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The Gutheinzes' concerns about the investigation began almost immediately with their observations of Bennie's methods. They let it pass, but as their distress built up, the Gutheinzes asked Davis, who had been helping them sort through Brent's last movements, to pursue leads they thought Bennie was ignoring. Getting little response from the hierarchy of the Texas Rangers, they hired an attorney to present their case to Bennie's supervisor. Though the Rangers agreed with the family on several dozen items that still needed to be investigated, the Gutheinzes say the Ranger didn't follow through on most of them. For example, Jerry says, Bennie did not contact a man who had allegedly threatened Brent at Texas Tech in Lubbock, or several other possible suspects.

"We've continued to follow up on all leads that have come up," Bennie told the Dallas Observer. "I'm not going to discuss the investigation with you."

No lawman wants a killer to get away with murder on his turf. What Bennie has and hasn't done to solve the murder of Brent Gutheinz is hard to tell; he alone has access to his file. The Gutheinzes have rubbed the Rangers the wrong way with their freelance sleuthing and some of Jerry's wilder theories.

But by retracing some of Bennie's steps, the Observer discovered evidence of a slipshod investigation.

The Gutheinzes have persuaded the Texas Rangers Unsolved Crimes Investigation Team to accept the case, a move Bennie has resisted. But even that may not overcome the problems that started at the scene of the crime. In modern crime-solving, attention to detail may be more important than tenacity.

Scrambling down the rocky banks of Squirrel Creek to his son's last resting spot, Jerry Gutheinz offers a hand. He looks around the placid creek bed. The journey here makes Jerry's point. He has driven his SUV west off U.S. 75 onto West Farmington Road north of Van Alstyne. When the path ends, he turns left, then right onto a caliche road, stopping at a wooden bridge blocked off with concrete debris. On the other side of the bridge, Jerry picks his way down the bank strewn with beer cans. The killer had to be familiar with this remote spot, some 50 driving miles from Brent's Richardson apartment. Had Brent been lured here or killed somewhere else and dragged down the slope?

The day Brent's body was found a photographer for the Sherman Herald-Democrat took a picture of the crime scene: Ranger Bennie stood with a handful of deputies around Brent's body, which was obscured by trees. As the senior investigating officer, Bennie presumably was in charge of what happened to the body and the collection of physical evidence.

A few days after the funeral, Jerry made his first trip to the creek, searching for some connection between this remote place and his son. One tenuous link he found: A sales manager at a car dealership where Brent bought two cars lives a few miles away. He points out that Ranger Bennie apparently still hasn't talked to that man.

"I'm not obsessed with this," Jerry says. "But it's the responsibility of a father to tend to a son's unfinished business." He's not very convincing. As long as Brent's murder remains unsolved, that business will never be over for Jerry and Diana Gutheinz.

His older brother Stephen was the studious musician, his younger sister Emily the sweet daddy's girl. Gregarious, fun-loving and "challenging," Brent was always the wild child in the middle.

Diana teaches fifth grade, and Jerry runs a family business called NTBS Filing and Storage Systems. Their three children all attended Plano schools.

Even as a preteen, Brent loved to shock his parents. At 12, he asked his dad how someone got gonorrhea. Jerry explained and asked if Brent was sexually active. "Maybe," Brent said with a grin.

If Brent was sometimes impulsive, he also could be remarkably disciplined. When he took up bodybuilding during high school, he would exercise for hours. For lunch he'd eat nothing but five cans of tuna or hard-boiled eggs. He morphed from a pudgy band nerd into a sexy stud, and the girls noticed. One night, the Gutheinzes caught a girl climbing onto their roof to get into their son's bedroom window.

His last two years in high school were a series of intense love affairs. Brent never dated casually. Each girl was the most wonderful, perfect girl for him. Then suddenly it would be over.

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Glenna Whitley