31 years old this month: 1986 cold case gets warm, and then chills again

Ah, the intrigue of a cold case… as the case is, simply the words “cold case” can be a bit chilling.  Add TV show-like details to the cold case… body found in a water well, remains remain unidentified 30 years later, composite sketch created, additional remains sought from water well for DNA testing…  the intrigue multiples many times over.

It was in April 1986 that a local farmer, while inspecting his long unused water well for possible use in watering his cattle, discovered a body deep in the well.  This was in Sabine Parish, just off of Hwy. 6 (a bit west of Many and east of the Texas border) on a rural road named Recknor.  Then-Sabine Sheriff Alfice Brumley brought jail inmates to the scene to retrieve the remains.

It was determined then that the victim, who had been wrapped in polyethylene plastic, had been in the well for as long as a year and as little as a few months.  Details derived from the remains indicated the victim was a white male, 50-60 years old, and approximately 5’8″ to 5’9″ tall.  He was dressed in a blue shirt with blue knit pants and a light blazer jacket.

The coroner’s office said the victim’s skull had been fractured just prior to his death, and clothing on the body indicated he had also been stabbed in the back with a large knife.  Further investigation revealed two stab wounds in the back.  Furthermore, medical examiners noted signs of an old shotgun wound, in the victim’s lower abdominal area (specifically, pellets of number seven size were found embedded in the hip area which would have caused the victim to walk with a limp).

A rather odd variety of possessions was found with the victim in the well… a folding hair brush, a small pocket knife, several small keys, a Snoopy night light, and a urine cup.  The latter item led investigators to wonder if the victim had been recently hospitalized.

The victim’s remains were kept at a Bossier City pathologist’s lab for 30 years, until March 2006, when after the death of Caddo Parish Coroner George McCormick, materials and remains from cold cases were dispersed to varying agencies.  Mary Manheim, forensic anthropologist and director of the LSU FACES lab, retrieved the Water Well victim’s remains.  Manheim, as it happens, is often called “The Bones Lady”, in reference to the character Temperance Brennan, aka “Bones”, on the TV Show Bones.

Manheim’s subsequent investigation of the remains concluded the victim was actually younger than previously thought, between ages 30 and 45.

Facial reconstruction of water well victim
Facial reconstruction of water well victim

Manheim produced a facial reconstruction of the victim during the course of her work with this case.

From his end of the investigation, DeLacerda honed in on a suspicious patient who had been treated at Sabine Medical Center in July 1984… The patient, who listed himself as Samuel L. Green, possibly of the Lake Charles area, was treated and then disappeared without a trace, leaving several thousand dollars in the hospital safe.  The hospital was never able to locate him and he never returned for the money.  Some of the money was used to cover his medical bills, but there was still several thousand dollars left after his debt paid.

DeLacerda learned that “Green” (no one is certain that is his actual name) had arrived in Sabine Parish in April or May of 1984, having been delivered to the area by a taxi cab from Lake Charles.  He showed up at Southern Leisure Campground with no luggage but plenty of cash.  He visited Pendleton Harbor Marina frequently as well as Ethel’s Driftwood Lounge.  He bought a boat and a car, with cash, and fished Toledo Bend often.  Some time in May, he spent a week in the hospital at Hemphill, Texas.

Green was described as a white male, around 5’10”, about 35 years old, with a slight stoop in posture, as though he had a back injury.

The lead seemed to fit the case, at least in terms of timing, description and suspicious nature, but nothing solid truly ever panned out from it.  DeLacerda explored every avenue he could with relation to this Samuel L. Green, but ran into dead ends from all directions.

Lester J. Rome, missing since 1984
Lester J. Rome, missing since 1984

Manheim’s investigation uncovered another possible identify of the victim, specifically Lester J. Rome, who had been missing since January 1984.  He was from Grand Isle (Jefferson Parish), Louisiana and is described in the Louisiana Repository for Unidentified and Missing People as being a 5’10” Caucasian male, with “Brown hair, brown eyes. Rome has a gunshot wound scar on his abdomen. He wears a toupee.”  The report lists the following under the “Details of Disappearance” section for Rome:  “Rome was last seen in Grand Isle, Louisiana on January 9, 1984. He has never been heard from again. He may have traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada after his disappearance. Few details are available in his case.”

A brother to Rome was located, but because there was not any DNA obtained from the remains recovered in the well back in ’86, there is no means by which to match the victim found in the well to Rome.

All these years later, the case remains on DeLacerda’s mind.  Periodically, he reviews the case and all details, hoping to find something new.  He said he is driven to, at the very minimum, give the victim a name and proper burial.  DeLacerda retired from the DA’s Office in 2008, and later worked as an investigator for the Zwolle Police Department under Chief Marvin Frazier.  He revived the case again and sought to obtain additional information by seeking missing remains in the well (the entire body was not recovered from the well back in ’86), but that didn’t work out (the well is located on private property and the current property owners were not open to the idea of allowing authorities to search the well again because of potential property damage that would result from the type of invasive search needed).

Hoping to see the case be looked at again from different eyes and minds, DeLacerda a few months ago turned over all the information he had gathered to the Sabine Sheriff’s Department and to Louisiana State Police.  To his knowledge, nothing new has happened with the case and it sadly remains as cold as it was all those decades ago.



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