A landscaper who worked for a Baton Rouge couple and lived in an apartment above a barn on their property was arrested Wednesday in Florida, accused of strangling them, then leaving their bodies at a Hammond gas station.
Authorities went to Hollywood, Florida, near Miami, and arrested Ernesto Llerena Alonso, 42, in the deaths of Denis “Bubbie” Duplantier, 71, and Suzanne “Suzy” Duplantier, 70, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said at a news conference Wednesday.
“Alonso seized and bound the victims at their residence, where he beat them until he obtained entry into their safe” and then stole the large amount of money inside it, detectives said in the warrant for Alonso’s arrest.
Authorities recovered a large amount of money in Florida, near where the Hollywood Police Department’s SWAT team arrested Alonso, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
After Alonso got the money from the safe, according to the warrant, he strangled the victims and took them to the Petro truck stop in Hammond, where he left their bodies.
The Duplantiers’ bodies were found bound in the backseat of their red pickup truck, which was parked in a remote area of the gas station’s parking lot, the warrant says.
In Baton Rouge, police said they found blood in multiple rooms of the Duplantiers’ house at 5020 Highland Road that pointed to a fight inside the home.
Detectives also searched the barn at 4950 Nicholson Drive, where Alonso lived in the upstairs apartment, and found items he may have used to kill the couple, but they didn’t identify what those items are.
Lt. Jonathan Dunnam, a Baton Rouge police spokesman, said authorities do not know yet where the Duplantiers were killed.
Dunnam did say there is at least one more person involved in the slayings.
Detectives with Baton Rouge police, State Police and the District Attorney’s Office were interviewing Alonso in Florida to determine the identity of his accomplice, Dabadie said.
Alonso was arrested at a residence in Hollywood, Florida, but Dabadie would not identify the people who lived there or their relationship with the suspect. Authorities found a white truck at the Florida residence that was captured on surveillance video following the victims’ truck into the Hammond gas station.
After Alonso is returned to Louisiana, he will be booked on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, unauthorized entry and possibly robbery, Dabadie said.
The case will be tried in East Baton Rouge Parish, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said, because aspects of the crime occurred here. Moore listed unauthorized entry, robbery and kidnapping as the offenses investigators say happened here. If they had not, then the case would have been handled in Tangipahoa Parish, where the bodies were found, he said.
Moore said he has not made a decision as to whether he will seek the death penalty.
“Obviously, the egregious nature of this crime would beg for consideration of the death penalty,” Moore said. “This is one where we really have to wait for all the evidence to come in.”
Moore said if Alonso fights extradition, it could take as long as three months for him to be returned to Louisiana. The district attorney said the case will eventually be sent to a grand jury where he will seek an indictment.
“How long will it take to do that,” Molly Smith, a close family friend of the Duplantiers, said Wednesday. “Even after that’s over, these girls are still without their parents, and these grandchildren are without their grandparents.”
The Duplantiers are survived by three daughters and four grandsons.
Alonso had lived in the apartment above the barn on the couple’s property between four and five years doing primarily landscaping work for the couple, though he took jobs around town as well, Smith said.
The family remains shocked that Alonso is accused of slaying the couple.
“The whole thing is mind-blowing,” Smith said. “There were no signs of this. Nobody could have dreamed this up. There was no warning. There was nothing.”
No one in the family had a personal relationship with him, Smith said, but she did say Alonso had a wife who visited him every now and then.
The family was surprised and relieved when Alonso was apprehended, she said, as she praised law enforcement’s investigative work.
“We’re surprised it happened so quickly,” Smith said. “The truth is the family was so afraid that he’d get out of the country.”
Dunnam said there is no evidence Alonso was trying to leave the country, but authorities are unclear whether he is a U.S. citizen.
The couple’s family had called Baton Rouge police about 10:15 p.m. Monday to ask officers to check on the couple, who had last been heard from about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Baton Rouge police went to the couple’s Highland Road home and found the front door open. A safe inside the home also was open, but there were no signs of forced entry, Baton Rouge police said Tuesday.
OnStar tracked the family’s missing pickup to the Petro truck stop at 2100 SW Railroad Ave., McKneely said.
* This story was edited after publication to correct the spelling of Bubbie Duplantier.