Tue. May 28th, 2024

4-year-old Kynande Kalehje Bennett’s mother, Vartasha McCullough (aka Vartasha White or Vartasha McCullough-White) said she last saw her daughter at a K-Mart store at 5:00 p.m. on September 29, 2002. They resided in Conway, South Carolina and were visiting Kynande’s uncle in Whiteville, North Carolina that day.

At first, Vartasha claimed Kynande disappeared in an aisle of the store, but she later changed her story and said she walked into the store and thought Kynande was behind her, but turned around and the child was gone. Nobody remembered seeing the child with her mother in K-Mart that day, and video surveillance images of the establishment did not show any images of Kynande.

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When the police searched the couple’s car, they noted there was no car seat and no other sign that a young child had been there recently, except for a single matchbox car they found wedged under a seat. In fact, investigators could find no evidence that Kynande had ever arrived in North Carolina. No one at all, other than Kynande’s father and mother, reported having seen her in the two days before she was reported missing.

One witness saw Kynande with bruises on her shoulder and face just a few days before her disappearance.

When the witness asked the child what had happened, Kynande said, “My mommy did it.”

The witness then confronted Vartasha, who said, “I’m going to whip her ass for telling you.”

Another witness reported seeing cuts on Kynande’s body, and marks that appeared to have been caused by a strap.

Kynande’s grandparents had been worried about her and on September 29, the same day the child was reported missing. Her grandparents told the police in Kynande’s hometown of Conway that they thought she was being abused.

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Police stated Kynande’s parents seemed uninterested in her case and never called to ask for updates on the investigation. They also reported that Vartasha failed a polygraph regarding her daughter’s disappearance. Kynande’s father, Eddie “Kevin” Bennett Jr., refused to talk at all. Both parents were described as uncooperative and there were inconsistencies in their stories.

Kynande Kalehje Bennett's mother, Vartasha McCullough said she last saw her daughter at a K-Mart store at 5:00 p.m. on September 29, 2002.
Kynande Kalehje Bennett

Police executed a search warrant on Kynande’s home and her family’s vehicles. They also took blood and saliva samples from both parents. Detectives later stated that the residence had been “sanitized” with bleach and still smelled of it. They noted the presence of three bleach bottles, a damp mop and towels. Vartasha stated she was cleaning the apartment in preparation for an upcoming inspection by the Housing Authority. But, investigators believe she was trying to come up a crime.

The search of the apartment turned up transfer stains, which come from fluid spatters being wiped, matching Kynande’s DNA. Police said the scene “would suggest that a physical assault had taken place.” They also noticed that someone had already thrown away most of Kynande’s toys and clothes, as if they did not believe she would ever be coming home. Vartasha and Kevin used the past tense when talking about Kynande, an indication they believed she was no longer alive.

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According to authorities, after they told Vartasha she had failed her polygraph, she began crying. One of the officers said, “We both know that whatever happened to that child did not happen in North Carolina, it happened in that apartment, didn’t it?” and Vartasha nodded yes. They asked her to take them to where Kynande’s body was, but she said, “I can’t.” After she regained her composure, she retracted her previous admission and again said Kynande had disappeared from the K-Mart.

Kynande’s parents were both arrested in February 2003. They were charged with homicide by child abuse in connection with their daughter’s case. Investigators said the DNA evidence proved she died in Conway and never went to Whiteville on September 29. That, combined with Kynande’s grandparents’ evidence, led to the murder charges. The charges against Kevin were dropped in October 2005, but could be refiled if more evidence is located. Additional charges of unlawful neglect of a child and inflicting great bodily harm on a child were added to Vartasha’s indictment in December 2005.

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Vartasha maintained her innocence at the trial and testified in her own defense, stating she never harmed Kynande. The prosecution theorized McCullough had abused Vartasha and caused her death unintentionally. Saying she panicked afterwards and attempted to conceal the crime. She was convicted of all charges in February 2006 and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Kynande remains missing. She is described as an intelligent, well-mannered child. could read simple words and count to thirty at the time of her disappearance. She liked the cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants.

Investigating Agency: Conway Police Department 843-248-1790

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By Buffy Gunner

Independent Journalist + Business Owner | Lover of all things true crime. Mantra: Only YOU can be YOU. | Los Angeles Born | buffygunner@illicitdeeds.com