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I-TEAM: Killer bought gun after stalking charge dropped

Simon Hanley purchased handgun 1.5 months before killing realtor, detectives say

NOCATEE, Fla. – A Ponte Vedra man purchased a handgun a month and a half before deputies said he killed a popular realtor, despite a restraining order prohibiting him from owning a firearm, the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned.

St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office homicide detectives said 60-year-old Simon Hanley killed 53-year-old Lynn Bender over the weekend in her Nocatee home on Southern Oak Drive, before turning the gun on himself.

The I-TEAM discovered he bought the gun after prosecutors dropped a criminal charge against him, but while the injunction was in place.

Long before the shooting, records show there was a history of problems.

A list of Sheriff’s Office responses to Hanley’s gated Ponte Vedra condo on Tournament Road included a call on Aug. 31 when deputies said he tried to kill himself in the garage with carbon monoxide from his car.

Days later, on Sept. 4, according to an injunction for protection against stalking that Bender filed against him, she officially broke up with him. But Bender claimed he continued to contact her, even after she told him not to.

In October, she wrote that he approached her and tried to kiss her at the beach, got angry and stormed off. He also sent her packages, cards, gifts and even a golf cart in November. Then she said she received a cryptic note, saying, “Kharma (sic) is in my cards.”

In December, Bender filed for that injunction and got it. A judge ruled Hanley had to stay away from her home and business, and wear a GPS ankle monitor. Deputies said they arrested him shortly after because they had previously warned him to leave Bender alone following a complaint that she filed with their agency.

But months later, in March, prosecutors agreed to drop the misdemeanor stalking charge. Hanley had hired private attorney Malcolm Anthony. Bender hired attorney Sung Lee.

Bryan Shorstein, a spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office 7th Judicial Circuit, wrote in an email that Hanley “successfully completed psychological and mental evaluations.” Shorstein said prosecutors also noted he had no criminal history besides a DUI 17 years ago. 

Hanley was put into a pretrial diversion program, which prosecutors often use for people with little to no criminal history who are charged with nonviolent crimes. The restraining order stayed in place, effective until 2020, but Hanley’s GPS monitor was removed.

Sheriff’s Office patrol records showed deputies first received a harassment complaint on Sept. 9, 2018. They returned to the Bender’s address on Southern Oak Drive on Nov. 9 for a suspicious person call.

On Dec. 4, they were dispatched for a stalking complaint. In December and March, they patrolled her home and completed a welfare check. They arrived May 11 for suspicious circumstances, which resulted in the discovery of the bodies of Bender and Hanley.

“Whatever was done, there was a determination that he either was not a danger to her or to somebody else,” said attorney Gene Nichols, who isn’t involved but analyzed the case with News4Jax. “There are going to be red flags at least to the psychiatrist and I am presuming the State Attorney’s Office knew them as well. But when it’s all said and done the state attorney’s office does have to rely on the experts, we all have to rely upon experts in these cases.”

But the same month the charge was dropped, at the end of March, detectives confirmed Hanley bought a handgun from an online listing through a private seller. 

While buying a gun from a private citizen is legal, Hanley wasn’t legally allowed to make the purchase because it would be a violation of his continuing injunction. A month and a half later, detectives said that Hanley used that gun to kill Bender and himself.

Shorstein provided a copy of an affidavit that Hanley signed at the time of the injunction, claiming he did not own any weapons. The injunction stipulated he “shall not have in his or her care, custody, possession or control of any firearm or ammunition.”

“Everything failed because this woman is dead and should not be dead,” Nichols said. “I will tell you that the real failure comes in with the man who killed her. That being said, if the State Attorney’s Office thought based upon the expert (psychiatrist) that it was proper to drop the charges, it was proper to drop his charges.”

In a statement on behalf of prosecutors, Shorstein said, “These cases are very difficult and we try every day to put things in place that will protect the victims of domestic violence.  Sometimes despite all of our efforts, they have tragic endings. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims family and victims of Domestic Violence everywhere."

News4Jax requested the results of Hanley's psychological and mental evaluations, but Shorstein said they were confidential.

Neither Anthony, Hanley’s attorney for the injunction, nor Lee, who had been hired by Bender, responded to requests for comment.

To learn more about domestic violence or get help, the following resources are available:

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.