Two and a half years ago, the entire country watched and worried and waited while hundreds in a west Texas town worked to rescue blond toddler Jessica McClure from the well into which she had fallen. Fifty-eight hours later, when the child was lifted to safety, the country rejoiced along with her 18-year-old parents, Chip, a house-painter, and Cissy, a day-care worker. But while Jessica, now 4, is healthy and happy, the same cannot be said for her parents’ marriage. Citing irreconcilable differences, the McClures have just filed for divorce, and there are few people in Midland, Texas, who seem shocked by the news. If anything, they’re surprised the marriage lasted this long.
Following the rescue, the McClures were caught up in an avalanche of publicity that might have swept away many a more experienced couple. Donations poured into Baby Jessica’s trust fund, now reportedly valued at $700,000, but some contributions came addressed simply to the family, and those ended up in Chip and Cissy’s personal account. The two plunked down cash for two new cars and a house in the suburbs. Meanwhile, Chip started his own tractor rental business, a lifelong dream. Cissy fulfilled herself by studying cosmetology part-time at the Aladdin Beauty College.
The Midland rumor mill had to hire an extra shift to deal with gossip about the marriage going bad. While some of that may have been sour grapes, the divorce papers provide plenty of real grist. The McClures each ask the court to prevent the other from communicating in a vulgar and obscene manner, placing anonymous and offensive phone calls, and from molesting or kidnapping Jessica.
“I guess they just didn’t have a love that was going to last forever,” says Chip’s older sister, Ceidi Proctor, 40. “They just never had a private life.” Jessica, whose custody will be shared by her parents, seems to be handling this new crisis well. “She’s doing just fine,” says Ceidi. “Kids usually handle these things better than the adults.”
Meanwhile, Midland is once again a magnet for the media. Some reporters, jokes one local attorney, “are trying to find out whether Chip told Cissy to put Jessica down the well or whether Cissy told Chip to put Jessica down the well. Think how many copies that would sell!”