But when an off-duty sheriff’s deputy noticed Bracey and Haynes driving on the shoulder of the road to avoid traffic, the men were pursued by police in a high-speed chase and ended up abandoning the van with Schanda Handley inside. Their attempt at evading authorities, however, took another dark turn when the men, both 27, drowned while trying to swim through a canal, prosecutors said.
The fallout from the elaborate kidnapping plot four years ago came to a head this week when Lawrence Michael Handley pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree kidnapping and one count of attempted second-degree kidnapping. Handley, 53, faces between 15 to 35 years in prison, his attorney, Kevin Stockstill, told The Washington Post.
The plea deal on Monday allowed Handley to avoid a charge of aggravated kidnapping, which carries a mandatory life sentence, Stockstill said. Handley originally pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but that was disallowed after he was found to be mentally competent to stand trial.
“I think it’s a fair resolution to the case,” Stockstill said to The Post. “Thank God nobody was hurt, except for the people who performed the kidnapping.” He added, “This is the most bizarre case I’ve ever had.”
The district attorney’s office for the 15th Judicial Court said in a news release that Schanda Handley was pleased with an outcome that “resolves the case without the victims having to relive their ordeal.”
Efforts to reach her and her attorney were unsuccessful. She told the New York Times that it was “really unfortunate” that her former husband’s plea deal meant he did not face a life sentence in prison.
“I think my life, my freedom, ends when he gets out,” said Handley, 50, who is pushing for him to be sentenced to 35 years.
Before the kidnapping plot, Lawrence Michael Handley was something of a success story in the technology industry. His work launching companies that specialized in selling vitamins, energy supplements and calcium creams made him a millionaire by the time he was 30, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported.
Handley, who battled alcoholism that he later attributed to having “too much money,” founded the Townsend Recovery treatment centers. The drug treatment centers located across the South were doing so well that they sold in 2015 in a deal worth more than $21 million.
The couple, who married in 2006, were pillars of their Louisiana community. They ran the Handley Family Foundation, which focused on fundraising for poor children, cancer patients and young professionals hoping to become more involved in the community, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Handley’s Facebook page, in which he described himself as an “eternally optimistic serial entrepreneur who believes that nothing is impossible with God,” featured photos of a happy couple participating in CrossFit competitions and celebrating Mardi Gras.
But their fortunes changed in March 2017 when allegations of abusive incidents resulted in multiple restraining orders being filed. Handley filed for divorce a month later, accusing his wife of attacking and threatening him, and hiring a hit man to kill him, court records show. She was later charged with two domestic violence allegations, the Clarion-Ledger reported.
She accused Handley of attempting to not only track her phone but also accessing her email and installing spyware on her computer. Schanda Handley also alleged her estranged husband sent her threatening messages and allowed others to do so as well.
Then, Lawrence Michael Handley planned a kidnapping plot in early August of that year after hiring Bracey and Haynes, two Mississippi men with criminal records. Handley had been using cocaine and methamphetamine in the days leading up to the plot, his attorney said. Court filings allege that Handley bought items “necessary to kidnap, bind, torture and abuse Mrs. Handley” in a scheme, his attorney said, that would end with him saving Schanda Handley in an effort to “win her back.”
Stockstill said a meeting between his client and the men that unfolded at the Handley family’s camp in Mississippi was captured on video surveillance. In the video, Stockstill said, Handley is heard saying he would pay the men in “19 gold bars.”
“They’re talking kind of in a hushed voice and you hear one part where Mr. Handley says, ‘You can break into this place,’ ” Stockstill said. “And it sounds like Mr. Bracey says, ‘And well she can’t break out.’ ”
After the men approached Schanda Handley’s home on Aug. 6, 2017, dressed as appliance store employees, they forcibly detained her as she was visiting with a neighbor and her 14-year-old daughter. Bracey and Haynes also handcuffed the neighbor and daughter and left them inside the home, court records say.
“The kidnappers handcuffed [the wife], placed a bag over her head and forcibly removed her from the home,” prosecutors wrote.
As the men were threatening, torturing and abusing the woman at the start of the hour-long drive toward Baton Rouge, their plan hit a snag when an overturned piece of equipment backed up traffic, prosecutors say. The pair’s decision to drive on the shoulder of the road got the attention of police. When the van hit a dead-end road and got caught in a swampy area, the men ditched the van, and Schanda Handley, to try to escape police.
Police were initially unable to locate Bracey and Haynes after they had jumped into the Intracoastal Canal. Their bodies were found less than a day later and a gun that authorities believed belonged to them was found in a nearby pipe.
Authorities arrested Lawrence Michael Handley four days later in a hotel in Slidell, La., near New Orleans. Handley was attempting to charter a plane in hope of evading authorities, court records show.
Schanda Handley recalled how the officer who initially spotted the van thought the vehicle might have been stolen, which led him to following the car.
“He didn’t know anything about the kidnapping,” she told the Times, “and he had a moment there where he wasn’t sure he was going to pursue the van.”
Stockstill, who had already been representing Lawrence Michael Handley in regard to the restraining order violations, told The Post that prosecutors had a strong case because of three key pieces of evidence. The most significant, he said, was the surveillance footage capturing Handley orchestrating the deal with Bracey and Haynes. The video was turned over to the district attorney’s office by the Lafayette Police Department.
Authorities were also able to trace who purchased the handcuffs and who rented the getaway van from Enterprise Rent-A-Car: Handley. Don Knecht, a prosecutor with Louisiana’s 15th Judicial District who worked the case with colleague Alan Haney, told The Post that the evidence in the case was overwhelming.
“Mr. Handley might have been a good businessman in his day, but he is not a good criminal,” Knecht said.
A sentencing date has not been set for Handley, who has been held in a parish jail for nearly four years. Stockstill said he expects one within 90 days. Handley’s attorney reiterated he was thankful that no one, outside of the men who drowned, was seriously hurt in the kidnapping plot.
“The way I see it, the men signed up for this and they got what they got,” Stockstill said. “And Mr. Handley will have to face the consequences soon.”