A couple in their 70s were found dead Tuesday at their Denham Springs pool company and police have linked a man who had lived near the business to the killings, Denham Springs Police Chief Shannon Womack said.
Longtime Denham Springs residents Eugene "Frank" Gurley, 72, and Patricia Gurley, 70, were killed in an attack that Womack called "certainly the most heinous and senseless crime that we’ve encountered in my career." Womack, however, declined to comment on the circumstances of the death.
A source close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the couple died of blunt force trauma. The source was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
Denham Springs police named 45-year-old Michael T. Collins a person of interest in the double homicide and said they believe he has since fled the state. They also issued an arrest warrant for Collins for burglary.
In a court document from 2016, Collins' address was listed as the lot next to the Gurley's pool company on Pete's Highway. Police believe Collins is driving the Gurley's white 2016 Nissan Frontier pickup truck toward Macon County, Tennessee, or is already in that region.The license plate is Y193507.
"This was not random," Womack said.
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Officers were dispatched to the warehouse of the pool business on Pete's Highway Tuesday night for a wellness check on the Gurleys after they hadn't been heard from since Monday night, Womack said. Officers found the couple's the bodies inside the building. The autopsies of the couple are scheduled for Thursday, the Livingston Parish Coroner's Office said.
Police tape marked off the property at 27459 La. 16, or Pete's Highway, where the warehouse building is marked with a faded sign that reads 'National Award Winning Pools.' Womack said Frank Gurley was still active in the business, and that he had actually bought pool materials from the man recently.
Frank Gurley was also a former teacher at both Denham Springs Junior High and Denham Springs High School.
"He was a good man," Womack said. "It's a tremendous loss to the community."
The property of the business also had a pickup with its bed full of tools and two campers, one close to a clothesline with clothes hanging from it. Neighbors said a man name Mike had lived there. The Gurley's had first registered their business, National Pool Builders, Inc., in 1982, according to the Secretary of State's website.
Pam Landry, who lives behind the pool business, said her son had worried about the man living on the Gurleys' property.
"He doesn't want him in our yard," Landry said. She said she hadn't seen the man since the police showed up.
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Steven Westbrooks said he began working for Frank Gurley at the beginning of the summer, when he first started learning about pools and pool repairs from the longtime businessman.
"Whatever you needed done to your pool, Frank knew how to do it. One of the best," Westbrooks said Wednesday. "Mr. Frank taught me everything I know."
He said Frank Gurley dropped him off Monday after work with plans to take his wife out to dinner. The men had made plans to meet Tuesday to complete a pool job, but Westbrooks said his boss never showed up and didn't answer his calls.
"I called Frank at least 40 times," Westbrooks said, shaking his head. "Frank was a good guy. ... He helped anybody he could."
Westbrooks said he had also met Frank's wife on occasion.
"She was sweet, sweet as can be," he said.
Westbrooks said he had spoken with Frank Gurley about the man named Mike who lived on the property.
“Me and Frank both thought he was on drugs," Westbrooks said. "We thought something was wrong, we didn’t know.”
Kenneth Brady, who formerly ran his own pool company, said he worked with the Gurleys over the years, buying products from them and learning the ropes of the business.
He said Frank Gurley was a trusting man who would drop everything when someone needed help, whether it was on a job site in Lafayette or someone short on cash for a product they needed.
"I just can't believe anyone would do something to such a kind man, he and his wife were wonderful people," Brady said. "They were always there to help."
Students of Frank Gurley from over the years also remembered him Wednesday, some laughing about his notorious comb-over, but most focusing on how the man had always supported them.
"When someone was picking on me in his class one day, he actually defended me," said Amanda Barker, 30, and a Denham Springs High graduate. "I always remembered that."
“Mr. Gurley was more concerned with his students’ future. ... He challenged our minds because he wanted us to do better," said another Denham Springs High graduate, Deonna Rushing. “He was a good man, he was a good teacher. … We’re going to miss him.”