Woman’s body found in ditch in ‘03, but mystery has never been solved
The last time Des Allemands resident Vicki Toups was seen alive was when she was spotted walking down Highway 90 around midnight the morning of Oct. 11, 2003.
As the sun rose later that morning it would uncover a startling sight when Toups’ beaten body was discovered by a passing motorist around 7:45 a.m. She had been murdered and her partially clothed body left in a water-filled ditch along LA 635 between Old Spanish Trail and Highway 90 in Des Allemands, just around the corner from Allen’s Ace Hardware.
What happened in the more than seven hours since she was last seen on the highway and when her body was discovered is still a mystery.
Maj. Rodney Madere, a deputy at the time who is now chief of investigations with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said he remembers the scene well.
“It had rained I think the night before or that morning and she was laying in the ditch. We arrived on the scene and did the best we could to secure it and any evidence around the scene,” he said. “Of course the first thing you want to do is identify who we are dealing with here so we can start the investigation.”
The 38-year-old Toups, though she did not have any identification on her, was easily recognized by sheriff’s deputies as she was well known by law enforcement in the area.
“Some of the things that we already knew about her were that No. 1, she had a drug problem. No. 2, she hitchhiked all over the place. She was all over the roads walking up and down any roadway, mostly on the West Bank trying to hitch a ride,” Madere said. “That is dangerous business in itself, but then she had a drug problem so it was a dangerous cocktail.”
Immediately, all of the investigators within the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office focused on finding who was responsible for Toups’ death.
Given that Toups was not someone who was known to have money on her, it isn’t likely she was victimized during a robbery. While the pathology report showed that she hadn’t been raped, the investigation did determine that she was brutally assaulted.
“The autopsy revealed that she was basically beaten to death,” Madere said. “She had skull fractures, a broken neck, facial fractures and bruising on her body…her abdomen, chest and ribs.”
Investigators were unable to determine whether Toups was beaten with an object or by fists.
“It probably took someone of decent strength to do it,” Madere said. “Of course they couldn’t tell if it was one, two, three or four people.”
In addition, investigators did not find evidence that the crime had happened at the scene where her body was found. Rather, detectives working the case felt she had been killed elsewhere and then left on the side of the road.
“Based on the scene, she was more than likely dumped there, not killed there,” Madere said. “It’s likely she was killed somewhere else and maybe rolled out of a car or something like that.”
With those basic facts in mind the investigators meticulously identified and interrogated anyone they thought may have a remote connection to the crime or Toups.
“All of those people were put down as suspects, every single one of them was interviewed. Almost every single one of them was given a lie detector test,” Madere said.
Anyone who had contact with her in the days leading up to her death was also interviewed.
“We began the investigation and took every single detective assigned to the detectives’ bureau, plus myself,” Madere said. “We all worked the case for weeks on end. I can tell you that we spoke to dozens and dozens of people.”
During the exhaustive effort, it was discovered that a white man driving a white car had been traveling around the Boutte area searching for Toups around 1 a.m. on the morning of her murder. However, that suspect was never identified.
“We always came up with names of someone who they think she owed money to or she was in a beef with. People said, ‘She may have ripped this guy off for some dope,’” Madere said. “We never came up with a clear cut motive.”
Madere said Sheriff’s Office investigators worked the case for as long as they could and followed every lead, but never came close to what they thought was a credible suspect.
Leads were also generated through tips from both anonymous callers as well as those already in jail, but evidence never materialized.
Now more than a decade later, Madere still looks at the file occasionally and follows up on leads that still come in every now and then. Just three months ago, a potential lead came in from a prisoner.
While the Sheriff’s Office does use prison informants, the problem is that those types of tipsters are mostly self-serving and directed by the primary goal of receiving a deal from the District Attorney’s Office that would lessen their jail time or in some way improve their situation.
“Sometimes someone just develops a conscience and decides to give the tip. Sometimes someone goes to jail and they are looking at 10 to 20 years and if they have information they will use it as a bargaining chip to get themselves a reduced sentence,” Madere said.
In January, an inmate looking to receive a reduced sentence provided information on the case, which he thought was new and could potentially lead to the killer.
“He called and talked to the detective to see if they wanted to talk about an old homicide. We went out there, but the information he gave us was information that we had already followed up on,” Madere said.
In addition to the tips that have trickled in over the years from a variety of sources, investigators continue to go back to the original list of suspects when they are booked for new offenses and re-interrogate them.
“We do have a list of people in every one of our cases. If they get arrested we get a flag through our computer system that says this person just got arrested, they were a person of interest in the Vicki Toups case, let’s go talk to them and maybe they want to talk now that they are in jail,” Madere said.
As of yet, revisiting with potential suspects or witnesses has not yielded any new information. After such a long time, the potential to solve the case is very low.
“Unless a major or decent tip comes in or someone walks in and confesses, the chances of someone pointing us in the right direction just doesn’t seem likely. ” Madere said.
While the murder occurred at the same time Ronald Dominique, also known as the “The Bayou serial killer,” was known to be operating in the West Bank area, Dominique targeted young men. He admitted to raping and strangling 23 men to death after his arrest in 2006.
Toups did not fit the profile of a victim Dominique would go after.
For those who may have information on the Vicki Toups murder, but do not want to reveal their identities, anonymous tips can be provided to the Crimestoppers hotline or though the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office website.
Others with information can contact Lt. Renee Kinler or Madere at (985) 783-1135.
“We follow up on every single tip we get no matter how weak it is. We follow up on it and we’re constantly reviewing some of our old cases,” Madere said. “We would love for someone to give us information because there are people out there who know. There is no doubt about it, there are people out there who know what happened.”