Sherry knew the rules: Don’t mess with the inmates. But she didn’t care. A wife and mother, Sherry secured work at the Brushy Mountain State Prison guard gig and soon began messing with the inmates–be it selling them drugs, watching them lift weights, or seducing one to spice up her life. That lucky man who most caught her eye? Benny Lee Hodge.
Benny may have been serving his ninth year for a 29-year sentence, but the second Sherry laid eyes on him, his fate was sealed. What started out as clandestine prison make-out sessions transformed into a full-fledged romance once Benny was paroled. The pair moved in together and ripped off small-time crooks to stay afloat. Unsatisfied, they organized a criminal gang and then really began to get blood on their hands.
Benny and Sherry lived out their Bonnie-and-Clyde fantasy for a good 10 years, conducting a rampage of murder, lust, and greed that stretched across Kentucky. When the brutal robbery of a small-town physician's home in August 1985 led to Benny Lee's arrest, it seemed the nightmare may be over. Unfortunately, this tale of greed was far from closed.
University of Tulsa English professor and Edgar Award-winning true crime author Darcy O’Brien chronicles the couple's lethal relationship in A Dark and Bloody Ground. The gripping narrative peers inside the mind of Sherry and Benny Lee Hodge and tracks their crime spree from its troubling beginning to its calamitous end.
Keep reading for an except from O’Brien’s book, which goes into more depth regarding Sherry and Benny’s first “date.”
Sherry had been a tomboy. She had never thought of herself as pretty; an older sister was the beautiful one. But Sherry didn’t think she had to be a prom queen to be attractive to men. She wore no makeup; it was her way of saying take me as I am or leave me the hell alone. She believed that she had certain qualities, including more determination than the next 10 women combined, that compensated for whatever knockout looks God had neglected to provide her. Another thing she knew about herself was that when someone told her that she could not have something, she found a way to get it. She had been that way as far back as she could remember, like a running back who found a way around when he couldn’t go straight through. And when someone had something else she wanted, especially when that something was a man, then watch out.
Not that she was always preying on other women’s men. She had had only two affairs since her marriage, both of them as a way of getting back when she believed her husband had been cheating on her. Both affairs had been with married men, but in her view this had been merely a practical choice. You had better not mess with a single man, because he might want you permanently and cause a big fuss and endanger your marriage. Sherry could have told Dear Abby a thing or two.
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She held off until it was already a week into October. She had been watching Benny Hodge for more than three weeks; she could not resist the excitement any longer. She did not care what happened, she had to get with him. They had locked eyes a few times. They still had not spoken to one another, but she was certain that he knew who she was and that he felt something, too—or was she imagining this? She had to find out. Sherry’s way of dealing with temptation was to try to keep calm, devise a plan, see how things played out, and deal with the consequences later. “You can’t change life,” was the way she put it, “but you can learn to live with it.”
By 10:00 in the morning, Sherry knew from studying Hodge’s routine, he would be starting to prepare lunch in the staff kitchen. There was a phone nearby which Hodge had the privilege of using and answering. Just after 10:00 on a Tuesday, she rang that phone from another out of sight near the warden’s office.
“Hodge here,” he answered.
“This is Sherry Sheets. You know me?”
“Yeah, I know you.”
“Well, I think you’re pretty cute.”
“Is that right.”
“I do. I been watching you. I have went to a lot of trouble to watch you, and I’m going to miss you so much, it hurts.”
“What, you quitting? They fire you?”
She felt her knees shake, hearing his voice and knowing she could get caught.
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“No,” she said, “I ain’t quitting and I ain’t fired and I ain’t no quitter, neither. I’ve got Wednesdays and Thursdays off and what that means is, I won’t be able to see you for two whole days. I don’t know if I can stand it. I mean, all I’ve got between then and now is my husband, and I don’t think he’ll do, know what I mean?”
“You a married woman? You shouldn’t be talking like that.”
“Well, you ain’t nobody to talk, Benny Hodge, Lord knows. You are married, too, and I know what you’ve been up to. You’re as bad as they come. You still haven’t told me what I’m supposed to do. What do you want me to do, Hodge? Aren’t you going to tell me? What’s a girl supposed to do with herself?”
“You know where the men’s bathroom is near the kitchen?”
“I’ll be there. And don’t pay no attention to the guy standing outside the door. Just come on in. I’ll give you five minutes to get there.”
The way he said it, Sherry didn’t think Hodge believed that she would dare. He didn’t know her. Nobody ever accused Sherry Sheets of being chicken.
She covered by reporting to the operations desk that she was going to the commissary and popped into the dining room to make sure that she was seen. Then she shot down a flight of stairs. As Hodge had said, another prisoner was standing by the door to the men’s room. He motioned her inside with his thumb. Sherry understood that he was the pinner, the guy who would keep his eyes pinned so he could warn them if anyone was coming in.
Inside there was space for a urinal and a washbasin, and there was a stall, where Hodge stood waiting.
They started kissing, not saying a word. Sherry was scared and excited. His mustache was as soft as it had looked, and she loved how soft the skin on his cheeks was against hers. He sat down on the toilet, and she crawled onto his lap and propped her feet against the wall so if anyone came in they would see only a man’s pair of shoes on the floor.”
“Benny,” she said, enjoying hearing his name in her voice.
“Benny.” She felt his big hard arms.
He was just getting into her shirt when the pinner came in and whispered “Hodge! Hodge, they’re looking for her!”
Sherry jumped up and tidied herself and hurried out when the pinner said the coast was clear. She headed straight for the operations desk.
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“What do you all want with me?” Sherry asked, acting annoyed.
“Where have you been?”
“What do you mean, where have I been? I been in the dining room.”
“No you didn’t. We went there looking for you.”
“They was complaining about that men’s room. I made sure it got cleaned up.”
They managed to meet a couple of times more during the next few weeks in the storeroom, where they kissed in the dark and got to know each other against flour sacks. Necking was what it was, Sherry said to herself, high school making out and heavy petting where you might get caught and you enjoyed it more because you were “getting over on somebody.” They did not graduate beyond that stage until, on Halloween, Benny left Brushy.
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