GOLDEN MEADOW, La. — A south Louisiana man suspected for decades of gunning down his wife in the fried chicken restaurant they owned was arrested last week and charged with the crime.
Chester Pierre Vegas Sr., 78, of Cut Off, is charged with second-degree murder in the Oct. 10, 1977, death of Diane Ledet Vegas, who was 32 when she was slain. Vegas was arrested Friday and booked into the Lafourche Parish Correctional Complex.
He was released that night after posting $50,000 bail.
Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre said that Vegas was a longtime suspect in the case, which was reopened in October. New information, in combination with evidence established during the initial investigation, gave detectives the probable cause they needed to make an arrest, the sheriff said.
“We hope this arrest can begin to bring some closure to the Vegas family who have been living with questions about Diane’s death for nearly 44 years,” Webre said in a statement.
According to authorities and news reports at the time, Chester Vegas called sheriff’s deputies and police to the couple’s restaurant, the Chicken House, in the town of Golden Meadow shortly before 11 p.m. the night of the homicide. The Chicken House, which is long gone, was located along Bayou Lafourche about a quarter of a mile from the couple’s home.
Vegas, who was 34 at the time, told detectives he’d found his wife dead in the restaurant’s kitchen. The Lafourche Gazette reported in 1977 that the telephone was dangling off the hook and the cash register had been tampered with, giving the crime the appearance of a deadly robbery.
An autopsy determined that Diane Vegas had been shot once in the back.
Vegas was taken into custody and questioned about the homicide but was later released.
The case went cold over the years, but authorities received new information in October that prompted the reopening of the investigation, Webre told the Daily Comet in Thibodaux.
“Essentially, there are relatives of the victim who remained vigilant in keeping up with the case over the years and (they) led detectives to go back and look at it and reanalyze the evidence,” Webre said. “They then realized the case strongly, strongly pointed in one direction, and that direction was the husband.”
The sheriff said his detectives painstakingly reviewed the 44-year-old case file and went back over evidence, details of witness interviews and alibis for those witnesses.
A witness who initially provided an alibi for Vegas recanted his statement, the Comet reported. Webre did not say who that alibi witness was.
In addition, a second person told detectives Vegas privately admitted years after Diane Vegas’ shooting that he’d killed his wife.
“With those new pieces of evidence, in conjunction with all the investigative work we’ve done before, we believe — and the judge agreed — there was probable cause for the arrest,” Webre told the newspaper.
Some residents in the close-knit community where the killing took place expressed shock over Chester Vegas’ arrest. Several wrote on the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page that either they or family members had worked with Vegas at the Chicken House or at a Popeyes chicken restaurant in Cut Off, which he reportedly managed for a while.
“This is crazy,” Margaret Pitre wrote. “I worked with him at Popeyes in 1987; he was the manager. (I) would have never known he could have done something like that.”
Another former Popeyes co-worker, Sheila Melancon, wrote that it was scary to think she’d been so close to someone alleged to have committed such a violent crime. Melancon said the allegations still shadowed Vegas years later, when she heard he was working as a school bus driver.
Two of Diane Vegas’ grandchildren spoke out on the Facebook post, where one expressed anger that her grandfather had been released on bond.
“My sister and I were robbed of ever meeting our real grandmother and my sister’s namesake because of this man, and they let him walk,” Kayla Vegas wrote. “We always knew he was guilty, and when we finally get the chance for justice, they give him a bond. It’s insulting and disgusting.”
Diane N. Vegas wrote that it was the couple’s son, Chester Vegas Jr., who had provided his father’s alibi. The younger Vegas, 58, is currently in prison in Virginia, where he is serving time for a probation violation on prior drug and attempted assault charges, according to prison records.
“He has on countless occasions confessed that he lied on the stand because he ‘didn’t want to lose both parents,’” she wrote.
Chester Vegas Sr. is due to make his first court appearance next month. If convicted of second-degree murder, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
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