An Open But Shut Case

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

"That was just too much for me to swallow," says Alfred Beauchamp, a short, barrel-chested man with a deep, coarse voice as testament to years of chain-smoking. A former merchant marine, he is overbearing at times, frequently interrupting his wife, Glennie, or anyone who tries to speak, with his own extended thoughts and observations.

Over the next few months, law-enforcement officials saw a lot of Alfred Beauchamp, and neither his demeanor nor his frequent questions about his son's death were well received. He made repeated calls to the sheriff's office and the district attorney, and had rancorous meetings with both. He went through two private investigators and one attorney. Four and a half years later, he has yet to receive answers that satisfy him.

"Nobody wanted to give me any information, and I've been treated like a criminal," says Alfred. "I have basically had to investigate this case by myself -- and I don't have a badge."

Since Paul's death, Alfred has done little other than search for the truth. He transformed a small bedroom in his house into a command post jammed full of stacks of documents and transcripts, and hours of videotaped interviews that he is convinced support his contention that his son was murdered. It's a collection of information -- some of it intriguing, some of it convoluted.

But initially, aside from the fact that he viewed Minnich's claim as stretching the boundaries of credibility, Alfred had little to support his suspicions. That changed as soon as he went to the Montgomery County Criminal Justice Center's car storage lot in Conroe to reclaim Paul's small 1986 Mazda pickup, found in a ditch about 500 feet from Paul's body. Alfred inspected the vehicle and noticed a large dent just above the right rear bumper, which he did not believe had been there Christmas Day. Paul Beauchamp was very particular about his truck, says the elder man, and if it had been damaged, the rest of the family would have heard about it.

He checked with the county's crime scene investigator who, Alfred says, confirmed that the dent was already there when the vehicle was towed to the storage lot. Alfred then remembered that Paul had been videotaping his own young niece on Christmas Day. Perhaps the tape would include a shot of the truck.

Sure enough, a review of the tape clearly showed the back of Paul's truck -- sans dent. Alfred's suspicions grew. He thought about how Paul had found Cleo, the dog, inside his cabin. How had she gotten in, and was there a connection? Had someone gone to the cabin looking for Paul? Was it his imagination, or had Paul seemed sort of nervous lately? His mind raced with possibilities real and imaginary. One thing Alfred says he did not imagine, however, was a commotion in front of his house the evening of Paul's death.

Christmas night, Alfred had fallen asleep on the couch in his living room, which faces the street, when he was awakened by what sounded like a car crash, followed by men's voices coming from the street -- about 30 yards from his front door.

"I heard one of them saying, 'Here he is over here -- I found him, I hit him,' " says Alfred. "Then another voice said, 'Why are you hitting me? I haven't done anything.' And then someone else said, 'I told you I'd get your goddamn ass for talking about me.' And then they took off."

Alfred failed to call the police, he says, because there were teenagers in the neighborhood who were always "raising hell," and he didn't want to get them in trouble. Only later did it occur to him that Paul might have been involved.

Alfred also remembered a disturbing conversation he had with Paul a couple of months earlier. Alfred had been working in his large yard and was walking back toward his house when Paul stopped him and said he needed to talk. Paul claimed he had recently been approached -- by whom, Alfred can't recall -- about doing some sort of undercover narcotics work for the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. Paul wanted to know what his father thought of the idea. Alfred's reply was emphatic.

"I told him I didn't think he should have anything to do with it all," says Alfred. "I told him that they would turn on him like a chow dog, and to stay away from it. He said okay, and I never thought any more of it." That is, until a half-dozen members of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office turned up at his front door the day after Christmas to announce that his son's body had been found.

State law mandates that any time there is a report of a suspicious death in a county without a medical examiner, a justice of the peace must be called to the scene to make a ruling about the cause and manner of death.

In Texas, justice of the peace is an elected post that can be held by a plumber or a used car salesman; there is no requirement that a JP have a law-enforcement background. But Edie Connelly is no law-enforcement wannabe. Before she was first elected as justice of the peace for Montgomery County's Precinct 3 in 1987, Connelly had spent ten years as a peace officer -- the last nine as a detective with the sex crimes division of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

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