Something unexpected happened when Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi opened his agency's doors to a Hollywood camera crew looking to film a true-crime reality show about investigations into unsolved murders.
Within two short seasons of "Killing Fields," which aired on the Discovery Channel, Stassi saw the investigators of his Criminal Division who starred in the series become so popular and beloved that viewers have named children and pets after them.
And the camaraderie of the detectives that the show highlighted attracted a couple of fans in the law enforcement business to travel from other states to beg Stassi for a job.
"One drove from South Dakota just to meet us," Stassi says, with a laugh. "He said he liked the way I run my department from what he watched on the show and he wanted a job. And he went back, packed up his family and now works here."
The sheriff says it's no longer uncommon for out-of-town visitors to drop by the Sheriff's Office wanting to meet the detectives from the show.
"Killing Fields" became an instant hit for the Discovery Channel after it premiered in January 2016.
The docuseries featured detective Rodie Sanchez, who has since retired, and Detective Aubrey St. Angelo as the mismatched duo leading the investigation into the two-decade-old murder of an LSU graduate student whose decomposed body was discovered in a bayou in Iberville Parish.
The premise of the show revolved around murders where the victims' bodies get dumped in secluded places.
The Iberville Parish detectives weren’t able to solve the case in the first season, but the show’s producers brought them back for a second one to dig into another cold case. This time, it focused on two men who were believed to have been killed by their former employer. The suspect in those murders, Tommy Francise, is in prison awaiting trial.
The Discovery Channel recently announced a third season of "Killing Fields" but with one major change. The show switched locales away from the swampy bayous of Iberville Parish to Isle of Wight County, an isolated farmland community in Virginia, A new band of detectives will take center stage in the upcoming season.
The announcement of the new season, sans the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office, didn’t sit well with fans who can’t seem to get enough of the Iberville crew. Thousands made it known on the show’s Facebook page that they weren’t interested in watching unless it featured Sanchez, St. Angelo and the rest of the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office. There was even a post suggesting fans start an online petition to get them back.
"It's very humbling," St. Angelo says.
While the show has brought positive attention to the work done by Stassi and his officers, the state has also reaped financial benefits from it.
State officials say the popularity of shows like "Killing Fields," "Swamp People" and "Duck Dynasty" — all filmed in parts of Louisiana — has put money into the state's economy and has been a boost for tourism.
According to Louisiana Economic Development, the Discovery Channel spent approximately $2.3 million in the state to film two seasons of "Killing Fields" in Iberville Parish.
And the Louisiana Office of Tourism claims that in 2016, 3 percent of visitors to the state visited an area where a TV show or movie was filmed. In addition, 1 percent of the state's residents visited areas where TV shows or movies were filmed.
The popularity of "Killing Fields" has had an amusing effect on the lives of its stars.
St. Angelo says he constantly gets recognized while investigating other cases in the field and usually, fans of the show become more compliant once they realize it's him.
He’s also gotten multiple requests do interviews and invitations to teach specialized training for other law enforcement agencies.
The most unusual request St. Angelo had to deal with came from a female fan who wanted him to autograph an intimate part of her body so she could later have it tattooed. He declined.
Sanchez says he's getting a special visit in this month from a 5-year-old Texas girl who is a huge fan of the show.
"Her parents contacted me and said she has watched every show. She even named her dog Rodie and her cat Aubrey," he says. "Her parents contacted me, and they're bringing her down for a surprise visit for her birthday."
Sanchez is now retired from the Sheriff's Office. At point, several fans offered to donate their kidney to him after hearing he was suffering from cancer. However, he said, the cancer is now in remission.
He's also heard from many children who claim they want to be cops now after watching him on the show.
"The show brought out what law enforcement really is," Sanchez says. "I'm not here anymore, but everyone is talking about the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Department and what a good team Brett has got."
Stassi says he's open to letting his detectives film another season, should the Discovery Channel come knocking again.
"Everyone I bump into asks me if we'll do another TV show," he says. "They claim it gave them something to do on a Tuesday night."
Editor's note: This article was changed on Jan. 5, 2018, to note that retired deputy Rodie Sanchez's cancer is in remission.