Still Open and Shut

The state bows out of the Beauchamp case

State authorities recently ended their investigation into the bizarre death six years ago of Paul Beauchamp, a case now more mysterious than ever.

The investigators from the Cold Case Analysis Unit of the Attorney General's Office spawned another mystery in their terse letter to the dead man's still-grieving father, Alfred Beauchamp, who insists his son was murdered. The letter says only that the unit was ending the investigation because of insufficient evidence to indict or prosecute.

On the day after Christmas, 1993, Beauchamp's body surfaced in a pond in a rural portion of Montgomery County. Thomas Minnich, who lived on the property, told sheriff's detectives he had been shooting his .22 caliber rifle at what he thought was a turtle in the pond. Instead, it turned out to be the back of Beauchamp's head.

Montgomery County, which has no forensic pathology department, took the body to the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy. An assistant pathologist determined that Beauchamp was intoxicated when he died and ruled the death an accidental drowning. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Department soon closed its investigation.

However, Alfred Beauchamp refused to accept the idea that his son just got drunk, walked into a pond and drowned.

The father found many other unanswered questions when he delved into the case.

His son had last been seen that Christmas night at a late dinner party, but the host said the younger Beauchamp was not intoxicated when he left.

When his body was pulled from the water, he was wearing different clothes from what he had worn to the party. There was an unexplained fresh dent in the rear bumper of his small truck, found in a ditch about 100 yards from the pond. And there was a ruckus reported outside Alfred Beauchamp's home -- not far from Paul's cabin -- that same night.

Most important, perhaps, Alfred noticed in photographs of the body that there were pronounced areas of swelling around the bullet holes in his son's head. That did not seem to match with a finding that he was already dead when shot.

Sheriff's detectives refused further investigation, but Alfred Beauchamp posed the troubling questions to anyone who would listen. And two women did, three years after the death.

The questions bothered Edie Connelly, the Montgomery County justice of the peace who was authorized to make the final ruling on the cause of death. Before signing the death certificate, Connelly asked Dr. Joye Carter, who had recently taken over as the chief medical examiner of Harris County, to exhume the body in November 1996.

Four pathologists, including Carter and the one who did the original autopsy, performed a new autopsy. In February 1997 the cause of death was changed from accidental to homicide. Montgomery County officials still refused to reopen the case. ["An Open But Shut Case," by Steve McVicker, July 30, 1998].

But the Beauchamp family spirits were buoyed three months later, when the Attorney General's Office agreed to conduct its own investigation. However, it would be another 19 months before the Beauchamps were interviewed by state investigators.

Alfred Beauchamp says he never saw much evidence of any investigation by the A.G.'s Office. In early December he received a letter from Assistant A.G. Murff Bledsoe saying that his squad was ending the probe.

"After completing the investigation," wrote Bledsoe, "we believe there is insufficient evidence to support an indictment or successful prosecution."

Left unsaid in the letter is whether the office believes it was not a homicide, or if investigators simply do not possess the wherewithal to solve it. Bledsoe did not return calls from the Press. A spokesperson for the A.G.'s Office says the letter speaks for itself.

Joye Carter declined to comment on the end of the A.G.'s investigation. She did say it is "a problematic case for everybody, and I feel for the Beauchamps."

"Obviously I'm going to keep looking for answers anyway I possibly can," the father says. "It's well known that people talk. And many, many cases have been solved simply because, at some point in time, the [killer] begins to brag about it."

Meanwhile, according to Justice of the Peace Connelly, the case remains an open homicide investigation, albeit one that no one except Alfred Beauchamp is investigating.

"I've done everything I can do," says Connelly. "But I still don't think we know what actually happened."

E-mail Steve McVicker at steve.mcvicker@houstonpress.com.

 
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