Author: Janet Rinardo Travis, co-founder of DNA Now
One thing that is truly unique about the Hotel Cazan in Mamou, Louisiana, is that it is host to a team of real-life heroes: Cazan’s Crimefighters. Each month, the hotel hosts a “Cold Case Conference,” where people from around the country gather to discuss true crimes and real cold cases. Specialists, including DNA genetic genealogists, members of law enforcement, victim advocates, victim’s families, and concerned citizens arrive on a Friday evening at the Hotel Cazan for a meet and greet. Attendees mix and mingle and introduce themselves, get comfortable and get to know each other on a more personal level.
On Saturday, experts take turns educating attendees about their various specialties, and how they can and are being used to solve real-life crimes and cold cases. Finally, the group will discuss the cold case that will be tackled by Cazan’s Crimefighters over the next month.
My name is Janet Rinardo Travis and I live in the small town of Alvin, Texas just south of Houston. I am a co-founder of DNA Now along with my research partner and co-founder, Lynette Caton Bryan of Kemah, Texas. We are both genetic genealogists and family historians. We started a business to help adoptees, foundlings, and anyone searching for biological family find them with DNA.
The power of DNA is amazing, and we have proven it over and over again. To help someone find where they biologically come from, who they look like, and to reunite them with their birth family is a uniquely cool experience. This has been our passion for the last four years with over 60 successful searches. Now, we want to help law enforcement solve cold cases and John/Jane Doe cases with the help of DNA analysis. The September conference was right up our alley, and I couldn’t wait to attend.
Mamou, LA has long been on my bucket list. This is the place where the true Cajun Mardi Gras traditions come alive in southwest Louisiana. You never know what you’ll see in Mamou. For newcomers, the wild Fat Tuesday Courir de Mardi Gras in Mamou is the place to experience true joie de vivre – the exuberant enjoyment of life!
On Saturday morning, everyone was on their own for breakfast, but we couldn’t miss a stop-over to check out the world-famous Fred’s Lounge. The Cold Case Conference started promptly at 11AM, held in the bar that is a part of the wonderfully-funky and eclectic historical boutique Hotel Cazan, where most of us stayed as guests.
Valerie Cahill, the owner of Hotel Cazan is simply the best at what she does. She is passionate about her guests, her hotel & bar, and about justice for crime victims. As the leader of Cazan’s Crimefighters, Valerie lined up an excellent list of guest speakers, made introductions among attendees, and kept the conversations on task and on time, ensuring there was time for questions after each speaker finished their presentation.
Saturday’s program opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and a story about how Hotel Cazan employee and Cazan’s Crimefighters member Gail Peacock received recognition for helping the local police department apprehend an escaped inmate. She was very observant, calling in a report of a suspicious man in an orange jumpsuit on the loose. Her motto is “See Something, Say Something!” and boy, she got it right!
The first speaker of the day was Mr. Stephen Menard of Justice for Unsolved Murder Victims. Stephen identified the issues with criminal activity that affect us all. He has a background in law enforcement and private investigative work. He now seeks justice for murder victims and their inconsolable family members. Gun violence in Louisiana often results in ruthless, senseless murders, and he is pleading with gang members and violent criminals to “Put the Gun Down!”
The second guest speaker was Kathleen Johnson, an expert in forensic consultation and a professor in Investigative Forensics at the University of Maryland-University College. Johnson talked about how DNA evidence is used to identify and prosecute violent criminals, as well as to exonerate innocent persons who are suspected in criminal cases. According to Johnson, DNA is the ONLY evidence that is recognized in the court of law as reliable and valid. Fingerprints are not even truly considered irrefutable.
Next up, Catalene Theriot represented VOICE – Voices of Innocent Citizens Empowered. VOICE is a support group for victims of crime and their families. They are committed to providing the positive attitudes necessary to address crime-related issues, especially as those issues relate to innocent crime victims and families. Theriot talked about her son, who was murdered, and how her experience led her to become involved with VOICE.
During the lunch break, many attendees chose to eat at the nearby Krazy Cajun Café. The staff there is amazing and attentive, serving excellent and authentic Cajun cuisine with speedy service. Our lunch break was only half an hour, but we got our food and managed to eat and get back in time for our next speaker.
Our fourth speaker was Judge Forrest Johnson from the great state of Mississippi. Judge Johnson was very interested in learning more about DNA and how it can be used as a tool to help point law enforcement to suspects in criminal cases, cold cases and John/Jane Doe cases. The Judge spoke to us about real life cold cases that he was involved with and how they were solved decades later.
The fifth and final guest speaker was Shera Broussard LaPoint, an investigative genetic genealogist and founder of The Gene Hunter, LLC. Shera talked about the Texas Killing Fields in League City, TX where 30 bodies of murder victims have been found within a 25-acre area since the early 1970s. On September 8, 1991, the skeletal remains of League City Janet Doe were discovered along Calder Road by people riding horses.
Using forensic DNA analysis, Shera LaPoint and her co-researcher Brenda Menard Cobb were able to uncover the true identity of Janet Doe – Donna Prudhomme. These investigative genetic genealogists performed thorough searches of the victim’s ancestry using an online database, record searches, and family interviews to build a family tree based on Donna’s DNA matches. Donna was born on April 23, 1957, and was from Port Arthur, Texas. She had also lived in Beaumont, Austin, Seabrook, and Nassau Bay, not far from where her skeletal remains were found. She’d last been seen in July of 1991 and was never formally reported as missing.
About Cazan’s Crimefighters:
The Cazan’s Crimefighters Cold Case Conference is held monthly at the hotel. Call early (337)468-5100 and book your reservations before they sell out.
About DNA Now:
Please check out our website at www.DNANow.life and let us know if you need help finding your biological relatives using DNA. You never know, they may already be looking for you!
If you are in law enforcement and are working a cold case, give us a call, we can help you solve it with DNA. Call Janet Rinardo Travis at (832)287-1910 or Lynette Caton Bryan at (713)449-5949. We are here to answer any question you might have.
September (2019) Conference photos courtesy of B. Cobb Photography.