Amanda Strous beaten, strangled and burnt to death by neighbour

Amanda Strous (left). Matthew Benner (right) was charged in her death
Amanda Strous (left). Matthew Benner (right) was charged in her death

An autopsy report shows a 27-year-old Amanda Strous was strangled and had her mouth taped shut inside her Charlotte, North Carolina, apartment before it was set on fire in June.

The autopsy performed by the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office also reveals that Amanda Strous suffered significant burns and blunt force injuries in her June 18 death.

She was found wearing only a pair of bathing suit bottoms and her mouth was covered with duct tape, which emergency responders had to remove from her face.

A rape kit was also performed and turned over to detectives investigating the case.

Matthew Thomas Benner, 28, was charged with first-degree arson and murder in her death. Authorities believe Benner, who lived in the same apartment complex as Strous, had been stalking her.

Recently released search warrants indicate that Benner had expressed interest in dating Strous and a friend of hers, according to the station WSOC-TV.

Strous, who worked as a college counselor at Central Piedmont Community College, was to be married to her fiancé, Cory McCleaf, on July 30.

Benner fled North Carolina after the woman’s killing. Authorities say he confessed to the crime after being arrested two days later near Las Vegas.

Witnesses say they saw Benner, a field services representative for an air traffic control software company, standing outside Strous’ apartment with blood on his hands telling neighbors not to enter on July 18.

He fled after hearing police and fire sirens.

Strous’ roommate, who was away at the time of the fire, described Benner as ‘socially awkward’ and said he ‘always seemed to be around.’

The woman, who did not want to be named, told CBS that she hadn’t been afraid of him and had not believed he was dangerous until now.

The victim had been engaged and was set to her marry her fiancé McCleaf, who had been away in Maryland at his bachelor party at the time of the attack, on July 30.

McCleaf said he was devastated by his fiancee’s death.

‘She lit up a room when she walked in,’ he said. ‘Her smile was just one of those things that people had to be with. When she smiled they smiled.’

‘She was the light of my world,’ McCleaf said. ‘She was one of the most positive people I’ve ever been around.’

Neighbors in the 12100 block of Toscana Way first called 911 around 5.30pm on June 18, after noticing smoke and flames coming from Strous’ apartment.

Firefighters were able to pull the 27-year-old from her burning second story building and she was rushed to CMC-Steele Creek hospital where she later died of her injuries.

Neighbors told of hearing a loud, chilling scream from the apartment before the smoke alarm went off.

Investigators discovered the fire had been deliberately set while Strous was still in the building. Police say it was not a random act of violence and ruled the death a homicide.

Benner, 28, was found sleeping in a car outside a motel in the town of Pahrump, Nevada.

Benner’s brother, Christopher, who works as a Las Vegas lawyer for Smith Larsen & Wixom, told the Charlotte Observer that he is ‘addressing legal matters’ for his brother.

Police have not released a motive in Strous’ killing.

A neighbor told the Observer they overheard an argument in the complex earlier this year, which they believe was between Strous and Benner.

The victim’s mother, Crystal Strous, said that Benner and Strous lived in the same apartment complex, but she was not sure how well her daughter knew him. She said there was not a romantic relationship between them.

‘It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,’ said her mother. ‘You never think it’s going to happen to you.’

Her father, Eric Strous, told Channel 9, ‘I would tell you I’m broken, shattered, but as (my wife) said, love hope and faith are the foundational properties that we have raised our children to young adults that are productive in giving back.’

Strous was a former Shippensburg University student who was an NCAA championship-winning field hockey player and a coach at the university.

She and McCleaf had recently moved from their native Pennsylvania to North Carolina after he got a new job as a coach at a Crossfit gym in Pineville, back in October. They were living apart until their marriage.

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