For Whom the Belt Tolls

The curse of the area rocket men continues with California convictions

On the seventh day, Barker says, he was again put into the box, and the lid was screwed shut. "We're going for a little boat ride," Barker remembers Wentzel saying. After Wentzel drilled about 20 holes into the crate, he said, "You think this is enough holes? The more holes, the faster it's gonna sink," Barker remembers.

Stanley arrived and Barker was forced to sign a notarized affidavit relinquishing any rights to the rocket belt.

The next night, Barker says, he broke his handcuffs; in the morning he broke out of the nailed-shut window and fled. He called his brother in Houston and told him to notify the FBI.

Stanley's quest for the belt ended with a prison sentence.
Deron Neblett
Stanley's quest for the belt ended with a prison sentence.

At the criminal trial in April, Stanley's California attorney, Dale Atherton, argued that Wentzel and Stanley were simply detaining Barker on behalf of the bonding company.

"It wasn't a kidnapping because Barker came willingly," Atherton contends. "Kidnapping is when I grab you and take you off somewhere and do something to you." Atherton also accuses Barker of being a chronic liar.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Peter Korn says Stanley's attorneys tried to use the trial to help locate the rocket belt, while Barker wanted to use it to exonerate himself of any role in Wright's murder.

"I would have none of that. That's not relevant," Korn says. "I told the jury, 'If Barker did this murder, then I hope Harris County can find the evidence. That murder's not my case.' "

"Numerous people came in to say how horrible Barker was," Korn says. "I never defended Barker once. I let the defense keep him on the stand two days, dragging him through the mud."

"The defense was pretty much 'Brad Barker is such a bad person we should be allowed to commit crimes against him,' " Korn says. "The bottom line is you can't put a person in a box like that and keep him for eight days."

Jurors convicted Stanley and Wentzel of kidnapping, false imprisonment and extortion. In late November, Stanley was sentenced to life in prison -- plus ten years. Wentzel took a plea bargain for seven years in prison.

"Barker definitely took off with the rocket belt, for sure. And Stanley did have a lawful right to recover it," Korn says. "He tried to do things legally, and it was too frustrating for him and was taking too long, so he took matters into his own hands, and that's where he got into trouble."

Barker, who is living in Conroe near his mother, has sued Stanley in civil court for false imprisonment, conspiracy and inflicting emotional distress.

"I asked God to forgive both of them," Barker says. "I knew God knew I wasn't being serious…I had another talk with God, and this time I meant it. Am I gloating over this? Do I feel sorry for them? Not in the slightest bit."

When questioned about the location of the rocket belt, Barker asks what rocket belt the reporter is talking about. There are three, he says: one in the Smithsonian, another in a museum in Buffalo and then the rocket belt he and Stanley fought over.

That last one. Where is it?

"That's a question that's been asked 100 times," he says. "I'm sorry, but I'm not willing to answer it right now."

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