ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — An arrest may have cleared a missing persons’ case that dates to 1989.
A tip to the case’s original investigator — Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Major Mark Baden — led to Tuesday’s arrest of Robert Brunson Blair, 71, who’s being held on $2 million bond, news outlets reported. He faces two first-degree murder charges involving the disappearances of 34-year-old Isabelle Mansell Blair — his wife — and 31-year-old Marian Elizabeth Coutee, of Cloutierville. It’s unknown if he has an attorney.
The women were last seen near Blair’s home in Alexandria.
Sheriff William Earl Hilton said at a news conference Wednesday Baden tried to talk with Blair at the time of the women’s disappearance, but wasn’t able to do so.
“Blair was very evasive at that time about the women and where they were at and when he’d last seen them and things like that,” he said. “I think there were some marital problems … and maybe he had filed for a divorce just a few days after they had went missing. But we just never could get to him at that time to even make him a strong suspect in this, until this week.”
Hilton said the recent tip led investigators to remote property near Blair’s home. Hilton said investigators accessed a pond Oct. 10 where a truck belonging to one of the women was found. The land formerly belonged to Blair’s family.
No information was immediately available about whether investigators recovered either of the women’s remains.
It took two days and the assistance of the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Alexandria Fire Department and two local businesses to retrieve the small truck, which was taken to the sheriff office’s motor pool for processing, Hilton said.
The Natchitoches Sheriff’s Office provided sonar equipment to pinpoint the truck’s location underwater, which led divers from the fire department to it. The city of Alexandria also provided some pumps to lower the water level in the pond.
Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell said no decision has been made on whether his office might seek the death penalty.
“There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether or not we seek the death penalty. The man is 71 years old, lot of factors,” said Terrell. “I don’t mean to be evasive, but I don’t want to say anything about the investigation or our strategy in handling the case that might cause us a problem down the road.”
Baden said he regrets that the break in the case came too late for the women’s parents to see it. He said he would get periodic calls from Isabelle Blair’s mother, who begged for a resolution before she died.
She died about 12 years ago, he said.
Hilton has said before how cold cases never leave the law enforcement officers who work them, and he reiterated that again Wednesday.
“These things haunt you for all of your life, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to go back and open a case and bring some closure to it for the victim’s family,” he said.