Three women were killed in separate shootings and a fourth disappeared over the past two months in East Baton Rouge Parish. But thus far, the only element connecting the incidents is the flummoxing nature of each case.
No one has been arrested in the deaths of the three women — Jemina Williams, Brittney Mills and Taylor Latham. Nor has anyone been arrested in the disappearance of Taherah Ghassemi, a 54-year-old woman who was reported missing after her car was found torched in north Baton Rouge more than a month ago.
Law enforcement authorities said they are actively working all of the cases, but there is no reason to believe they are related.
“There is no common thread,” said Lt. Jonny Dunnam, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, which is investigating the three fatal shootings.
Williams, 34, was found partially nude and shot to death March 26 in a parking lot next to a North Street auto shop. Mills, a 29-year-old pregnant woman, was found fatally shot April 24 near the doorway of her Ship Drive apartment.
And Latham, 24, was found shot to death May 4 inside a Ford Mustang parked near her Louisiana Avenue home. Although no one has been accused of killing her, a Baton Rouge couple was arrested in the kidnapping of Latham’s 2-year-old daughter, A’Kyleana, who was missing for a few days around the time of her mother’s death but was later dropped off at a women’s shelter.
Perhaps the most perplexing case involves Ghassemi, an Iranian-born Wal-Mart employee who disappeared several weeks after settling a decadelong divorce battle. As part of the settlement, Ghassemi received more than $1 million and multiple homes.
“While it’s still a missing person investigation, detectives do suspect foul play,” Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said Thursday.
Not long after Ghassemi’s disappearance, the Sheriff’s Office circulated a picture of a vehicle seen near her apartment the night she disappeared. The vehicle later turned up, although detectives wouldn’t say whether the discovery resulted in any leads in the missing person investigation.
Undoubtedly the most high-profile case involves the killing of Mills, whose unborn son, Brenton, was successfully delivered following her death. The infant died a week later.
A few days before the NFL draft — and a few days after Mills was killed — Baton Rouge police said they wanted to question former LSU star offensive lineman La’el Collins as part of the department’s investigation into Mills’ homicide. Collins waited more than a week to meet with them. During the week, it was made public that the police wanted to speak to Collins, and the first-round prospect ended up going undrafted.
After he met with police in Baton Rouge, his attorney, Jim Boren, said Collins answered every question asked by police, and authorities said Collins fully cooperated with the investigation.
Collins — who recently signed with the Dallas Cowboys — was never considered a suspect in the shooting of Mills, and police said a paternity test determined he was not the father of Brenton Mills.
As part of the investigation into Williams’ murder, police at one point released some grainy surveillance video footage showing a person drive up to the North Street parking lot several hours before Williams’ body was found. It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the department’s release of the video turned up any leads.
Although Williams was previously arrested multiple times on prostitution violations, with at least one arrest resulting in a conviction, police said Thursday that they don’t believe such a lifestyle had anything to do with her killing.
Williams delivered a baby a few weeks before she was killed.
The most recent case involves Latham, who was shot to death after moving to Baton Rouge only a few months earlier from Texas.
After her daughter was found, police arrested Curtis King, 24, and his girlfriend, Daaria Thomas, 22, on counts of aggravated kidnapping of a child. Police said King picked up A’Kyleana from Latham’s home around the time she was killed, and Thomas dropped the toddler off unharmed at a shelter the day after Latham’s body was found.
While investigating the killing, homicide detectives learned Latham “had recently been involved with a black male known only as ‘King,’ ” according to a police report, which also said a witness identified “King” as 24-year-old Curtis King. The report didn’t specify how the two were involved, but a police spokesman later described it as an “off-and-on relationship.”
King recently was ordered to be held in Parish Prison without bail while he awaits trial after being charged with second-degree cruelty to a juvenile in the 2013 death of his 6-month-old son, Aiden King.
Thomas’ bail was set at $250,000.
Dunnam, the police spokesman, said King and Thomas “are still being looked at,” but as of Thursday neither was considered a suspect in Latham’s death.
In all of 2014, five women were murdered in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to homicide statistics compiled by The Advocate.
In addition to the three women killed in the past two months, another woman, 30-year-old Brooke Ashley Crawford, was shot to death in January. Police arrested Rajeski Ford, 25, several weeks later after detectives said they found DNA evidence linking him to the scene of her killing and a picture of her at the scene on his cellphone.
Authorities asked anyone with information in any of these killings to call the Violent Crimes Unit at (225) 389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at (225) 344-7867.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.