Detective Mark Bennett retires, reflects on career in Ottawa Co.

Ottawa County

OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A longtime Ottawa County detective is retiring this week.

In his 16 years as head of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department Investigative Division, Capt. Mark Bennett’s seen it all.

But the case that stands out most in his mind is the 2008 quadruple homicide in Wright Township.

Sharmaine Zimmer, her sons Tyler and Jeremy and Jeremy’s s girlfriend Katherine Brown were killed, and the Zimmer home was set on fire.

“Got to be one of the most horrific crimes that I’ve ever been associated, investigated,” Bennett said.

A major break in the case came as a result of the ongoing relations OCSD has with other area police agencies — in this case, the Grand Rapids Police Department.

GRPD arrested Troy Brake after officers found a gun in his car, which matched one used in three of the four murders while investigating another assault.

Nine months later, Brake was sentenced to life in prison.

“At the end of the day, it was gratifying for the investigators to at least give the families some answers,” Bennett said.

If there’s a crime committed in Ottawa County that makes the news, you’d probably recognize Bennett. He’s been the face of the department’s detective unit since 2005.

On Wednesday, after 35 years in law enforcement — 33 with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department — Bennett will trade in his duty badge for one that reads retired.

“Every morning, this morning included, I love getting in my car and going to work,” the 57-year-old said. “I don’t think many people can say that, sadly. Ever since I was an adolescent sitting in grade school, (I) knew that this is the profession that I wanted to do. And thankfully, the good Lord has taken me to the point that I’ve been able to do it.”

He began his career as a Zeeland police officer, moving to the sheriff’s department two years later.

As he rose through the ranks, Bennett took on a variety of duties, from patrol deputy, to SWAT Team member and eventually detective.

It’s not just the major cases that have driven Bennett’s passion for the work.

The latest example is his work overseeing a murder case dating back 53 years. The unidentified young female victim’s body was found in a field near Allendale on 52nd Avenue and Fillmore Street in 1967.

Named Jenny by cold case detectives, the investigation led to the body being exhumed last year to extract DNA.

Since then, the search has been on to find a company that can use the DNA — damaged as the result of the embalming process used during the 1960s — to help lead to an ID and a family to notify.

“Stokes the fire of being able at least to provide the answers, thankfully through technology and such,” Bennett said. “We may be able to provide some answers, at least an identity.”

Bennett found other ways to deal with the stress of the job over the years.

Every fall, he turns in his badge for a flag, serving as a college football official.

“That kind of helps get me away from some of the traumatic, less fun times,” Bennett said.

He retires Wednesday from the sheriff’s department, but not from public service.

He’s been appointed to fill the soon-to-be vacated township supervisor post in Tallmage Township, where Bennett’s currently a trustee.

He leaves a profession often mired in controversy these days.

Despite the pressures and the calls for reform, Bennett says if he had a choice, he’d do it all over again.

“Someone who gets into this line of work has to really want to do it, and then love to do it as you move forward,” Bennett said. “Because life is too short if you’re not happy.”

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