New leads sought years after naked body dumped by river
Sandra Knowles Scruggs
On the afternoon of June 8, 2001, a jogger running along the levee in front of St. Charles Borromeo discovered the body of a naked woman lying on the batture behind the levee.
The body was later identified as that of 31-year-old St. John the Baptist Parish resident Sandra Knowles Scruggs. She had several facial fractures, one of her teeth was knocked out and she had been strangled to death. Due to the state she was in when she was found, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office knew there would be a delay in discovering the identity of the victim.
When deputies arrived on the scene, a steady rain was already falling as Tropical Storm Allison approached Louisiana. The rapidly deteriorating weather conditions did not help the investigation and Scruggs was partially submerged in water.
“It was almost a monsoon when we started to try and work her,” Rodney Madere, chief of investigations with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said.
According to Madere, detectives believe Scruggs had been dumped at the site overnight by someone that had pulled up and rolled her out of a vehicle.
“She was put there after death, more than likely by a car. I can’t see anybody dragging her up and down the levee, so they pulled up in a car, went down the backside and dumped her out,” he said.
But due to the heavy rain, any tire tracks that may have existed had been washed away. The only evidence detectives discovered was a few personal items found near the body.
“Of course you go in for prints and DNA and other evidence. There was a watch we found in the area and her bra was found in the area,” Madere said. “We didn’t find any of her other clothes. She had a couple of tattoos and a little bit of jewelry.”
With little to go on, detectives fingerprinted Scruggs and ran her information through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) database.
“We printed her and ran it through the AFIS machine and it came back to Sandra Knowles,” Madere said.
However, Scruggs had recently been married to Michael Scruggs and was no longer going by her maiden name. Also, her address was unknown, which slowed the pace of the investigation.
Despite not having much information, the Sheriff’s Office threw all of their resources into the investigation.
“We used everybody we had. We used narcotics, juvenile, crime scene, patrol guys, K-9 guys, detectives and staff members…we used so many people. Plus the St. John Sheriff’s Office was very helpful,” Madere said.
Within 12 hours of getting the word out that Scruggs had been found dead, a motorist flagged down a deputy on Airline Highway at 3:30 a.m. the next day. This turned out to be Scruggs’ husband, Michael, who had last seen his wife on the night of June 7.
The two had been living together with Scruggs’ 12-year-old son from a previous relationship in a trailer park located behind the Laundry Lounge on Airline Highway in LaPlace. The night before her murder, Scruggs’ husband said he had last seen his wife with three unknown males at the Laundry Lounge at around 10:30 p.m.
“She had expressed that she was going to smoke a little bit of marijuana with the guys and then she was going to come back to the trailer park. Of course (her husband) was unhappy with that,” Madere said. “She was a known drug user and liked to drink. She would hitchhike if she needed to. All of that together makes you a high-risk victim.”
Because of her lifestyle, when Scruggs did not return home the next morning it was not unprecedented.
“The next day he wakes up and she is not there. He didn’t think it to be unusual because there were times that she would do that. She would go out all night, drink and stay at someone’s house. He didn’t like it, but it wasn’t unusual,” Madere said.
Scruggs’ husband had an alibi for the time of her death.
“We don’t think he did it because he was with her 12-year-old son all night and he passed a lie detector test,” Madere said. “The son confirmed he was with Scruggs and actually slept in his room because of the terrible weather.”
Detectives traveled across the region to follow up on leads.
“This investigation led us into Mississippi, Gramercy and St. James Parish. It led us down into the bayou region near Lafourche and Terrebonne and up on the Northshore,” Madere said. “Every single name that we came up with and every single lead we went and followed up on.”
Eventually, the Sheriff’s Office was able to locate two men who said they had been with Scruggs at the Laundry Lounge the night before her death.
“We actually spoke to these two and they admitted to hanging out in front of the Laundry Lounge with her, but they claim they left before the husband showed up and it must have been some other guys. It was at night and it was kind of dark and the husband wasn’t 100 percent sure that was the guys or not,” Madere said.
That is when the investigation to came to dead end.
Two years later, an eerily similar murder occurred in St. Charles Parish when the partially clothed body of Paradis resident Vicki Toups, who had been beaten to death, was found dumped in a water-filled ditch on the side of a highway in Des Allemands. The Sheriff’s Office compared the two cases to see if the same person or people were responsible.
“What we do is we have these empty offices and we take them and fill them with paper. We draw charts, diagrams and family trees and we connect the dots so to speak. We took two different walls and we took Vicki Toups and Sandra and tried to find similarities,” Madere said.
Although Madere is not ruling out the possibility of a serial killer being responsible for both deaths, he said there was no evidence to connect the two cases.
“We definitely looked at the similarities to try and put something together, but we just haven’t been able to,” he said.
Now 13 years later, the Sheriff’s Office is reinvestigating the case.
“This one has come up on our line of unsolved murders and we have decided that it is time to reinvestigate it,” Madere said.
Madere said he knows that someone out there has information on the case.
“Somebody knows and it seems people are not wanting to come forward because they are afraid of some type of retaliation or being labeled a rat or something like that,” he said.
“There are many ways you can contact us and not even give your name. Of course we would like to talk to you, but we will take information any way we can. Please someone call us and let’s give her children some peace and have justice served.”
Those who may have information on the death of Sandra Knowles Scruggs should contact Det. Jeremy Pitchford at (985) 783-6807 or contact Crimestoppers at (877) 903-STOP.
If you call Crimestoppers, you do not have to give your name or testify and could receive up to $2,500 for information leading to a successful conviction.
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