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Human remains found in cornfield near Sicily Island

Harrisonburg, La. — Five law enforcement agencies are investigating the discovery of human remains in a cornfield 5 miles north of Sicily Island late last week.

Two suspects have been arrested in connection to the case, including one woman who initially tipped off police to the grave site, helping launch the investigation.

Catahoula Parish Sheriff James Kelly said the case began Thursday when Leah Marie Pontiff, 30, visited the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office and told deputies she could show them where a body might be buried that might be related to a missing person report filed days earlier.

Pontiff led the deputies throughout Ouachita Parish on the search, Kelly said, and eventually wound up in Catahoula Parish near Sicily Island.

Kelly said Catahoula deputies took over the case at that point and were eventually taken to a cornfield where Pontiff said a body had recently been buried.

“When we got there, we realized that there were what appeared to be bones and human remains at this fresh grave site,” Kelly said. “At that point we called in Mary Manhein, who is a forensic anthropologist we’ve used before, and asked her and her team to come out.”

Manhein is the director of the LSU FACES, or Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services, Laboratory, which assists law enforcement agencies with the recovery and identification of human remains, among other things.

Kelly said Manhein and her team recovered the remains from the gravesite Saturday and took the samples back to their lab in Baton Rouge for processing, which could take a few weeks.

“That’s a process that takes a while, so we might not know anything on the remains for some time,” Kelly said. “At this point, we have two possible suspects in jail, and we’re continuing the investigation.”

Pontiff was arrested Friday and charged with obstruction of justice.

Daniel White, 36, was in custody at the Ouachita Correctional Center in Monroe on unrelated charges, but was transferred to the Catahoula Parish Jail Saturday and charged with second-degree kidnapping in connection to the case, Kelly said.

Apart from the Catahoula Parish Sheriff’s Office, Kelly said law enforcement agencies from Ouachita, Franklin and Terrebonne parishes, as well as the Louisiana State Police, are all assisting with the investigation of the case.

“It’s kind of a crazy situation, but all cases are unique in some ways,” Kelly said. “It’s like when you dump a jigsaw puzzle on the table and you have no idea what it’s going to look like right then, but you have to start putting pieces together and see what you get.

“That’s what we’re doing — trying to pull all these pieces together.”