Crime-fighters assist police with cold cases
Last year, I launched this column to assist southeast Louisiana’s overloaded police agencies in collecting more leads on cold cases and in moving closer to providing closure for families of missing persons and homicide victims. In southwest Louisiana, a group calling themselves the “Cazan Crime-fighters” has found another way to support these goals.
Last weekend, I delivered the keynote address at the group’s monthly true-crime conference in Mamou, Louisiana. Other speakers included active and retired law enforcement personnel, local librarians, private investigators, schoolteachers, bail bondsmen, elected officials, bounty hunters and most importantly, the families of missing persons and homicide victims from all over south Louisiana.
I left the two-day event inspired, wondering if the Florida Parishes are ready for their own amateur crime-fighting association. Cazan Crime-fighters invited me to discuss the Bayou Justice column and the two true-crime books I have coming out later this year, but I left their facility—the historic Hotel Cazan, originally opening as a brothel in 1911—humbled and thankful for the knowledge I had gained from these folks who like to call themselves “Prairie Cajuns.”
At their conference, the family members of cold case victims said they are still seeking answers and expressed their gratitude for the group for keeping the stories of their loved ones alive. One-by-one each attendee updated all in attendance on their cold cases, beginning with anything that transpired since their meeting last month, and finishing by answering questions from newcomers. As each family member or armchair sleuth recounted their progress, the good this conference is doing became increasingly apparent.
Among the topics discussed at this month’s conference:
- The murders of Russell Foote, A. J. Breaux, and David Matte
- The St. Landry Church Fires
- The “Cajun Mafia” and their connections to New Orleans, Carlos Marcello, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy
- The strange disappearances of Alice Marie Reeves, David Matthew Martin, and Alton Lowe
The Cazan Crime-fighters gained national notoriety earlier this year when the television show America’s Most Wanted spotlighted the group’s investigation into the death of Melissa Perritt’s mother. Before this year, Perrit, a police officer, had worked her mother’s case alone for 36 years.
“The crime-fighters have helped me find more information this year than I found in the previous 35 years combined. I’m more grateful to them than they will ever know,” Perritt said.
Perritt is the daughter of Alice Marie Reeves, who disappeared from the Mamou-Ville Platte area in May 1967. Perritt was four months old when her mother vanished. Alice Marie Reeves dropped her infant daughter off at a babysitter’s house on her way to work at a local beauty shop. Her family never saw her again.
The state placed Perritt with her mother’s cousin. She discovered the facts about her mother’s disappearance at age 15 and set out to find the truth for her own well-being, as well as that of her grandmother and two siblings.
Perritt learned some about her mother’s life through the babysitter, a member of her father’s extended family. She told Perritt that her parents never married and of her father’s rumored association with organized crime.
Her mother, Alice Marie Reeves, danced in local men’s clubs, including a place called the Purple Peacock, and she may have witnessed a murder in Lake Charles in 1965.
Regardless of her mother’s lifestyle or the people she associated with, Perritt says Alice Reeves was a victim and deserves justice. “She was still my mother, still my grandmother’s daughter, and she didn’t deserve what she got,” she said.
Much of the details Perritt has found, she discovered this year with the help of the Cazan Crime-fighters, she said.
Cazan Crime-fighters organizer, Valerie Cahill, said seeing progress like that in Reeves’ case is why she and the other Cazan Crime-fighters do what they do. They strive to provide closure to family members, and digging into unsolved cases is a way of caring for your neighbor and community, she said.
At this month’s conference—where the stated theme was “Hate Crimes, Cold Cases, and Hot Topics”—attendee Jan Baone said, “These events are exciting, like watching an episode of 48 Hours unfolding before our eyes.”
Sandy Ashurst, a first-time attendee from Breaux Bridge, agreed. “Groups like these are essential to bridging the gap between society and law enforcement,” she said. “There are really no secrets in small towns. When something happens, someone somewhere always knows who done it. It’s just a matter of getting them to trust you enough to share what they know.”
Phil Lemoine, a former mayor and a candidate running for state office, said he plans to champion legislation to fund crime-fighting groups like the Cazan Crime-fighters, describing them as an extension of law enforcement, a tool agencies can use similar to Crime Stoppers or the Neighborhood Watch programs.
Valerie Cahill also stressed the importance of community members playing a role in finding this justice and closure. “The more a case is discussed,” she said, “the more likely new details will shake loose, or someone will pick up on a tip that’s been overlooked.”
“The police can’t do everything. New cases come in every day, so it is tough to focus resources on cold cases. Our objective is to make those cold cases hot again by getting people talking,” Cahill said. “With every unsolved mystery, there is potentially someone out there who saw or knows something that can help law enforcement. Sometimes it’s a tip, sometimes it’s a word, sometimes it’s as small as a facial expression someone observed.”
Conference Outreach Coordinator Camile Fontenot added, “Community awareness is key to getting justice and ultimately giving these families a sense of closure. That’s what we’re here for.”
Before I left Mamou, the Cazan Crime-fighters presented me with a Cajun Country gift basket—a metal washtub filled with creole mixes and seasonings, but they gave me a gift even grander than that without realizing it.
I walked away from this conference feeling energized, anxious to inspire like-minded individuals to follow their lead and perhaps duplicate their success in southeast Louisiana.
As you read these words today, if you are interested in helping make the Florida Parish Crime-fighters a reality, find some friends who may want to help, email me, and together we can make this happen.