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TX- Suspected kidnapper commits suicide

5-5-2001 Texas:

A convicted child sex offender suspected of abducting girls and holding them in a Central Texas shack killed himself Friday after a sheriff's deputy cornered him in Kerrville. His most recent victim escaped and was reunited with her family, officials said.

Acting on a tip, Kerr County Sheriff's Deputy David Billeiter approached a shack Friday morning in the brush off Texas 16 south of Kerrville. Billeiter located a red vehicle with Missouri plates, and he used his patrol car to block it in.

"It looked like the wrong car," Billeiter said. "But when he got out with a gun, I thought, 'This is the man. This is the one."'

As the suspect walked around to the passenger side, 11-year-old Leah Henry of Houston bolted out the driver's side and ran to the deputy. Then Billeiter quickly got Leah in his car and took off. A gunshot rang out as they fled, the deputy said.

Although local authorities said they could not positively identify the kidnapper, FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne in Slidell, La., said he was Gary Dale Cox, 48.

Cox bought a vehicle in Amarillo that he used to abduct the girls, police said.

Amarillo police and local FBI agents located an Amarilloan who sold a charcoal gray 1986 Mazda 323 to a man, suspected to be the kidnapper, in late December or early January, Sgt. Randy TenBrink of the APD said. The Mazda was linked to the kidnapper when the seller identified an artist's sketch of the suspected kidnapper as the man who bought the car, police said.

Cox abandoned a Ford Escort at 904 N. Grand St. which was reported abandoned Jan. 23, said APD Cpl. Jerry Neufeld. The person who called to report the abandoned car said the Escort had been there about three weeks.

Police had impounded the car and H&H Wrecker Service towed it away in January, Neufeld said.

The city sold the Escort on April 26 at a public auction. It was bought by H&H Wrecker Service and stored at its facility until Friday morning when officers took possession of the car for analysis, Neufeld said. The car has been partially processed, but officers are waiting on Houston police to contact them before conducting a thorough search of the vehicle, Neufeld said.

"We're going to hang onto it over the weekend and talk to the Houston (police department) to determine what they want us to do with it at this point," Neufeld said. "We're just going to assist them in any way we can."

Amarillo police had released an artist's sketch of the kidnapper Thursday in an effort to find Cox and his latest victim, Leah Henry.

Police had said that the kidnapper may have been in Amarillo from two weeks to two months before driving south on a kidnapping spree.

Leah's parents, Linda and Tim Henry, traveled from Houston to meet their daughter, who was under observation at a local hospital.

"She saw her older sister, her mother and myself, and we just had a big hug," Tim Henry said. "It must have been five minutes."

Leah's father thanked authorities for "the greatest day of my life." The girl was enjoying a pineapple pizza and resting in a hospital room, Henry said.

"She doesn't sound her confident self, but she's OK," Linda Henry said. "She's talking, and she sounded very timid, perhaps scared - maybe exhausted. But she's talking."

Houston police Lt. G. Mason said law enforcement officials already had narrowed their search for Cox based on computer background checks and a traffic stop in Hondo a couple of months ago. The Kerrville tip was coincidental, he said.

"We had already come up with his name and had associated him with that case and were working on it at the time the deputy stopped him and he committed suicide," Mason said.

Cox's criminal record in Texas shows one sexual offense involving a child in 1989, and at least four more involving girls ages 12 to 14 in 1992-95. He spent three years in prison and registered in 1999 as a sex offender in Montgomery County, records show.

He rented a mobile home east of Conroe from Bernard Samplaski in the late 1990s.

"It's been quite a while, but his problem never came up here," Samplaski told The Courier. "He paid his rent, and he never bothered nobody around this park."

After he disappeared from a Houston halfway house in March 2000, a warrant was issued for his arrest, according to records. He had been listed as a missing sex offender since last year.

FBI Special Agent Roderick L. Beverly said authorities think the perpetrator is responsible for at least three more cases in the Texas-Louisiana area.

Mason said evidence suggests he had gotten as far as Amarillo and Denver.

Leah was snatched after she got off her school bus Tuesday afternoon. Federal agents and police began identifying similarities between her disappearance and that of two other girls who eventually were set free.

The case also may have turned on the suspect's vehicle, identified by a number of witnesses as a white or light gray hatchback. Authorities confirmed that the vehicle found Friday was the one in question, although repainted and carrying a different license plate.

Nykema Augustine, 9, of San Antonio was abducted in March, while 11-year-old Lisa Bruno was lured from outside her Slidell home in April.

Both girls were playing at their apartment complexes when they were approached by a man described as potbellied with light brown hair who asked for help.

Both were whisked away and held captive for days: Lisa in a locked room at an unknown location for almost two weeks; Nykema for five days in a boarded-up cabin near San Antonio, authorities said.

Lisa reappeared Sunday at a bus station in New Orleans after her abductor released her in Lafayette and bought her a bus ticket home. Nykema's kidnapper dropped her off about a block from her apartment.

Based on highway signs the girls said they saw and the amount of time they spent in their abductor's car, law enforcement officials deduced they had been in the San Antonio area. They began searching Thursday and Friday for a cabin or shack near Seguin.

Authorities said Friday the girls apparently were each held at a deer hunting camp in Kerr County, about 70 miles northwest of Seguin. Leah told authorities she had been there since Tuesday.

"The main thing is this child is safe and the individual is dead," Slidell police Chief Ben Morris said. "The perpetrator is in the hands of God and hopefully he has washed his hands of him and put him where he belongs." ..News Source.. by MARK BABINECK and HOLLY PARKER

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