January 5, 1983 (Wednesday)
Ruston, Louisiana, USA
Raylene Susan Helsley
Alternative Name: Unknown
Missing from: Ruston, Louisiana, USA
Date Missing: January 5, 1983
Taken By: Unknown (possible familial assault)
Circumstances: Taken from Home
Raylene (12), her younger sister Candace (8), and their father Raymond Helsley, Jr. were living together in a trailer when Raylene disappeared.
The matter apparently started over something innocuous . . . Raylene drank a coke without permission and refused to do jumping jacks as punishment when her father found out. It escalated rapidly from there as Mr. Helsley grew angry and began to hit Raylene with a PVC pipe.
Candace (‘Candy’) told police her father grabbed Raylene by the hair and began whipping her with the pipe before later changing to a silver 14-inch pipe wrench. He struck her both on the body and on the head sharply enough the wrench came apart. Candace went to the bedroom, but said she later heard Raylene scream again.
Raylene did not go with Candace to school the following day; Candace’s last glimpse of Raylene was of her lying unmoving on the couch. By the time she returned, Raylene had vanished.
Mr. Helsley insisted he left the trailer for approximately an hour during which time Raylene vanished, and he assumed she ran away. He confessed to striking Raylene with the pipe but argued the pipe was old and did not hurt badly. Candace then misunderstood what she was seeing regarding the wrench . . . . Raylene had begun to throw up and he grabbed the wrench out of the sink (under repair) to clear room. Raylene was not badly injured, but rather was sick the next morning.
Candace also later testified that the PVC pipe used was old and small and admitted she never saw any blood.
Nonetheless, police honed in on Mr. Helsley as their primary suspect and were convinced he actually murdered Raylene. Their concerns were exacerbated by the fact that Mr. Helsley had already been convicted in Mississippi for abusing Raylene.
On January 7, police arrived at the family trailer and made a thorough search of the home and the nearby grounds. Evidence collected included a silver pipe wrench (1), a second pipe wrench (2), a pillow, blanket and a drainboard (*the blanket and drainboard were later never admitted into evidence).
Candace’s testimony asserted the silver pipe wrench (1) was the one used against Raylene. The clamp and adjustment screw for this wrench were not recovered.
The other pipe wrench (2) and pillow both contained miniscule traces of human blood, but police could not verify whether it was Raylene’s. Though Candace did not recognize wrench (2), the courts pointed out that the silver one (1) had broken before she went to bed and Raylene was still heard to scream later that night. The tools were found in a toolbox with wrench (2) lying on top of wrench (1).
The court held in the later appeal that the connection between the pillow and Raylene had not been proven, and thus it was inadmissible. Nonetheless, it did not significantly impact the trial either way.
Mr. Helsley failed 2 polygraphs and 2 psychological stress evaluations during the investigation. The judge stated the information gathered suggested he buried Raylene that night within 1.5mi of the trailer home. However, police could never prove she was murdered as no body was ever recovered.
Police searched the wooded areas around Union Parish and dragged nearby rivers and ponds, but found nothing.
One tip from a ‘reliable source’ suggested she may have been dropped into the Ouachita River near Sterlington, LA, approximately 50-60min drive from Ruston. Police searched the area from Sterlington to Columbia and Monroe, but did not find anything. They would not confirm rumors that clothing and human bones were found in the area. One woman fishing along the river identified a bone on the riverbank, but police said it was animal in nature. Approximately 35 officers combed the area by boat, horseback, and on foot.
*It’s worth noting that if it was true she was dropped in the river, this conflicted with police opinion that she was ‘buried’ within 1.5 mi of the home.
Chief Police Deputy Randy Gray testified that a family said they saw Raylene in Natchez, Mississippi where the family had lived previously, but apparently nothing came of those claims (The Times 1983)
Although her murder could not be proven, the assault on Raylene could. Police charged Mr. Helsley with cruelty to a juvenile, and he was arrested on January 7, 1983.
In August of 1983, additional charges were brought regarding the unlawful transportation of explosives. Helsley had stored high explosive detonating cords, fuses, and electric blasting caps in the trailer after transporting them across state lines from Natchez, Miss. in 1982. These charges consisted of illegal possession of explosives, illegal storage of explosives, and illegal transportation of explosives.
Helsley accepted a plea bargain where he confessed to the transportation of explosives in exchange for the prosecution dropping the other related charges. The prosecution also were forced to drop the ‘habitual offender’ proceeding to the cruelty charge given that his Mississippi conviction was under appeal at the time.
*Helsley was charged under La.R.S. 14:93 for the crime against Raylene. This is a felony and as such any effort to handle the charge under a ‘habitual offender proceeding’ might have substantially increased his sentence (Louisiana Laws).
In regards to the cruelty charge, he pled innocent by reason of insanity.
The court convicted him on June 7, 1983 and he was sentenced to the maximum punishment of ten years of hard labor. One point of contention is that the judge admittedly based his sentencing partially on evidence and information not admissible in court during the trial (e.g. the fact that he failed the polygraph tests). Helsley also faced a $1000 fine + court costs. In 1984 he appealed his conviction, and the court upheld the prison sentence but removed the fine and costs (457 So.2d 707, 1984).
*This is not directly relevant to the case of Raylene, but does suggest the relationship between Helsley and those who were investigating him was one of friction. It also brings into question the fact that Helsley failed the polygraph tests and stress tests if he underwent unethical interrogation tactics or was being abused in the prison during the investigation. Thus facts offered during the trial, appeal, and in later interviews must be taken with cautious consideration.
In 1986, Mr. Helsley was part of a class action lawsuit against the Union police department accusing them of the systematic torture of prisoners. Punishments included being “routinely beaten, scalded, and ‘chemically assaulted'” by deputies (Martin 1986). The prison officials were accused of leaving the prison in unfit conditions, of leaving prisoners without medical care, of allowing violent criminals access to weapons to use against others, and abuse of power regarding the withholding of food. These are only a few of very graphic abuses assigned to prison guards and administration at the time.
In 2011, a young woman who claimed to be Candace posted to a true crime forum (Websleuths):
If the post is valid, The Suitcase Detective is pleased to know she has moved on and matured into a strong woman her sister would be proud of. We wish Candace all the best and hope that someday she finds the answers her family deserves.
- Date of Birth: October 19, 1970
- Age at Disappearance: 12 Years Old
- Ethnicity: Caucasian
- Nationality: American Citizen
- Gender at Birth: Female
- Hair: Medium Blonde Hair
- Eye Color: Blue Eyes
- Height: 4ft 11in (149cm)
- Weight: 87 lbs (39.4kg)
- Birthmark ➜ Back of her neck, near the hairline.
- Scar ➜ Top of her nose and upper lip.
- Purple, Floral, Long-Sleeved Shirt
- Levi Jeans
If You or Anyone You Know Has Information About The Disappearances, Please Contact the Union Parish Sheriff’s Office at (+1) 318-368-3124 or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also contact CrimeStoppers (+1) 800-222-TIPS or online
- Charley Project (2017) ‘Raylene Susan Helsley’. 19 June. Available from: Link
- Clarion-Ledger (1983) ’10-year sentence for beating daughter’, 3 August
- Forum (WebSleuths), ‘LA – Raylene Helsley, 12, Ruston, 5 January 1983 ‘, Available at: Link
- Martin, P. (1986) ‘Prisoners claim beatings, scaldings’, The Times, 21 July.
- Martin, P. (1986) ‘Jail abuses push parish into decree’, The Times, 22 July.
- The Daily Advertiser (1983) ‘Man charged with child abuse’, 16 February.
- The Times (1983) ‘Trial date set in abuse case’, 30 April.
- The Times (1983) ‘Girl, 8, testifies father beat sister’, 7 June.
- The Times (1983) ‘Father convicted of cruelty’, 8 June.
- The Times (1983) ‘Man guilty of child abuse’, 8 June.
- The Times (1983) ‘Girl, 8, testifies father beat sister’, 7 June.
- The Times (1983) ‘New charges for Helsley’, 22 July.
- The Times (1983) ‘Clues sought along river’, 12 August.
- The Times (1983) ‘Lawmen continue search’, 14 August
- The Times (1983) ‘Laboratory tests awaited’, 19 August
- The Times (1984) ’12-year-old still missing, and child abuse implicated’, 1 January
- The Town Talk (1983) ‘Child abuse trial begins for father of missing girl’, 7 June.
- Walker, G. (1983) ’10 year sentence given for child beating’, The Times, 3 August.