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Nearly Four Decades After Teen's Skeletal Remains Found Near Louisiana Highway, Two Men Arrested For Her Rape, Murder

The remains were identified last month as those of Donna Brazzell after her grandmother recognized a digital reconstruction of her face. Leo Laird and Gary Joseph Haymon have been charged in the case.

By Gina Tron
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It was a case that remained unsolved for nearly four decades: skeletal remains discovered off a Louisiana highway that couldn't be identified. Then, this year, new technology led to the victim’s identity and now, finally, arrests have been made.

The remains were located in a wooded area near Louisiana Highway 28 West, not far from Gardner area, in November 1980, according to the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office.

It was believed the victim had been killed between roughly two months to a year before the remains were found.

The Louisiana State University's Repository for Missing and Unidentified Persons, also known as “The FACES Lab,” was able to determine the victim was a white female between the ages of 16 and 21 when she died. FACES composed a reconstruction of her skull.

In 2014, the sheriff's office received information about the unsolved case, though the exact nature of that information is unclear. That resulted in Leo Laird, 64 and Gary Joseph Haymon, 54, both of Oakdale, being identified as suspects. However, there was not enough evidence to charge them with anything.

Leo Laird and Gary Haymon

The big break came last month, when the victim was finally identified as 18-year-old Donna Gayle Brazzell after her grandmother called investigators to report that the visual reconstruction of the victim resembled her granddaughter, according to Central Louisiana outlet KALB.

Brazzell had been living in the Alexandria/Pineville area at the time of her death, according to the sheriff’s office.

DNA confirmed her identity and soon after, sufficient probable cause was established.

Laird and Haymon were both arrested on first-degree murder, first-degree rape and aggravated kidnapping charges, officials announced Monday.

Laird was booked on the charges and is being held on a $1 million dollar bond. Haymon is already behind bars, serving time for kidnapping, robbery and bribery. He is due to be out around 2047.

Donna Gayle Brazzell

"These cases never, ever leave a policeman's mind," Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton told KALB. "They prey on you all the time. Especially cases like this that you never solve."

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