Bennett Hadley was introduced on February 16, 1979, when he saved Lisa Miller Colman after her car stalled in a rainstorm in front of Bennett's country inn known as the Willows. Lisa was leaving Oakdale, when her car stalled, because her husband, Grant Colman, had just announced that he was divorcing her. Bennett was the handsome owner of the Willows and took Lisa in and convinced her to spend the night. At this time, Lisa had developed a bad cold, and Bennett asked his doctor, Henry Bickford, to examine her, and his housekeeper, Hester Pierce, to help take care of her. Privately, Hester wondered aloud to Bennett if Lisa reminded him of anyone. Bennett didn't think so. Meanwhile, a curious Lisa heard noises upstairs and decided to investigate. What she found was a beautifully decorated room with a portrait of a woman who looked very much like her. It was Bennett's wife, Ruth. She had left him two years ago (or so he thought), and he still loved her very much. Bennett told Lisa that he was a writer but had given it up to run the Willows. He thought country life would be good for his marriage, only his wife ran off with another man. Lisa thought he should go back to writing and make contact with the outside world. Hester confided in Lisa that it was Hester's brother, Martin, who stole Ruth away from Bennett, but she always thought Ruth had used Martin to get out of her boring marriage.
Back in Oakdale, Grant enlisted the help of Lisa's employees at the Wade Book Stop, Carol Stallings and Sandy Thompson, to help him find Lisa. When Grant arrived at the Willows, he told Lisa he was worried when neither he nor Lisa's friends or family had heard from her. Lisa couldn't believe it -- Bennett had lied about sending the postcards she had given him! Lisa returned to Oakdale. Bennett, however, was never far from her thoughts. Likewise, he missed her, so he closed the inn and headed for Oakdale. Hester was not pleased. When Bennett arrived and declared his love for Lisa, Grant was jealous. Lisa delighted in being fought over but was not happy when both Grant and her son, Tom Hughes, warned her that something about Bennett did not sit right. Grant located a woman in New York who had an antique business with Bennett's wife. She claimed that Bennett took Ruth to the inn to keep her away from other men, and this woman was glad when Ruth left him. Lisa was furious with Grant for checking up on Bennett, and she said yes to Bennett's proposal. But Grant refused to give her a quickie divorce. Soon afterward, someone tampered with Grant's brakes. When Tom talked Grant into implicating Bennett, Lisa jumped in and gave him an alibi. Then Grant was attacked at his office, and after that, fellow attorney, Ralph Mitchell saved him from being crushed by an elevator. Something was going on, and Grant insisted that the police run a check on Bennett. Lisa was concerned about Grant but irritated that he kept blaming the "accidents" on Bennett.
In June 1979, Bennett returned to the Willows, and Lisa went with him. Hester was thrilled to see Bennett but not Lisa. Then Bennett lied to Lisa again, this time about a necklace he gave her that belonged to Ruth. Lisa later found Ruth's portrait slashed and Hester's letter opener nearby. She wanted Hester dismissed! Hester warned Bennett not to let Lisa end up like Ruth. Meanwhile, Grant began to suspect Bennett of killing both Ruth and Martin. But Martin wasn't dead; he was languishing in a sanatorium. In this macabre course of events, Dr. Henry Bickford was mysteriously murdered. When Tom came to the Willows to check up on his mother, he was almost done in by someone brandishing a shovel. Soon after, Lisa's friend, Kim Stewart, arrived to help Lisa plan her wedding. While rummaging in a closet, they found an old garment bag filled with dresses. Lisa tried one on, and it was a perfect fit! When Bennett saw her in the dress, he threatened to tear it off her because she looked so much like Ruth. Hester saw her and fainted. Kim also found a page torn from Ruth's diary describing how Bennett had locked her up in her room and detailing her planned escape with Martin. Bennett warned Hester never to tell Lisa about Ruth's final days. One night Lisa heard Bennett muttering in his sleep, "Ruth...I'm sorry...I never meant to...Ruth." And over at the sanitarium, Martin kept muttering, "Bennett, cellar, shovel."
Meanwhile, Tom was worried that his mother was cutting off all her ties to Oakdale. Still, Lisa happily continued to prepare for her wedding day. The wedding gifts began to arrive. Lisa excitedly opened them, only to find a box containing a burial shroud that reeked of Ruth's perfume! Lisa believed Ruth was still alive and had sent it. Bennett knew otherwise, and Hester was fired for the loathsome deed. The wedding would be held as planned. Bennett arranged for a honeymoon in Jamaica. Hester warned Tom and Kim to get Lisa away before the wedding, or they might never see her again. On the night of her engagement party, at the Spencer Hotel, Lisa got a call from "Ruth" to meet her at the Willows at 9 p.m. At the party, Bennett had a jealous fit when he saw Lisa dancing with her first husband, Bob Hughes, and he stormed out. Lisa was about to go after him when she saw that it was almost nine. Arriving at the Willows, Lisa heard someone moaning. She found a secret passageway to a sealed-off bedroom, and when she entered, she saw a hand moving at the foot of the bed! It was Hester. She had blood on her fingers and dress, and a letter opener lay nearby. Weakly, Hester told Lisa that it was Bennett who had hurt her, because she knew his secret: Bennett killed Ruth in one of his jealous rages.
Suddenly, Lisa heard Bennett coming up the stairs, and she fled through the secret passageway, only to find herself in the cellar. Stumbling over loose bricks, she came upon the half-mummified remains of Ruth Hadley. Then Bennett appeared with blood on his hands, holding a poker. Lisa ran for the stairs. Bennett followed, only to lose his balance and fall. Frantically looking for a key to unlock the door, Lisa came face-to-face with Hester, this time with a candlestick with a lit candle. Hester reminded her that she had warned her to leave before it was too late. Then she told Lisa that she must kill her. Thinking quickly, Lisa yelled "Ruth!" and Hester dropped the lit candle right on the bottom of Lisa's dress which was set ablaze. Tom and Grant were pounding on the door, and somehow Grant was able to get in the locked door and quickly put out the fire on Lisa with a blanket. Hester fled up the stairs and escaped. It was Hester, not Bennett, who had killed Ruth Hadley. Bennett said he had suspected this for some time, ever since Kim found the diary page that said Bennett had locked Ruth in her room, when the only one who could have done that was Hester. Hester was arrested and later went to the same sanatorium as her brother, Martin.
By Christmas Eve, Bennett had recovered from his injuries from the fall and he and Lisa had a chance to talk things over and decided that after all they'd been through they couldn't be together. Lisa gave him back his engagement ring, and Bennett promised to keep it as a constant reminder of what his jealous rages cost him. As a final gift, Bennett gave Lisa his finished novel. The last paragraph of the last page read: "And so it was Lisa who finally taught me what love and loving are all about. Like her laughter, she'll always be in my memory, and whatever I do that's worthwhile in my lifetime, it will be because ... she loved me once."