By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"My wife and I were concerned about it," Jerry says. "I've never met anyone who would treat it that lightly being engaged to someone. We referred to it as the lowering of Brent's brain two and a half feet in his body."
His parents' fears weren't allayed after a meeting with Brent and Banks over her money problems. Banks said she and Matilton, a tall American Indian who worked with a foundation repair company, were deeply in debt. She was earning little more than minimum wage, and her car was about to be repossessed.
At the end of April, not long after he bought a 1997 Mustang for Banks, Brent announced that they were getting married. Deciding that their son needed to take responsibility for his own finances, the Gutheinzes gave him the title to the car they'd purchased for him to use during college. Two days later, they were dismayed to learn Brent had traded in the car and taken out a loan for a 1995 SUV.
On May 15, Brent and Banks leased their own apartment. The Gutheinzes watched as the couple went on a spending spree, buying a $1,200 car stereo, a $1,000 TV system, a $2,500 computer, $500 in bedding, $600 in appliances and hundreds of dollars' worth of clothes for Banks.
In March, Brent took a full-time job making about $22,000 a year as manager of SimFighters, a start-up at Preston and Belt Line roads that gave people time in fighter-jet simulators. Owner Bill Kingsley hired Brent out of a dozen UTD students he interviewed. "I needed somebody I could trust," Kingsley says, "somebody energetic and good-looking. Brent was built like a tank. Put a flight suit on him and he fit the image of a fighter pilot."
Brent seemed level-headed and trustworthy, Kingsley says. He was also passionately in love with Banks.
"All he could talk about was Chanel, like, 'She's the perfect girl for me,'" Kingsley says. "She had him completely wrapped around her little finger."
Even Kingsley cautioned Brent about racking up so much debt. On Mother's Day, when Brent and Banks came to dinner at Macaroni Grill, Diana was so upset with her son's spending that she cried through most of the meal. They would later discover at his death Brent owed creditors about $64,000.
On the phone, Brent complained to his brother Stephen that their parents weren't being supportive. "He was saying things he'd never said before," Stephen says. "He and my dad were fighting. I got the impression Chanel was a strong influence on him and a bad influence. I was worried about him. We all were."
Not only were his relations with his family strained, Brent's friends felt shut out of his life. Brad, now married and a software developer in Plano, says Brent went from being a frugal and diligent student to spending thousands of dollars and skipping class. "Brent told me that he could no longer hang out with his friends unless [Chanel] was there," Brad later said in a statement to police. "I asked him if that was his choice, and he said it was what Chanel wanted."
Around the first of June, Brent called Diana and said he and Banks wanted to take her out for her birthday. But days later, he called distraught. Banks had left him.
The next two weeks, his parents watched Brent ride a roller coaster of emotions. Banks moved out, then back in. "One minute he would be in love with her, and the next he'd despise her," Stephen says. Then on June 8, Banks revealed that she was pregnant.
Brent's reaction was to forgive all, to marry Banks and raise the baby. "He was excited about being a dad," Stephen says. "Even though it wasn't under the best of circumstances, he loved kids." Banks moved back in on June 12 and out again almost immediately.
A furious Brent called his father, saying Banks told him she wanted an abortion. Brent confessed that he'd spit in her face, called her names and had almost thrown her down the stairs. On Father's Day, during his last meal with his parents, Brent assured them that he was taking control of his problems. Now driving the Mustang, Brent said he would sell the SUV and work two jobs until he paid off his debts.
The evening of June 18, Brent came by with former girlfriend Castillo. "My last words with him weren't very nice," Jerry says with a sigh, "over a dumb bill for overdue videos at Blockbuster. I told him to take our name off his account."
The previous days had been hell. Brent had been missing for a week.
On Friday afternoon, June 26, the biggest man Jerry had ever seen walked into their home. "Ranger Bennie has his Western hat, the gun on his hip, cowboy boots and khaki shirt," Jerry says. "He takes his hat off. It's the only time in the '90s I ever saw a flattop."