Long-time Gonzales Police Chief Bill Landry knew as a kid he wanted to be a lawman.

Now, with his upcoming retirement after a 33-year career in law enforcement,  he knows the words he wants chiseled into his headstone.

Long-time Gonzales Police Chief Bill Landry knew as a kid he wanted to be a lawman.
Now, with his upcoming retirement after a 33-year career in law enforcement,  he knows the words he wants chiseled into his headstone.

“I told my wife I wanted it to say, ‘A fair and honest man, no bells, no whistles,’” Landry said.
After a close election in 1992 (the vote was 1,289 to 1,285) when he first ran for police chief and beat fellow officer Barney Arceneaux, Landry ran without opposition in his next three elections.

As a youngster, he and his brothers grew up working in the family business, Landry’s Pharmacy in Gonzales. The chief worked after school and during summers, but joining the family establishment was not in the cards.

“I didn’t care for working there and being in the same place all the time,” he said. “You’re almost restricted in what you can do.”

Landry has more fond early memories of times spent behind the wheel of his 1970 Ford Mustang Fastback with its 302 horsepower engine and automatic transmission.

“It would scream,” the chief said, and he won quite a few contests coming out of the old Colonial Inn driveway onto Airline Highway back in the day.
The location was perfect, he joked. “Not too many police around.”

After  attending LSU and studying criminal justice, Landry left 20 hours short of a degree and hired on as a full-time patrolman in Gonzales. Prior to taking the job, he worked part-time patrolling two shopping centers on Saturdays.

As a Gonzales policeman, Landry was given a badge and a gun and sent out to work. There was no training involved, his salary was $385 a month and he was one of eight full-time officers.

Back then, the police knew everybody in the area. The Sheriff’s Office and Gonzales Police shared a section of the building now used entirely by Gonzales. “If there was a break-in or a burglary, you knew who to pick up,” Landry said.

Gonzales mayor-elect Barney Arceneaux worked with Landry, and the two partners were involved in an incident in 1976 that area residents still talk about.

While setting up a roadblock in Sorrento the two young deputies parked their cars hood to hood to block the path of a man who had beaten his wife and set fire to the house.

As the man sped into sight it grew abundantly clear he had no intention of stopping. The future mayor and police chief ran from their vehicles as fast as they could.

Who won that race? “You could say it was a photo finish,” according to Landry, who noted that the cars wrecked in their possession that night were two-thirds of the entire department fleet.

The expansion of a local refinery in the late 1970s changed Gonzales from a sleepy little town into the hub city of Ascension Parish and the area. Large numbers of people from outside the parish first began moving into the city. Soon Interstate 10 opened to La. Hwy. 30 and Burnside Avenue added two more lanes. With growth came crimes on a scale never before experienced.

While on patrol in 1981, Landry observed a man driving a red Pontiac Trans Am at the Gonzales Eastbank Shopping Center. His observations of the man and car soon made him the only policeman who could identify Jon Simonis, the suspected “Ski Mask Rapist.”

Landry was put under hypnosis by state police to see if he could remember more details about the encounter, but all he could remember about the license plate, VZH-949, was that the letters were “stick” figures.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Simonis was spotted in Lake Charles.  Landry was recruited  by State Police to accompany a state trooper on a high-speed ride to the city. Authorities and Landry tailed and watched the suspect for days,  eating in restaurants while he dined and sitting with him in a movie theater, waiting to see if he would try to pick up another victim. When Simonis was arrested, Landry was credited with the collar.

Simonis eventually received 18 life sentences plus 2,500 years in prison for his crimes.
Over the years, the case that haunted Landry the most involved Shon Miller, Jr., the man who eventually confessed to the murder of his wife and son and another man in a Gonzales church.
“It’s only because you figure a church is the most sacred place, and he walks in an destroys that sanctity, even shoots and kills his 2-year-old son,” Landry said.

Gonzales was one of the first cities in the nation where multiple murders took place in a church where a service was underway, and his duties called for Landry to speak to media representatives ranging from The Gonzales Weekly Citizen to the British Broadcasting Company.

No event put the chief under more prolonged stress than Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath when the parish population grew by more than 20 percent almost overnight. Increases in traffic, business calls for service, every aspect of daily life that required police help jumped up.

“Those who were in the trenches really can’t be thanked enough,” Landry said, but he emphasized that the parish brought in many more good people than undesirables as a result of the storm migration.

Early this year, Landry told members of the police department that he would run for a fifth term as chief. Then one morning, “out of the blue,” he woke up and knew that he would not run for reelection, partly because his elderly parents were “healthwise in bad shape.”  One week before the Jambalaya Festival he made that announcement.
“Then we buried my mom and dad within the next six weeks,” he said.

Landry said he has no regrets about the decision to retire. “I am at so much peace about the decision I just can’t wait to step down,” he said.

Now the chief looks forward to “simple things” in life, like the birth of his first grandchild in March, and traveling with his wife in the motor home he purchased on eBay. They’ll soon be going out west to see his nephew play college baseball in California.

The kid who long ago shaped his life into that of a policeman has set his sights on another dream.