OPELOUSAS, La. — Court documents reveal details from the days leading up to the death of a Ville Platte woman, including a ransom demand from her alleged killer.
Joyce Thomas went missing on Feb. 26, 2020 prompting a four-day search for her by law enforcement agencies including the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office and Louisiana State Police.
The search ultimately came to a tragic end on March 2, when Thomas' body was found in an area along the I-49 frontage road between Sunset and Opelousas.
Phillip Dewoody, 54, of Opelousas was indicted for the first-degree murder of Thomas in November. He was also indicted the kidnapping and rape of an Opelousas woman who helped police find the body of Thomas in March. At the time of the alleged crimes Dewoody was on parole, having been released from prison 91 years early by the Louisiana Parole Board.
According to an affidavit filed with the St. Landry Parish Courthouse, on Feb. 26, 2020, at around 10:50 a.m., Thomas left from her residence at the 1000 block of N. Chataignier St. in Ville Platte with DeWoody in a 2005 Silver Toyota Corolla, which was registered to DeWoody.
Later that day, DeWoody made several phone calls to Thomas’ family, allegedly saying she'd been kidnapped and demanding a ransom for her safe return.
Investigators allege in the affidavit that DeWoody instructed the family not to contact the police or “something bad would happen.” Police say that a voice message was also left on a family member’s phone, and that the voice in that message was consistent with DeWoody.
Police say that DeWoody used Thomas’ cell phone to make the calls.
A video text message also was sent to the same family member from Thomas’ cell phone, which showed Thomas in an abandoned house on a mattress wearing a pink shirt, pink headband, gray pants, dark jacket and black glasses.
Additionally, records allege that cell phone pings of both DeWoody’s cell phone and Thomas’ cell phone showed both of them in the same location throughout the day. Both phones left the Ville Platte area and immediately traveled to the Grand Coteau area in close proximity to each other.
On Feb. 27, 2020, DeWoody was interviewed by police. He stated that he drove Thomas from her apartment to the Walmart in Ville Platte where he dropped her off.
DeWoody told investigators that he never heard from her or saw her again. However, a check of the Walmart surveillance footage did not support his statement.
Later that same day, investigators state they located the abandoned house where the ransom video was recorded off of I-49 Service Road in Grand Coteau.
Investigators state they were later contacted by two eyewitnesses who provided statements that placed DeWoody and a small silver car on the abandoned property in the afternoon hours of Feb. 26, 2020. The eye witnesses also told investigators they heard what they described as a muffled woman’s voice coming from a wooded area on the abandoned property.
On March 2, 2020, Thomas' body was found in the wooded area on an abandoned property covered in a chemical agent consistent with bleach.
Records show the property was adjacent to the abandoned house where the video was created and where the witnesses saw DeWoody.
Investigators state they located surveillance footage of DeWoody purchasing three bottles of bleach at Walmart on the morning of Feb. 26, 2020 prior to him arriving at Thomas’ apartment.
On the day that Thomas was kidnapped and murdered, investigators allege that DeWoody wore a pair of light colored blue jeans and a dark colored hoodie-style jacket. Later that same day, police state DeWoody purchased new clothes from Walmart and put them on prior to returning home.
Using a search warrant, investigators allege they located a pair of blue jeans with bleach stains on them, which were consistent with the color of jeans Dewoody wore on the day Thomas was murdered.
DeWoody is set to be arraigned for his charges of first-degree murder, rape and kidnapping on Thursday, Feb. 18 at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse in Opelousas.
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