EVERGREEN — The suspicions about arson and murder mounted from the morning Evergreen Police Chief Charles Mayeux's house burned to the ground.
Mayeux, who also served as the assistant fire chief of this tiny town, called 911 three times to report the blaze and the peril it posed to his wife.
But while his home sat just 450 feet from the fire station, authorities said, he made no effort to retrieve firefighting equipment to extinguish the flames. Worse, they say, he ran away from the first firefighter to arrive at the scene.
"Are they going to do an autopsy on Shelly?" Mayeux later asked a state investigator, referring to his wife, a young mother who worked as a booking officer for the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office.
That question — and the police chief's general demeanor — raised eyebrows in the state Fire Marshal's Office, which concluded, despite Mayeux's protestations, that the fire had been set intentionally in the bedroom of the home, where Shelly Mayeux's charred remains were recovered.
An autopsy failed to determine the exact cause of her death. But prosecutors allege that Charles Mayeux strangled his wife and then torched their home in a violent end to a tumultuous second marriage that lasted less than a year.
Charles Mayeux maintained his innocence, at one point blaming a fallen candle for the blaze that reduced his residence to a concrete slab on Cotton Street. But he was taken into custody in July 2015, nearly four months after the fire, accused of misleading investigators and taking extraordinary measures to destroy evidence.
On Monday, Charles Mayeux, 38, will have his long-awaited day in a Marksville courtroom, where he faces charges of second-degree murder, aggravated arson and obstruction of justice.
The sensational case has rocked Evergreen, a town of some 300 residents that is unaccustomed to high-profile homicides. "No one around here has ever seen anything like it," said one of Charles Mayeux's neighbors.
The trial marks the second time this year that an Avoyelles Parish jury has been asked to pass judgment on a law enforcement officer accused of murder. In March, a separate jury convicted Derrick Stafford, a former deputy marshal, of manslaughter in a shooting that killed a 6-year-old boy.
Charles Riddle, the Avoyelles Parish district attorney, said Charles Mayeux's proceedings are expected to last most of the week. "It's going to be an interesting trial," Riddle said.
Charles Mayeux's defense attorney, Allen L. Smith III, did not return messages seeking comment.
But the defendant's father, Charles Mayeux Sr., said he is certain his son is innocent. "The bottom line is not even my son knows what started that fire," he said in a telephone interview.
The evidence against the younger Mayeux is largely circumstantial, according to court records, including allegations of domestic violence and red flags so obvious they drew the attention of inmates in the custody of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office.
One jail trusty, Donald Ross, told authorities he would confront Shelly Mayeux about her injuries and she would say, "I know, I know."
Prosecutors will seek to portray the former police chief as a domineering wife-beater who for years abused women when they refused to have sex with him, including his wife and previous lovers.
Charles Mayeux's ex-wife figures to be a critical witness. She told the authorities that he frequently assaulted her, including choking her unconscious, breaking a broom handle over her back and, in another attack, trying to drown her in the kitchen sink.
Charles Mayeux once threatened "to chop (her) up into little pieces and feed her to the turtles so nobody would ever find her," according to an investigative police report.
The ex-wife told investigators she finally decided to leave Charles Mayeux after an incident in which he pressed his duty pistol against her forehead so hard it left an imprint. "She begged him to kill her so that she didn't have to deal with any more," the police report says.
In February 2015, less than a month before the fire, the ex-wife said, Charles Mayeux drove to Natchitoches to visit her and tried to have sex with her in a Burger King parking lot. He said he "hated" his new wife and wanted a divorce, the ex-wife told authorities.
Jurors are likely also to hear from Shelly Mayeux's former co-workers, several of whom noticed extensive bruising on her body and often overheard heated telephone conversations between her and her husband.
Shelly Mayeux reported to work despite those injuries and, after months of abuse, seemed increasingly poised to leave her husband. Colleagues said she had demanded a divorce and even packed her bags days before her death.
"She would come in black and blue," Tracy Dupuis, a friend and former co-worker, told The Advocate last week. Colleagues urged Shelly Mayeux to press charges, Dupuis said, but she was too afraid of her husband.
Prosecutors will walk jurors through the arson inquiry, and they have received permission from 12th Judicial District Judge Billy Bennett to take jurors to the scene of the fire, in large part so they can see how close Charles Mayeux's home was to the fire station.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Kelly said in court filings that Charles Mayeux had "impressive" equipment at his disposal that he decided not to use the night of the fire, including a firetruck that held 1,500 gallons of water and four breathing masks.
Charles Mayeux's father said he believes his son did not fight the fire because he "just panicked."
"You're not expecting something like that," he said.
The state Fire Marshal's Office quickly ruled out the possibility of an explosion and similarly rejected Charles Mayeux's contention that his wife died in a so-called "flash fire," or a blaze that spreads through dust, gas or the vapors of an ignitable liquid. The agency ultimately described the fire, which began after 2 a.m., as "an intentional act of holding an open flame to materials at hand," according to court documents.
For his part, Charles Mayeux told authorities he had been asleep in another room and was awakened by the "taste of smoke." He claimed he tried to save his wife, to no avail, but investigators doubted that because he was not injured in the blaze.
Smith, the defense attorney, has emphasized Charles Mayeux's career in law enforcement, which included stints in the police departments in Cottonport and the village of Plaucheville. And even though at least two women told authorities they were abused by Charles Mayeux, Smith has noted that they did not report those allegations to law enforcement at the time or seek restraining orders.
"Despite public misunderstandings, which are admittedly great," Smith wrote in one filing, "a person accused of a crime is innocent in the eyes of the law, and innocent in the eyes of the judge, unless or until convicted."