Clues still evasive in mysterious murder

Teen found shot to death in Destrehan Canal in ‘82

March 28, 2014 at 11:04 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

(Left) A sketch of two men seen arguing with Michael Botsay the morning that Botsay went missing. The men were never identified. (Right) Michael Botsay.
(Left) A sketch of two men seen arguing with Michael Botsay the morning that Botsay went missing. The men were never identified. (Right) Michael Botsay.
It was 1982 when 18-year-old Michael Botsay was found next to the Destrehan Canal, dead from a bullet that entered his head at point blank range at his left temple and exited out his right temple.

Botsay, a Kenner resident, had been missing for 24 days when conservation agents working in the area came across the gruesome scene.

“It seems like he was in a standing posture at the time he was shot and collapsed because of the way his legs were bent under him,” Sam Zinna, a retired major with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said.

Zinna was on patrol the night of Oct. 24, 1982, the last time anyone saw Botsay alive.

The Sheriff’s Office first came across Botsay’s white 1975 Ford Mustang parked on the side of the road only 730 feet from where his body would later be discovered, but at the time they had no idea that anything sinister had occurred.  “Back then we would always have cars break down and people would get picked up to go get parts it needed to get fixed. It was on the side of the road and the tires were good. It was just the fact that it was there,” Zinna said.

Although the Sheriff’s Office checked the car out that evening, they did not find anything suspicious. However, after a family member came across the car two days later, the Sheriff’s Office began to look into the matter because Botsay was reported missing.

After a search of the area, they did not find any signs of a struggle and did not locate Botsay’s body. It was not until conservation agents were surveying the area nearly a month later that his body was found.

“The body was found about 730 feet from the car on the south side of the railroad tracks. That is quite a bit of distance,” Zinna said. “It just so happened that there were some conservation people back there doing some surveying and they discovered Michael.”

Looking back on the series of events, Zinna is able to pinpoint within a few hours when Botsay was led out into the secluded area and shot.

“If you look at the timeline, he leaves Kenner about 5 p.m. and the car is found at 8:16 p.m. That time window of when he was killed was between 5 p.m. and 8:16 p.m.,” Zinna said. “It had already occurred by the time the vehicle had been checked out.”

Had Botsay been reported missing at the time the Sheriff’s Office first noticed his car on the side of the road, they may have been closer to finding out who had killed him. As it was, by the time Botsay’s body was found nearly a month later detectives had little to go on in the case.

“There was no evidence,” Zinna said.

The bullet that had killed Botsay could not be located and the weapon was not left at the scene of the crime. Botsay’s car was on the side of the road on the eastbound lane, indicating he was likely heading back from LaPlace where he told his parents earlier in the day he was going to meet a girl. The car’s doors were locked and Botsay’s wallet was found on his body.

However, his car keys were missing.

Zinna said it is extremely important to find out what happened during the time period when Botsay was last seen and when his car was discovered abandoned in Destrehan.

“Whenever he tells friends and family that he is going to LaPlace, he specifically ended up somewhere where something transpired and that led to the driving of the automobile to the point where it was found,” he said.  

With so many questions, Zinna began to try and piece together the puzzle of events that occurred leading up to Botsay’s murder.

According to the investigation, Botsay was a heavy drug user who had completed a seven month stint in a rehab facility, but had returned to abusing drugs afterward.

“He had his issues with drugs. He went through rehabilitation, but it seems like after that he may have unfortunately fallen into that again,” Zinna said.

Prior to his death, investigators found Botsay had been using dugs continuously. The night before his murder, Botsay and a friend reportedly went out bar hopping at West End Park in New Orleans. At about 3 a.m. on the day of the murder, a friend told police that Botsay got into an altercation with two men who accused Botsay of ripping them off in a drug deal.

“One of them supposedly showed (Botsay) a weapon, but it didn’t go any further because there were other people around,” Zinna said.  

At that point, Botsay’s friend said he located a plastic baggy of pills, believed to be Quaaludes, and gave them to the two men.

After Botsay’s body was found, the Sheriff’s Office developed a sketch of the two unknown men based on the eyewitness account.

“(He) got a pretty good look at those individuals because he was so close to them,” Zinna said.

However, no one ever came forward to identify the men. Zinna said he did get some calls, but nothing substantial came out of it.

“Every now and then I’d get a phone call about something and there just was really nothing to it, nothing substantial. Somebody calls you up and says, ‘I think the guy’s name was Frank on the left.’ Frank who? Where is he from? They can’t tell you,” Zinna said. “That was kind of the information I was dealing with.”

Plus, Zinna was still nagged by the idea that someone was able to get Botsay to leave his car on the side of the road and walk into a secluded area with them, which means that Botsay likely knew, and trusted, his murderer.

That would seem to eliminate the two men Botsay got into an argument with at the bar.

Zinna is fairly certain that the plan to kill Botsay was thought out beforehand.

“I think the intent was probably homicide at that point. It was premeditated,” he said.

A year after the murder, Zinna was able to track down a 17-year-old girl, who had family in LaPlace, that Botsay had met shortly before his death. The 17-year-old was also friends with a 14-year-old runaway from Alexandria, who was located by police 20 years after the crime occurred.Both girls told police they had been in Botsay’s vehicle traveling from LaPlace to a pool hall located on Airline Highway. At the time, they said an unknown male who looked like one of the men in the police sketch was in the passenger’s seat. However, they were unable to remember the details of the day and couldn’t even tell investigators what day the trip occurred.

Zinna said both girls were users of marijuana and LSD.

“These people were just in another world,” he said.

Zinna worked the case off and on until January 1987 when he was transferred to Internal Affairs.

It would be 15 years before the case got any more attention.In 2002, shortly after being promoted to chief of investigations, Zinna reopened the case.

Hypnosis was used on the friend who was with Botsay the morning of his murder. Through hypnosis, the friend   told police that he saw Botsay with a girl that tragic day.

The description the friend gave matched that of the 14-year-old runaway from Alexandria.

By 2002, the runaway was a grown woman serving time in a Texas jail.

“I came and found her in Texas and she agreed to a hypnosis session and everything. Really there was nothing I could sink my teeth into,” Zinna said.

Zinna made a flyer he sent out concerning the details of the case, including sketches of the two men and a description of the events that occurred the night before.

However, no new information was forthcoming outside of a phone call.

“On Dec. 12, 2002 we received a call into the office and I was not there. Someone expressed to the receptionist that they had information in regards to the case,” Zinna said.

But the mysterious caller refused to leave a message for Zinna and hung up.  

“I could not ascertain as to where the call came from,” Zinna said.

Without any new information, Zinna again set aside the case in September 2003 and no new evidence has come about since.

It is one of only a few cases in which the Sheriff’s Office has not identified any viable leads or suspects.

More than 30 years after the crime occurred, Zinna said he is ready to find out more information if it becomes available.

“It’s one of those things,” he said. “If information surfaces I’ll follow it, it just has not been there.”  

Anyone with information related to this crime should contact Zinna at either (985) 783-1280 or (985) 783-6807.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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