An Open But Shut Case

Paul Beauchamp's death was ruled a homicide. So why isn't the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office investigating?

Perhaps it is. Earlier this month, the Texas Attorney General's Office finally notified Montgomery County officials that it plans to conduct its own investigation into the death of Paul Beauchamp.

A ten-year employee of The Woodlands-based Mitchell Energy Corporation, Paul Beauchamp was obviously a dependable man, but he also had a darker side.

The eldest of three children, Paul lived in a two-story log cabin on his parents' shady six-acre tract of land in Spring, a stone's throw from their comfortable one-story brick house. The geographic proximity apparently failed to translate into closeness on a personal level. Following Paul's death, friends and co-workers told investigators that his relationship with his father was strained. Friends also revealed that, after battling a drinking problem, Paul had been on the wagon for about five years. However, within the four to five months before his death, they said, Paul had started drinking again -- something he concealed from his parents. Additionally, both his friends and family admitted that Paul was dating a married woman.

On the last day of his life, Paul ate an early dinner at his parents' home around noon on Christmas Day. His mother and father say he appeared in good spirits but was suffering from a deep chest cold. They deny any friction with their son, but admit that he kept a lot of things to himself.

After finishing the holiday meal around 1 o'clock, Paul spent an hour or so working on a relative's car. Concerned that his son wasn't feeling well, his father suggested he lie down and sleep on the couch. But Paul said he didn't have time -- that he had to pick someone up around 3 o'clock before going over to watch a football game at a friend's house, where he stayed until about 8:15 that evening.

When Paul got back home, he called his father to ask if he had let his dog, Cleo, into the cabin. Thinking nothing about it at the time, the elder Beauchamp told his son that, no, he had not let the dog inside. He also gave Paul a message that one of his Mitchell Energy co-workers, Bryan Wilson, had called to invite Paul to a late dinner at his home a few miles from the Beauchamps' property. It was the last time Alfred Beauchamp would ever talk with his son.

"I hated to lose that boy," says the father.
Although Paul was still not feeling well, he decided to accept his friend's invitation.

In a videotaped interview a couple of months after Paul's death, Bryan Wilson told Detective Frank Hidalgo of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office that Paul arrived at the party around 10:30. He was wearing a white, button-down-collar, oxford-cloth shirt, sneakers and jeans. According to Wilson -- and in contradiction to his parents' recollection -- Paul seemed depressed. He complained that his parents hadn't given him anything for Christmas and his girlfriend did not appreciate the expensive purse he gave her.

Before Paul left the party around 12:45 a.m, Wilson recalled that, along with a meal of prime rib, turkey and all the trimmings, his guest consumed no more than two or three glasses of wine and a couple of shots of schnapps. That contradicted his original statement to investigators that Paul drank four or five glasses of wine and several shots of schnapps. Either way, the amount of alcohol Paul reportedly consumed at the party was not enough to cause the blood alcohol level in a man his size -- five foot eight inches, 220 pounds -- to skyrocket to more than two and a half times the legal limit by the time he left for home around 12:45 a.m., approximately one hour before his death.

Wilson also told the detective that he suggested to Paul that he stay overnight in the guest room. But Paul still felt ill and said that all he wanted to do was go home and get into his own bed. Twelve hours later, Paul was dead, floating in the middle of a pond with two gunshot wounds to the back of his head. Instead of the white shirt he wore to the party, he had on a red one. And instead of sneakers, investigators found a pair of Paul's deck shoes nearby.

According to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office's incident report, just before 2 p.m. on December 26, 1993, Deputy Todd G. Lehn and his partner, Corporal Heather Drennan, were dispatched to a call about a possible dead body in a pond off Riley Fuzzel Road. No land-speed records were broken by the two officers, who arrived at the crime scene 32 minutes later. By that time, two other deputies had already secured the location. Detective Frank Hidalgo arrived a short time later.

Two hours after authorities were first notified, two volunteer firemen in a boat finally reached Paul's body -- 43 feet from shore. Paul's body was in an upright position, just below the surface of the water. Once back on the bank, rescue workers placed Paul on a plastic tarp and loaded him into the back of a Greenlawn Funeral Home hearse.

Hidalgo and several deputies then made the three-mile drive to the home of Paul's parents. Hidalgo informed the couple their son had apparently drowned, and that his body had been discovered by someone who thought he was shooting at a turtle. From the beginning, it was a story that Alfred Beauchamp had a hard time believing.

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