In A Nutshell
As part of the celebration of the Houston Rockets winning the 1995 NBA championship, test pilot Bill Suitor flew a jet pack from a barge to the shore in the Houston Ship Channel. That was the only public flight of the Rocket Belt 2000. The belt was in the possession of Brad Barker. But two of the original investors, Larry Stanley and Joe Wright, had fallen out with Barker and wanted the belt back. They sued, but days before the case went to court Wright was beaten to death on his doorstep. Barker was the prime suspect, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone. A judge found in Stanley’s favor, but Barker refused to reveal the jet pack’s whereabouts. So Stanley took Barker hostage and locked him in a small box for eight days, and threatened to drown him. Barker escaped, Stanley was jailed, and the whereabouts of the RB-2000 remain unknown.
The Whole Bushel
The idea of a jet pack first came to life under NASA in the 1960s. They created what they called a Rocket Belt, but it only flew for 20 seconds. However, in 1992 insurance salesman and jet pack visionary Brad Barker set up American Rocket Belt Corporation. With funding from his partner Larry Stanley, and space provided by a man named Joe Wright, they set about trying to recreate and improve NASA’s invention.
They had a prototype by 1994, and they called it the Rocket Belt 2000. It flew for 10 seconds longer than NASA’s model, partially because it was lighter. The world was their oyster, or so they thought. But they were their own undoing.
Wright had a meth addiction, and his business selling car stereos was suffering the expected results. Stanley thought Barker was stealing money, and their arguments became violent. By the end of the year, Barker ran off with the RB-2000 and cut off all contact with the other two men. Stanley didn’t see the belt again until the following year when it appeared on TV being flown in Texas.
Stanley decided he wanted his investment back. He got in contact with Wright, and the two of them filed a suit to get the RB-2000 back from Barker. However, 11 days before the trial was due to go ahead, someone turned up at Wright’s house and beat him to death so severely that he was “unrecognizable as a man or woman from the waist up.”
Barker was arrested for the murder but was released without charge due to a lack of evidence. The civil suit went ahead anyway, and a judge ruled that Barker should give Stanley the rocket belt and $10 million in compensation. Barker didn’t, instead fleeing once more. He did eventually go to jail on unrelated commercial burglary crimes, but it was after his release that things got odd.
Stanley’s state of mind hadn’t held up well over the years, and he had reached a point that he was willing to do anything to get the belt back. He hired a Hollywood stuntman to pretend to have a job offer for Barker, and lure him to Los Angeles. It was there that Stanley took his former business partner hostage.
Barker was put in a box for eight days. Stanley told him he was going to put it underwater, and he drilled holes in it. He told Barker that the more holes, the faster it would sink, so Barker had better reveal where the belt was. Barker eventually escaped by slipping out of his bonds and climbing through a window, though he was severely starved and dehydrated. He lost 10 kilograms (23 lb) in captivity. Stanley was arrested and sentenced to life in prison alongside his kidnapping accomplice, though his sentence was later reduced to eight years.
As of today, no one has been charged with Joe Wright’s murder, and the whereabouts of the RB-2000 is unknown.
Show Me The Proof
Video of the Houston flight
Jetpack Dreams, by Mac Montandon
Slate.com: Where Eagles Dare: The Jetpack Mystery