The only thing certain about Jaren Lockhart’s death is that it was gruesome.
The 22-year-old Bourbon Street dancer disappeared nearly two years ago after a shift performing on a street notorious for its seedy nightlife.
Days later, her headless torso washed ashore in Hancock County, Miss. A couple of days after that, other body parts, including her head, and pieces of clothing were found on other beaches in Pass Christian and Long Beach, Miss.
Since then, Hancock County authorities have sought to solve the case without success.
This week, they transferred the case to the Kenner Police Department in hopes that its investigators will have more luck.
The move came because Hancock County detectives now believe Lockhart was killed in Kenner and later dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, either to hide the evidence or possibly as part of a ritual.
Glenn Grannan, chief investigator of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, said his department has investigated the case “as thoroughly as possible,” and the evidence so far indicates that Lockhart, 22, was killed in Kenner before her body parts began to float ashore in June 2012.
“There have been little bits of information, but enough to support our suggestion that (Kenner) is where it took place,” Grannan said Tuesday during a phone interview.
Kenner Police Chief Steve Caraway said at a news conference that his investigators are not certain Lockhart was killed in the Jefferson Parish city but that they are looking at all possible angles now that their department is leading the investigation. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office also is assisting with the case, he said.
“We will be continuing the investigation to determine what exactly happened,” Caraway said. “Hancock County doesn’t have the means to further this investigation. It certainly is something you want to see through to the end.”
Grannan said Hancock County investigators will continue to assist in the investigation, along with the FBI.
While the case is almost two years old, it is not considered cold because tips continue to come in, Caraway said.
Grannan concurred with that statement but said none of the tips has been the one needed to close the case.
So far, no one has been charged with Lockhart’s death, although authorities identified two suspects shortly after her body was found.
Terry Speaks and Margaret Sanchez were last seen with Lockhart on June 6, 2012, as she left her shift at Temptations, a strip club in the 300 block of Bourbon Street.
Lockhart’s fiance reported her missing after she failed to return from work that night.
Her torso was found on the beach in Bay St. Louis, Miss., two days later. Other body parts, including her head, and pieces of clothing later washed up elsewhere.
Authorities said Lockhart was identified, in part, by tattoos. She had been stabbed in the chest.
Grannan said there is “no doubt” the body was dumped in the Gulf. Why, though, remains a mystery. Perhaps it was an effort to hide the evidence, or maybe it was a ritual of some sort, he suggested.
An odd twist that came to light about a month after Lockhart’s disappearance was the fact that Sanchez was a friend of Addie Hall.
Hall was killed in October 2006 and also dismembered. Parts of her body were cooked by Zack Bowen, her boyfriend at the time, who later killed himself by jumping off the roof of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter.
“How many friends do you have who have been murdered?” Grannan said. “How many friends do you have who were murdered and dismembered? And what are the odds you know two people who were killed that way?”
Kenner police in June 2012 executed a search warrant at Sanchez’s home in the 2000 block of Connecticut Avenue, and evidence taken from the house was turned over to Hancock County investigators. Caraway said he was not certain whether all the evidence collected, some of which was sent to the FBI, has been examined yet.
Mary Beth Romig, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s New Orleans office, said it has processed some evidence and shared that information with other law enforcement agencies that are investigating the case. The FBI continues to test the remaining evidence, she said.
Speaks and Sanchez were briefly held but were released because of a lack of evidence against them.
Speaks now is in a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., on an unrelated charge of failure to register as a sex offender in North Carolina, but authorities are not certain where Sanchez is. Caraway, however, said there are leads on her whereabouts and she should not be too hard to locate if investigators need to interview her.
Grannan said Mississippi investigators last questioned Speaks a few months ago.
Though Speaks and Sanchez still are considered suspects in Lockhart’s death, Caraway said no warrants have been issued in the case. He said there is no timeline for when any might be issued but he is certain that will happen at some point.
“This is a complex investigation, and these things do take time,” Caraway said. “I’m confident we have the best criminal investigators in Jefferson Parish working on it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.