The two suspected kidnappers of a Lafayette woman and who drowned while fleeing police both had extensive criminal records in Mississippi, including arrests in a kidnapping case there a decade ago, records show.
Authorities identified the pair on Wednesday even as they continued to seek a Lafayette businessman wanted in the Louisiana case – a task investigators say is proving difficult because of the financial resources he has to elude them.
The manhunt for the businessman, Lawrence Michael Handley, stretched into its third day as investigators continued piecing together the facts in a case that has played out across multiple parishes.
The identities of two men suspected of barging into the victim's home and tossing her into a van earlier this week were finally revealed Wednesday. But exactly how Sylvester Bracey and Arsenio Montreal Haynes, two 27-year-old men from Jackson, Mississippi, are connected to Handley remains a mystery.
And Cpl. Bridgette Dugas, a public information officer with the Lafayette Police Department, said investigators fear they won't get an answer to that question until Handley is caught and can be questioned.
"We're still trying to figure everything out," Dugas said Wednesday. "It's a definite possibility (Handley) orchestrated all of this but we won't be able to confirm anything yet. We need more evidence."
Dugas said investigators don’t think anyone is harboring Handley, but added that, “he has the means to evade arrest and not be captured. That’s why we want anyone with any information about his possible whereabouts to call us."
Handley is the 49-year-old co-founder and former CEO of the Townsend, a chain of addiction treatment centers. The Lafayette Police Department has been seeking him since Monday on conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to attempted second-degree kidnapping and violation of a protective order.
Lafayette police issued an arrest warrant for Handley a day after a kidnapping was reported at the home Handley once shared with his estranged wife on Founders Street in Lafayette.
Police have said a pair of armed men barged into the home, handcuffed an adult and a juvenile and placed a black bag over the head of a female victim who was forced inside a white van.
The West Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's on Wednesday identified thosee two men as Bracey and Haynes. The pair drowned in the Intracoastal Waterway in Port Allen Sunday night while trying to flee from police who stumbled upon the female victim alive and handcuffed in the back of the van they abandoned during the chase.
The pair drew the attention of police as they sped along the shoulder of the east bound lanes of Interstate 10 Sunday afternoon as they tried to avoid a traffic snarl. They wound up stuck in the mud behind a business on La. 415, jumped out and ran off into the woods.
West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes said they drowned after jumping into the Instracoastal Waterway as they fled police.
Police continued to hunt Tuesday for a Lafayette businessman wanted in the kidnapping of a w…
"Everything happens for a reason," Dugas said Wednesday. "Thank God for the officers who observed the traffic violation they made and attempted to stop the vehicle."
Both men have extensive criminal histories, with Haynes pleading guilty to charges of aggravated assault, burglary, kidnapping and theft in previous incidents dating as far back as 10 years ago.
And according to information obtained by KATC-TV, the two men were arrested together when they were teenagers in Mississippi and convicted in 2009 of burglary, auto theft and aggravated assault.
At that time, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith said the men pleaded guilty in connection with a June 2006 incident where they threw a brick through the patio door of the victim's home, tied her up, placed in her bath tub and threatened to kill her if she didn't tell them where her keys and purse was.
After they got what they wanted, they left and the victim was able to free herself.
They were also accused in connection with two other similar home invasions that summer.
Authorities said earlier this week the pair’s recent kidnapping stemmed from an ongoing domestic dispute Handley had with the victim. Police have yet to specify the exact relationship between Handley and the victim.
Court records in Lafayette show that Handley has been involved in acrimonious divorce proceedings that included allegations of violent threats. Handley and his wife each obtained court orders restricting both parties from contact with each other.
Once a successful computer consultant, Handley struggled with alcoholism before co-founding Townsend with a single Lafayette clinic in 2007, records show. It grew over the next several years to include clinics throughout South Louisiana. Tennessee-based American Addiction Centers Inc. purchased the business in a $21 million deal at the end of 2015.
Handley initially remained with the company but left not long after the sale, according to a former colleague and business associate.