New U.C. Berkeley police chief’s made-for-tabloid past
UC Berkeley’s new Police Chief Margo Bennett has a storied past that could have been a true-crime novel.
The tale, recounted in various newspaper, magazine and TV accounts — even a book — started back in 1991 when Bennett, then an instructor in interrogation at the FBI Academy, met and had an affair with best-selling author Patricia Cornwall, who was researching a novel at the Quantico, Va., headquarters.
That affair fueled an already explosive relationship Margo had with her FBI agent husband, Eugene Bennett, who she had fingered to the FBI as trying to defraud the agency of more than $17,000.
He was indicted for fraud, and Margo promised to testify at the trial. But just a few days before she was to go on the stand, Margo says her husband shot her repeatedly with a stun gun, gagged and blindfolded her and stuffed her in the trunk of a car. She said he then drove her to a remote location, telling her that others involved in the fraud had kidnapped their two kids and that she need to recant her story.
She did, leaving prosecutors stunned.
But after confiding to a friend and her attorney that she had feared for her children’s safety, a new trial was ordered. Following a plea deal, husband Gene landed in prison for a year.
In 1996, after he had been released and their divorce was still in progress, Gene showed up at Margo’s church. He donned a ski mask and pulled a gun on the minister, shackling the man’s arms and legs and placing explosives around the man’s waist. Gene ordered the minister to telephone Margo and lure her to the church.
When a suspicious Margo arrived, her masked estranged husband came lunging toward her. She pepper sprayed him, then ran into back office before reaching for her pistol and firing.
“There was no way I was going to get out of there without firing a shot,’’ she said. “It missed him by less than an inch.’’
Her husband fled.
He was soon arrested, and at his subsequent trial it was revealed that he had been plotting to murder and torture Margo and frame her for bombing the minister. He was convicted of several charges, including attempted murder, and sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Margo went on to work for the Northern Virginia Community College police force, rising to rank of police chief, before joining UC Berkeley Police as a captain in 2002. She was named interim chief in December.
“I’ve been a victim and know what being a victim is like,’’ Bennett told us Friday. “And I have used that information to strengthen who I am, and I bring it into everything I do.
“I’ve had life experiences that very few people have, and it makes me a better person and better chief.’’