UPDATE: Handyman arrested in slaying of well-known Baton Rouge couple

The strangled bodies of a Baton Rouge couple who lived almost all of their 48 years of marriage in their Highland Road home were found Monday night in the backseat of their pickup at a Hammond gas station.

Denis “Bubbie” Duplantier, 71, and Suzanne “Suzy” Duplantier, 70, were found in their truck parked in a corner of the Petro truck stop on Southwest Railroad Avenue near Interstate 12, Hammond Police Chief Roddy Devall said at a Tuesday news conference.

The couple was reported missing Monday night by worried family members who hadn’t had contact with them since Sunday afternoon.

“We are shocked and heartbroken,” said Molly Chesson Smith, a close family friend speaking on behalf of the family. “This will leave a hole in Baton Rouge for quite some time. This is a big one, a hole in a lot of hearts.”

Devall said detectives are looking for two persons of interest in the slayings who may have been known to the couple, but he did not release their names.

The Duplantiers’ bodies were found after Baton Rouge police officers conducting a welfare check found the door open to the couple’s home at 5020 Highland Road.

A safe inside the home also was open, and the Duplantiers and their pickup were missing, but there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle, Baton Rouge Police Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said.

A concerned relative had called Baton Rouge police about 10:15 p.m. Monday to ask officers to check on the family, McKneely said.

“They were last heard from Sunday afternoon around 1:30,” he said. “One of the family members had talked to them around that time.”

OnStar tracked the family’s missing pickup to the Petro truck stop at 2100 SW Railroad Ave., McKneely said.

Baton Rouge police notified Hammond police, who found the couple’s pickup truck about 11 p.m. in a corner of the truck stop where it would not be noticed, said Lt. Vincent Giannobile, of the Hammond Police Department.

Police were reviewing surveillance video from the truck stop Tuesday afternoon, which was helping them to establish part of the timeline, Devall said.

The video showed the Duplantiers’ truck and a white Chevy pickup — believed to be driven by the two persons of interest — arrive at the truck stop late Sunday afternoon, he said.

“The victims’ truck was first, followed by the white truck,” Devall said. “They were there about 10 minutes, then you see the white truck leave, and of course, the (Duplantiers’) red truck wasn’t found until Monday night.”

As of Tuesday, police had not yet determined when and where the Duplantiers were strangled, Devall said.

They also were searching for the white 2007 Chevrolet two-door pickup with Louisiana license plate C287533 associated with the two persons of interests.

In the meantime, family and friends gathered at the victims’ Highland Road home Tuesday afternoon.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III, who lives across the street from the family and is a friend to the couple, said he was shocked to hear the news.

“He was very security conscious,” Moore said of Denis Duplantier. “When I saw the address, I thought, ‘How could anyone get close to him?’ ”

Moore said if given the chance, Denis Duplantier would have tried to defend himself and his wife.

“He was a man that would act, not react,” Moore said. “He would have protected his wife.”

Smith said Denis Duplantier worked in oil and owned real estate in the area, including large tracts of land surrounding the couple’s gated home as well as other land in Baton Rouge. There also is an oil well in the canal that runs by their house.

The couple, who Smith said are direct descendants of the Duplantier family who built the Magnolia Mound plantation, had three daughters and four grandsons, she said. The couple was married in Alexandria, where Suzanne Duplantier had grown up.

Smith said Denis Duplantier was an avid gardener, pointing to a medium-sized patch of vegetables off to the side of the house.

“I can’t tell you, the cucumbers and tomatoes. He had the hottest red peppers I’ve ever tasted,” she said.

Moore said he often saw Denis Duplantier outside, playing ball with his grandsons.

Smith said he also liked to ride his motorcycle around town with his buddies, and that he liked to talk to everyone with whom he crossed paths, including at the grocery store.

Suzanne Duplantier had recently retired from teaching adult education at a technical school, Smith said.

“She was a lady, very feminine, small, vivacious,” Smith said. “She drank hot tea in the afternoon.”

Smith said the couple constantly had family and friends over to visit, from summer barbecues to Christmas Eve celebrations.

Suzanne Duplantier regularly attended Trinity Episcopal Church, and Denis Duplantier often went to both Trinity Episcopal and St. Jude Catholic Church, Smith said.

“They’ll be very sorely missed,” Smith said.

Moore said the slayings are going to leave an impact in the community.

“A murder is a murder, and it affects generations to come regardless of where it happens,” Moore said. “Murder is unacceptable under any circumstance.”

* This story was updated after publication to correct the spelling of Bubbie Duplantier.