The case went cold after Coco was found dead in 2004. But on April 13, 2021, police named Burns as a suspect and charged him with murder. Officials did not immediately share details about the evidence linking Burns to Coco.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Courtney Coco’s Body was Found In an Abandoned Building in Texas About 200 Miles Away From Her Home
Coco’s mother, Stephanie Belgard, says she last saw her daughter on Friday, October 1, 2004. Belgard explained to Dateline that she and her husband had invited Coco to go camping with them that weekend. Coco declined but agreed to check in on her parents’ dogs while they were away.
Belgard said she received a call from an officer with the Alexandria Police Department that Monday. She was told that Coco’s body had been found in an abandoned building in Winnie, Texas. Winnie is about 200 miles away from where Coco lived in Alexandria, Louisiana. Officers found Coco’s high school graduation ring with the body.
Police said Coco’s body was only partially clothed when they found her and was already far along in the decomposition process. NBC News, citing police, reported that the state of Coco’s body suggested she had been dead for a few days by the time she was found.
A medical examiner could not determine Coco’s exact cause of death. But her death was ruled a homicide.
Police found Coco’s vehicle about a week later in Houston. Belgard told Dateline the vehicle still has her daughter’s personal items inside, like her lab coat. Belgard said Coco worked at a dental office while majoring in criminal investigation at Northwestern State University.
2. Coco’s Murder Was Featured on the ‘Real Life Real Crime’ Podcast
The investigation into Coco’s murder went cold and no arrests were made. In 2019, retired homicide detective Woody Overton decided to feature the case on his podcast, “Real Life Real Crime.”
The 18-episode series “Who Murdered Courtney Coco?” renewed public interest in the cold case and brought in new tips. Overton told NBC News that based on his own investigation and interviews with potential witnesses, he believes two people were responsible for Coco’s murder. He says he thinks she was strangled and then transported in the trunk of her own car to the building where she was abandoned. Overton said he shared his findings with law enforcement.
But after the podcast was over, Belgard asked Overton to take the final episode down. She explained in an updated interview in February 2020 that Alexandria Police had asked her to do so because the episode had “too many details.”
Belgard said she cooperated immediately because she didn’t want to interfere with the investigation. But she added that new leads stopped once the episodes were removed. Overton shared that he agreed to remove the episodes because the request came from Belgard.
3. Burns Referenced a ‘Mr. Woody’ & a Podcast In a Facebook Video Weeks Before His Arrest
Heavy reached out to the Alexandria, Louisiana, police department to request more information about how investigators identified Burns as a suspect. A department spokesperson responded via email that they are not releasing any further details about the arrest at this time.
On social media, the department shared that Detective Tanner Dryden made the arrest. He has been investigating Coco’s murder since October 2018.
But according to the Alexandria Town Talk, a local news outlet affiliated with the USA Today network, Burns’ social media activity may have been a factor. The outlet reported that Burns posted a video on Facebook on March 25. He did not mention Coco by name in the clip but Burns reportedly mentioned a “Mr. Woody with your podcast” multiple times. He said he was “coming after y’all. Not physically. Coming get your wallets. I promise you.”
4. Burns Was Arrested & Ordered Held on $500,000 Bond
Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell told NBC affiliate KALB-TV that a grand jury indicted Burns on a second-degree murder charge on April 13.
When asked whether officials had faced public pressure to make an arrest, Terrell responded, “We waited so long and worked so hard to get it to this point. It was a very old case, the evidence was old. It’s a tough case. The Alexandria Police did a phenomenal job in staying the course and waiting until the appropriate time to make the arrest.”
Inmate records show Burns was arrested hours later and booked into the Rapides Parish Detention Center on a $500,000 bond. The record did not list a defense attorney who could speak on Burns’ behalf.
The Alexandria Police Department described Burns as 43-years-old on social media. But inmate records list his age as 45. The record includes a home address in Boyce, Louisiana.
5. Burns Was Arrested in 2012
A search of online records for Burns does not bring up prior arrests or charges. But the Rapides Parish Detention Center website includes a mugshot dated June 5, 2012.
Heavy reached out to the Alexandria Police Department to ask about why Burns was arrested and what he may have been charged with at that time. We were told to make a public records request for that information and have not yet heard back.
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