On a Friday, May 2, 2008, a 58-year-old Sunday school teacher named Barbara Blount disappeared from her rural home north of Holden, Louisiana. Relatives found her doors unlocked, her car missing, and her kitchen cabinets opened with pots and pans stacked on the kitchen floor.
Later that day, sheriff’s deputies found Barbara’s car less than a quarter-mile from her home, concealed by foliage off Road 7, a narrow gravel trail leading to a hunting camp. For both the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, finding the car that day marked the last significant break in the case.
Today, twelve years later, investigators have no clue what happened to Barbara Blount or why.
As she did routinely, Kristie Blount phoned her mother at lunchtime on the day of Barbara’s disappearance, but, uncharacteristically, that day, her mother did not answer the phone. Three hours later, still no answer. Kristie phoned her cousin, who lived nearby, asking him to drive down the road to ensure that her mom was okay.
Barbara’s nephew, Raymond, drove straight to his aunt’s home in the 38000 block of Louisiana State Highway 1036, six miles from Magnolia Baptist Church, where Barbara taught Sunday school.
Raymond found the back door to the carport ajar, open approximately three feet. Near the steps, he saw Barbara’s portable house phone on the carport, and, inches away, the phone’s dislodged battery.
Raymond described the scene to Kristie over his cell phone while she urged him to enter the house. Inside, he found his aunt’s cell phone and her glasses, two items Kristie said her mom rarely left the house without.
Raymond walked room-to-room, calling for his “Aunt Barbara Ann” without hearing a response. On the dresser in her bedroom, he noticed the third item Barbara never left the house without – her loaded .38 revolver.
Next to the revolver, stood a bottle of men’s cologne. It belonged to Raymond’s “Uncle Junior,” who died four years earlier.
Henry Euel Blount, Jr. grew up in Holden. He regularly drove to Barbara Ann Barber’s family home in Bogalusa until he won her over. When they married, the couple settled in Holden, where they raised two children, along with a few dogs, chickens, and cattle.
Junior Blount died on June 25, 2004, at age 55.
That morning, driving a gasoline tanker truck, owned by the Lard Oil Company, he picked up more than 8,000 gallons of fuel at the Chalmette Refinery.
According to co-workers in Denham Springs, before the accident, Junior Blount had an impeccable driving record. However, leaving the plant that morning, investigators said Junior crossed the railroad track in front of a Norfolk Southern freight train.
Signals marked the crossing but without automatic arms to stop traffic. Customarily, only light traffic moved through this intersection, but trains had the right of way even when the traffic light turned green.
Ronnie Alonzo, a St. Bernard Parish School Board administrator, was standing outside the school district’s administration building less than a block away when he heard the long train whistle. As he turned to look, the engine plowed into the tanker’s center.
“It was slow motion, like something out of a movie. The train kind of lifted the tanker and turned it on its side,” Alonzo said. “And as it turned on its side, the tanker cracked. You could see the liquid coming out, and seconds after the liquid came out, the flames started rolling.”
The resulting explosion sent flames between 50 to 60 feet into the air, and the billowing black smoke drifted overhead for days, visible throughout metro New Orleans.
Junior Blount died in the explosion, along with train engineer Dennis Vinson, 58, of Covington, and conductor Anthony J. “Tony” Mills, 58, of Carriere, Mississippi. A third railroad employee, brakeman Charles LaBella, 58, of Chalmette, jumped to safety before the metal of the train melted.
Interviewed in the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Journal, a newspaper sponsored by the locomotive unions, union members lashed out at Blount following his death, threatening a lawsuit against his employer for “the murder of their brothers.”
Left a widow, Raymond’s aunt mourned her husband’s death four years.
Her children also mourned, but Kristie said in multiple interviews that her father’s death in many ways brought her and her brother, Ricky, closer to their mom. Both lived down the street, but still ate most of their meals in her home.
In Barbara’s kitchen that afternoon, Raymond found pots and pans stacked outside cabinets, and the windows open. “Spring cleaning,” Kristie told Raymond, as he expressed concern about the cool breeze blowing through the house and the rain beginning to fall outside.
Kristie told Raymond to close the windows. She had left work and was on her way home to help find her mother.
Just up the road, a teenager recognized his former Sunday school teacher’s car partially hidden by trees and shrubbery near a gravel road, not far from Louisiana Highway 1036. When the teenager told his mother, Christine, she phoned the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office.
At 4:15 that afternoon, sheriff’s deputies met Christine and her son at the crime scene, a quarter of a mile from Barbara’s home. There, they found Barbara’s silver four-door 2006 Toyota Camry parked 25 yards off the main road, partially concealed between two trees. Her keys, they found half-buried in gravel, approximately 20 yards from the car.
By then, Kristie and Raymond had also called the police, and later another concerned passerby phoned Crime Stoppers, reporting that he saw a woman matching Barbara’s description standing outside her car that day. She wore a tank top and pin-striped shorts with purple Crocs on her feet.
The caller told Crime Stoppers that Barbara’s troubled expression ate away at him until he called their hotline. He also saw a man standing near Barbara and a late-model white pick-up truck parked near her car.
On the tenth anniversary of Barbara’s disappearance, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard called a press conference to ask the public for information that could help his detectives in the investigation. “Somebody knows something,” he said.
“Even if you’ve given us information in the past, give it to us again,” the sheriff pleaded. “We don’t want to miss anything.”
The sheriff said his investigators interviewed family members and contractors who visited the property in 2008, and they even polygraphed some. They also obtained DNA from one person-of-interest, but ultimately, they collected no viable evidence.
“We still take this case very seriously, but it’s frustrating,” the sheriff said. “What happened to her? We have very few unsolved cases, so it’s important not to let this type of case go away.”
Jason Ard, who was Sheriff Willie Graves’ chief deputy when Barbara vanished, said that robbery was not a motive in the case. Guns, jewelry, and other valuables, he said, were untouched and in plain sight within the home.
He also described how the weather hindered the sheriff’s office’s investigation the day Barbara disappeared.
“We had a horrible rain that day, and the whole road was covered with water,” he said. “It rained so much that water covered the floorboard of her car, and deputies today still talk about watching the water rise waiting for the tow truck. It came up that fast.”
As the floodwaters subsided the following Monday, volunteers combed the woods on foot and horseback, searching for days amid hazardous weather conditions.
In the years that followed, investigators searched the area with cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar. Hunters routinely walk those woods, but to date, no one has found anything of substance related to Barbara Blount’s disappearance.
The available evidence suggests that Barbara Blount answered her door that morning with a phone in her hand. Since she did not respond instead with her revolver, the visitor may not have been a stranger, or he may have surprised her by approaching the house on foot.
Perhaps, at gunpoint, the intruder forced Barbara to drive the quarter-mile to another waiting vehicle, leaving behind her glasses and cell phone, and dropping her home phone in the struggle.
In this scenario, Barbara’s abductor sat in the passenger seat, forcing her to drive. After parking near the man’s truck, Barbara ran, attempting to escape. When he caught up to her, she dropped her keys in the gravel. If it happened this way, it occurred just as the 911 caller passed and saw the frantic look on Barbara’s face.
Considering the valuables left behind, Barbara Blount’s abductor came for her and only her. Perhaps once investigators discern the why, they will know the who, finally piecing together what really happened, and confirming whether-or-not her abduction had any connection to the train wreck in 2004.
“Bayou Justice” is a weekly true crime column featuring exciting or notable crime-related stories often focusing on cold case files in South Louisiana; stories based on interviews with key players, among them: police investigators, lawyers, victims, and their families. If you have information regarding this case, contact Crime Stoppers or your local police agency, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.