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Phillip DeWoody, 53, of Opelousas, was booked on counts of first-degree murder and first-degree rape in two separate cases. In one, 72-year-old Joyce Thomas was kidnapped from Ville Platte and her body was later found in a wooded area off I-49 between Sunset and Opelousas. In the second incident, DeWoody is accused of kidnapping an Opelousas woman in her 50s and sexually assaulting her on the same property. 

Phillip DeWoody, accused killer, kidnapper and rapist, demanded ransom from 72-year-old Joyce Thomas’ family days before her body was discovered in a wooded area off Interstate 49 in Grand Coteau in March, court documents say.

DeWoody was indicted in November on a count of first-degree murder in Thomas’ death and on separate charges of first-degree rape and aggravated kidnapping in the abduction and sexual assault of another Opelousas woman.

His arraignment is set for Feb. 18 in the 27th Judicial District Court in Opelousas. 

An arrest affidavit filed by Louisiana State Police in DeWoody’s court case details how the 54-year-old used Thomas’ phone to call and text her family ransom demands after picking the deaf woman up from her apartment complex on North Chataignier Street in Ville Platte on Feb. 26. They drove in a silver 2005 Toyota Corolla registered to DeWoody.

The text message contained a video of Thomas sitting on a mattress inside an abandoned home wearing a pink shirt, pink headband, gray pants, dark jacket and black glasses, the documents say.

“Phillip DeWoody also instructed the family not to contact the police or something bad would happen,” the arrest affidavit said.

DeWoody was questioned in the case Feb. 27; he told officers he dropped Thomas at the Walmart in Ville Platte and had not seen or heard from her since, but investigators note in the court documents that video surveillance contradicted DeWoody’s statement. Video showed DeWoody purchasing three bottles of bleach before arriving at Thomas’ apartment.

Additionally, two eyewitnesses told investigators they saw DeWoody and his vehicle at an abandoned property off Interstate 49 on Feb. 26. They said they also heard a woman’s muffled voice coming from a wooded area on the property, the documents say.

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Thomas’ body was found March 2 in the wooded area off I-49, on a property adjacent to the abandoned home where the ransom tape was filmed. She was covered in a chemical substance consistent with bleach, the arrest affidavit says.

Additional video footage from Feb. 26 showed DeWoody, who had been dressed in light colored blue jeans and a dark hoodie, purchasing a spare set of clothes at a Walmart, which he changed into before returning home. Investigators found a pair of bleach stained, light colored blue jeans while executing a search warrant.

Thomas isn’t the only woman DeWoody is accused of harming at the abandoned property.

On Feb. 22, four days before Thomas’ disappearance, an Opelousas woman was kidnapped near the intersection of Market and Foulard streets, taken to a secondary location where she was sexually assaulted, then returned by her kidnapper, whom she later identified as DeWoody. The woman’s adult daughter found her on the street after growing concerned when she did not return repeated calls; she was covered in dirt and her feeding tube had been cut, an affidavit from the Opelousas Police Department says.

The daughter told officers her mother has difficulty speaking and writing because of strokes in recent years.

The Opelousas woman told her daughter and investigators that DeWoody rubbed her leg in the vehicle as she repeatedly asked to be returned home. At the abandoned property, she said DeWoody forced her to lay on the ground while she kicked him and asked to go home. He then sexually assaulted her and cut her feeding tube. Afterward, he drove her back to the area where she was kidnapped and let her go, the affidavit says.

After DeWoody was identified as a suspect in Thomas’ disappearance, the Opelousas victim identified DeWoody as her attacker from a photo lineup and led investigators to the scene of her sexual assault, where Thomas’ body was later found.

DeWoody had been on parole for eight months when the crimes occurred. He has prior criminal convictions for armed robbery, second-degree kidnapping and aggravated escape, among other charges. He became parole eligible under a 1990 geriatric parole law, which dictated offenders sentenced to 30 or more years would become parole eligible after serving at least 20 years and reaching age 45.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com