In less than 24 hours, Baton Rouge officials added three more homicides to the region's mounting list of killings this year, including the shooting death of a man whose bloody body was wrapped in a tarp and dumped from a moving vehicle in the middle of an intersection.

Just hours before Julius Thomas Sr.'s body was recovered on South Flannery Road on Tuesday evening, another gunshot victim had been rushed to a hospital after a shooting behind a vacant house on Jackson Avenue, just off North Acadian Thruway. Another body — identified as Brian Allen Cook, 42, of Kyle, Texas — was found Wednesday morning in a vacant house on Dayton Street near Interstate 110.

Law enforcement leaders had hoped a relatively peaceful summer was the start of a trend.

It wasn't.

After 12 homicides in November, five people have been killed in the last four days. The parish has had 82 homicides for the year, according to records maintained by The Advocate. Last year's 106 homicides set a record for the parish.

'Excessive amount of blood'

A Baton Rouge business owner was arrested Wednesday afternoon in the death of Thomas, a 55-year-old man found with significant trauma on South Flannery Road. The two other homicides from Tuesday and Wednesday remained unsolved.

Kevin Hewitt Dukes, 42, of Baton Rouge, is accused of killing Thomas at the business Dukes owned, then dumping Thomas’ body from a moving vehicle, according to East Baton Rouge Sheriff's spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks.

Thomas' body was found wrapped in a tarp about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday about a mile from Dukes’ business on Old Hammond Highway, where investigators believe he was killed.

Investigators aren't sure of a motive, but Thomas' family told them the two men had an ongoing feud over a large amount of money that Thomas owed Dukes, and said Thomas had called a relative on his way to Dukes' business late Tuesday. 

"Shortly before the body was discovered, ... (Thomas) told his relative that he was going to Dukes' place of business," Hicks said. According to Dukes' arrest warrant, Dukes called Thomas at 5:43 p.m. One of Thomas' relatives called him at 5:53 p.m., staying on the line with him for less than a minute. About 14 minutes later a caller told police about seeing a body on South Flannery.

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Hicks said deputies found an "excessive amount of blood" on Dukes' car Wednesday. Outside Dukes' business, they found more blood, a fired cartridge case and a bullet projectile that matched a box of ammunition found at Dukes' home, a warrant says. At least 20 orange cones marked evidence at Dukes' King of Karz Automotive Center at 12220 Old Hammond Highway on Wednesday.

Dukes surrendered Wednesday and was booked on a count of second-degree murder. As of Wednesday evening, officials hadn't found Thomas vehicle, a 2007 silver Ford Expedition with the license plate 213CDT. A vehicle matching that description was captured on surveillance video near where Thomas' body was found.

Still under investigation 

The other two killings both occurred on vacant properties within Baton Rouge city limits.

The man shot Tuesday evening on Jackson Avenue was identified as Charvon Johnson, 19. The young father died at the hospital after the shooting occurred around 5:30 p.m.

Family and neighbors said Johnson didn't live on Jackson Avenue but often visited relatives who did. He was shot at an abandoned house two houses down from their home.

Neighbor Vincent Simpson, 58, said he heard about four or five shots Tuesday evening while working outside on a truck. He said he looked for signs of a shooting but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

"I thought it was just another random shooting in the neighborhood," Simpson said Wednesday. "I got back under the truck and just kept working."

He said it wasn't until about 20 minutes later that he realized someone had been wounded.

Simpson said he knew Johnson, though not well. He said Johnson had recently purchased a car and asked him to do some work on it, like a tune up and oil change, which he was planning to do for the young man.

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Simpson expressed concern about the abandoned house on the block, noting another shooting happened there months ago. Though no one was injured then, one of Simpson's vehicles was struck.

Lisa Coleman, whose mother lives next door to the vacant lot, agreed the vacant house is a problem — with trees and bushes in the front yard, and many windows busted out.

"Something like that invites crime," Coleman, 52, said. "It shouldn't have to take someone's life to at least clean the place up."

Coleman said her mother heard the shooting and called her: "She called me, (and said) 'There's police out here, it's like a war zone.'"

We used to laugh after a fight, 'now ... they come back with a gun'

About 18 hours after Johnson's death, Baton Rouge police responded to reports of a body found inside another vacant house, this time on Dayton Street in a small residential neighborhood between Plank Road and Interstate 110 north of Mohican Street.

Brian Cook was found dead from gunshot wounds but police said it wasn't clear when the shooting happened. He said the coroner will conduct an autopsy to determine when the victim was killed. Neighbors reported hearing gunshots a couple days ago.

Police have not identified any suspects or motives. 

Rafael Walls, who owns the empty home on Dayton Street along with his sister, said he has seen people hanging out on the back porch from time to time and asked them to leave. Walls and his sister inherited the house from their parents several years ago and have been planning to renovate it once they can afford the necessary repairs.

Walls was on the scene Wednesday afternoon boarding up windows that had been broken and likely provided an entrance for intruders.

"There are so many good memories in that house," he said. "I still can't believe this happened here. It's something you see on the news — not in the house you grew up in. My mother and father would turn over in their graves. … They worked so hard for this house."

Walls, 65, said the current state of his childhood home reflects the overall decline of the neighborhood, which has changed drastically in recent decades.

"We used to walk to school right there," he said, gesturing toward an old elementary school building that's now a discipline center for suspended students. "All this killing is new to us. We used to fight, then the next day we'd be laughing. Now you get in a fight with somebody and they come back with a gun."


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.