Longform

Clueless

Page 6 of 10

Disgusted, Jerry left as quickly as he could.

The next morning, Jerry returned to the apartment to begin organizing and disposing of his son's belongings. Bennie had called at 10:30 the night before. The crime scene people were done.

But on Saturday, Jerry was surprised to see what investigators had left behind: wet towels and a pair of women's panties in the washer, a hammer and Brent's golf clubs. They didn't know how or where Brent had died. Could one of those last items have been a murder weapon? And why was there a hole in the ceiling of his bedroom closet, with plaster and glass shards on the floor? Why had Brent left behind one of his favorite sandals, which he wore everywhere? Castillo would later remember him leaving on the previous Thursday morning wearing them. (No shoes were found with his body.)

Bennie took initial statements from Brent's friends, including Banks and Matilton. Banks had abruptly quit her job several days before Brent disappeared. A few weeks later, she moved back in with Matilton. (They married in May 1998. Reached at their home in Allen, the Matiltons declined to comment.)

Bennie had asked the Gutheinzes for any information that might shed light on Brent's activities at the end of his life, so they traced Brent's last movements. Castillo had spent the night at his apartment (platonically, she says), and Brent had taken her to class that morning, saying he had to go to the bank.

Brent had left SimFighters at around 5 p.m., joined 24 Hour Fitness at 5:30 and bought something at Sugarless Delight at 5:50. These times would later be disputed, but it is clear Brent missed his 6 p.m. class at UTD. He simply disappeared.

Though a student came forward and said he'd seen Brent on the following Friday afternoon, Bennie didn't put much stock in that. Early on, Bennie said that he believed Brent died Thursday night, but he would never give a reason.

With the help of private investigator Davis, the Gutheinzes began sorting through Brent's bills, phone records and the car transactions. The Mustang had been obtained through a "straw purchase," using one person's name and credit--with his permission--to purchase a car for someone unrelated.

The dealership had sold Brent a credit life insurance policy that would have paid off the SUV in case of his death. (A manager at the dealership lived in Gunter, not far from where Brent's body was found.) Scott Garrett says that when he accompanied Brent to the dealership while trying to sell the SUV, the salesman asked if Brent had brought his bodyguard, then opened a drawer to reveal a gun. That man had a criminal record.

And there was Tony, Brent's nemesis from Texas Tech; Brent had told several people that after his last visit to Tech, several people had appeared in his UTD bedroom one night, put a gun to his head and told him it was Tony's last warning: Stay away from Lubbock.

Bennie deemed it all "interesting." He seemed to be focusing on several phone messages on Brent's answering machine involving a "present" for which Brent owed the male caller $400. The present seemed to be drugs, and investigators speculated at first that it might have involved the manufacture of methamphetamine. But the Gutheinzes learned that Brent had taken a "cycle" of steroids in March. (Brent had denied using steroids, but the medical examiner found thinning of the bones and skull, which could indicate longtime use.)

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.

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.

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Glenna Whitley