POSTED: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 6:45pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 7:40pm
Gonzales, LA (NBC33) — The Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office arrested a man it believes kidnapped his aunt in 1990, raped and killed her, then dumped her body in a lake.
Kenneth Lavigne, 47, was arrested by police officers in McComb, MS, on Monday and brought back to Ascension Parish Tuesday.
On the night of December 15, 1990, detective believe Kenneth Lavigne broke into Jeanie Lavigne's home at 14419 Harry Savoy Road in St. Amant. Her body was found, naked, in Lake Villars on the afternoon of December 17.
"I'm numb right now," Ryan Lavigne said during a press conference to announce Kenneth Lavigne's arrest.
Ryan Lavigne was 11 years old when his mother was killed.
"As fate would have it," said Tony Bacala of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office, "Ryan woke up about 3 o'clock in the morning, and the first thing he noticed was things just didn't look right."
Ryan Lavigne and a younger cousin, Jerika Linville, were home at the time. Bacala believes Jeanie Lavigne tried to protect them, even in her final moments.
"She could've hollered, she could've screamed," he stated. "But you have to believe that this brave woman knew that if she started to fight in that house, not only would she be in jeopardy, but Ryan and Jerika would've been in danger as well."
Ryan Lavigne said he was not close with Kenneth Lavigne, his cousin from his father's side of the family. They saw each other only occasionally.
"The last year, there has been some speculation, obviously, and talk, so it's been really awkward, and I've stayed away as much as I could," Ryan Lavigne said. "But I never would've dreamt in a million years that it would've been someone so close to my family."
Kenneth Lavigne was part of the investigation from the beginning, because someone reported seeing a car similar to his outside the home the night Jeanie Lavigne disappeared.
He was not considered a suspect at the time.
"As a matter of fact, the family didn't even think he was involved," Bacala claimed.
The case ran cold, but detectives said it haunted them for years.
In August 2012, the sheriff's office received a grant from the Louisiana State Police crime lab to reopen cold cases.
"When we went into the cold case grant, I got with the guys, the detectives, and said 'the first I want off the shelf looked at is Jeanie Lavigne.'"
With the ability to properly analyze DNA from the scene, investigators asked Kenneth Lavigne to give a sample to use as a reference, but he refused. According to Bacala, he was worried that his DNA would link him to other crimes, which made him a bigger focus of the investigation.
Instead, detectives tested Ryan Lavigne, and found that the suspect's DNA was a paternal match to his. That allowed them to compel a sample from Kenneth Lavigne. He was tested this past Friday, after which his wife reported him missing.
The results came back Monday, with Kenneth Lavigne reported to be a 100 percent match to the suspect.
With help from police in Mississippi, Kenneth Lavigne was arrested Monday.
"It's been rough," Ryan Lavigne said. "It's been rough. But I hope we could potentially put it behind us."
At times, Ryan Lavigne doubted anyone would ever be arrested in the death of his mother.
"I did. These guys have been wonderful,and they stayed on top of it, and we've met after hours and different times, and they've kept me in the loop, so I feel like it's paid off," he said.
Bacala believes the grant that led to Kenneth Lavigne's capture will bring closure to other cold cases in the parish.
"I hope some day," he stated, "we can make that phone call like I did to Ryan and say, 'guess what, Ryan? We know who killed your mom.'"
Kenneth Lavigne has been charged with aggravated rape and first degree murder, with a kidnapping charge likely to be added on.