It's not so easy to catch a Peeping Tom, as concerned residents of Willowdale, Willowridge and Davis Plantation are finding out.
For over a year now, a Peeping Tom has been seen peering through windows, skirting fences and ducking and darting through backyards in these otherwise quiet neighborhoods.
Officials have responded quickly to the calls, but the problem, according to Sheriff Greg Champagne, is that the residents who have seen the Peeping Tom actually peeping have not been able to identify the person. In order for the police to arrest someone for peeping, they must have this direct testimony, said Champagne.
According to the sheriff, catching a Peeping Tom is very difficult because it occurs under the cover of darkness, preventing potential witnesses from seeing the perpertrator's face. This is exactly what happened to Davis Plantation resident, Ryan Lambert.
One evening in late-March, Lambert, who lives on Asphodel Dr., was outside throwing the ball with his dog Jojo at 9:10 when he turned around and spotted a man coming out of his neighbor's back yard. "At first I thought it was my neighbor and was about to throw the ball toward him so that Jojo would run toward him and scare him," said Lambert. But when the long-time resident got a better look, he noticed that the tall, slim stranger dressed in a black hooded suit -- which residents on the street later dubbed a ninja suit -- was not his neighbor.
Instead, Lambert realized he was witnessing the notorious Peeping Tom in action. Lambert and his black lab were hidden in the darkness and the man didn't notice them, as he nonchalantly crossed the street 3 houses down and proceeded to peer into the window of neighbor Lloyd Landry's house. "He acted like he owned the place," described the big strapping fishing guide, who thought about chasing the guy down but decided to go for his gun instead. While in the house, he yelled for his wife to call the police.
Lambert, who runs Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras and is often out of town, is very protective of his and his neighbors' property and said that he would have shot the man if he had gotten the chance. But the peeper had vanished by the time the armed Lambert returned. During the incident, Lambert never did get a look at the hooded man's face.
For the past year, the neighborhood buzz of this close-knit Luling community has been about the Peeping Tom. Sheriff Greg Champagne says they have received 7 or 8 calls during the past 12 months by residents reporting that they have seen a Peeping Tom.
"Nearly everyone down my street has seen him," said Lambert, who described the peeper as having a slim build and over 6 feet tall.
Besides these reports, several walkers, joggers and bikers have run across a "suspicious jogger" dressed in all-black sprinting between houses and through back yards - not your normal jogging route. According to reported sightings, his peeping times are between 8 and 10:30 in the evening and 4 and 6 in the morning.
The problem is that the voyeur must be caught in the act, just looking suspicious doesn't count. And getting caught trespassing in someone's backyard is only a misdemeanor. For that matter, a Peeping Tom conviction is only a misdemeanor and a first offence carries a fine of only $500 and/or imprisonment for 6 months.
The punishment is small potatoes for such an invasive crime in which the victims feel violated long after their privacy has been breeched - just ask Lloyd Landry.
After Lambert went to confront the peeper and could not find him, he knocked on Landry's door and told him what happened. Both men then searched the premises and the neighborhood for the offender. When the police arrived, they attempted to track the peeper with the canine unit, but the trail was lost.
At the time, Landry's children and wife were at home - and witnessed the entire scene. The concerned dad said his kids have been scared to go outside ever since the incident occurred.
Landry, who has Outcast Fishing Charters out of Buras, is often gone overnight and said he would have shot the guy if he would have had the opportunity, adding, "It's a shame because my deputy friends said that I would have been the one who would have gone to jail."
Both Lambert and Landry are at their witsí end. "This is the third time he's been chased around our neighborhood," said Landry, who added the peeper travels the pipeline canal behind their house. "A month before Katrina, the wife of a neighbor saw the man looking through the window at her. Her husband actually chased him through my yard and lunged at him."
While Landry and Lambert have been proactive, "We don't encourage anybody to confront somebody," said Sheriff Champagne, adding that anyone who sees something suspicious should call 911.