When newspapers reported Charlotte Sauerwin’s murder in 1988, Johnny and Joyce Stafford came to see me. One year earlier, Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies found their daughter’s remains in a wooded area near her home, just as they had discovered Charlotte’s body. Johnny told me both girls, near the same age, knew each other in school.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Johnny, a former Louisiana Hayride musician, told me. “Mark my word, a serial killer is working Livingston Parish.”
Johnny last saw his daughter, Melinda Ann Stafford Schubert, Dec. 6, 1986. Two days later, he phoned the Livingston Parish sheriff’s office and reported the 24-year-old missing. On Dec. 9, Tangipahoa Parish deputies found Melinda’s car, abandoned where Highway 190 meets Interstate 55 in Hammond. Someone had locked the car and taken her keys.
On Jan. 26, 1987, an anonymous tip sent Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies into the woods near Melinda’s apartment on Strawberry Lane in Albany. One-hundred yards from her door, cadaver dogs found her skull and bones scattered across a 200-foot radius, along with articles of clothing and jewelry, identified by family as belonging to Melinda.
Later, experts at the LSU School of Anthropology confirmed the bones belonged to Melinda. They also reported finding cut marks near her neck and down her spine, suggesting someone slit her throat.
On April 3, 1987, Livingston Parish Chief Criminal Deputy Willie Graves told reporters that detectives from his office interviewed Melinda’s boyfriend and several friends and family members but had identified no suspects in the case.
Melinda’s family buried her April 5.
One year later, not far from Charlotte Sauerwin’s abandoned car on Highway 449, bloodhounds found the 24-year-old florist’s partially-nude body on cutover timberland off Cane Market Road in Walker.
Someone, the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab reported, had strangled Charlotte before cutting her throat.
Police also reported someone had ripped the stereo system from Charlotte’s car and taken approximately $400 in jewelry and the victim’s .380 Beretta handgun.
Three weeks later, assisted by the Baton Rouge Police Department, the sheriff’s office prepared and distributed a sketch depicting a possible suspect in the murder. They described him as a white male, age 40 to 45, about 5-foot-11 and weighing 175 to 190 pounds. The man had brown, peppery-gray hair. When last seen, Wayne Sanders, the sheriff’s chief of operations, said the man was neatly dressed and driving a white mid-size automobile with out-of-state plates.
Friends told sheriff’s office detectives that Charlotte met this man in the Walker Laundromat. The man offered to help Charlotte and her fiancé secure a loan to buy some land and later met Charlotte to see the lot.
On Aug. 14, 1988, Sanders told reporters that his office received multiple phone calls connecting Charlotte’s death, along with two others in the parish, to a Satanic cult. Sanders wanted to assure the public that “cultic activity” was in no way related to Sauerwin’s murder.
From there, the case went cold and remained that way for 22 years.
In April 2010, a DNA database hit linked serial killer Roy Melanson, serving time in a Colorado prison for killing a 25-year-old photographer, to DNA found on Charlotte Sauerwin’s sock. At the time of Charlotte’s murder, Melanson’s appearance exactly matched the drawing and description circulated by police in 1988.
Additionally, when Livingston Parish detectives Stanley Carpenter and Ben Bourgeois flew to the prison for a fresh DNA sample, they discovered that Colorado police arrested the former Breaux Bridge native with Sauerwin’s handgun in his possession.
Police had also entered the pistol’s serial number into the FBI database. However, Livingston Parish detectives had not found it. Detectives working Charlotte’s case had written down the wrong serial number. The number scrawled in their report was one digit off.
In the book, “Smooth Talker: Trail of Death,” Charlotte’s boyfriend, welder Vince Lejeune, explained why the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office distributed the drawings resembling Melanson in 1988 but never legitimately considered the serial killer option. He said Chief Detective Kearney Foster believed Charlotte’s friends invented the Laundromat guy to cover for her fiancé.
Vince told author Steve Jackson that Foster routinely had him picked up to review gory crime scene photos, trying to convince him to confess. In time, according to Vince Lejeune, Foster convinced Charlotte’s family and their friends that he murdered his fiancé.
According to the book, one person interviewed by Foster told Vince that Foster said in their interview, “That boy killed that girl, and I’m going to catch him.”
By 2010, Kearney Foster had retired, leaving Chief Detective Stan Carpenter to tell Charlotte’s fiancé of the DNA hit. According to Vincent Lejeune, the detective explained the findings matter-of-factly without apology in the presence of Charlotte’s sister. Charlotte’s parents had died believing Vince had killed their daughter.
Johnny Stafford had been right. A serial killer did rape and murder Charlotte Sauerwin. However, Melinda’s remains an unsolved and very cold case. Although Melanson had escaped a Texas prison prior to Charlotte’s death, the confessed serial killer was behind bars when some other monster killed Melinda Schubert.
“Bayou Justice” is a weekly true crime column featuring notable South Louisiana crime-related stories, most still unsolved. If you have information that may help solve the case, contact Crime Stoppers or your local police agency. Some publications may condense this report for publication. For the full story, visit bayoujustice.com.