A 77-year-old former longtime LSU athletics department employee described by his neighbors as a fatherly figure, was found bludgeoned to death, wrapped in a bedsheet and buried in a tomato garden behind his home Tuesday after he was killed by his roommate following a heated argument Sunday, police said.
Douglas Studeman, 54, 4850 Alvin Dark Ave., Baton Rouge, confessed to the killing Tuesday after police made the grisly discovery of Chester Oakley’s body in the garden earlier that morning, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
Studeman told police Oakley was mean and poked him in the chest during an argument, an affidavit of probable cause says. He also admitted to taking Oakley’s debit card several times to withdraw money after killing him.
He was booked into Parish Prison on counts of first-degree murder and armed robbery.
“It is very unfortunate,” McKneely said. “The victim was helping the suspect, (Studeman) was living with (Oakley) and they were apparent friends and due to some type of verbal altercation, (Studeman) decided to kill (Oakley) and bury him in the backyard.”
Oakley opened his home to Studeman a few months ago in exchange for Studeman helping him with things around the house, McKneely said.
The discovery of Oakley’s body came after his grandson called police early Tuesday to make a missing persons report when he became worried after not hearing from his grandfather since Sunday, McKneely said.
“I guess it was unusual for them not to speak with the family member, thus raising their suspicion,” McKneely said.
Police arrived at Oakley’s Alvin Dark home at about 4 a.m., but found nothing suspicious because things seemed to be in their place, McKneely said.
However, soon after leaving the home, police learned Oakley’s debit card had been used at a Circle K convenience store on Brightside Drive, not far from Oakley’s home, and that a family member had found blood on the walls and furniture while inspecting the inside of the home, McKneely said.
Police returned to the home to search for any other signs of foul play.
“Upon further investigation, while we were canvassing the backyard, in the garden in the rear of the home, a tomato garden, things just didn’t look right,” McKneely said.
Family members told police that the garden was normally well-kept by Oakley, McKneely said, but when police found it, plants were casually thrown atop freshly overturned dirt.
A short while later, they found Oakley’s bludgeoned body wrapped in bedsheets buried several inches deep in the garden, McKneely and the affidavit of probable cause says.
Police thought Studeman may have information on the killing or was involved and found Studeman in a nearby apartment, McKneely said. Studeman was arrested and taken to the East Baton Rouge Violent Crime Unit for questioning.
McKneely would not say what Studeman used to kill Oakley, only that it was a long, heavy object. Oakley also had knife wounds to his body.
He also said he was unsure if police had been called to that home for any altercations between the two men.
A neighbor, however, said the two men argued frequently, sometimes in the backyard, in the few months that Studeman had been living with Oakley.
Kara Samaha, 25, from New Orleans, but living in Baton Rouge while attending LSU, said Studeman approached her husband a few weeks ago and said Oakley was driving him crazy.
Samaha lived next door to Oakley and described him as a neighborhood father figure who loved to talk to people and greeted every person he saw.
“He was a super sweet guy,” Samaha said. “He was kind of like our neighborhood watch because he knew everyone around here.”
Oakley used to live in Samaha’s home and had planted lemon and satsuma trees in the backyard, she said. He would check on them periodically and give her and her husband tips on how to take care of the trees.
Samaha said beside the trees and tomato garden, Oakley had a few other gardens nearby and loved to work on them.
The news of Oakley’s death hit members of the LSU Athletic Department hard, as Oakley worked there for more than 25 years in different capacities before retiring in 2003, LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette said.
Oakley did a little bit of everything including working as head of concessions, in facilities maintenance, as the athletic dormitory supervisor, in charge of the athletic gift center, and he even helped out the groundskeepers from time to time, Bonnette said.
Bonnette said when word first came out about the homicide, he and others scrambled to see if the name they saw was the man they knew. Before long, they came to the sad realization that the victim of the gruesome slaying was Oakley.
“Chester was part of the LSU family, so it’s a sad day for us,” Bonnette said.
Oakley was also an avid golfer who was often spotted on links at the LSU Golf Course off Nicholson Drive.
“I know that was one of those things he really liked to do,” Bonnette said.
Sunday’s incident was not the first time Studeman was accused of taking money from a person helping him out.
On Aug. 23, Baton Rouge police arrested Studeman after a woman who was letting him stay in a vacant house in return for painting it and performing maintenance on it noticed several unauthorized charges to her checking account.
At the time of that arrest, Studeman had an address of 1741 Brightside Drive, Apt. 14, but had been staying at 4934 Alvin Dark per an agreement with the owner.
The victim told police she had ordered checks from Regions Bank, but the checks were sent to 4934 Alvin Dark instead of her home, the arrest warrant says.
Studeman had written the checks out to cash and endorsed the back himself, the warrant says. Police also suspect he forged the victim’s signature on the checks as those signatures did not match her own.
Studeman was charged with felony theft and forgery, prison records show.
He bonded out of Parish Prison on Feb. 27, about the same time Samaha and police said Oakley took Studeman in.