Reserve couple bound before drowning, documents show

The disappearance of Lakeitha and Kenneth Joseph has been steeped in mystery since the Reserve couple was reported missing Feb. 19. The discovery of their bodies last month in New Orleans East, pulled from the Intracoastal Waterway two weeks apart, yielded more questions than closure for grieving family members.

But while investigators have divulged little about their case, New Orleans police are pursuing evidence that suggests the couple were the targets of a calculated killing.

The deaths have not been classified as homicides by the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, which confirmed the victims drowned and were not shot, stabbed, strangled or beaten. According to new court documents, however, both victims were bound at the feet with blue nylon rope.

When fishermen spotted Kenneth Joseph’s body March 22, the rope had been tethered to the handle of a 30-pound kettlebell in what detectives described as “an attempt to weigh Joseph’s remains down under the surface of the water.”

The rope tied to Lakeitha Joseph, whose remains were found March 10, appeared to be frayed at one end, according to a search warrant, leading detectives to believe she “may have also been secured to a kettlebell prior to the blue rope breaking free, allowing her remains to surface.”

“There are a lot of things we can’t get into right now because of the integrity of the investigation,” said John Gagliano, the Coroner’s Office’s chief investigator. Police declined to comment Tuesday on the status of the investigation.

The search warrant, filed last week by Detective Ryan Vaught, offers the clearest indication to date that investigators suspect foul play in the case. It also revealed that a Dodge Caravan borrowed by the Josephs a day before they disappeared contained “blood evidence” when the authorities found it abandoned outside Atlanta.

The couple was reported missing Feb. 19 after family members grew concerned when they failed to return the borrowed van to Kenneth Joseph’s sister. Their home on Homewood Place was found unlocked and, according to family members, appeared to have been ransacked.

St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre, who declined to be interviewed for this article, said recently his office was searching for “the person who’s responsible” but that he could not say definitely whether the couple had been kidnapped.

The disappearance prompted a massive search involving multiple agencies, who spent hours pursuing leads and combing a 15-mile stretch of swamps along Interstate 55 looking for the couple with four-wheelers, helicopters and boats. Family members grew increasingly worried as their attempts to call the Josephs failed, and those fears intensified Feb. 27 when the missing vehicle turned up at an apartment complex in College Park, Ga.

The body of Lakeitha Joseph, 29, was found in the Intracoastal Waterway nearly three weeks after she was reported missing. The body of Kenneth Joseph, 34, was located in the same area almost two weeks later; he was identified by his dental records. Autopsies found they had died weeks earlier.

The investigation led detectives to a Wal-Mart store on West Esplanade Avenue in Kenner, where Vaught believes the kettlebell — a round weight with a thick handle used for exercising — may have been bought.

A search of store records revealed a $177 purchase made with an American Express card at 1 a.m. Feb. 19 — the day the Josephs disappeared — for two 30-pound kettlebells, two fleece hooded sweatshirts, three pairs of “gripping gloves,” some fishing line, blue utility rope, two pairs of shoes and a bottle of degreaser.

“Detective Vaught believes the items listed in this receipt are evidence of the homicides of Kenneth and Lakeitha Joseph,” the warrant says.

The purchase was captured on store surveillance video, the search warrant says, but the man and woman seen making the transaction are not identified. The search warrant seeks additional information related to the American Express card used to purchase the items.

The motive for the apparent murders remains unclear.