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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 apartment manager opened the door of Brent's third-floor apartment, breaking the strip of tape she'd placed over the jamb after learning the resident was missing. Bennie collected the tape and dusted for fingerprints. Following Ranger Bennie, Jerry walked into his son's apartment. He tried to follow the Ranger's request to see if anything was out of place. The rooms were messy, typical for Brent. Nothing and everything seemed strange.

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."

Introduced as the lead investigator on the case, Ranger Bennie informed them quietly that Brent's body had been positively identified by dental records. They were not told of the mutilation or that identification had been made on three loose teeth found at the crime scene.

Though Brent had lived in Richardson, his body had been found in Grayson County, which gave jurisdiction to the Grayson County Sheriff's Department. "Mr. Gutheinz," Bennie asked, "are you aware of anyone Brent knew in Grayson County or any business he had in Grayson County?"

"No," Jerry said. "Why?"

"Where the body was found, this has got to be associated with Grayson County," Bennie said. There was little traffic on the dead-end road, and whoever put Brent there had to know the terrain.

In a deep Texas drawl Bennie told them, "I know this is very hard, but we need to work real fast if this murder is going to be solved."

Bennie listened attentively as they described the last few months of Brent's life: school, his new job, turmoil with Banks and his wild spending. After 30 or 40 minutes, Diana noticed he wasn't writing anything down. The Ranger tapped his forehead, saying, "I remember everything that's said to me."

Needing their permission to enter Brent's apartment, Bennie asked Jerry to accompany him. As he left, Bennie promised Diana that he would find who had murdered their son.

Wondering if his son had been kidnapped from the apartment, Jerry felt disbelief, grief and anger all rolled into one. At least a dozen people were tromping through the small rooms, including deputies, the apartment manager and people from the UTD police and public relations departments. Could they be obliterating evidence? Jerry didn't say anything, feeling that the Ranger and other law enforcement people must know what they were doing. Behind him, people from UTD were talking about how to keep the murder from being associated with the university. They clearly didn't know who he was.

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Glenna Whitley