His Sister's Keeper

Is Darrin McGillis a noble crusader for his late sister's kids, or a courtroom junkie who thrives on drama? Both, actually.

Gerald Benge, who for nine months had been searching for Wendolyn in Miami, slipped back into her life in November 1997, just as the siblings were having a falling out. According to the investigator hired by Benge to find Wendolyn, she was desperate to reunite with her ex-boyfriend. “She wanted to see him but said to me that her brother wouldn't let her,” says Lorin M. Jacobson.

When McGillis found out that Benge was again residing with Wendolyn, he took back all the furniture and appliances he had let his sister borrow. “It would have all ended up at the corner pawnshop if he hadn't done that,” says Janet Chaulklin, who also withdrew her financial support. McGillis called 911 to have police remove Benge from Wendolyn's apartment. But police could do nothing. He also called the DCF's 24-hour abuse hotline. In September the department had already received a letter from McGillis and Wendolyn explaining the circumstances that contributed to her inability to work for government monies.

On November 23, 1997, DCF protective investigator Nancy Cuevas arrived at McGillis's home. He informed her of his concerns and volunteered documentation supporting his claims. Cuevas then headed to Wendolyn's apartment, in the same complex, and spoke to her and Benge. Two days later the couple accused McGillis of sexually molesting one of his nieces. McGillis took two lie detector exams and passed them. The State Attorney's Office dropped the charges.

Wendolyn in happier times with two of her daughters
courtesy Darrin McGillis
Wendolyn in happier times with two of her daughters
Attorney E. Joseph Ryan, Jr., thinks the tangled McGillis case resembles Hollywood fare
Steve Satterwhite
Attorney E. Joseph Ryan, Jr., thinks the tangled McGillis case resembles Hollywood fare

Two weeks prior to his sister's death, McGillis sat down with DCF's then-district administrator Anita Bock and her right-hand man, Imran Ali. “I gave her documents supporting my concerns about Benge,” McGillis says. “When Wendy died with high doses of cocaine in her system, they went into full force to discredit, slander, defame, and prevent me from exposing the truth in court.”


Darrin McGillis became a man with a single mission. “DCF knew that this guy was capable of killing her and did nothing,” McGillis claims. “They probably thought, Oh heck, it's just another woman on welfare. It's embarrassing for them. They never thought that I would take it to the level that I have.”

He is consumed by his sister's life and death and by the disdain he feels for those whom he says contributed to her untimely passing. Few other thoughts, it seems, cross his mind. His world is a lonely one. He relies on public transportation and recently moved in with a friend “from the music business” because he couldn't afford to pay his rent. He hasn't been working since 1997 and says he gets by on royalties from some of the Menudo music he owns, which mostly sells in Latin-American countries.

McGillis also faces many accusations. The state's welfare agency and juvenile court considers him a harasser and manipulator. A few days after Wendolyn died, McGillis videotaped her children answering questions about what transpired before their mother's death. The DCF claims McGillis brainwashed the kids into believing Benge killed their mother. McGillis denies the allegations. He's jammed up many fax machines. During a hearing in October 1999, Judge Jeri Cohen complained about it. “You are not to fax me anything else,” Cohen ordered. “If you have something. I'm warning you not to do it. Let me tell you something, Mr. McGillis. Look at me. That fax machine is my fax machine. I pay for all the ribbons in that, and since you have started faxing me information my bills -- and I'll call my secretary in here -- have gone up. It's costing me $85 a month in ribbons because of all the junk you've sent me.”

According to DCF's district administrator Charles Auslander, McGillis had harassed attorney Lucy Piniero by calling her office 50 times in a row. Judge Cohen entered an order prohibiting him from communicating with anyone from the Department of Children and Families, particularly Piniero. McGillis appealed. “Well, you know the problem with that was that maybe he only called 40 times,” says E. Joseph Ryan, Jr., an appeals expert who represented McGillis in the Third District Court of Appeal. “It sounded like a fantasy.” Once police even dragged him out of the Juvenile Justice Center in handcuffs because he wouldn't leave Piniero's office until he spoke to her. McGillis was charged with trespassing even though he was in a public building during business hours.

While McGillis clearly has crossed lines, those opposing him have as well. Judge Cohen has questioned his sanity: “Darrin is mentally ill.... You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that he's got severe psychological problems,” she said during a hearing in April 1999. Paulette Backhaus, one of the paternal grandmothers, spread rumors through e-mail that McGillis had been able to get certain documents because he was having “gay sex” with an attorney who worked for Piniero. McGillis sued Backhaus for slandering him and won. “This is not just about my sister and her kids, this is also about reclaiming my dignity,” McGillis declares.


The DCF is planning to reunite Gerald Benge with his two children soon. The agency even got him into housing through the HUD Family Reunification Program in preparation for the big day. “Those kids are his meal tickets,” McGillis says. “They're his Section 8 and his welfare. Wendy was his meal ticket when she was alive.” The 41-year-old Benge lives in Miami Beach in a three-bedroom apartment. In his housing contract with the Miami-Dade Housing Authority (MDHA), Benge is listed as having two dependents, although his two children currently are living with a foster family in Miami. “That's information we got from DCF,” says Sherra McCleod, communications director of MDHA. The DCF's Auslander says it was a mistake. “He should really be in a one-bedroom apartment.”

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