On June 13, 1967, two St. Tammany Parish fishermen found Patricia Ann Purcell and Joyce Ellen Galloway’s bodies.
Someone had savagely beaten the 17-year-old girls to death, leaving them nude, floating in the East Pearl River near the Louisiana-Mississippi border.
After interrogating 56 men related to the case, only one suspect remained, a 34-year-old truck driver and men’s magazine photographer named William Carroll Vincent, Jr.
On the night the victims vanished, the New Orleans pornographer had been scouting for talent in the area. He told friends he planned to film an adult movie in a Washington Parish swamp. Police suspected he killed the girls and filmed their deaths.
Pornographic movies called “Snuff Films” first circulated in the late sixties and featured torture, forced sex, and death. Sometimes suicide. Sometimes murder.
In his 1971 book, The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion, author Ed Sanders claimed the Manson Family produced the first of these flicks. Law enforcement squashed the phenomenon quickly, with many of these movie-makers getting life in prison.
In 1967, investigators with the New Orleans Police Department and the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office suspected Vincent of making such a film. They locked him in the St. Tammany Parish jail on Oct. 12, 1967, charging him with the murders. However, the District Attorney’s Office released him on Oct. 24, citing a lack of evidence.
The Associated Press recorded how the burly New Orleans truck driver, his wife, Jackie, and two of their three daughters, all wept in the 22nd Judicial District courtroom.
As Judge Wallace A. Edwards freed Vincent, he admonished him for “leaving after being questioned and not telling anyone where you were going. Prior to your running,” the judge said, “No arrest had been made or planned.”
Vincent surrendered to law enforcement in Corpus Christi, Texas. He admitted to filming sex movies for profit in his spare time but described them as 10-minute stag films for bachelor parties. He said he would never consider doing a snuff film.
One month earlier, police questioned Vincent three times after finding the girls’ bodies. In his third interview, Vincent took and failed a polygraph test.
Afterward, he moved his family to Texas, he said, because his wife was frightened for their children. St. Tammany Parish Sheriff George Broom issued a warrant for Vincent’s arrest after learning that the couple both left uncollected paychecks in New Orleans.
Behind the Vincent home, police discovered evidence suggesting that someone had burned photographs and movie film before the family departed.
In Texas, Vincent surrendered to Nueces County deputies and waived extradition. His attorney, George Darr of Covington, told authorities Vincent was driving his truck through Mississippi when the two girls died.
“He has an ironclad alibi for all of the time the girls were missing,” Darr said.
After a conference in Judge Edwards’ chambers that Tuesday morning, District Attorney Julian Rodrigue and Edwards reviewed the evidence and agreed with Darr.
The judge returned to the bench to tell Vincent:
“There is a great deal in this country that we don’t like, Mr. Vincent, but there is also a lot that is good ... the order for your arrest seemed reasonable at the time. However, since your return, our investigation has continued ... your whereabouts during the critical time have been established ... therefore it is my opinion that you should be released.”
Outside the courthouse, Vincent told reporters, “I intend on entering the ministry, either the Southern Baptist or Pentecostal Church. I thought when I returned to St. Tammany that they were looking for a scapegoat, but I must say that everyone has been fine, and the sheriff’s department went all out to check my story. I’ve never been so scared in my life, but I have no hard feelings; they were doing their job.”
He also said, “I never want to see a camera again. I just want to make peace with the Lord and live with my family.” He said he still planned to live in St Tammany Parish “if the people will accept me.”
Sheriff Broom said his office asked Vincent to remain in contact with investigators. He said his office had no other leads in the case and would continue working the murders.
Today, the murders of teenagers Ann Purcell and Joyce Ellen Galloway remain unsolved. Justice has yet to be served.