On Nov. 12, 1994, Stanley confronted Barker at Wright's store. The two men got into a fistfight. "Stanley got in my face," remembers Barker. "I grabbed a five-pound dead-blow lead-filled hammer off the table. I hit Stanley short blows twice to the back of the head, and got him off me.... That's pretty much what ended the partnership." Barker was convicted of assault and given probation.
Stanley, who was not invited to the triumphant test flight, next filed a civil lawsuit against Barker and Wright, and got a default court judgment declaring him the owner of the rocket belt. But when he went to Wright's store, the rocket belt and the trailer carrying its fuel supply were gone.
Barker also disappeared, and Stanley and his lawyers believe he took the belt with him. "He liked to polish it every day, caress it. He wanted to see it and feel like it was his baby. He would never let it go and be out of his sight," said one of Stanley's civil attorneys, Michael von Blon.
Beaten to Death in His Own Home
But soon afterward, in June 1995, the RB-2000 surfaced at a celebration for the Houston Rockets' victory in that year's NBA championship. Barker was visible in the television coverage, and Stanley learned that Wright was there too.
Believing that Wright would be able to lead him to Barker — and the rocket belt — Stanley offered to drop Wright from the lawsuit in return for his help. By the time Stanley's lawsuit was finally due to go to trial in July 1999, Wright had agreed. They set up a meeting with their lawyers, and Stanley agreed to loan Wright some money so he could lay low. According to his lawyer, Ron Bass, Wright was afraid of Barker and concerned for his safety.
Wright did not show up at the meeting, telling Stanley and the attorneys he was sick. Four days later, on July 16, 1999, just 11 days before the trial was due to begin, a corpse was found at Wright's home, so badly beaten that authorities needed dental records to identify the body as Wright's.
Barker denies that Wright had anything to fear from him, but Houston police took him into custody and questioned him for three days. They were unable to verify alibis he gave them for the night of Wright's death, but released him, saying they still considered him a suspect.
Stanley ended up winning the lawsuit, with the judge awarding him sole ownership of the rocket belt, if it could be found, plus $10.2 million in damages, the estimated value of the device over its lifetime.
Lured By a Desert Movie Offer
A few months later, Barker says, he got a call out of the blue from a skydiving buddy, Chris Wentzel. Wentzel, a stuntman who knew Barker and Stanley through Gibson, offered Barker a Hollywood job on a shoot in the desert that would pay $400 a day.
When Barker showed up at Wentzel's North Hollywood bungalow in November 1999, he found two men he did not know waiting with Wentzel. They chatted for a few minutes and then, Barker says, he felt one of the men put an arm around his neck. "When I looked up, Chris Wentzel was in front of me, and he had a pistol pointed out at my forehead," Barker said.
Barker says the three men wrestled him to the ground, pulled his arms behind his back and held a gun to the back of his head. They asked him where the rocket belt was, but he refused to answer, he says, not to save the belt, but because he feared that if he told them where it was, "I was dead as a doornail."