By Kevin McGill/The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — It’s been a year since pieces of Jaren Lockhart’s body began washing up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and almost that long since two people seen leaving a Bourbon Street strip club with the dancer were named as suspects in her death and dismemberment.
One, Margaret Sanchez, 29, is free. “We think she’s somewhere near Las Vegas,” says Glenn Grannon, an investigator with the Hancock County, Miss., Sheriff’s Office.
The other, Christopher Speaks, 40, is in a federal prison awaiting his December 2014 release after a guilty plea for failing to register as a sex offender in North Carolina.
Neither has been charged in Lockhart’s death, but authorities say they remain the chief suspects.
On Bourbon Street, the beat goes on at Temptations, the historic French Quarter building-turned-neon-lit-strip club where Lockhart, the 22-year-old mother of a small child, was last seen alive. A barker enticed visitors in with an offer of two-for-one drinks as women in lingerie wandered out onto the marble steps on a sunny afternoon earlier this week. None would talk about Lockhart. The club’s management declined an interview.
Except for the way it ended in death, the story of Lockhart appears familiar to that of other young women who dance at French Quarter strip clubs, says social worker and former New Orleans Police Department employee Cecile Tebo, who at one time was helping pregnant women, including strip club dancers, put children up for adoption.
“They had found this an easy, flexible way to make money,” she said. “Many of my girls did have a background of trouble but they were pretty doggone mature.”
She also says they’re typically street-smart. “A lot of the dancers I worked with were pretty protective of themselves,” Tebo said.
But Lockhart may have let her guard down when she left Temptations with two strangers after her June 5, 2012, shift ended. Police said her boyfriend, who lived with her at a rundown motel in an area known for crime and drug trafficking, reported her missing the next day.
On June 7 and over the following days, authorities investigated reports of body parts washing ashore in Hancock and Harrison counties in Mississippi. Distinctive tattoos and body piercings helped identify the remains as those of Lockhart. Her wounds included a stab to the chest, but the weapon has not been found and police even now are withholding information on her exact cause of death.
Studies of Gulf currents at the time indicate the body was dumped somewhere off the Mississippi coast, Grannan said.
Still, it remains unclear where she was killed and exactly where the body parts were disposed of.
Surveillance video from Temptations put police on the lookout for Speaks and Sanchez, who shared a house in suburban Kenner. Both were picked up later on unrelated charges in Tangipahoa Parish, northwest of New Orleans.
Speaks, his short hair dyed a brilliant red-orange, sat quietly in a New Orleans courtroom a few days later as his transfer to North Carolina was arranged. After the transfer, he was sentenced to 32 months in federal prison with extensive conditions for his December 2014 release, including registering as a sex offender, drug treatment, and prohibitions on alcohol use.
A charge of harboring a sex offender eventually was dropped against Sanchez. Grannon said authorities can keep tabs on her through family contacts she has in southeastern Louisiana.
Grannon and police in Kenner, La., the New Orleans suburb where Sanchez and Speaks lived, say evidence has been turned over to the forensics experts at the FBI. Grannon says some came from the house, some from the car in which the two were arrested last June. He declined to discuss the type of evidence except to say there wasn’t much of it.
“We’re certainly dealing with two areas that were cleaned up and cleaned up very well,” he said.
Aside from homicide charges, Grannon said authorities are considering lesser charges, such as the illegal disposing of the body. “We’re looking at these alternative charges because, you know, maybe if we can get them back incarcerated maybe we have an opportunity to visit with them again,” he said.
He acknowledges frustration in the case — frustration stoked by a video that turned up last year: an ABC television show about Adriane Hall, who was murdered and dismembered in her French Quarter apartment in 2006 by her boyfriend, who later killed himself. That show included a 2011 interview of their friend, Margaret Sanchez.
“I can imagine, just, shock. ‘What am I going to do? Get rid of the body.’ That would be anybody’s first thought,” Sanchez said at one point of the program, which interspersed re-enacted scenes from Hall’s life with interviews of police and people who knew her.
New Orleans police have never publicly connected Sanchez to the Hall killing. The boyfriend who killed himself confessed to the murder in a suicide note.
But Sanchez’s comments on the Hall case strengthen Grannan’s belief that she was capable of such a crime.
“It’ll really spook you if you listen to it close,” said Grannan. “It’ll spook you.”