppage said she was skeptical.

"I know he knew," she said last month, adding that he had keys to the apartment, changed clothes there and was always there when Coppage got off work.

Julie Hamilton, a spokeswoman in the Jackson County prosecutor's office, said the probable cause statement in Benson's case won't be released until he is arrested. Online court records don't list a lawyer for Benson, and Benson has not spoken publicly about the case or the charges.

After his initial interviews with police, he was released while authorities continued an investigation that culminated in the two counts of child endangerment.

"The first thing he did when he got out of jail was to come over here," Coppage said last month. "You could hear him ranting and raving because he was mad we were talking to the press and the police and everything. I don't care about his anger because I believe he knew.

"He kept saying, 'Why am I supposed to give a damn about what she do to her child? It's not mine.'"

She also said the couple had a volatile relationship and she sometimes could hear them fighting next door. Her phone wasn't accepting new messages Thursday.

According to the probable cause statement, the mother told police she didn't let the girl leave the house because the child is malnourished and she would "get in trouble if someone saw her."

It's unclear how much time the child spent in the closet. In the probable cause statement, she told police that her mother put her in the closet "a lot."

The couple's two younger children have been placed in protective custody. The 10-year-old girl was hospitalized after police found her, but it is unclear if she is still in the hospital.