There have been a lot of cop stories lately but none like Ernest Randall Comeaux.
Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s a series of brutal rapes terrorized the southern part of Lafayette Parish as well as several adjacent parishes. The first rape occurred on November 2, 1986. It took the Lafayette Police Department nine years before it officially began investigating the possibility that the sexual assaults were being committed by the same assailant.
Finally, in 1997 the local police were able through DNA evidence to connect six of the rapes to one assailant. It was only then that the local police began looking for a “serial rapist.”
Comeaux was hired by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department in 1979. He rose rather rapidly through the ranks, becoming a detective in the department’s juvenile division investigating physical and sexual abuse of children. During that rise through the department, Comeaux was investigated on three separate occasions by the department’s Internal Affairs Division for reasons never made public.
But one complaint to Internal Affairs was made public.
In 1992, a girlfriend of Comeaux filed a complaint with Internal Affairs claiming she had been physically abused by the cop. The girlfriend told Internal Affairs that Comeaux should not be working in the juvenile division because he was a “sex addict” and was “sexually perverted.” The ensuing IA investigation was terminated as “inconclusive” and no action was taken against Comeaux. He remained in the juvenile division.
In September 1997, a law enforcement “task force” was set up to investigate the “serial rapist” case. In addition to the Lafayette Police Department, the task force included the parish sheriff’s department, the FBI, and the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
Despite repeated rumors in the Lafayette community that the rapes had been committed by someone in “law enforcement,” the task force failed to investigate the rumors. The task force was disbanded after only seven months of investigation without producing any suspects.
Then in November 1998 Captain James Craft received information from an anonymous caller that investigators should “investigate Randy Comeaux” in connection with the rapes. Comeaux was still assigned to the juvenile division at the time. He also worked part time at a local supermarket as a private “security guard.” Craft and other detectives set up a surveillance of Comeaux’s work habits at the supermarket. They discovered he took a “smoke break” each night at the same time, always throwing the cigarette butt on the pavement nearby.
Following one of these smoke breaks (according to Comeaux), the detectives collected a discarded cigarette butt Comeaux had smoked. They conducted a DNA analysis of the salvia on the cigarette butt. It matched the DNA evidence collected in the “serial rapist” case. The detectives arrested Comeaux and he immediately confessed to being the rapist.
Comeaux is an enigma.
I got to know him in a protection unit at the Wade Correctional Center. The unit had initially been created for ex-cops convicted of criminal wrongdoing but soon morphed into a protection unit for pedophile priests, juveniles convicted as adults, and high-profile government witnesses (which is why I was housed in the unit).
Comeaux and I worked together in the prison laundry. That working relationship evolved into a talking relationship that opened the door to many long, philosophical discussions. The ex-cop spoke freely to me. I was a famous prison journalist, a published author, and a jailhouse lawyer. As strange as it may sound, I became Comeaux’s role model. He craved my attention and interest. He wanted me to either write his “story” or help him write it.
Although I got to know a lot about his personal life, I could never figure out the contradictions that seem to define him.
As a cop in the juvenile division, he came in contact with many children who had been physically and sexually abused. He despised the offenders who abused them.
“No matter what else can be said about me,” he said, “I did not molest children. I was not a child molester. My victims were grown women. They were not children. I’m not like some of the sick child molesting sonuvabitches in this unit. I’m not one of them.”
Yet, as a rapist, he could enter a woman’s home, force her to undress, stick his service revolver in her mouth, draw her panties over his head, and have sex with her. He always carried out his sexual assaults within hours of targeting his victims. He was, as the girlfriend described, a “sex pervert.” He didn’t seem to mind that label, but he deeply resented being called a “sex offender.”
Comeaux was a “good inmate.” He did not violate the rules. He obeyed instructions from prison officials. He diligently performed his prison job assignments. He despised official preferential treatment given to inmates and the corruption associated with that practice.
Comeaux is serving six life sentences without the benefit of parole. Three of those sentences must be served consecutively. He has already made funeral arrangements for the death that will surely come in prison.
Yet, in a perverse way, he stubbornly clings to a remote hope that he will one day be a free man again. He is a devout Catholic who worships at the altar of the Virgin Mary. He loves the hope she inspires. He hopes that in the end the Virgin Mary will somehow spare him a prison death.
But he understands that a life sentence in Louisiana must be served without the benefit of parole. The only hope for release is through the state’s executive clemency process – a rare hope inasmuch as there are nearly 6,000 lifers in the state’s prison system, and that hope is even more remote for those offenders convicted of rape, much less serial rapes.
I did not like or dislike Comeaux. Everyone in N5 called him “Ernie.” He did not fit into the general prison profile of a sex offender. But beyond a doubt that is precisely what he was: “serial rapist” who stalked the community he was sworn to “protect and serve” in search of vulnerable women to rape.
Local law enforcement efforts to apprehend the “serial rapist” were criticized by victims as being inept. Some of the victims early on theorized the “serial rapist” was a cop. They conveyed to investigators that the rapist knew the right entry points into a residence, carried a .38 special, a flashlight, and had an air of authority about him.
The serial rapist “task force” did bring in a Canadian expert in “geographic profiling” to see if he could pinpoint a “red zone,” the area of the city in which the rapist lived. The expert in fact provided the task force with a “red zone” in which Comeaux actually lived. The task force was either unable or unwilling to do anything with that information.
With all the reports circulating about the serial rapist being a cop, it would seem logical that the task force would determine how many cops lived in the identified “red zone” area. The failure to investigate the “cop involvement” angle legitimized the criticism that local law enforcement never really explored that line of investigation because they didn’t want to “catch a cop.”
The “cop” criticism was fueled by other high profile episodes in the 1990s of cops being involved in violent sexual assaults in Louisiana’s Acadiana parishes. The police eventually solved the Comeaux “serial rapist” case, as they do in most cases, only after getting a lucky break: the anonymous caller suggesting the serial rapist was “Randy Comeaux.”
Comeaux told me that he had confided in only two people about the rapes – a local priest and a New Orleans attorney. One of those two was the anonymous tipster who violated a “privileged communication” to finger him as the “serial rapist.” I tend to believe it was probably the attorney.
Of course, Comeaux’s arrest inevitably triggered political recriminations. The task force was accused of a “cover up” because Comeaux had been one of their own. Victims of the sexual assaults filed civil lawsuits against the sheriff’s department as well as against Comeaux.
In the criminal case, the court appointed a public defender to represent him – and in a stunning, bizarre development, the ex-cop pled guilty within weeks of his 1998 arrest to the six counts of aggravated rape. He would later testify under oath that the decision to plead guilty was based on the legal advice given to him by his attorney.
Why would a man, especially an ex-cop with extensive experience in dealing with the criminal justice system, so quickly accept six life sentences to be served without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence?
The question begs scrutiny.
The appointed attorney initially advised Ernie to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He then requested that the trial court appoint a lunacy commission to examine his client to determine his mental competency – not only at the time of the commission of the crimes but also his ability to understand the criminal proceedings being carried out against him at that time.
The attorney then abruptly abandoned the insanity strategy in mid-stream. Without getting a sanity determination, he advised Comeaux to plead guilty. That advice, and Comeaux’s decision to accept it, was influenced by a local criminal justice professor. An aspiring author and a friend of the attorney, the professor met with Comeaux in the local parish jail to discuss the guilty plea option. Comeaux later testified that this meeting had been arranged by his attorney.
“The professor told me,” Comeaux explained, “that I would serve twenty years on the life sentences. He led me to believe – and I did trust his advice – that I would receive sex offender counseling while incarcerated. The advice [the professor] gave me in no way matches the reality of what I faced once I got into the prison system. Life means just that – you spend the rest of your life in prison; you die in prison.”
“That professor lied to me,” Comeaux continued. “He did exactly what my attorney wanted him to do – paint a rosy picture that would entice me to plead guilty. I was in a terribly depressed state of mind. I had scarred and ruined the lives of my victims – not to mention what I had done to my own family, career, and life.”
Emotion seemed to grip Comeaux in the throat.
“I felt this compelling need to express remorse,” he resumed, struggling with the enormity of the situation. “I needed some sense of personal atonement – some way to say I was sorry to my victims, their families, my family, my daughter, my father, my mom. I was so wretched and guilt-ridden – and it was professionally unconscionable for my attorney to waltz that professor into the jail to induce me to plead guilty.”
Whether or not Comeaux was in a legally competent state of mind to understand all the ramifications and consequences of pleading guilty is subject to debate.
However, whether he was in his “right mind” when he committed the series of rapes is not matter of debate. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Some criminal justice “experts,” especially those particularly sympathetic to victims, stress that rape is a crime of violence rooted in the perpetrator’s need to have power over his victim. They minimize the role sexual desire plays in crimes of sexual violence.
That’s not what I learned from Comeaux.
He confided in me more readily than he would anyone else, even his family. I often questioned him about the rapes, probing his psyche in an effort to understand the crimes. He did not possess the common traits associated with other rapists. He was not egotistical, overly macho, or angry at women. He could be an intelligent, seemingly caring, and distinctly moral individual.
Comeaux, I believe, raped women for no other reason than sexual desire – and while the rapes may offer some evidence into his unusual, kinky sexual inclinations, they do not reveal an inclination toward the kind of violence exhibited by many rapists.
Most men, I think, will satisfy their sexual desires, no matter how unusual or kinky, with a willing female partner or a prostitute. But these relationships were too personal to provide Comeaux with a safe venue for his “different desires.”
He learned that after his girlfriend reported him to Internal Affairs.
In addition to his fear of being reported again to Internal Affairs, Comeaux’s self-image and his intense psychological concern about what others thought of him would not let him reveal his strange sexual desires in an intimate relationship. He could, however, release, or express, them through the crime of “rape” – a controlled situation in which he possessed complete anonymity.
How could a man stick a gun in woman’s mouth, and instruct her to tell him how good a lover he was?
“I was good,” Comeaux said. “Some of the women told me I was good. They even asked me to come back – and some didn’t even report the rapes.”
If some of the women he raped did not report the crime, it had nothing to do with their assailant. It was a byproduct of their own shame and embarrassment that forced them into silence.
“You sound as though you liked the sex of rape,” I said.
“I did,” Comeaux replied. “I raped for the sex. I needed the sex. I never raped when I was involved in a relationship with a woman. My sexual desires were, you know, basically met in those relationships.”
Unlike most rapists (who uniformly say, “the bitch asked for it”), Comeaux offered no excuses. His rapes were about satisfying his sexual desires.
“The one thing I am proud of,” Comeaux said, trying to put the best face on his crimes, “I never used my position in law enforcement to find a victim or to case a house. All my victims were randomly selected.”
To commit the kind of crimes Comeaux committed required a particularly disturbed psyche. He drove around neighborhoods he was familiar with. He was comfortable in the “red zone” in which he lived. He surveyed residences and apartment complexes, basing his decision to strike on both instinct and any vulnerability he detected about the dwelling.
“But you never knew who, or what, awaited you behind those locked doors,” I said.
“I really didn’t,” he agreed, “but there is a certain look to a ‘woman alone’ apartment. One of the first signs is the vehicle – most women drive smaller, foreign-made models. Once I was satisfied that it was a ‘woman alone’ residence, I then looked for the best point of entry – and after entry, you take what’s there.”
I understand the social influences of drugs, child abuse, housing projects, street violence, failed educational/religious institutions, and other socio-economic factors that populate prisons with all sorts of offenders.
But I did not understand the likes of Ernest Randall Comeaux – an ex-cop of education, career, social standing, and opportunity who threw it away because of sexual perversity.
He was similar to most of the other ex-cops in the protection unit—men convicted of violent crimes of passion: sexually abusing children (including their own), raping women, or killing their wives and girlfriends. They could not come to terms with the fact that they were “criminal.” As a group, they believed their criminal conduct was simply a momentary aberration from their duty to protect and serve. They were really “good guys” with guns who protected everyone else from the “bad guys” with guns.
“Why do you think he did it,” my wife once asked me about Comeaux.
“Fuck if I know,” I replied.
And I still don’t know. What I do know is that his perception of the rape was off the psychosis chart
“I really didn’t hurt any of my victims,” he said, as if that somehow lessened the gravity of the offenses. “And I did not rape any of them while I was on duty, and I did not use law enforcement resources in any way to accomplish those rapes.”
Comeaux found a peculiar honor in these distinctions, frequently expressing an intense dislike for other “corrupt” cops.
“I served my profession honorably,” he said. “I was a good, decent cop for almost twenty years. I worked with compassion and gave dignity to children who were victims of rape and sexual abuse. At least my victims were women – not children. I know what I did was wrong, but I never molested a child.”
That was the Comeaux I knew—a man who could never comprehended the physical degradation and psychological terror his crimes produced.
Two things I am certain about: the Virgin Mary cannot, or will not, save Comeaux from a prison death; and that he will die believing he was a “good cop.”