Tammany deputies find body of woman in Madisonville

In a muddy clearing near Interstate 12 in western St. Tammany Parish, deputies searching for missing Alabama woman Melinda Denny had just finished a break about 10:15 a.m. Thursday and were beginning a southward sweep of the mixed wooded and residential area. Just a few steps into the sweep, a deputy at the left end of the long line came upon the body of the 26-year-old woman lying among some trees near brush that marked a residential lot off Brewster Road between La. 21 and La. 1077.

Denny, 26, had been the subject of an intensive hunt since Saturday, when her boyfriend, Johnathon Nall, held deputies at bay at a gas station near I-12 by pointing a gun at his head and repeatedly demanding to speak to someone from the U.S. government.

Nall was taken into custody Saturday, but Denny could not be found, even after the deputies located the couple’s car in a nearby neighborhood.

Denny died from multiple stab wounds, the St. Tammany Coroner’s Office said, and Sheriff Jack Strain said he expected to arrest Nall for the murder.

Strain said more than 100 deputies were involved in the search — so many that St. Tammany Schools Superintendent Trey Folse loaned the Sheriff’s Office a bus to take them to the area being searched.

Michael DeFatta of the Coroner’s Office identified the remains as those of Denny.

The Sheriff’s Office began looking for the woman after Nall threatened to kill himself at a convenience store near the La. 1077 exit off I-12.

He was hospitalized initially but was taken into custody Tuesday on charges of terrorizing and resisting arrest that stemmed from his standoff with deputies on Saturday.

Becky Nall, the mother of Johnathon Nall, told WWL-TV earlier this week that Nall and Denny had known each other for only a couple of months and were headed to Texas. Becky Nall said her son was bipolar but had not sought treatment. Becky Nall also said she called deputies early Saturday morning after hearing from the pair that they were stuck and out of money for gas.

When deputies found the pair parked in a parking lot, both said they were fine. Even though a gun was found in the car, there was no ammunition in it, and deputies let them go, Strain said. Neither had a previous criminal record.

Later that day, Nall showed up alone at the convenience store, threatening to kill himself.

Strain said Monday that evidence pointing to foul play had been found in Nall’s vehicle, a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee that was found in a nearby neighborhood.

He said deputies were suspicious from the very beginning. Nall “did a big show’’ of mental health problems, Strain said, and it’s now up to professionals to determine if that was genuine.

Investigators have found no evidence that a third party was involved, Strain said. Nall is cooperating with investigators but has retained counsel.