Clueless

No one knows who murdered Brent Gutheinz. Thanks to a sloppy investigation, it's likely no one ever will.

The parents had no way to know what Bennie was doing behind the scenes. Plano police Detective Cindy Bennett, involved when Brent was missing, says that Bennie was often in Plano working on the investigation. "He had two other murders," Bennett says. "There was no sloughing off." She declined to comment further.

But to the Gutheinzes, who didn't hear from Bennie unless they called him, it seemed Brent's murder was getting short shrift.

In August, Jerry discovered among Brent's belongings a VHS tape and a vacuum cleaner with a bag full of plaster and glass. Jerry popped the tape into a player and saw that it was a homemade video of Banks in provocative poses, some footage apparently taken without her knowledge. Garrett told him that Banks had been negotiating with Brent to get it back after they broke up.

The Brent whose face appeared on his dad's reward posters was thinner than the bulked-up Brent who became involved with Chanel Banks, right.
The Brent whose face appeared on his dad's reward posters was thinner than the bulked-up Brent who became involved with Chanel Banks, right.
Jerry Gutheinz's pursuit of justice has generated mountains of paper.
Jerry Gutheinz's pursuit of justice has generated mountains of paper.

Jerry called Bennie, who said the vacuum cleaner bag wasn't useful; the chain of custody had been broken. But he asked Jerry to hold onto the tape.

Brent's Mustang was discovered in late July parked in front of a motel in Plano, only a few feet from the Denny's where Brent often studied late at night. The keys were missing, and caliche still clung to the tires. The manager said he'd noted all the cars in the lot on July 4, two weeks earlier, and the Mustang had not been there. Bennie said the car had probably been parked there since Brent's disappearance, but he wouldn't explain why he believed that.

By midsummer, the Gutheinzes had several theories about what happened to Brent:

That he'd bought illegal drugs, threatened to turn someone in and been killed in retaliation. Or that the convoluted car transaction involved fraud and that Brent, threatening to expose it, had been killed to cover it up. ("Brent had a pattern of getting involved in doing something wrong, then doing an about-face and getting self-righteous about it and turning them in," Stephen says.)

That Tony in Lubbock had enacted some kind of revenge.

That Banks and Matilton, a member of the Hupa tribe in California, had something to do with it, and the mutilation of Brent's corpse was part of some ritual.

That Brent had been killed by someone who had raped him in middle school; he had told several friends he'd seen one of his attackers on campus at UTD.

There were problems with each of these theories, and it all came down to the lack of physical evidence and connecting any of these individuals with the crime.

In September 1997, three months after the murder, the Gutheinzes met for the second time with Bennie and a deputy.

"He had the file and pretty well announced to us that he had done all he could," Jerry says. "He was a Texas Ranger and would keep investigating. The meeting was to be his condolences, like, 'I'm sorry that this happened to you.'"

Jerry and Diana pointed out a number of things still to be accomplished. As Bennie had requested, Jerry had brought the VHS tape of Banks. They didn't understand why Bennie wasn't being more aggressive about interviewing her. Banks had given them one story about where she was the weekend Brent disappeared, and according to a deputy, she'd told the Ranger another story.

"She's lawyered up," Bennie told the Gutheinzes. Matilton seemed to have a strong alibi; he was working in Abilene from Thursday through Saturday. But he'd also declined to be interviewed by Bennie.

Bennie said that he would follow through on several items that the Gutheinzes raised, but the only way it would be solved, the Ranger suggested, was if someone confessed.

Bennie had the autopsy report and photos of Brent's body, but he refused to show them to the Gutheinzes. No parent should have to see something so grisly. He told them that Brent had died of "violent homicide" and that the likely time of death was Thursday night, the night he disappeared.

But Bennie also knew what the Gutheinzes didn't: The report and photos revealed that the collection of evidence had been so compromised that solving the crime was going to be difficult and prosecuting it nearly impossible.


In July 1998, the Gutheinzes hired attorney Kevin Keith to help break the logjam with the Ranger.

"Keith thought my personality was causing these problems," Jerry says.

After sending Bennie a letter of 20 to 30 points the family thought still needed to be investigated, Keith arranged an August 1998 meeting with Bennie, Ranger Lieutenant Richard Sweaney, Ranger Captain W.D. Vickers, Grayson County Sheriff Keith Gary, several deputy sheriffs and a Grayson County assistant attorney. (Keith was not allowed to attend.)

"Vickers told us the Texas Rangers were not our personal investigators," Jerry says. "We couldn't tell him what to do, and I was being awfully critical of Bennie, and I needed to go home and find something else to do with my life."

The meeting ended badly.

Perhaps Bennie was getting sick of the Gutheinzes. Jerry was certainly obsessed, but Bennie had created a vacuum of information that fueled Jerry's speculations. And Jerry's impression that Bennie's investigation was less than aggressive was being reinforced by things such as discovering from a chain-of-evidence receipt that Bennie hadn't turned over Brent's computer to the forensics lab until July 21, 1998, more than a year after his death.

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