If you want to know if someone is an amateur criminal, just ask if they accept payment in gold.
For Arsenio Haynes and Sylvester Bracey, the promise of 19 gold bars was enough to agree to kidnap a millionaire’s estranged wife — at his request.
On August 6, 2017, Haynes and Bracey, both 27 and from Jackson, Mississippi, drove to a suburban home in Lafayette, Louisiana. It was a Sunday — the sort of day no one expects to be kidnapped. The two young Black men, dressed in blue appliance store uniforms, walked up to a bungalow-style, two-story house in a wealthy new subdivision in south Lafayette. When the owner of the home, Schanda Handley, opened the front door, they offered to show her a demonstration of a carpet steam cleaner. When she declined, Haynes and Bracey kicked in the door, brandishing their semi-automatic firearms.
Handley’s neighbor and teenage daughter both also happened to be at her home that day, so Haynes and Bracey handcuffed all three women. Then they yanked a bag over Handley’s head and pulled her from her home, leaving her daughter and neighbor behind. They dragged Handley to their rental van with stolen plates and tossed her in the back. That’s when things turned far more grim.
As they drove on Interstate 10 to meet the man who had hired them, Lawrence Michael Handley, the kidnappers undressed Schanda before threatening to rape and kill her. But then they hit a traffic jam, and Haynes and Bracey panicked. As it happens, an off-duty Iberville deputy was sitting in that same backup when he saw a van skirt out of the sea of traffic and begin driving along the shoulder. His instincts told him something was off, and he gave chase.
Two decisions — one made by Haynes and Bracey and the other by a curious cop on his day off — doomed the millionaire’s attempt to abduct his wife, along with his plan to heroically save her from the no-good kidnappers. This is what happens when one makes life plans high on meth and cocaine.
It’s not clear how or where a millionaire from Lafayette, Louisiana, crossed paths with two young Black men from the ‘hood in the poorest state in the nation (though it’s possible it had something to do with the millionaire’s spiraling drug habit). But we at least have a good sense for why Handley hired these two men specifically to run a home invasion on his wife. (To say nothing of how rich white men in the South have a history of exploiting Black men for their own benefit.)
Ten years earlier, when Haynes and Bracey were both 16, they made headlines for breaking into a home and robbing the woman who lived there. The victim of the robbery recalled that one of them expressed consternation about what they were doing. “The tallest one, he walked up to my body after he knocked me down,” she told the local media at the time. “He got to my chest, and he bent over. He talked into this ear. He knew I couldn’t hear out of the left ear. He got down here and he whispered, ‘I hope I didn’t hurt you too much.’”
According to Handley’s lawyer Kevin Stockstill in an interview with the New York Times, Handley had been high on methamphetamine and coke for days when he concocted his scheme to have Haynes and Bracey kidnap his wife — which was all part of his master plan to ultimately “come in as a hero” and “win her back.” “It was certainly not logical thinking, but when you’re doing a lot of meth and cocaine, I guess it seemed rational to him,” Stockstill told the Times. “It turned out to be a terrible decision.”
A subtle irony is that Handley used to own drug treatment centers and a vitamin business, which is how he made his wealth (drugs also helped him lose it). When the Handleys married in 2006, they were busy with fundraisers for their Handley Family Foundation. The charity arm worked with cancer patients, children threatened by poverty and young go-getters looking to make a difference. On his Facebook page, Handley portrayed himself in glowing terms — “eternally optimistic serial entrepreneur who believes that nothing is impossible with God.”
But by March 2017, he changed his mind about what was impossible and filed for divorce from Schanda. He claimed that she had threatened to hire a hitman to kill him, and that she threatened to “bite off his genitals and swallow them in front of him.” He also accused Schanda of threatening to kill their teenage daughter and then him. That same month, Schanda was formally charged with crimes related to “barricading herself in a bedroom at the couple’s Mississippi camp, destroying furniture and shooting twice into a wall.” She was fully acquitted that October.
For her part, Schanda accused Handley of equally disturbing behavior during their marriage, which she says continued after he filed for divorce. According to her, prior to her abduction, Handley sent her threatening texts that read, “You are facing Armageddon and no court or order will save you,” “We will take her first and let you suffer for awhile before putting you out of your misery” and “If you ignore us like usual someone you love will suffer tomorrow.”
Yet, despite all of the anger, vitriol and threats, the court paperwork shows that “the couple continued to live and travel together off and on during the spring and early summer.”
Not long after that, Haynes and Bracey entered their lives. Speaking of which, outside of the river city of Port Allen, the kidnappers, now in an active car chase with the off-duty deputy, made another critical choice. They could’ve turned left, which would have led them toward various routes for their escape. But instead, they turned right and headed down local Highway 415, with the deputy fast on their trail.
The van soon reached a dead end — nothing but muddy roads around an industrial site and a canal. The two men jumped from the van and made a run for their lives, leaving Schanda behind. But there was nowhere for them to go. So they did the unexpected — they jumped into the intracoastal canal. Shortly thereafter, more sheriff’s deputies and local law enforcement, guided by bloodhounds, joined the hunt for the two young Black men. By Sunday evening, after finding neither man, the deputies called off the dogs. It looked as though the men had escaped.
The next day, however, a kid spotted something in the water. Sylvester Bracey was discovered in the intracoastal canal, drowned. A few hours later, a call came in from a tugboat. Arsenio Haynes had been found drowned, too.
With the kidnappers both dead and the victim saved, all that remained was for the police to find and arrest the mastermind. Because Handley’s phone was disconnected and his whereabouts were unknown, the cops traced the handcuffs used to bind Schanda and discovered that they were purchased from a police supply store just outside of New Orleans. Next, they tracked down the rental van, and found that it was rented at an Enterprise in Baton Rouge. Both assistant managers remembered Handley as an “older white male” who was “bragging about how much money he made,” according to the affidavit. And that was it — they had him.
Perhaps Lousiana’s 15th Judicial District’s prosecutor Don Knect said it best when he remarked, “Mr. Handley might have been a good businessman in his day, but he is not a good criminal.”
By the end of July, Handley had pleaded guilty to attempting to kidnap his wife. He agreed to two counts of second-degree kidnapping and one count of attempted second-degree kidnapping. His case will now go to sentencing, where he faces 15 to 35 years. His highly quotable lawyer, Stockstill, said in summation to the Washington Post, “I think it’s a fair resolution to the case. Thank God nobody was hurt, except for the people who performed the kidnapping.”
“The people who performed the kidnapping” were two young Black men from Jackson, Mississippi. That they were the only ones who lost their lives in this plot is not a shock. They were just pieces lost in a rich man’s game.