By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Tony swore he had stopped drinking, and she decided to give him another chance. She even agreed to move with him to Archer County, as long as she could still pursue concert promotion and go back to Austin to see her children. She moved there in May. By July she was less than enamored with the sweltering Archer County summer.
"The weather was awful," she says. "And there were snakes everywhere."
The son of a cowboy, P.L. Pippin, 57, grew up in Albany, Texas, and moved to Archer County after high school. He enrolled in Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, with an interest in history and a passion for the military. He was in ROTC and became the first Midwestern graduate to earn the coveted Army Ranger emblem, according to a long-time friend and college classmate of Pippin who asked his name not be used.
After college, he became a career military man, serving two tours with the Green Berets in Vietnam, where he received five medals for valor. He ultimately attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. Married with three children and living in Archer County, Pippin hoped to retire from the military with a nice pension. But military cutbacks forced him to retire in 1977--six years before his pension would have kicked in. Being pushed out of the Army left him bitter, says his friend, and vulnerable to his two vices--alcohol and women.
He joined Archer County Sheriff's Department as a deputy in 1977 and won the sheriff's election a year later, running as a Democrat. Pippin was defeated as sheriff in 1982, in part because it was widely known that he had a drinking problem. In fact, he wrecked his squad car one night when he was drunk. Having never fully gotten over--financially or emotionally--being let go from the Army, Pippin nursed his wounds with alcohol, says the friend.
Pippin and his first wife divorced, and he began dating a drug counselor named Betty Meek from Wichita Falls who would eventually become his second wife. During a tumultuous period before they married, Pippin got jealous because he believed Betty was seeing another man. He came to her house one night and shot up her garage door with a .22-caliber gun, says Betty Bond, who has since remarried.
"I reported it to the constable at the time, but nothing was ever done," Bond says in a phone interview from her Wichita Falls office, where she is executive director of a drug counseling program.
Despite his courtship behavior, Pippin and Betty eventually married, and she encouraged him to seek treatment for alcoholism. He entered the Veterans Hospital in Waco, where he remained for four weeks, she says.
After successfully swearing off alcohol, Pippin won back his badge as Archer County Sheriff in 1988. This time he ran as a Republican--the first Republican to be elected in the county since Reconstruction.
Small and compactly built, Pippin is intelligent, complex, and seemingly well-mannered. He has a reputation as a strict law-and-order man who prides himself on being tough on drug dealers. But beneath his calm surface, Betty Bond says her ex-husband was deeply troubled. "He was smart, but had no common sense," she says. "He had weird perceptions and a volatile temper."
Pippin had a habit of stockpiling army equipment and food and muttering about having to go to the woods when the war came, and his temper could be explosive.
Her worst encounter with his temper occurred in the summer of 1990--a few days after Pippin met Gail Bennett, Bond recalls. Pippin had been withdrawn for months, she says. He spent his nights driving around town. When he was home, he rarely spoke. He hadn't been interested in sexual relations in a year, she says. He blamed it on his high blood pressure.
"One night I kept calling him on the car phone, asking him to come home so we could talk," Bond says.
"When he finally did come home, I guess he was fed up. He pulled me off the couch and kicked me in the back." Bond says she did not report it because she had reported other abusive episodes to Pippin's deputies, "but they wouldn't do anything."
It was in large part to save her sanity that Gail Bennett continued to seek a way to punish Pippin after the Archer County grand jury failed to indict him. Gail needed to be believed. And she wanted to make sure Pippin would never assault another woman again.
A short while after the grand jury convened, Gail moved from Austin to Corpus Christi and entered therapy. Financial difficulties and her fragile mental state torpedoed her fledgling concert promotion business, and she returned to legal secretarial work. For the next year and a half she saw a psychologist who specialized in treating victims and perpetrators of sex crimes.
"Following an initial period of fear, paralysis, and emotional anesthesia, Ms. Bennett was forced to restructure her entire life, relocate her home, and is still trying to rebuild her confidence and self-esteem," Dr. Sharon Rogers would later write in an affidavit on Gail's behalf.
"The trauma experienced by Ms. Bennett has been compounded by several factors, including the importance of the attacker being a member of a group designated as protectors and the difficulty sustained in bringing any action against the individual."