Police continued to hunt Tuesday for a Lafayette businessman wanted in the kidnapping of a woman by two men whose drowned bodies were later fished from the Intracoastal Waterway.
The dead men had sped from sheriff's deputies in Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes on Sunday, not long after the kidnapping, before fleeing into the swamps to escape capture, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes said.
Deputies discovered the kidnapped woman in the back of the van the men abandoned. Two boys out on the water spotted the first of the men's bodies Monday. The businessman, Lawrence Michael Handley, remained on the loose Tuesday evening.
And exactly how it all fits together has yet to be explained.
The ordeal began about 2:30 p.m. Sunday when a pair of armed men barged into the home Handley — the 49-year-old co-founder and former CEO of the Townsend chain of addiction treatment centers — once shared with his estranged wife on Founders Street in Lafayette.
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The men handcuffed two other people in the home — an adult and a juvenile — before placing a black bag over the victim's head and forcing her into a white van, according to a Lafayette police report obtained by KATC-TV. The other two people, one of whom called police, were left in the home.
The woman's abduction "stemmed from an ongoing domestic dispute" between her and Handley, Cpl. Karl Ratcliff, spokesman for the Lafayette Police Department, said in a news release. Police did not specify the exact relationship between Handley and the victim.
Handley is wanted on counts of second-degree kidnapping, attempted second-degree kidnapping and violation of a protective order, Ratcliff said.
Court records in Lafayette show that Handley has been involved in divorce proceedings, which began in April. Court filings include allegations of violent threats, and both Handley and his wife obtained court orders restricting both parties from contact with each other. An attorney representing Handley in the divorce proceedings did not return messages Tuesday.
The two dead men's identities remained unknown Tuesday evening — as did their connection to Handley. Cazes, the West Baton Rouge sheriff, said deputies found no identification on either body, and the Coroner's Office hadn't yet determined their names. But Cazes said he had no doubt the bodies belonged to the kidnapping suspects, citing their clothing, red shirts and black pants, as well as other evidence he declined to release.
Iberville Parish sheriff's deputies began chasing the men on Interstate 10 on Sunday afternoon, said Brett Stassi, the sheriff there. The pursuit sped down the westbound shoulder of the interstate, which was closed and mired in traffic because of a wrecked 18-wheeler, and continued on La. 415.
The chase ended at a Turner Industries manufacturing facility near La. 1, where the men — one carrying a handgun — jumped from the van after it became stuck in mud and ran into the woods, Cazes said.
Surveillance footage captured on Turner Industries security cameras showed the men fleeing. A manhunt through the thickets and swamps Sunday evening included bloodhounds and a helicopter from West Feliciana, but the trail went cold near the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Cazes said the father of two boys who were out on the water in the Intracoastal Waterway called the Sheriff's Office on Monday afternoon and reported seeing the first body that was recovered from the water.
The first body was recovered about 3 p.m. Monday, and the second about 7 p.m., Cazes said.
Handley's whereabouts remained unknown Tuesday night, with Lafayette police appealing to the public for information.
Handley, once a successful computer consultant, struggled with alcoholism before co-founding Townsend with a single Lafayette clinic in 2007. His trips to treatment included a court-ordered substance-abuse program, which a federal judge included as part of Handley's 2005 sentence for using a fake $22,000 cashier's check to charter a private jet from Lafayette to Boston.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik also placed Handley on three years' probation and ordered one day of jail and 500 hours of community service. In court, Haik said the scheme — which involved printing out a bogus check from the fictitious Republic National Bank of Abbeville — "was really the dumbest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Handley's attorney at the time said he'd entered treatment and gone sober after the incident.
Townsend, which Handley launched with Dr. Howard Wetsman, grew rapidly over the next several years and had clinics in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Covington, Metairie, Lafayette and Lake Charles — as well as a lab and a 20-bed detox facility in Scott — when it was purchased by Tennessee-based American Addiction Centers Inc., in a $21 million deal at the end of 2015.
Handley initially remained with the company but left not long after the sale, according to a former colleague and business associate.
KATC-TV staff contributed to this report.